Our foster training session with K9 Misfits


We were very fortunate to through the generosity of one of our amazing volunteers to have an information session with Bilinda Wagner, a local positive reinforcement trainer with K9 Misfits. The session was helpful not only for our current canines in care, but also our volunteer fosters, who can use techniques for our future rescue dogs.

Adoptable dog attendees included Willow, Bella, Howard Stern, and our blind special needs puppy Monkey Fudge.





Bilinda and the other behaviour consultants at K9 Misfits have lots of hands on experience with abandoned, feral, and owned animals.

“We and pride ourselves in becoming invested in the long term life of animals that do not live with us,” says Bilinda. “My goal is to have you understand the animal that you have and provide you with the best tools to help you to succeed and grow.”

The two hour information session turned into four hours of learning, where the attendees had quite a few ‘a-ha moments.’ Bilinda discussed topics such as:

• The importance of teaching basic commands to build deference, create consistency, and make your dog feel more comfortable
• Recognizing stress releasing signals
• How to be more “exciting” to keep your dog’s attention
• Tools to help your dog learn

And of course, our foster dogs and volunteers wasted no time in putting the techniques to the test. “All you need to do is have some basic understanding and commit to spending the time it takes to modify or change behaviour,” explains Bilinda. “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

The session even included instruction on giving a dog massage (our fosters have it good!) But massage isn’t just about pampering. “This is a great way to build a bond and relax at the same time.”
All of the participants — human and canine! – left exhausted, but with more understanding of dog communication and behaviour.

“This is why I love doing what I do. We all deserve to learn how to be treated and to make life as stress-free as possible.”

Many thanks to Bilinda and K9 Misfits!

If you’re interested in joining the Zoe’s Team as a volunteer or foster, read more here.


Where do I Turn Now? Some of the TOP reasons we have to rehome our pets

It’s never an easy choice to give away a pet- whatever your reason, wherever she goes, most people struggle with the decision and have exhausted every avenue possible to avoid it!

Studies from all over the world tell us the same sad stories that we hear on a daily basis here in Canada. The struggle of rehoming or relinquishing a pet is certainly not limited to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada or even North America! Studies as far away as Japan cite the same few reasons over and over… proof, to us, that there are a few major reasons that people give away their pets, and a few major changes that we can make to try to help avoid the inevitable.


In almost every study you’ll come across on surrendering animals, moving is cited as the number one reason people have had to give away a pet. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (S.P.C.A.), UK adoption agency Pets4Homes, American Humane Society, Animal Alliance of Canada, and Animal Walk Tokyo all list moving as one of their top five (to eight) reasons to surrender a pet!

In tough economies like Alberta’s, finding pet-friendly accommodation can be hard, especially one that is affordable. Sometimes, even pet-friendly rentals have size, or breed, restrictions. The S.P.C.A. recommends starting your search for new accommodation MONTHS in advance, and even offering no-pet landlords reference letters, meet-and-greets, or pet deposits to help sway their decision. Check out our blog on renting with a pet for more great information on your rights as a pet-owning tenant!


Behavioural Issues


dachshund-672780_1920Miller et al. (1996) found that the most common reason people decided to surrender their dogs were due to behavioural issues, especially hyperactivity – and not much has changed in the last 20 years! Puppies and kittens are deceptively cute, but they come untrained, undisciplined, and with lots of energy. Common problems like biting, house soiling, and too much energy are cited in studies across the United States.

It’s important to remember that animals aren’t born with behavioural problems, rather, they are either taught them or are attempting to tell you something is wrong. You can consult a trainer or a veterinarian to help correct behavioural problems in older animals, and help rule out medical concerns or dissatisfaction with the home. Start training young with puppies and kittens. Always use positive reinforcement – animals, like humans, don’t want to be hit or scolded when they do something wrong. Often, they don’t quite understand why they are being punished. Exercise and stimulation is also a huge part of pet ownership – a bored animal can become depressed, anxious, or aggressive. Check out our blog on litterbox issues to help correct one of the common behavioural concerns among felines.




allergy-18656_1920Surprisingly, although allergies are commonly cited in studies about animal surrenders, they are not always in the top five! We do commonly see cat allergies as a frequent reason to rehome, as confirmed by the S.P.C.A., Animal Alliance of Canada, Animal Walk Tokyo, and a few academic studies (Miller et al. 1996, Erikkson et al. 2009, Casey et al. 2009).

