If you are a family with kids and are considering getting a new dog, we hope this question has crossed your mind! We see so many people get dogs that are just not a good fit for families and all because they maybe met one dog of that breed that they really liked, or they just like the look of the dog! It is incredibly important to do your research and really get a feel for what you are signing up for! Just because you met a really nice, friendly, and calm German Shepherd does not mean that all German Shepherds will be the same.
So to save you some time, we have compiled our list of favourite breeds for families with children!
Active families with young children – For active families with young children we recommend Beagles or Labrador Retrievers. Both breeds are known to have easy going dispositions, friendly, should not have stranger danger, and love to get out and have some fun. Both have their own unique instincts based on what they were bred for but they should be adaptable to family life. We feel strongly that if you have a household with people coming and going, you should steer clear of breeds that genetically are predisposed to have stranger danger or be weary of people who are not in their inner circle. Labs and Beagles should welcome guests into your home with a wagging tail, enjoy being around kids, and always be up for adventure! Of course your Lab will want to retrieve things, and your Beagle will want to sniff, but neither of those traits should affect them being an amazing family pet! Plus both are super cute! Unfortunately, both do shed though. When choosing a Lab breeder, make sure you pick one that does not breed for colour (and certainly no dilute colours). We prefer Black labs and Yellow labs over Chocolate for personality and trainability. Golden Retrievers are another fan favourite and we do love them, but over the past few years we have seen breeding go down hill so if you can find a really good breeder then they are also a great choice!
Families with young children who are not overly active – If you have young kids but you’re family is not overly active you need to make sure you can provide your new dog with suitable exercise. However, there are two of our favourite breeds that will require less exercise than most. We absolutely adore the Havanese and King Charles Cavalier Spaniels. Both breeds are small, non-shedding, and low energy. In fact they were basically bred to be lap dogs. Unlike many other small breeds, they should be friendly, easy to train, and up for adventure but also happy to spend the day bingeing Netflix. If you are looking for a larger breed dog you can luck out with a lower energy lab if you go with an English or “show” lab, and if you are open to a giant breed the English Mastiff or the Leonberger are our favourites.
Families with young children who want a “doodle” type dog – Doodles are all the rage these, but there are so many bad “breeders” out there that we strongly recommend you consider other breeds instead. While the Doodle type dogs are cute, they are often very high energy, can be neurotic, prone to running away, and just overall challenging to train especially when you have young kids in the house. If you like the look we would recommend a Portuguese Water Dog, Barbet, or Standard Poodle. You might even consider a Wheaten Terrier if you are up for the challenge of a terrier breed! If you do go for a Doodle type dog, stick with the original Labradoodle or Goldendoodle. There are some nice dogs who are other Doodle type mixes but keep in mind you get both the best and the worst of the breeds so that in itself can be very challenging!
Families with young children who want a dog for protection – Unless you are buying a dog to train for protection then avoid this train of thought. We are not saying that a German Shepherd cannot be a good family dog. We are saying they were not bred for that and unless you understand the breed really well and are up for the challenge then you might be very disappointed. We see so many Shepherd type dogs available for rehoming around the 6 months mark and many from families with young kids. Another trend we are seeing is power breeds like Cane Corsos, Rottweilers, and Bully type breeds common among families with young kids. Again, we are not saying it wont go well, but we very often see it not go well. These dogs may be great with your family but are often prone to stranger danger, resource guarding and dominant behaviour around lower standing members of the family.
So to sum that up…for families with kids we love:
- Golden Retrievers
- King Charles Cavalier Spaniels
- English Mastiffs
We hope this helps you on your journey of selecting the right dog for your family!
If you have a dog, or know someone with a dog you have probably heard about the importance of socialization! As new puppy owners, the term “socialization” gets drilled into your head. You MUST socialize this puppy otherwise it will be aggressive as an adult! Rescues often put in the description of their dogs who are either leery of humans or dogs (or aggressive towards them) that the dog was undersocialized as a puppy.
