Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ask the Trainer: Beating the Doggie Winter Blues

Note: All "Ask the Trainer" Questions and Answers can be found on the "Ask the Trainer" tab of our blog. Submit your questions to projectmaddie (at) gmail (dot) com with "Ask the Trainer" in the subject heading. Thanks to Animal Behaviourist Gen Reisinger for donating her time and expertise to answer our questions!

Q:  This winter it has been a challenge to give my dog the outdoor exercise she needs. Ice storms, snow storms, polar vortexes, how can I keep my dog happy when weather conditions prevent us from enjoying our usual outdoor activities?

A: Beating the Doggie Winter Blues
Are you wondering how to turn your dog’s ‘winter blues’ into winter games? Missing walks, or cutting walks in half due to the cold and ice can certainly be a bit of a downer. Did you know that majority of the excitement and benefit for your dog on a walk is in smelling, hearing, seeing and exploring all the new things in his/her environment outside of the house? While waking does expend physical energy, the greatest benefit is the mental stimulation that the outside environment provides. This is why our dog will benefit and tire most from walks when we change up our routes regularly. Understanding this can help us to provide for their mental needs indoors when the weather is too harsh outdoors. The suggestions below will not only keep your dog’s mind busy at this time of year, but also help them to expend more physical energy while they eat their breakfast, and/or dinner.

The first place to start is in feeding your dog out of food toys! If your dog is accustomed to eating out of toys, such as the kong, it is time to start making them more challenging. If your dog is not already used to toys that dispense food during play, let’s get started with that! Offering your dog his food in toys causes him to burn both mental and physical energy while he eats his meal. Once your dog is enjoying and is successful at cleaning out his food toys, you may consider permanently replacing his food dish with food toys. This will allow him/her to continuously burn energy with each meal.

Some of the suggested toys to begin with are the Kong, tricky treat ball, and kong wobbler. As well as these suggestions, there are typically many to choose from in any pet store. Start with something simpler and with higher valued foods. As your dog gets used to eating out of more simple food toys with high valued foods, you can begin to introduce simple toys with just kibble. Then, advance to more challenging toys with higher valued food. Soon your dog will be good at cleaning his plain kibble out of the more challenging toys. Many of the available food toy options also work really well with a raw food diet. It is all about picking the size-appropriate ones that appeal to your dog and work with his/her diet.

If your dog is not yet used to emptying out a filled kong, start nice and simple with a little bit of something soft, sticky and yummy (natural peanut butter, sugar free yogurt, sugar free apple sauce, mashed bananas, mashed steamed carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin) on the inside rim of the kong, and a few loose cookies or pieces of freeze dried liver. This will help your dog to make the association between his/her kong and yummy food that is easy to get. Now that he/she gets excited when he sees the kong and is looking for food from it, start to make it a bit more challenging. Begin to stuff it a little tighter with the use of his main meal. Take a small amount of kibble and place it in a dish. Mix in a teaspoon to tablespoon (depending on size of dog) of whatever his/her favourite soft & sticky food item until each kibble is coated with it. Now place a smelly treat (freeze dried liver is good) at the bottom of the kong, some of the kibble mixture, a smelly treat in the middle, and the remainder of the kibble mixture to fill the kong. At the top, one last smelly treat that is easy for your dog to pull out and get started! As your dog gets better at cleaning his/her kong out to the very bottom, stuff it with more food and tighter. The final stage of a stuffed kong for an advanced dog is a tightly packed and frozen kong (put upside down in zip-lock bag in freezer).

When your dog has become a pro at emptying his frozen kong, he is certainly ready to explore some other types of food toys. There are also some brilliant doggie puzzles available in most pet stores. These types of puzzles will have your dog nosing, pawing and licking to glide pieces of the puzzle out of the way, and to shift the puzzle exposing other pieces to be moved out of the way to find more food! Your dog’s entire meal can be fed using a doggie puzzle!