While allergies can be quite debilitating, it is always a good idea to make sure it is in fact the pet that is TRULY the cause, and try different means of keeping the house allergen-free. Check out our blog on how to live with pet allergies.




In rescue, we sporadically see “having a baby” as one of the frequent reasons for surrendering a pet. The S.P.C.A., UK adoption agency Pets4Homes, and Animal Walk Tokyo also cite pregnancy as one of the most common reasons for relinquishment. It’s hard to understand from an outside perspective, but when financial concerns are not necessarily at play, families expecting a baby can always turn to history for help! There are many families that have responsibly and practically planned out the introduction of their new baby to their pets. There have been plenty of books, articles, and website blogs written about babies and pets, not only for help with introductions, but also on the benefits! Of course, it doesn’t ALWAYS work out as planned, but all we ask is that you are not so quick to dismiss your pet because there is a new baby – sometimes the bond they form will be the best thing for your home!


While this reason is also common among shelters, more likely, they are accepting babies! When pets have an unexpected litter, it can cause quite a bit of financial strain on their owners, and instead, the babies are surrendered to a shelter or a rescue for rehoming (NCPPSP 2009, Miller et al., 1996). This is why Zoe’s is such a huge advocate of spaying and neutering! The fewer unexpected litters, the more room we have to help animals off the streets. Check out our blog on clinics around Edmonton to keep your pet litter-free!


Lack of …


kitten-569873_1280Finally, among studies, another one of the top common reasons found for surrendering was due to a lack of something, including space, time, finances, or knowledge. Often, as shown by the S.P.C.A, families find themselves without time or space to care for their pets. This could be due to changing relationships or domestic violence, (Pets4Homes, Animal Alliance of Canada), personal problems (NCPPSP, 2009) or a change in work or lifestyle (Animal Alliance of Canada, Pets4Homes, Salman et al. 1998). While we always want what is best for our pets, temporary changes in our lives don’t always have to be a reason to say goodbye! The S.P.C.A. suggests that “animals just want to be with their family and well looked after.” Sometimes it takes a friend staying over, hiring a dog walker, a membership to a doggy daycare, or more mental stimulation to help get your pets through changes in work or lifestyles. Some rescue groups will help provide temporary homes for victims of domestic abuse, or members of the military deployed overseas. Occasionally a lack of finances comes into play. Though we may have the means to care for a pet day to day, emergency veterinary bills or long-term illness in a pet might be a major game changer in our ability to take care of them (Pets4Homes, 2015). Major changes can prompt a decision to give our pets an opportunity for a better life, but remember, there very well may be wonderful people, in rescue or otherwise, waiting and willing to help you out. Check out some of the top Pet Insurance companies, such as Trupanion or PetSecure, for information of long-term financial care.



American Humane Society & PetSmart (2012). http://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2012/09/why-dont-people-want-pets-part-1-cats.html#sthash.PTscDWaQ.dpuf

Animal Alliance of Canada (2015). http://www.animalalliance.ca/faqs.html#Ineedtofindahomeformycatdogbird

Animal Walk Tokyo (2015). http://www.animalwalktokyo.org/people-give-pets/

Casey, R.A., Vandenbussche, S., Bradshaw, J.W.S., & Roberts, M.A. (2009). Reasons for relinquishment and return of domestic cats (felis silvestris catus) to rescue shelters in the U.K. Anthrozoos, 22 (4), 347 – 358.

Erikkson, P., Loberg, J., & Andersson, M. (2009). A survey of cat shelters in Sweden. Animal Welfare, 18, 283 – 288.

Kwan, J., & Bain, M. (2013). Owner Attachment and Problem Behaviors Related to Relinquishment and Training Techniques of Dogs Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 16 (2), 168-183. http://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2013/05/why-do-people-surrender-dogs-to-animal.html#sthash.H9PzCE3T.dpuf

Miller, D. D., Staats, S. R.. Partlo. C., & Rada, K. (1996). Factors associated with the decision to surrender a pet to an animal shelter. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 209. 738-742.