While we totally agree that proper socialization (key here is proper, and not just letting anyone and everyone tough and pick up your puppy, and definitely not taking them to the dog park) is super important, it may not be as crucial as you think. But how can that be? Socialization is the answer to all of your dog’s problems right? Nope! In fact over socialization is certainly a thing and cause it’s own set of issues. However, what we are talking about here is the fact that “training” and/or “socialization” cannot always and often does not override genetics.
Take for example children, sending them to school and doing all the extra curricular activities…while yes we should be getting our kids out and doing things with other people, these do not guarantee that your child will be an outgoing, super social butterfly who loves all the sports and activities. I myself attended public school, participated in countless activities (competitive dance, cheerleading, swimming, horseback riding, piano, skiing and more). I however, am extremely introverted, hate public speaking, have social anxiety and would take a small group of 2-4 people over a large party any day.
In fact, the thought of going to a large social gathering often makes me physically ill. My son who is now 6 attended daycare, preschool and Junior Kindegarten, played soccer, T-ball, took swimming lessons and gymnastics. He is also very shy, takes awhile to warm up to people and situations and would prefer 1-2 kids to play with than a big group. There are also plenty of people out there who did not participate in tons of activities, and many who were homeschooled and they are very outgoing, love big groups and gatherings.
Just like people, our dogs have their own distinct personalities. They are also specific breeds, and they are a product of their ancestors and genetics. On top of that, the real socialization window is actually from 3-14 weeks, so unless you are actively working on it then, you will just be training to undo whatever lack of socialization or bad experiences they had during that window. Due to this, finding a quality breeder who knows all about the critical window of opportunity is going to also play a huge role in who your dog becomes (but again not guaranteed because of course there are backyard breeders who have friendly dogs out there as well).
So while socialization is important, and proper socialization gives your puppy the best chance at being a well rounded adult dog, it does not guarantee they will love everyone and everything! We strongly suggest that you do focus on proper socialization to give your puppy the best chance at being a well rounded, friendly adult dog, remember that it does not guarantee anything!
We often find our clients not understanding why their dog struggles with certain behaviours. Most of the time the human has set a certain expectation and the dog fails miserably. Leading up to this failure no criteria was set, not enough training time was put in, and expectations were not met. So how do we dissect this and get passed it?
Take for example a dog who is reactive to other dogs while on leash. Most dog owners have no idea what the criteria should be and have high expectations of their dog. What does that mean? All they know is that they want their dog to walk politely past other dogs right? However, if we raise our criteria and lower the expectations we can make major headway in our training. So when we are working with reactive dogs we raise our criteria; you must be able to stay calm, listen to my commands, accept food, and keep moving while we train. That will most likely mean you need to move further away from the trigger.
We are in turn lowering our expectations in that I do not expect my dog to be able to do any of those things at a certain distance from the trigger, rather I figure out where I can be successful at raising my criteria. So if at 20ft your dog loses his mind when he sees another dog, cannot accept food, and does not respond to any commands then you need to lower your expectations. It is unreasonable at this time to expect him to be successful at 20ft. If at 40ft he can stay mostly calm, accept food, listen to commands and keep moving then you have raised the criteria but lowered your expectations.
As you progress in your training you will be able to continue to raise the criteria. For example the criteria is to be able to do the above listed things at a closer distance, but keeping your expectations reasonable based on the amount of training you have been doing.
Another very basic example for this would be lets say you are working on your dogs sit command. You want your dog to be able to listen to your command the first time and hold a sit in any environment. However, when out in public around people he cannot do it just yet. So, how do we raise the criteria but lower our expectations? Raise the criteria; you must sit the first time when I ask, you must hold the command until I release you, and I will enforce this no matter what.
My expectation that my dog can do this needs to be lowered as I know he struggles. So I have to think how can I set this up so my dog is successful? Train at a further distance, make sure my leash is on so I can enforce the commands, and then make it happen (no matter what). I am not expecting my dog to be perfect, but I am raising the criteria and helping him be successful. As he gets good at this we move closer while still maintaining our criteria.
So if you are struggling with your dog’s behaviour, the best thing to do is to take a step back, think about what it is you need your dog to be able to do (or not do), lower your expectations, and raise the criteria for training.