The “find it” game! This game is designed to fulfill your dog’s natural desire and talent at scavenging for food. It can also be played with either stuffed food toys, or with simple piles of kibble. As in anything new that your dog is learning, start off nice and easy. Start by hiding little piles of kibble, containing a smelly treat or two, behind furniture and objects that are easy for your dog to get behind. Start by playing the game with hidden treats and kibble in one room. Help your dog to find them. Encourage your dog to check out different spots in the room by pointing with your finger. Point at one or two spots that do not have food, then at one that does. “Jackpot!” As your dog finds the piles of food, you can click and bonus reward if you are into clicker training. Otherwise, just finding the treats is a prize for your dog. Every day, make the game a little more challenging until you are hiding your treats in food toys (maybe still have some easy to eat piles) all over the house with some in more challenging spaces. Always start the game by saying “find it!”.

One more fun game; Target training with post-it notes! Teach your dog to “touch” his nose to your hand, and then to a post-it note (see Pawsitive Plus Dog Training facebook page for steps). Now you can place post-it notes all over your house or yard and send your dog out to “touch” for a click/”YES” and a treat!
These are just a few ideas to start with as you work on keeping your dog fit and mentally stimulated over the winter months. Have fun with your dog while working through these ideas. Having fun is the best benefit of all!

Please visit the Pawsitive Plus Dog training and Consulting Service ltd. Facebook page for additional pointers and videos of dogs playing, and learning while eating their meals out of different food toys and puzzles. “Like” us on Facebook!  We are also happy to answer any questions you may have along the way!

Genevieve Reisinger, BSc, CAPPDT, CBATTI Canine Behaviour Specialist
Pawsitive Plus Dog Training and Consulting Service ltd. 289-242-7767

Friday, December 20, 2013

Update: "80 families"

Thanks to our incredible supporters we have been able to provide food for 40 families (a total of 73 pets!).  It's a great feeling and we are so humbled to be part of such a giving, compassionate community. 

We know there are still 39 families in our community who are struggling with the decision of whether to feed their pets or themselves.  That's a choice no pet owner should have to make, especially over the holidays.  It's a daunting task.  We knew it was a tremendous undertaking when we set out to help these 80 families.  But we knew with the help of people like you, we could do it. And we're getting there!

Right now monetary donations are ideal because they let us purchase exactly what is needed in exactly the right amount.  That way we won't end up with an overabundance of of food that we can't distribute right away, or a shortage of a specific type of food there is an immediate need for.

Many of the remaining pets on our list have very specific dietary requirements. We are fortunate to have a connection with a retired veterinarian who can provide expensive prescription pet food to Project Maddie at cost (a fraction of the cost of buying food from a veterinary clinic). A monetary donation will go much further if the food is being purchased by Project Maddie rather than a member of the public because we can get it for a better price.

We are still gratefully accepting all types of donations. Food donations can be dropped off at Pet Value located at 280 North Service Road W. in Oakville.  There is a particular need for canned food at this time.  We truly appreciate all of the support the community. Every last dollar and every single piece of kibble will help a pet in need.  

Below is one of our 80 pets checking out her "special delivery".

Thursday, December 5, 2013

80 families: Making progress but we still need your help!

Our mission to help 80 families in our community feed their pets is off to a great start!

We have picked up all of the food that was generously dropped off for Project Maddie at Pet Valu. Your food and monetary donations have allowed us to assist 26 families in the community which means with your help, we have provided food for 37 pets!  (The photos to the left were taken during a couple of our "drop offs" this week).

This is a tremendous accomplishment that would not have been possible without your support.  We are a grassroots organization and we rely entirely upon the generous support of people like you. We receive no grants, government funding or corporate sponsorship.  Quite simply, without the support of animal lovers in our community our work would not be possible. Again I'd like to thank our supporters who have brought us this far and helped us feed 37 pets! 

We have accomplished something amazing together, unfortunately we are still falling short of our goal. There are still 54 families in need of urgent assistance and that number does not include our regular clients. We desperately need your support so that we can "keep people and pets together". With the holiday season upon us it is our hope that no family will have to choose whether to feed a beloved family member or feed him/herself.  

