A window into Wagsmore Dogcamp's world of dogs

Dog Park Etiquette

Dog parks can be wonderful things.  They give our dogs the freedom to socialize, exercise, and have some fun with other dogs and owners alike.  However, I think almost everyone who goes to an off leash park has had at least one negative experience.  Untrained dogs, aggressive, or out of control dogs can all pose a risk in the overall safety of the park environment. So how do you know if your dog is ready to share this experience with you?  This week we’ll go over how to ensure your dog is ready and trained well enough for the dog park.

First and foremost, you MUST have a reliable recall with your dog.  Can you trust that no matter what’s going on, when you ask your dog to “come”, he will leave whatever he’s doing to listen to you?  The reliability of this command helps to keep everybody safe and calm.  I’ve heard many times owners say “Oh, Fido is just having a good time” when their dog blissfully ignores their repeated commands to come to them.  While the dog may be looking like they’re having the time of their life frolicking through the fields, this is an example of a dog who is not under full control.  If a fight were to break out, you want your dog to reliably return to you each and every time.

So how do you get to that point?

A strong dog-owner relationship is imperative in order to have a functioning, safe off leash area.  The following exercises will help to build up the bond between you and your dog, provide your dog with some fun mental stimulation, and reinforce the reliability of your dog’s basic commands.


Even with the distraction of treats right in front of them, these dogs will still watch on command

“Watch” or “Focus”:  This command, which is taught in most basic puppy classes is a very handy trick to keep in your back pocket.  When you ask your dog to watch, they should look at you, and wait to see what your next command is going to be.  Let’s say your dog is starting to get excited or aroused over something going on at the park which you don’t necessarily want him involved in.  You ask him to “watch”, and he immediately turns and looks at you.  You can now tell him to sit, down, or give him another command to redirect his attention from what had originally caught his interest.  So how do you start training for this?  Ask your dog for a sit, then bring a treat up towards your eyes and say “watch” (or look, focus, etc).  As soon as your dog meets your eyes, give him a reward.  If you use clicker training, make sure to mark the behavior of him looking at you immediately, then give him his reward.  Studies have shown that a reward administered within 2 seconds after a good behavior is the most effective.  After that, it becomes unclear what the reward is for.   Repeat this about ten times, using the lure to bring the dog’s eyes up to meet your eyes, rewarding each and every time.  It’s important to remember to start slow!  Don’t expect your dog to gaze into your eyes with undying attention right from the start.  There are a  lot of exciting things going on, and I’m sure everyone has noticed that dogs are easily distracted.  You want them to understand that looking at you is a good thing, and that it earns them a reward.  Next, try lengthening the amount of time that they look at you.  A few seconds, each time they hold your eyes, reward them.  When they’re reliably looking at you, try pointing to your eyes, keeping your treat in your other hand, and say “watch”.  If they look at you, immediately reward them.  When you have a reliable response, continue lengthening the amount of time.  If you feel really confident, you can begin adding distractions to make it harder.  Will your dog “watch” even though there’s a treat on the floor?  What if you’re holding a ball by your waist?  On your walks, can you ask for a “watch” when a person is walking by?  If you can, then congratulations!  Your dog has a wonderful relationship with you!

“Touch”:  Asking for a touch is similar to asking for a “watch”.  You want your dog to seek out your hand and touch it with his nose.  This, again, is a command that requires the focus of the dog be entirely on you.  You want this to be a fun, rewarding command for you dog!  Start by putting a very small treat between your fingers and put your hand to your side with your fingers flat with palm facing the dog, and say “touch”.  As soon as the dog bumps your hand with his nose, reward him.  (again, if using a clicker, mark the behavior as soon as he bumps your hand).  Do this several times, rewarding each time he touches your hand with his nose.  You can use either or both hands for this command.  After he is reliably going for your hand, start asking for a “touch” without a treat between your fingers.  Again, as soon as he touches your hand with his nose, reward him.  This is a command you want to be rewarding each and every single time you use it.  You want it to be so fun and the outcome to be so desirable that he’ll choose to “touch” your hand over anything else!  So use praises, treats, baby talk, anything to make it the best thing the dog has ever done! Now, of course, we’re going to step it up a notch.  What will your dog do if you move your hand up a little bit, so he really has to stretch with his nose to reach your hand?  What about if your hand is down close to the ground?  By moving your hand around, you can see if he’s really understanding this command.  When you’re certain his understanding is firm, you can start asking for “touch” on his walks when you’re out and about.  You can try having a friend or family member bouncing a ball from a distance away. (It’s very important not to rush and ask too much of the dog too fast.  If he goes completely crazy for tennis balls, you might just want to have someone hold it from 20 feet away, and see if he’ll remain focused and listen to his command.  It’s far more effective to have the dog succeed with the challenges being something he’s able to cope with, instead of having him repeatedly fail what you’re asking of him.  If you aren’t  getting  a behavior majority of the time because of distractions, make it a little less intense for him.)