Is your Service Dog in Training (SDiT) ready for public access? Being able to bring your Service Dog into public places is something that is earned not just assumed. In Canada, SDiTs do not have public access until they are fully trained so you will need to practice everything you see below in dog friendly places. It takes a lot of time, patience, and training to get your dog ready to be able to accompany you to all public spaces and should not be rushed.
Below is a list of PAT (Public Access Test) requirements for service dog handlers. . The following commands are for service dogs, which are “On-Leash.” They can be executed through hand commands, voice commands, or a mix of both.
Controlled Unload Out of a Vehicle
Before coming out of a vehicle, the service dog does not immediately exit the vehicle. The service dog waits to be released out of the car.
After release and exiting, the service dog must then await instructions quietly. It cannot ignore any commands, move around, or be off lead. The service dog should be able to unload from a vehicle safely and calmly.
Approaching a Building
After a service dog unloads calmly from a vehicle, the dog should not continue immediately on its own towards a building. It should remain in heel until it receives further directions to proceed.
Upon moving toward the destination, the dog does not become distracted by traffic or noise or show any showing. The service dog must be relaxed and calm. If the trainer stops, the service dog should also stop.
When the service dog reaches the building, the dog should remain relaxed and focused. The dog should not be easily distracted or seek attention from others. The dog should not wander away, push forward, or strain against the leash, but instead, calmly walk alongside its trainer.
Heeling Through a Building
Inside the building, the service dog should walk with the trainer in a calm and controlled way. The service dog should always be no more than one foot away from the trainer, and be able to adjust to changes in speed and turns quickly. The service dog should be able to calmly follow its trainer through crowded areas full of obstacles without becoming anxious or seeking attention from others.
Six Foot Recall on Lead
The trainer should be able to sit a service dog and walk away to a distance of six feet, then call the service dog.
The dog should respond immediately, without ignoring the command or being distracted by the public. The dog should return to its handler by approaching in a calm a deliberate manner, without any detours or stalling.
Sits on Command
The service dog must immediately respond to every sit command, needing no more than two prompts.
Downs on Command
First Down: After your service dog follows the down command, food is dropped onto the floor. The service dog should make no effort to go down to the food or sniff at it. Controls may be provided to keep the dog at the down position. But the dog should not need excessive management. Your service dog should not attempt to go for the food or try to smell food.
Second Down: Another down is called, and an adult or child approaches the service dog. The dog should remain in the down position and not seek attention. If the child or adult attempts to pet the dog, the service dog will stay in place. The trainer may provide corrections to the service dog.
The service dog should be aware of any noises nearby, but not show any signs of anxiety or aggression towards sounds. Although the dog may be startled, the service dog can recover promptly and continue in the heeled position. The service dog should not begin growling or shaking at the noise.
Inside a Restaurant
When the trainer is eating at a table, the dog should remain under the table or, if too large, should remain near the handler. If the dog is a smaller breed, it can be placed in a seat next to the trainer–but the dog must lie down. Throughout the meal, the dog should remain calm and should not need much correction.
The trainer is asked to drop the lead while walking with the service dog, and the dog should be aware that the lead was dropped. The trainer should be able to keep control of the service dog until the trainer is able to regain the lead. The main purpose of this exercise is to ensure the dogs’ awareness of the lead and the handler’s ability to maintain control of the dog should the lead be dropped.
When the trainer exits the building the dog should not display anxiety or aggression at the sound of vehicles or change in scenery.
The Public Access Test maintains the integrity of the service dog institution by ensuring the safety of the public, the service dog, and the dog trainer. By vetting every service dog through this process, every dog handler understands what the expectations are for a dog to become a service dog.
Leash reactivity…what is it? Does your dog have it? Is it aggression?
Fix Leash Reactivity
Let’s unpack what leash reactivity is. When a dog is on leash, and has a reaction to certain triggers/distractions. These reactions can be minor like change in posture or panting, to something more severe like lunging and barking. Luckily, for most dogs reactivity does not equal aggression (though sometimes it does).
