Episode 11 - When Do I Call a Behaviour Consultant?

Corey McCusker  00:03
Hello dog lovers, and welcome to Muttz with Mannerz™ Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup, young or old, so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach. And today I’m thrilled to have with me, Karen Baxter, dog trainer and dog behaviour consultant. Let me tell you a bit about our guest today, Karen Baxter. Karen Baxter has loved dogs all her life and feels privileged that she has the ideal job, following her lifelong passion and working with dogs. Beginning her professional career with dogs over 20 years ago, Karen brings an experience and joy to her work that can be felt by each dog and dog owner that she works with, regardless of the size or the breed of the dog. Karen’s training philosophy is “one size does not fit all!” and true to the Unified K9 difference, tailors her training protocols and/or treatment plans to the needs of the dog and the lifestyle and goals of the dogs owner. Her positive and fair techniques are designed to bring out enthusiasm in each dog so they love to learn training, which results in building stronger relationships with their humans – based on trust. Karen has participated in various training programs over several years, preparing her for her career in dog training. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, having passed the Knowledge Assessment Examination through the Certification Council for the Professional Pet Dog Trainers. She is a graduate of the Animal Behaviour College Certified Dog Training Program. Karen has also studied and completed training on the practical application of behaviour adjustment training for fearful, anxious and aggressive dogs and aggressive dog conflict resolution with behaviourist and author Cheryl Smith. Her most recent accomplishments, including the Master Aggression Course, with world renowned behaviour consultant and expert on dog aggression, Michael Shikashio, and she is currently completing her diploma in Canine Behaviourology, with a specialty in working with aggressive dogs. Karen has also worked with local animal shelters and rescue organizations to assist in the care and rehabilitation of the rescue dogs who are usually suffering from trauma and stress related behaviour issues. Her continuing education and experience has ensured Karen has developed expertise in dog psychological issues manifesting themselves as anxiety or aggression. Karen’s training specialty, including Rally obedience, agility, working dogs tracking, scent work, and puppy foundations are all some of the things that she has done. She’s a member of the International Association of the Animal Behaviour Consultants, the Agility Association of Canada, the Canadian Association for Professional Dog Trainers, and is certified in Pet First Aid and CPR. Karen lives in York Region with her dogs – most of which compete in obedience, agility, and Rally-Obedience. Her dogs have reached master levels in all the sports, Karen, that is quite the resume, I’m going to say. But I’m just glad I shared all of that, because it just shows the investment that you’ve made in the dog world and your commitment to helping dogs, and especially the ones with the behaviour. So welcome, Karen. 

Karen Baxter  03:35
Well, thank you, Corey.

Corey McCusker  03:37
So Karen, and I, we, how did we meet? If I look back, we came across each other because I had opened my facility in York region, and I was looking to explore who it could be in my network to help me. I’m a dog trainer. And I think we’re going to talk about the difference between what you do and what I do. And I really wanted to have somebody, one that I could contact with, but I also rescued a puppy named Skye. And Skye was having some issues, you know, walking, a little bit scared of truck sounds. She was really hearing sensitive. So you were running a leash clinic and I reached out to you and that’s how I really got to know you. And I loved the the clinic that you ran. It really helped me with Skye. Yeah, and now I have you in my back pocket whenever I have any of my dogs that I need to, not my own personal dogs, but my clients dogs that need help, because, like some of the things that you are working with the fear and the anxiousness and the aggression. Let’s talk about the difference between a dog trainer and behaviourist. So Karen, can you explain that?