We have come so far and this mission is off to a tremendous start.  Let's not falter now! No donation is too small.  It all adds up to an incredible act of kindness, one that might keep a dog or cat our of an animal shelter or rescue, which are always inundated with surrendered animals after the holidays. Over the last three years I have seen so much goodness and compassion in people. I believe with all of my heart that we can do this - together!  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Passion for Lockets is passionate about pets!

Donnalee from Passion for Lockets has designed this beautiful Project Maddie pendant!  Passion For Lockets is also donating all of the profits from purchases made through their website from November 28, 2013 - December 31, 2013 to Project Maddie!

Passion for Lockets makes beautiful, unique, custom pieces - perfect for holiday gifts! Give a one of a kind, personalized gift and feed at pet at the same time.

Thank you to Passion for Lockets for your generosity!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A thank you to our supporters

This began as a post on our Facebook page but that didn't feel sufficient to express the depth of our gratitude.

We've only just begun to help the 80 families in our community but I'm already humbled and honoured by the generosity and caring of our supporters.

Project Maddie began in the spring of 2010. Somebody asked me a very simple question: Do you know of any resources to help low-income pet owners at risk of losing their pets because they can't afford to feed them?  That fateful question came on behalf of a woman who had a beautiful Golden Retriever named Maddie, and Project Maddie was born.

Over the last three and a half years there have been many dogs and cats like Maddie, and thanks to people like you we've been able to help them. By the time people reach out to us for assistance their situation is usually desperate. Most of our clients are food bank users themselves, and usually when they're forced to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their pets they choose to feed their pets.

You can imagine how much a helping hand means to a pet owner in the practical sense. A weight is lifted, and the pet owner has the peace of mind of knowing a beloved furkid has nutritious food to eat. When our clients no longer have to feed their pets what they pick up at the people food bank it means they have more to eat as well.  That alone would be enough to sustain my passion for this project, but Project Maddie makes a difference in another way that I didn't anticipate. It means so much to our clients to know that people care. I've heard it time and time again, when a client is incredulous that a person he or she has never met cares enough to help him or her in such a meaningful, personal way, because what are our relationships with our pets if not meaningful and personal?  More than one client has told me that your generosity and caring has restored their faith in people.

I wish it was possible for you to hear every "thank you", and the now familiar sound of a pet owner's voice cracking as he or she breaks down in tears of relief and joy. It's been three years and it still doesn't feel right to me to be the one who hears the "thank you"s because I am not the one who makes it possible. You are. So I just want each and every one of our angels to know that your support means so much to perfect strangers, the people you cared about enough to help.

Donations for our "80 families" at Pet Valu (280 North Service Rd. W in Oakville, ON)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

80 pets!

We've been contacted to provide assistance to 80 pets in our community! This is our largest undertaking since the Wellseley Street fire in 2010.

The details:
Volunteers at a local church provide outreach services in the community, including home visits and helping people feed themselves whenever possible. This particular program doesn't have the resources to help people feed their pets, and they have reached out to us for help. There are approximately 80 families currently in need of urgent assistance. Having run out of pet food these caring pet owners have resorted to feeding their pets their own food. This is troubling for two reasons. The first is it leaves the person with insufficient food for him/herself. The second is what is being fed to the pets isn't conducive to the pet's physical health. In one case a woman is giving her cat the only thing she can - hot dog wieners. We've also heard stories of dogs being fed Kraft Dinner. These people are doing the best they can for the animals they care for, but they need a helping hand.

How to help:
Unopened packages of pet food can be dropped off at the Pet Valu located at 280 North Service Road West in Oakville. If you are dropping off food please be sure to note that it is for Project Maddie and send us an e-mail so that we can thank you!

Monetary donations are gratefully accepted, please click here to visit our donation page. 

We'll keep everyone updated as we go. This is a huge challenge but we are up to it! Please help us fill these little tummies.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


This little muffin is Gigi. Gigi's mom has been an advocate of Project Maddie in our community for years, doing whatever she could to raise awareness about our little organization. Now her circumstances have changed and she needs our help. It was our pleasure to drop off a bag full of wet food to her and Gigi this evening so that Gigi's needs are looked after while her mom gets back on her feet.
(photo posted with permission)