Why does my dog have leash reactivity? There are a few different possibilities to this question. First, many overly friendly dogs who are leash reactive are excited when they see another dog. They may end up barking, jumping around, hitting the end of the leash and carrying on. Often these dogs are dogs who attend dog daycares, dog parks, or are allowed to go up and say hi to most dogs they see on a walk. While this type of dog is not aggressive it is often embarrassing for the humans and often stressful for the other dogs. Another reason your dog might be leash reactive is barrier frustration. Think of a dog who is barking when it is behind a fence or in the house behind the window.
A leash acts as a barrier, and when it is tight dogs can become frustrated. This type of dog is usually fine to see dogs when there are no barriers present. The next type of reactivity is fear based. When a fearful dog sees another dog and he reacts, in his mind he made the scary thing go away. Often this dog has had one or more negative experiences with another dog or is due to lack of exposure to dogs (though usually it is caused by a bad experience). These dogs usually can warm up to other dogs once a proper introduction has been made.
The last type of leash reactivity is true aggression. This is uncommon but does exist. This is a dog who definitely wants to hurt another dog. It is rare this type of dog can be fully trained out of this and may need management for the rest of it’s life. Luckily it is rare to see true aggression.
How do I fix reactivity? While the reason your dog is reactive plays a small role in the training plan to resolve the behaviour, in the end the recipe will remain similar if not the same regardless of the reason.
The core foundation of working on reactivity will revolve around 5 key factors.
Distance – When it comes to addressing reactivity, we want to meet the dog where they’re at instead of trying to muscle through the situation. What we mean by this is if your dog is in the grade school equivalent of Kindergarten, then don’t put your dog in a grade school level above their skill set, like say grade 6. In order to stay within their skill set we need to find out what our dog’s threshold is for success.
Say your dog can see another dog at 40′ but at 35′ your dog starts to pant, and their tail goes up, you need to start working with your dog at 40′. When you push the dog past their threshold you are in essence muscling through it. In this scenario 40′ is the dog’s threshold and would be what we consider to be where the dog is able to learn. If you push the dog too far (or too close) then your dog will no longer be in a learning state of mind. If your dog is freaking out, lunging, barking, and carrying on, they cannot learn.
Movement – Part of working through reactivity is to use movement to help keep our dogs calm. If you consider your dog like a pressure cooker when you ask him to sit still, it is far more likely they will explode. If you keep them moving (with some strategy as movement alone will not necessarily fix the issue), you can help them feel more calm. Another reason to use movement is because if say when we see a dog, we panic, we pull our dog off to the side, and we either distract them or we let them stare the other dog down, we are also ourselves being reactive.
Our goal is always to achieve a neutral response to things around the dog. If when we see another dog, we either a) rely on distraction or b) pull our dogs off to the side and let them stare, our dog is not neutral at all. A neutral response to seeing another dog or trigger would be to see it, look at it for 1-3 seconds, look away and carry on.
Correction – In order to disagree with reactivity we need to be able to correct the unwanted behaviour. However, we do not rely on correction alone. So many people have tried correction alone and it rarely works out for them. Why? There are a few reasons so let’s discuss. First is timing. Most of the time we see people waiting for their dog to be reactive in order to want to correct them. If your dog is blowing up it is too late, very few dogs will respond to a correction when they are already losing their mind. Second is how firm of a correction is given.
We are not saying you need to do a double handed yank on the leash, but if your correction is too soft it will have no meaning to the dog. Lastly, the type of training tool used. Tools are not all equal and a correction given on a harness will not yield the same results as a remote collar, head collar or prong collar. Tools do matter and it will take you a VERY long time to work through reactivity on a harness.
Reward – We use a lot of food rewards in our training, and working through reactivity is no different. You might see other trainers trying to use food to distract, desensitize or counter condition the dog, but they we we use food is to reward the dog for every good choice they make. That might mean we reward them for less than perfect choices so long as it is better than the alternative choice they would have made before. You will often hear us talking about naming and explaining as well which is a type of perception modification used to help the dog feel better about their surroundings.
