Alberta Force Free Alliance

"For the love of dogs, sign the pledge!"

Board Members

Carol Neil, Trainer and Applied Dog Behaviour Consultant


Many of you who have known me for some time know that I am what is called a crossover trainer. This is a trainer who used to use the old school aversive training methods to train dogs.  The alpha/pack leader, punishment-based methods. A number of you are aware of my history with my old dog Cash and what made me change my mind and crossover.


Cash was a beautiful bully breed (American Bulldog/Doberman/English Bulldog cross). I started off fostering him for the shelter because he had shown some behaviours that the behaviour department was concerned about before they would consider adopting him out. I fell in love with him and ended up adopting him in June of 2010. Primarily the behaviours he showed were fear based towards people (barking) and being very pushy with other dogs. Without going in to the whole story, at that time I had no education in the science of applied dog behaviour, but I did have a very big ego and since I had watched a thousand episodes of Cesar and seen both Cesar and Brad Pattison live, I thought I knew everything there was to know about dogs. I set about “rehabilitating” Cash and did pretty much everything the scientific research recommends against and within 6 months, I had a dog that was lunging and snapping at strangers and viciously attacking other dogs.


It was at this time that I met the gentleman I would study the science of dog behaviour under who has his Masters in Ethology (Applied Animal Behaviour). For the next three years my entire paradigm of what I thought I knew about dogs would be turned on its head. Once I began using scientifically supported methods with Cash, we started seeing improvement almost immediately but sadly, the level of aggression I had pushed him to with the use of shock collars etc, made him dangerous to have around my 6 step grandchildren and impossible to re-home. We made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize Cash in October of 2012 and it was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever had to do. My dogs are my kids and for me, it was like Sophie’s Choice. Finally, my heart has done some healing and I can talk about him without crying (sometimes).


After some healing time, we added a Great Dane puppy we named Lily to our dog family. As the universe is prone to do, Lily turned out to be a female clone of Cash behaviour-wise. Her behaviour really worried me because I just could not go down the same path, so I set about working with her using the science based force-free methods that I had learned. Lily is now 4 1/2 years old and doing wonderfully, thanks to force-free training.

Sheila Gunston, Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant

 

I began my journey into this incredible world of dog, thinking I knew all there was to know.  Not only had I had dogs throughout my childhood and adult lifetime, but I was an avid reader and watcher of Cesar Millan. 

I applied methods to my own dogs which eventually proved to be very dangerous and I didn’t understand why.  How could I be doing things to create fear or aggression in my dogs, since Cesar does it all the time and it always (what I thought) worked out?  I had friends using these methods with their dogs too and it was fine because their dogs were just “dominant.”  A term that I quickly learned had been used incorrectly and as a dangerous label for more serious behaviors for a long, long time.

It took a very serious series of incidents with my now senior lab cross, Joe, to alert me that in fact there was a problem.  I took my very sensitive boy and created a very dog aggressive dog.  Shock collars, prong collars and choke chains were in my proverbial tool box back then.  It was all I knew.  He would ask for space by growling and I would “correct” him with a shock.  He would beg me to take him away from an uncomfortable situation but I would only flood him and force him into situations and environments that he didn’t feel safe in.  I lost his trust.

Ironically, at the time when Joe was struggling the most, I was very lucky to be offered a scholarship to be an apprentice of an incredible behavior consultant through a reputable animal rescue organization, for 2 yrs.  During those 2 years, myself and my colleagues were taught science based learning theory before we were even able to shadow consultations or work hands on with other dogs.  The first 6 months of my apprenticeship were very difficult for me – I was very stuck in cognitive dissonance mode.  I apologize to my mentor for being so difficult back then, to this day!

However, as time went on and we were submersed into the world of dog through the eyes of science rather than fear, my entire world changed.  I cannot count the amount of times in the past 4+ years that I have apologized to Joe and to my other dogs for doing what I did.  They of course have forgiven me, as our incredibly amazing, unconditionally loving dogs do. 