Karen Baxter  04:47
Sure, can absolutely. And it’s a really, really good question. I think a lot of people get confused by the difference between what’s a dog trainer versus . . . There’s actually three different positions; one would be a Dog Trainer, one is a Behaviour Consultant, and the other one would be a Veterinary Behaviourist. So the difference is, the way I like to describe it, is training is like working and teaching dogs how to work, like a task. You’re teaching them a task. So like, sit, is a task. I’m teaching the dog how to do a sit. Right. Down is a task. So it’s more about teaching the dogs how to do something specifically. Behaviour consulting is like a human psychologist. I have this issue. I need to learn coping skills, or I need to learn how to do something, okay. And the psychologist will then teach you skills that help you cope with your anxiety or cope with, you know, your reactions to things, right. So it’s about changing the emotional response of the dog in a situation. So it can take a little longer, you need to have a more in-depth knowledge of dog psychology in order to make it happen. So that’s really what a Behaviour Consultant does. A Veterinary Behaviourist is actually a Veterinarian, who has continued their education – quite extensively, I might add – usually, at least a couple of years past what a typical Vet would go to school for. They’re really the equivalent to a Psychiatrist. So like we, you know, so if I’m a human, and I have an issue, I might go to a Psychologist, but if it’s a really serious issue that has like chemical imbalances, and, you know, physiological responses as well, you know, I’m going to go to a Psychiatrist who’s able to help me with the medical side, as well as the psychological side. So dogs have all three as well. And so depending on the issue, they might just need some training, right, they just need to learn some structure and some boundaries. And you know, and that’s, can be, it’s enriching for the dog, because you’re mentally challenging them, that could be good, you know. But if their reactions are to something in the environment, or more from an emotional standpoint, then you might need a Behaviour Consultant who can help that dog learn, you know, and help the people work with the dog to learn some coping skills, so they can cope with the environment. And then some dogs have such a strong chemical reaction in their body to something that’s going on, you know, something that’s happened in, a trauma or something, that they might need some medical assistance as well. So then you need to go to a Veterinary Behaviourist in order to get that done. Does that make sense?

Corey McCusker  07:23
Yeah, I mean, I just love how you put the analogy in there, because I think that will really help people understand, you know, the difference, but also, that sometimes their dogs, like dogs need more than just training. I mean, I get approached all the time, because they think, Oh, you’re a trainer, so you can help fix it. And it’s like, okay, well, there might be a little bit more going on with your dog right now. So it may not just be okay, I’m going to teach your dog to lie down for like, five minutes and do a stay. And it’s going to be you know . . . So, no, I really like how you explained that. Now, can you share a story with us about one of your clients that maybe has gone through the process and you’ve seen some positive results?

Karen Baxter  08:07
Absolutely. So one of my clients I work with is a little dog named Walter, who’s a little Corgi. So typical herding-breed type dog, you know, he’s quite intense. And from quite a young age starting at, I think I met Walter when he was seven months. So at first we just were doing regular obedience and things like that. But as he matured, right, he started becoming quite reactive to everything in the environment that moved, like so, trucks, cars, people on bikes, people, dogs, everything, right? And, you know, so it became quite distressing for his humans, right, to take this little dog out because he would violently turn and bite the leash and, you know, really just have a meltdown if anything moved in the environment. So anyway, so we started working with Walter on using behaviour techniques, instead of just training techniques, and helping Walter develop some coping skills and learn some impulse control to help with some of his triggers in the environment. So by doing so, it took us a while, because behaviour doesn’t change, you can’t change the emotions of a living creature in a day. It’s not going to work. You need time, right? So, you know, it took us a while, but we’ve been able to get Walter to be able to handle trucks, for instance, like a truck going by, or people on a bike, people walking. Those types of things Walter can handle that no problem now. We’ve taken him to public places where there’s people walking, and he doesn’t react at all anymore to the people. He’s got skills now that help him cope with those types of triggers. There are some triggers that he has that are more intense, that we are taking longer to help him cope with. Dogs are particularly challenging for him because he’s afraid of them. That’s the reason why he reacts to the dogs. So he’s a case that I actually sent him to the Veterinary Behaviourist. So the Veterinary Behaviourist is also working with Walter. And of course, then I am given the results of the Veterinary Behaviourist’s report so that I can make sure whatever I’m doing with Walter works in cooperation with whatever the Veterinary Behaviourist has suggested. So Walter has had some medication to help him cope a little bit better. And then we’ve been able to work with him with some well-balanced dogs that are not going to react to Walter and slowly introduce him to the dog in a way that Walter felt safe, and that he had options. So he wasn’t forced to actually interact with the dog. And the whole goal for the family was that their parents had just got a new puppy and they wanted Walter to interact with this puppy. And they were worried because Walter’s reactions with new dogs were so terrible. So by working with my dogs, and showing them how to introduce Walter to a puppy in a way that Walter would be comfortable and not feel overwhelmed, they were successfully able to integrate Walter with this puppy at her parents house. And they’ve got videos and pictures of Walter and this puppy sleeping together and running together and doing all kinds of things. So it’s like a super-success story. And what I love about these people is they’re not, they don’t want to stop there. They’re just, they want to keep going, and helping him develop more confidence around dogs. So we continue to work with him and other dogs, and, you know, helping him with his reactions, so that he has those continual coping skills when he sees dogs in the environment. So yeah, but he’s improved tremendously. Tremendously.