“Come”:  One of the most important commands to have firmly established is the ability to be able to reliably have your dog come to you.  For safety and practicality, this command is something every owner wants to have.  The toughest part about it is it takes a long time, and a lot of consistent and dedicated training.  One of the most important things to remember, is when your dog comes to you, you should ALWAYS reward it.  It’s hard to remember that dog’s don’t have the same association skills that we have. If you’ve told your dog to come, and he dawdled his way over to you, never reprimand him for coming to you, no matter how slow he made his way.  You want each and every time he comes to be something that’s a pleasant experience for him. Along that same train of thought, if every time you ask your dog to come, you do something unpleasant and negative (he gets a bath, gets his nails trimmed, leaves the dog park, gets yelled at), the reliability of the command will go down.  So even around the house, just randomly call him to you.  When he does, reward him, and let him carry on with his day.  Same idea at the dog park, recall him do you several times throughout your time there.  Don’t ask him to do anything specific, but when he comes to you, give him a cookie or praise, and let him return to his play.  It’s important that your dog understands that when you say come, it doesn’t mean his fun is going to end or that something unpleasant is going to happen.  Repetition is very important while teaching and enforcing this command.

There are also a few other things to be aware of at the off leash park.  Be mindful of where your dog is and what he’s up to.  It’s easy to get distracted as owners and chat with other folks visiting the park that day, but we need to remember that we’re there for our dogs, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that they’re playing respectfully, and minding their manners.  If it looks like your dog might be playing too rough, or is trying to play with a dog who’s uncomfortable in that situation, it’s best to carry on your walk and find your dog a suitable playmate.  Just as we all appreciate when our dogs have positive experiences at the park, it’s important to make sure that your dog isn’t scaring or intimidating any other dogs as well.  Cleaning up after your dog is also important, and it takes everybody’s cooperation to make sure the parks stay clean!  Most off leash parks provide several garbage bins for easy waste disposal and convenience.

We hope everybody enjoys their summer with their dog, and stays safe!

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Tis the season for creepy crawlies!

You and your dog are sharing a tender moment of cuddling on the couch, when you feel a little bump on top of her head.  Upon further investigation, you discover a tiny brown bug nestled up against her skin.  Instantly, you feel bugs begin to crawl on your own skin, and you get the sickening feeling that your house has become a fortress for an army of almost unseen parasites.  Spring is the time we start seeing an influx of parasites upon our furry friends, and hopefully we can help you keep your pet safe from the dangers that parasites can pose.


Close up of a flea

If you’ve heard that we don’t have fleas and ticks in Alberta, think again.  They have (unfortunately) made their most unwelcome arrival.  Fleas, the super jumper of the parasite world, have an icky habit of reproducing at a very fast rate, and the frustrating thing about them is they can live for up to a year in their cocoons, waiting for conditions to be ideal for their survival, before they hatch.  An adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day, and she will start laying eggs a mere 48 hours after emerging from her cocoon.  Fleas will favor the neck and tail area of a dog, and the symptoms will be severe itching, and possibly red, irritated skin.  Fleas can also bite people, leaving red itchy bumps, often in a line on the skin.  A flea is 1 to 4 mm long, and can jump up to 200 times its body length!  They are dark brown or dark red.  Fleas can also spread through dog to dog contact, such as dog parks or daycare environments, as well pass along tapeworms.