I have made it my life’s mission to help to educate, to share and to help people to create a better relationship with their dogs. I work with rescue, with families and with anyone who wants to make positive changes like I do.  I am always continuing my education through science.  The greatest thing about science is that it proves and disproves theories all the time – science is always evolving.  As a board member of the Alberta Force Free Alliance I promise to change and evolve with science, always working within the laws of learning theory, using methods that are force, fear and intimidation free.
Andrea Goldsmith, Passionate and Dedicated Dog Owner

I have been an animal lover all my life. I grew up with Cats, and a Pug named Harriet. I got my first dog of my own at the age of 19, followed by a second dog a few years later, along with 2 cats. I didn’t really do any training with my first dogs, and looking back, there were some things that could have been better, but all in all, they were fantastic dogs. I did find myself watching a certain celebrity dog trainer on TV and, not knowing any better, was “amazed” at what I saw on the TV. I was fortunate however to realize early on, that I did not agree with what I was seeing, when I saw the techniques used on my sweet lab mix. The whole thing didn’t sit well with me, and that was that.

I took my first formal dog training class with my Min Pin, adopted at 5 years old, and from there I was hooked! I couldn’t believe that I was training my dog to do all these commands and we were having so much fun doing it! He responded to the clicker training immediately and loved it! I went on to start training Mojo the Min Pin in Agility, and we both love it, and started competing 10 months after we started agility training.

At the same time as Mojo came into my life, I was also fostering for a rescue. Fostering dogs with many different needs and behavior issues took me into the world of training even more, and my eyes were opened to all kinds of training methods. My passion for force free training was born, and over the last 2 years, I have learned so much! I ended up adopting 2 of my foster dogs, both rescued from reserves. Orion is a senior and pretty much a perfect dog that needs nothing but a ton of belly rubs and kisses. George is a sweet Australian Shepherd mix, who is also training in Agility but has had some specific things to overcome. George has taught me about reactivity and working with him is a challenge. I am so proud of him and his progress over the last 2 years, from a dog so afraid that I didn’t know he had a tail for 2 days, frozen stiff when put on a collar and leash, to a dog happily running an agility course, surrounded by other dogs, people and a ton of other distractions.

George and Mojo, both fearful and reactive, have been able to flourish and that is 100% because of the force free training methods and the fantastic trainers that I have been fortunate to stumble upon. This is why I am so excited about the AFFA as a resource for the average dog owner to find force free, humane training and services, as well as an educational resource, all in one place!

Linda Osland, Passionate and Dedicated Dog Owner


My conversion to force-free training has been a very long road and it wasn’t until I was a retired senior five years ago when Jenny was just under a year old that I started on the journey to transitioning.

 

What has meant the most to me is the bond between Maggie, my 14 year old Lab & myself. She has been my canine soulmate,  since she was 7 weeks old when I would bring her on work road trips in a duffle bag. Maggie would have & still would follow me through a burning building. That is despite & in spite of the aversive training techniques and tools I learned & practiced  to compete in CKC & UKC obedience trials. We took classes for years & did what we always did. We competed over & over - earned ribbons ….but only because of persistence, not because Maggie was having fun. In hindsight my heart breaks and I am humbled that this beautiful, innocent, loyal, gentle soul has always tried to please me even though, as her guardian, I let her down.

 

It is said “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. So true.

 

 In 2010 I began fostering pups & Jenny, a beautiful, skittish,  insecure sweetheart became our forever foster. Jenny was not Maggie - but I didn’t know any better & started to train her the same way as I trained Maggie. Why not? Maggie was amazing - her out of sight stays - stellar, her recalls - awesome - she obeyed because she did - she was happy, we had fun, we had a tight relationship - I was Her Person. But Jenny was NOT Maggie. Jenny was nervous of ‘stuff’ & she was insecure in her canine world.

 

I remember the day like it was yesterday…Jenny was trying out daycare at EHS & she was worried & stressed. I was talking to the staff and Carol Neil came out.  I only remember one comment, everything else became a blur. But what I heard was “Jenny doesn’t trust you”. Maybe it was “Jenny will not trust you” but just the idea of that being a possibility was enough to propel me to listen. That was the beginning ….. many, many classes that are still ongoing with the most amazing, compassionate, caring teachers has become the norm for both Jenny and Sadie, another forever foster with acute people-fear issues.