National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP). (2009). http://www.petpopulation.org/statsurvey.html

Pets4Homes (2015). http://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/the-top-five-reasons-people-give-for-re-homing-their-pets.html

Salman, M., New, J., Scarlett, J., Kass, P., Ruch-Gallie, R., & Hetts, S. (1998). Human and animal factors related to the relinquishment of dogs and cats in 12 selected animal shelters in the United States. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 1(3), 207-226.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2013). http://www.spca.com/?p=6782&lang=en

Tricks for Training: an Amateur's Guide to Schooling Your New Dog

by Amanda Kelley*

If you’re like me, sifting through dog training advice is a frustrating experience peppered with guilt. There are so many different methods, and opinions tend to be polarized and emotionally charged. Am I a bad person if I don’t crate train? Are clickers the only way to go? Am I being too strict, or too lenient?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not a seasoned dog trainer, so fortunately for you, I won’t be hitting you with a training program and series of cutesy acronyms. But I do study animal behaviour, and having run the dog training gauntlet with an unsocialized dog and a critical eye, I believe I can share a few good kernels of advice.

When I got my first dog, Hannah, I took a training course where we were not allowed to use treats for motivation, the rationale being that our dogs would treat us like candy dispensers rather than authority figures if food was involved. Hannah and I struggled through the course. Watching the other dogs, I noticed that those who were learning faster were initiating eye contact and behaving as if praise itself was a treat. Hannah, having recently been a stray, showed little response to praise. She didn’t yet know what a smile was, or why it was important. The experience was frustrating, and did nothing for our relationship. Afterwards, I switched to treat-based training. Food is a universal signifier of Good Things, and in our case, it helped Hannah learn my facial and body expressions (obedient Hannah = happy face Amanda = cookies for Hannah). Since then, I have gotten another dog, for whom praise and toys are a much stronger driver than food.

So what can we learn from this experience?

Adoptable Christy May (left) has only recently begun her life as as indoor dog, but she's willing to try new things!

Adoptable Christy May (left) has only recently begun her life as as indoor dog, but she’s willing to try new things!

You don’t have to jump on board with any particular training method. This isn’t like joining a secret society or getting a tattoo: you have the freedom to try different techniques, weigh them, and toss ‘em out if they don’t work. And if they don’t work out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the trainer is a hack. Dogs, like people, have different personalities and different ways of learning, so a single approach is unlikely to work for every animal.

How do you know when it’s working? Or (more likely!) when to give up? Your dog can tell you that, but you’ll probably have to do a little trial and error. For example, a sensitive dog may not respond well to methods on the stricter end of the spectrum. (If it cowers or trembles, you need to tone it down.) However, the same technique that frightens one dog may just bounce off an unruly, confident one. Luckily, dogs have been bred to be good at communicating with us, and with some practice, you can start up a dialogue. Say what you will about Cesar, but in this humble writer’s opinion, a few episodes of Dog Whisperer will help get you in the right frame of mind to think critically about your dog’s body language. And once you can decipher what they’re trying to tell you, and their motivations, you’re well on your way.

Grampa Jack, one of our adoptables, knows how to relax.

Grampa Jack, who’s available for adoption, knows how to relax.

Remaining calm is key. Learning a new language isn’t like flipping a switch: it takes time and patience. Your dog won’t pick up on everything right away, and some things may be completely out of their grasp. It’s fine if your dog isn’t perfectly trained; just remember that if you can’t control your dog’s behaviour, you have to control the environment. Does your dog jump on children? Then they need to be supervised. Are they bad at recall? Then they can’t be off leash in potentially dangerous areas. As your control increases, you start to introduce them to more unpredictable environments.

The take home message: Your internet search is not yet over. Do your own research, and try to get a good idea of your options. It’s not a quick fix, but it is the best option for maintaining your sanity.

Have you found a training method that works for you and your pup? If so, please share in the comments below, along with a description of your pup’s personality!

*Amanda Kelley, MSc., is a blogger, web manager, and photographer for Zoe’s. In her professional life, she is a wildlife biologist who specializes in animal personality.