The way we use N&E is when our dog notices something (anything not just their main triggers), we will tell them what it is. For example “that is a car, yes” and then feed. Your tone should be neutral like you are saying to them it is just a car. You can use multiple rewards for one trigger which can be super helpful in stressful situations. The idea is that not only are we helping the dog feel better but also creating what we call a cut off cue.
Dog looks at the trigger, then looks at you for the reward. This is creating muscle memory in the brain that the dog is not to hard stare at the trigger, and can relieve stress by simply looking away. We also want to remember that improvement should be rewarded even if it is not perfect. If your dog is better than they were even 1 minute ago, you can reward that despite the fact that they may not yet be perfect.
Repetition – An important element to resolving reactivity is repetition and practice. Reactivity does not go away over night and will require plenty of practice before they get to neutral. We recommend setting up as many practice sessions as possible. This may mean driving outside of your neighbourhood to say a dog park to practice outside the park. When do you stop practicing? When your dog no longer needs the practice. Simple as that. That could be a couple of weeks, that could be two months. The better you follow the plan the sooner you will no longer need to practice!
Obedience is not the answer to your problems?
Obedience…such a commonly used word when we talk about the way we train our dogs. We have been brainwashed to think that obedience is the only thing we need to worry about. The end all be all to training. They must obey, they must sit, they must lay down, they must do what we say. They must do so willingly and with positive reinforcement only, but also without an expectation of reward. However, dogs are sentient beings with emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Why as humans do we think we are superior and need to control our dogs? Because that is what obedience is all about, control. If I say sit you must do as I say and sit because I feel the need to control you and make decisions for you despite how you are feeling about the situation.
Lets unpack why an obedience based training mentality is not ideal and actually not needed.
1. Obedience does not change the way the dog feels about the situation. Take for example if your dog is reactive on leash and it stems from fear, so you ask for eye contact from your dog and you enforce the rule that when we pass a dog you must give me eye contact on demand, in no way does this change the way the dog feels about passing dogs while on a walk.
All it does it put blinders on your dog. Your dog is still afraid of and would still react if it was allowed to look at that other dog. In the training world this is called teaching an “incompatible” behaviour. So that means you teach the dog to do something else so that it can’t do the behaviour you don’t like. This does not change the emotional state of the dog and rather only suppresses the behaviour. As trainers and owners, we should be looking for ways to help support our dogs, lift them up, help them feel better in their own skin. Instead of focusing on obedience alone to solve all our problems.
2. The second reason being that we should not feel the need to control another living being. I am not saying you can’t teach your dog to sit when you ask them to. It is more about the mindset behind the WHY you need your dog to sit. When someone wants to focus on obedience, I often as why? Why does your dog NEED to sit before crossing the street? Why does your dog NEED to sit before you give him a treat? Most people cannot answer this without a “because I said so” type answer.
Of course there are a couple of life saving commands that all dogs should know and respond to like “come” and a solid “wait” for safety around doorways that lead to the outdoors. However, this need to command our dogs “because we said so” is pointless and unnecessary. What it comes down to is that we are using control and commands based on our desire to be in charge and need to have our dogs listen to what we say.
3. The third being that when a dog is performing obedience commands they are not in free behaviour. What does that mean? If I have to tell my dog to go to “place’ because that is the only way he can handle certain situations then my dog is not making the choice on their own but rather only behaving because I have told them what to do. I don’t see the need to micromanage our dogs.
Not only is it exhausting for the human, can create conflict for the dog, but also we have to think about what our dogs would choose to do if we didn’t tell them what to do. Meaning if the human isn’t there to tell the dog to go to place, what would the dog do? What if someone else is watching your dog and they don’t know how to enforce the command? We want to teach the dog how to be well behaved and make good choices so they can live in our human world without having to be micromanaged all the time. Not only will you enjoy your dog more, but we will remove unnecessary conflict from your relationship.
When it comes to training, we should focus on relationship, teaching our dogs how to make good choices without being told what to do, work on how to be calm when they don’t necessarily want to be, and how to feel better about situations that make them uncomfortable. Let’s worry less about being in control and more about the animal in front of us that we consider family!