A tick before feeding on it’s host

Engorged tick

A nice hike through wooded areas and long grass can be a great way to exercise yourself and your dog.  Be careful though, because you both could pick up some extra companions along the way!  Ticks live by sucking the blood of their host.  They attach themselves by burying their head under the skin.  They will feed and grow in size as they suck the blood.  It’s very important when you pull a tick out, you make sure the entire insect is removed.  If you just pull out the body, some of the tick’s mouth parts can remain in the skin, leaving you or your pet at risk for an infection site.  Avoid methods such as burning the tick, covering it in petroleum jelly, or applying heat to it.  You want to remove it quickly and safely, whether it be on you or your pet.  Take a pair of fine tipped tweezers, and get the ends as close to the skin as possible.  Grasp the tick and pull upwards with a steady, gentle pressure.  Don’t yank, twist, or jerk the body of the tick, as this increases the risk of leaving tick bits underneath your skin.

Left: D. caninum egg packet, containing 8 visible eggs, in a wet mount. Right: Adult tapeworm of D. caninum. The scolex of the worm is very narrow and the proglottids, as they mature, get larger.

Tapeworms are a type of internal parasite that can make its home in Alberta pooches.  Tapeworms live in a canine’s intestinal tract, and the species that is most common in Alberta can grow up to 20 inches.  Symptoms of a tapeworm in a dog may include weight loss, a dull coat, diarrhea/constipation, excessive gas, and inflamed intestines.  You may notice the dog scooting his bum along the ground, attempting to relieve the itching tapeworm segments cause.  You may find pieces of segments within the feces of the dog, or around his anus.  The most common tapeworm in Alberta, the Dipylidium caninum, can be transferred by ingesting a flea or louse that is infected with tapeworm larvae.  When the segments are shed through the feces (the segments can contain 20-30 eggs each), they’re fed on by cat and dog flea larvae, as well as dog lice.  Then if that parasite is swallowed by either you or your dog, it can put you at a risk for this parasite.


Roundworms are another common internal parasite, especially common in puppies.  These worms can grow up to 7 inches and can be contacted in a few different ways.  Puppies can get roundworms in utero, and be born with them.  They can also be passed through the mother’s milk to the nursing puppies.  A dog can also ingest a small animal, such as a mouse, that’s already infected with the roundworm and it will continue it’s life cycle in the dog.  Dogs can also ingest roundworm eggs from the soil.  The eggs are very hardy, and can lay for a very long time, enduring even Alberta winters!  These worms can cause weight loss, diarrhea, and vomitting.  You may not see evidence of roundworms at all in your dog.  The best way to know is by taking a fecal sample to your vet.

Dog lice

Dog lice can be transferred from dog to dog and live on the skin of the dog.  Fortunately, these little guys are species specific.  You, your children, and your cats are safe from catching canine lice.  Lice can usually be found on the warm spots of your dog, underneath the armpits, collar, and in the groin region. There are two main kinds of lice, one sucking, the other biting.  Very slow moving, they’re easy to spot if you’re looking for them. They cause intense itching, and attach themselves to the skin to suck the blood.  The entire life cycle of the flea is spent on the outside of a dog.  An adult louse will lay its eggs (called nits) and attach them to the fur of the dog, where they will hatch. They will be small, light brown little spots under your dog’s fur.  You can feel them with your fingertips on short haired breeds, and they feel like little pin heads underneath the fur.


The last parasite we’ll go over today (but certainly not the last of parasitic inhabitants residing in Alberta) is a microscopic single celled organism called Giardia (also nicknamed Beaver Fever).  This parasite can be ingested from contaminated feces, water sources (lakes, rivers, swamps), or eating contaminated food.  Symptoms of a Giardia infections include severe diarrhea, often watery and may include blood, lethargy and weakness, and no appetite.