Corey McCusker  11:47
That’s great. That’s a great story. And I mean, I think there’s two things that you pointed out is one, that it takes time, because I think people don’t realize that it’s not a quick fix. And the other thing is that the people are invested in it, and they want to continue and continue helping the dog build it, I’m going to say confidence, its comfort zone around other dogs. So that’s where I think all pet owners are really committed to their dogs, but something they don’t know what to do. And I think that’s where, you know, you come in.

Karen Baxter  12:18
Yeah, they just don’t realize that, you know, in order to change the behaviour of a dog, it’s just like changing the behaviour of a person. I actually will use the analogy of trying to change a bad habit, because that’s one we can relate to usually, as people, right? You know, I have a bad habit of biting my nails. Let’s say. You know, and I want to change that habit. Well, there’s things that we have to do, we have to put in place for ourselves, if we’re trying to break a bad habit. And it takes time. And sometimes it takes trial, like you’ll do it for a while, and then something will happen and you revert back. 

Corey McCusker  12:53

Karen Baxter  12:54
The process of being committed and sticking with it, that gets you to the end result where, Oh, guess what, one day, I just stopped biting my nails. I’m just not doing it anymore. Right? So the dog is, it’s very similar.

Corey McCusker  13:06

Karen Baxter  13:06
It’s a learned behaviour, that they’ve learned how to cope with something by reacting to it. We have to help them change that habit from reacting. 

Corey McCusker  13:17

Karen Baxter  13:17
Which will help change their emotional response to things. And then they will develop a new skill to cope with that, which will make them feel more calm. Right? 

Corey McCusker  13:28

Karen Baxter  13:28
So they’re not going to be distracted. But it does take time and people just don’t realize, they think it’s like training, right? I’m going to go to six weeks of classes, and I’m going to learn how to stop my dog from, you know, freaking out when you see somebody.

Corey McCusker  13:40
Exactly, yeah. Or I can get my dog to walk perfectly on leash and not pull. And it just takes like a week.

Karen Baxter  13:47
In one week. Yeah, exactly. It’s like, oh, it’s complicated.

Corey McCusker  13:50
Exactly. So Karen, if somebody did have an issue, maybe we’ll talk about some of the issues, what would be the process you go through to assess a dog and determine if you can help them.

Karen Baxter  14:01
The first thing that we would do is set them up for an initial private assessment. All our behaviour cases, we work privately first. We don’t put them into a class environment until we are positive that’s a good idea for that dog. So we bring them in, we talk to the people, we have a questionnaire we get them to fill out first, and we talk to the people and get a really in-depth history on the dog and the dog’s lifestyle, and any training they’ve had to date or methods they’ve tried, and a full detailed accounting of what the issues are, including examples. So that we can start formulating a picture of what exactly is going on with this dog. Right? And once we have that clear picture, we will talk to the people about a treatment plan. It’s like, okay, so for instance, let’s say it’s resource guarding. Right? Your dog is resource guarding and he also, if we have resource guarding case, perhaps the issue is the dog is not feeling secure in their environment. So we’ll first talk about safety and management, because we want to make sure everybody is safe through the whole process. So the first thing you have to talk about is safety and management to make sure that they are not continually putting themselves at risk or putting the dog into a position where they have to react. Right? So we’ll talk about that first. And then, okay, once we’ve got our safety and management in place, then what techniques can we start using to help change the dog’s emotional response to, you know, people approaching their food, for instance. So we will start working on building those tasks up with the people so that they can understand that this is what we got to do in a really slow, methodical way so that the dog is not being put into a position of all of a sudden panicking because you’re coming near their food. And so we will give them a variety of different tasks to work on, to start changing that dog’s emotional response to people approaching. The other thing we usually do is, we look at other elements of the dog’s life that possibly need some boost. For instance, you know, to help build up a stronger relationship with their people or, you know, to just to build up trust in general with humans, you know, things like that. And, you know, just make the dog psychologically a little bit more well balanced. And often, sometimes just that can help a dog tremendously. 

Corey McCusker  16:25

Karen Baxter  16:26
Right. Yeah. So, you know, and really, it’s just because we don’t all know exactly what a dog needs. And every breed is different. Every dog is different.

Corey McCusker  16:35
I was going to say, there’s just so many and we don’t, we can’t read their minds. They can’t tell us. It’s like . . . 