When it comes to parasite control, it’s so important to have a good relationship with your veterinarian!  Your animal care team will be able to help you implement and maintain a regular parasite control schedule for your dog, keeping him healthy and happy, free from any parasitic freeloaders.  Other ways to keep your pet safe from parasites are:

  • bring a fresh, clean water supply for your dog
  • monitor what your dog is eating and putting in his mouth when you’re out enjoying nature
  • maintain a regular parasite control schedule
  • regularly clean your yard of feces
  • check your dog over frequently for external parasites

Be very mindful of what parasite control methods you choose to use on your dog.  Solutions like flea and tick collars contain high amounts of chemicals and toxins which can be dangerous to both your pet and to children, and include ingredients that have been shown to cause cancer.  It’s important to talk to your vet to find out the latest and safest way to keep your pet safe!

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Time for summer fun!

Well, it’s finally happened….we have had an official taste of summer in Sherwood Park/Edmonton.  With the warmer weather, it’s very important for us to be mindful of how the heat can affect our dogs.  Dogs don’t  use sweating like humans do to control their body temperature, although they do sweat through the pads of their feet.  Their main method of cooling down is by panting.  Here are a few useful tips to keep your pup happy, safe, and cool during this summer heat!


Did you know white short haired dogs can sunburn easier than darker colored dogs? Be careful how much exposure your dog is getting to direct sun.

Of course everybody knows that keeping dogs in a non-running vehicle in the summer is bad news.  But do you know just how warm it needs to be to become dangerous for your dog?


Top table compliments of Google, Celsius conversions on the table below

Heat stroke can be very dangerous for a dog, and can escalate quickly.  The brain will begin to swell, causing seizures, and possibly death.  This can happen very quickly in a car, EVEN WITH THE WINDOWS ROLLED DOWN!! Even when the weather isn’t overly hot, the temperature inside the car can quickly escalate to dangerous levels for your dog.

Heat stroke doesn’t just happen from dogs in hot cars. Strenuous exercise in hot weather or not having access to shade while out in the yard can also increase the chance of heat stroke.  Dogs with shorter snouts (known as brachycephalic) such as bulldogs, shih tzus, pugs, boxers, etc, older dogs, dogs with prexisting medical conditions such as obesity can also have an increased risk.  Some things to look for if you suspect your dog has heatstroke include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Dark red tongue and gums
  • Weakness and staggering, lethargy
  • Frothing or heavy salivation
  • Glazed eyes, a lack of focus
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Lack of coordination, uncontrolled muscle tremors
  • Difficulty breathing

If you suspect your dog has heat stroke, some things you can do to help treat it would be to immediately move him to a cooler area.  Give small amounts of water to help rehydrate him (too much water at once can cause vomiting, which can further dehydration), and put towels soaked in slightly cool water over him.  Do NOT hose down or pour cold water on a dog with heatstroke, as this can send them into shock.  They should be transported to a veterinarian immediately.

On days that you know are going to be warm, take your walks early in the morning when it’s still cool, or later in the evening.  Be sure to bring a water bottle with you as well.  As with humans, it’s important that dog’s stay hydrated in the hot weather.  Keep in mind that the sidewalks can become very hot as well, and can be painful for dogs to walk on.

Swimming pools are a great way to have fun and keep your dog nice and cool.  Small kiddie pools can offer the opportunity for games and great stimulation for you and your dog.  Playing fetch with floating balls, doing basic commands in the pool, or put a few beef flavored ice cubes in for him to fish out of the water.  Many dogs enjoy playing with the water coming out of the hose, as well, or try setting up a sprinkler and see what he thinks of that!

Ice cubes and frozen treats are also a fun way to help keep your dog cool.  You can throw some Blue Buffalo Stix and a variety of treats into a container, add some beef or chicken flavored water, then freeze it. Your dog will have fun trying to get the treats from the block of ice, and enjoy the nice cold treat.  (It’s also a god time to slide it across the floor!), you can also use Kongs, Busy Buddies, or any stuffable toys.

We hope all of our clients and readers have a wonderful and safe summer with their dogs!  Always be mindful of the temperatures outside, and plan your activities with your dogs accordingly!

Also just a reminder that we have a photo contest on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/WagsmoreDogDaycamp).  Submit a picture of your dog enjoying spring on our wall, and you could win a free day of daycare and nail trim from Wagsmore Grooming!  The picture with the most likes will take the prize, so make sure you share the picture after you post it!  Good luck and we look forward to seeing pictures!

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How to greet a new dog by speaking dog!

When I was younger, I was always drawn to dogs.  I would go up and pet any dog that I saw, never for a single moment thinking that a dog might be unfriendly.  Looking back now, especially as an owner with a dog who does have reactivity and aggression issues, I can sincerely appreciate the importance of knowing how to approach a dog in a polite and non-threatening manner.  In daycare, we get dogs with a variety of histories, personalities, and past experiences.  Some dogs come in, as bold as your morning espresso, ready to rock all day and play until they drop!  Other dogs are more introverted, and need time and conditioning to help them realize that their time spent at Wagsmore is actually a fun and enjoyable place to be!  Some dogs are fearful their first few times.  It’s an amazing experience for us to get to see the fearful dogs transform into happy, confident dogs at daycare!

As staff, our approach of the dog is vital to their first impression of us.  For humans, it’s natural to approach each other directly, making eye contact.  We’ll have a big smile on our face and throw a hand out for the other person to shake.  Now, I want you to consider, for a moment, how this might translate to a dog.  You’re 20-30 lbs, you haven’t been exposed to too many different situations in your life, and you have a history of being fearful.  Your owner has you on a leash, and you’re walking into a new place.  This unknown human comes walking up quickly to you, staring deep into your eyes (think of a cougar hunting prey, the intensity of that stare).  Well, that feels fairly threatening to you.  Now, the human continues his very direct approach, bends over and bares its teeth, and shoves his hand into your face.  You’ve already been put on edge by the human’s approach so far, and this hand quickly moving towards you  along (for you to smell) with his bared teeth (smile) is DANGEROUS!  So, you snap at it and give it a quick fear bite.  The hand retracts, the person quickly retreats, and you’ve managed to keep yourself safe.

All you wanted to do was pet the dog!  What happened to make it turn into an ugly, aggressive situation? When you approach a dog that you’re not familiar with, it’s important to look at what the dog is telling you with their body language.


Is Allegro wanting anybody to approach her right now? Take note of the tension in her body and face, her ears are pushed back, and her tail is slightly down. She definitely would not appreciate anybody disturbing her personal space right now. If you did try to pet her, she may react with a snap!

There are some key things you will want to take note of before you go to approach a new dog.  How relaxed is its entire body?  Are his ears forward and relaxed, or pinned back to its head (this, of course, may vary from breed to breed)?  What about the tail? Is it casually wagging, tucked between his legs, or straight up arched over his back wagging quickly and stiffly? These are a few of the methods the dog will use to convey to you how they feel about your approach.

Some dogs have absolutely no qualms about being approached by a stranger.  They spot you, and immediately, their tail starts swooshing back and forth, their tongue lolling to the side  and they’re just waiting to smother you in their signature dog greeting!  These dogs are pretty easy to spot!  They look relaxed (if not excited), and there’s nothing to suggest anything threatening about them.  But let’s say for a moment, you’re walking down the street and you see the cutest dog ever, and you want to give it a pet.  First things first, ALWAYS ask permission from the owner if you can pet their dog.  This is true for any canine walking on leash.  Owners of frightful/timid or reactive dogs will appreciate the fact that you would like to keep their dog feeling safe and comfortable.  So you ask if you can pet their furry friend, and they give you their permission.  It’s very important not to approach a dog in a direct manner.  So if it’s not possible to approach the dog in an arc, turn your shoulders so you’re not square to his head.  Keep your gaze shifting, looking from him, to his owner, to him again.  You can even use a calming signal and blink frequently and slowly.  Dogs will blink to each other to demonstrate a non-threatening intent.  If the dog is starting to avoid you, pulling back and hiding behind it’s owner, it would be best to wish them a happy rest of their walk, and carry on your way.  If he continues to watch your approach and looks relaxed about what’s going on, you can squat down (again, avoid being square to his head) and see if he willingly approaches you.  If so, then awesome!  Give him a scratch if he’s comfortable with it, and praise him for his bravery, and thank the owner for the chance to interact with their dog.  If not, no harm done!  You’ve remained non-threatening to that dog, and have actually provided him with a positive human interaction.