Karen Baxter  16:39
They can’t tell us.

Corey McCusker  16:40
We can read their body language. I mean, if we’re trained, but again, to that’s where it’s yeah, it’s not easy. Okay, so that’s interesting. And I will give you your contact information at the end. So what are the three main concerns people approach you for help with? I think you mentioned one just now.

Karen Baxter  16:56
Resource guarding is one. That’s definitely one. Resource guarding is a natural behaviour, right? We all do it. Dogs do it. Humans do it. Every living creature resource guards to some extent. Where people have a challenge is when the resource guarding is so intense it becomes dangerous. So, you know, so that’s, that’s one. It can happen quite easily and quite often. The second one I’d say is leash reactivity. Leash reactivity, because that happens quite a bit. And everybody walks their dogs, right. So, you know, when they take their dogs out, the dog’s lunging, pulling, barking, snarling, growling at other dogs, people, etc, while they’re walking their dogs. That I would say, is number two. And the third one, especially nowadays with, you know, the last two years of COVID, and, you know, everybody being home would be separation anxiety. 

Corey McCusker  17:45
Mm hmm. 

Karen Baxter  17:47
So being able to leave your dog alone and not have your dog have a meltdown. Right? Now some dogs do great at it. They don’t have a problem with it at all. But you get the odd dog, where all of a sudden, being isolated from their people is super-distressing. 

Corey McCusker  18:02

Karen Baxter  18:03
And they are, they just don’t have the coping skills to stay on their own. So helping dogs be comfortable and okay with being on their own is, I’d say the third one that is probably what we see people for the most.

Corey McCusker  18:16
Yeah, and those are three I get calls all about. And like I said, I love having you on my team as a resource because now I have somebody that I can definitely refer to. I also think I would love to have you back because I think each of those, I would love to get into and dive a little bit deeper into those three issues and provide some tips and stuff too. Okay, so yeah, that would be great. So, Karen, what is some advice or words you’d like to share with the owners listening about the behaviour problems today that you just want to leave them with?

Karen Baxter  18:47
Well, that’s a big question. The number one thing is, this is our core philosophy at Unified, the number one thing I want people to understand is, it’s not their fault. That’s the one thing I want people to know. It’s like, we have a tendency to take on the responsibility and blame ourselves for everything that goes wrong with our dog. Right? And if you’re coming to me, that means you really care about your dog, and you really want to help them. Right? And you could have had 10 other dogs before the one you’ve got in front of you and never had an issue. And all of a sudden, this particular dog has experienced the world in such a way or has the genetic profile that just made them not able to cope with the scenario. And so could you have possibly done something to help the dog earlier? Sure. But if you don’t know, then how can it be your fault? It’s not your fault. It doesn’t help the dog to start blaming. It’s like no, you’re going to help your dog. You’re coming to somebody to get that help. That is, you should be commended for it, not criticized.

Corey McCusker  19:49

Karen Baxter  19:50
I don’t want people to feel like they should be blamed for it. They should really just look at it as, Okay, let’s move forward. How can we help this situation?

Corey McCusker  19:57
Exactly. Exactly. That’s great. Well, Karen, I’d love to talk to you all day. But I want to just thank you so much for joining us and sharing what you do, and how you help. And I know we’ve just kind of touched on it. But we’ve I think we’ve given them, I hope the listeners have a better understanding of the role that you play, the role I play as a trainer to, and just the difference. And that there is support out there for people that do have some issues that maybe you know, they’re not sure about how to deal with it. I do want to leave people with your information. And I do want to have you on again. And I want to dig deeper into this fascinating subject. For those of you listening, if you want more information, and I know you probably do about Karen, you can go to her website, www.unifiedk9.ca. And she has her Unified Canine Behaviour Center that’s located in York region. So please visit her website. We will also provide that information in the show notes. And we just want to thank you, Karen, today, for being with us. And I want to thank everybody listening. And if you do have a dog that . . . 

Karen Baxter  20:06
Thank you for inviting me.

Corey McCusker  20:33
. . .  needs some help, yeah, if you do need it, there are people out there to help you. And at Muttz with Mannerz™, we want to provide you with the resources that you need for you and your pup so that you can live a happy, healthy life. If you would like to learn more or listen to other podcasts, you can also visit our website. And if you have a topic that you would like us to discuss, you can email us at info at muttzwithmannerz.com. Thanks, everyone and have a great day.

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