Now let’s say you see a mystery dog in your backyard.  You have no idea who he belongs to, or if he’s friendly or not.  You’d like to try to approach him to see if you can get any identification of him.  You walk out to the backyard, approaching him in an arc.  You notice that while he’s staring at you and doesn’t move, his body posture tenses considerably, and he slightly looks away.  This dog has just given you three specific distance increasing cues that your approach is NOT welcome.  First, he’s directly staring at you. Just because he doesn’t move doesn’t mean that your approach is welcome.  If you see him tense up, in combination with that direct stare, this is definitely something that could progress into unwanted behaviors.  Third, he gave you a look away (a slight turning of his head away from you.  He may or may not break eye contact with you during this).  A look away, in this case, is letting you know that he is not comfortable with your approach.  You stop, lower and turn your head, lower your body and give him a BIIIIIIIIGGGGG yawn.  You blink your eyes slowly and deliberately, and lick your lips.  He stares at you a moment longer, and starts sniffing the ground beside him. After a few seconds of sniffing, he starts scratching at his neck, and reciprocates your yawn.  Congratulations!  Your efforts to convey your non-threatening intent have been successful!  When he started sniffing the ground, this is what’s known as a displacement activity.  When there’s a stressful situation, a dog might feel that he needs to keep busy or find something to do, and will often begin sniffing the ground around them.  It’s similar to a person trying to fill an awkward silence with excessive chatter.  Scratching himself was a calming signal.  It was his way of telling you, I recognize the fact that you don’t mean to be threatening, and I’m accepting that.  When he yawned, this was also a calming signal.  So, since this dog has given you a couple of calming signals, you can squat down and see if he’s willing to approach you.  He comes towards you slowly, sniffing and licking his lips (another calming signal).  When he’s close, you can try touching him on his rear end, or his shoulders.  Avoid going over his head or being too invasive, as this can be threatening to a skittish and shy dog.  At this point, you can try looping a leash around his neck to secure him.  Success!!  You have just had a complete conversation in dog and successfully conveyed your intentions to a new canine!

Happy Legos

Allegro is ready and waiting for your attention! Her ears are relaxed and forward, her tail wagging from side to side. Her mouth is also relaxed, and her body posture isn’t conveying any sort of tension

It’s important to remember that a vast majority of bites can be avoided by properly approaching a dog!  Being equipped with some basic canine language knowledge, you can help to keep yourself safe, as well as provide dogs you meet with positive and safe feeling experiences!


Operant Learning Illustrated by Examples

Here’s a wonderful explanation and examples using humane training methods!  If you’re familiar with operant conditioning, and get befuddled with the positives, negatives, reinforcements and punishments, this post/movie help to break it down in an easier way to understand!

Operant Learning Illustrated by Examples.

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Welcome to Wagsmore Daycamp’s blog!

Thanks to everyone for stopping in!  We’re excited to launch a blog which will hopefully give you some useful information and education about the world of dogs. It’s our hope that we can provide you with easy to understand, interesting facts about how dogs communicate with each other and with you!


Gucci is licking Pluto’s lips. This is a sign of appeasement towards Pluto. Puppies will often do it to adult dogs as a way of saying “I’m sorry!”

Do you ever find yourself fidgeting when you get nervous?  Or perhaps tapping the end of your pen on the desk when you’re trying to figure out a problem?  Dogs also have certain cues that they exhibit when they’re stressed, nervous, excited, and more!  Have you ever seen your pup let out a big yawn when you take him into a busy pet store?  Or maybe while he’s playing with another dog at the offleash park, he’ll suddenly stop mid-zoom and sniff the ground.  Both of these actions are called “calming signals” and dogs use them to let each other know when they’re feeling minor amounts of stress or are a bit uncomfortable.  By watching your dog’s body language, you can learn to interpret what he’s feeling as well!

Everything about your dog’s body can provide you with clues to his intention, whether it’s friendly, fearful, or aggressive.  From his lips, to the tip of his tail, his overall posture provides us with insight, and this language is what makes dog daycares and large groups of dogs possible. 

Stay tuned for more in-depth descriptions of dog body language in the coming weeks! 

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