 

Bilinda has prompted me to do some ‘navel-gazing’ over the years, forcing me to work on letting go of my ego & the need for control which was/still is critical to cementing my relationship with Jenny and Sadie. For me, it continues to be a work in progress.

 

Although I do not have the knowledge, skills & experience of the other AFFA Board members, I am passionate that The Alliance is a vehicle that will help other dog owners avoid mistakes that I made & align all aspects of our dogs’ care with our positive training philosophies.

Dana Horniak, Passionate and Dedicated Dog Owner

Having a background in punitive, correction based dog training, and theories based on dominating your dog was the history I always had with dogs regretfully.  This type of "training" was the only knowledge I had at the time, and the trainers I took my dogs to taught this way... so without another option had always considered this correct.  You never question a "professional" right?   Well I wish I knew then what I know now!

All my previous thinking about dog training and handling went out the window once meeting up with Bilinda Wagner for an agility drop in. I was intrigued by how well my dog Zoe was behaving without me micro-managing her, and the methods she introduced me to made so much sense. Not to mention, my dog was having the time of her life! 

I took classes, lots and LOTS of classes (still in progress) and in my ventures with other trainers educated in science based methods like Carol Neil, I became a complete convert.  I started up a Facebook group (Edmonton Dog Connections) with other force free advocates, so that there was a group to focus on these methods as well, and attempt to educate and empower other people and especially their dogs to learn that you didn't have to use pain or intimidation to train.

This is the unfortunate case with many, many dog owners even today and because they do not know better, they cannot compare and do better for their dogs.  My personal experiences resonate why an organization such as AFFA is required and beneficial for dog owners, having the resources of businesses or dog groups all in one place that have made the commitment of no intent to harm.

I am proud to be a part of this new venture, and my hope is that it will assist other dog owners to make informed and positive choices in all aspects of their dogs lives, and perhaps avoid injurious consequences.

Becky Shepherd Pet Sitter, dog walker & trainer

I've loved animals my whole life. As a kid I devoured any movies or books about animals, especially about their relationship to people. When I was in high school we got a new dog and I practiced everything I'd learned and read on her. But she was extremely sensitive and I could see her shut down if I so much as raised my voice. She just couldn't learn that way. So I went back to the books to learn how to teach her without yelling. Missy and I did clicker training mostly (and though imperfectly), and I taught her a bariety of skills and cues. She was an extremely smart dog, and I learned from her how to mark the right second, how to use my body language to communicate when she was across a field, and how to be patient. She would often pick up on my mistakes and feed them right back to me, so she pushed me to improve and really inspired my love of working with dogs. My first experience as a professional trainer was with PetSmart as one of their Certified Pet Trainers. They used positive methods (clickers, rewards, etc), but the short training period just did not give me the answers many of my clients needed.

As a life long book nerd (and a library technician - my day job), I once again turned to books. The more I read the more sure I became that training didn't need to be painful, or fearful for the dog. Missy had taught me that many dogs can't learn under those circumstances, the books I read while working at PetSmart convinced me that ALL animals learn better when they have choice and when they feel safe. If it's possible to train wolves, tigers, parrots, and lizards without intimidation it's certainly possible to train cats and dogs that way too.

 I have since taken seminars and online courses to further my education in behavior and training, and I continue to read books and watch youtube videos of force free trainers who are working to improve the lives of dogs all over the world. It's my belief that the Alberta Force Free Alliance is doing an amazing job spreading that message and I am and I'm grateful to be a part of it.

Chasity Simon, Certified Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant

I cannot remember a time in my life that a dog has not been part of it. I grew up with many different breeds including a Doberman Pincher, a Samoyed, a boxer and even 3 small bichons. But it wasn’t until I got my first Olde English Bulldogge Tierra, that I really started to explore the training world. I used methods based on recommendations from others and always thought Tierra was just a really dominant” female dog, a term I no longer use.

 

The training world as I thought I knew it would change once I got Mason (my pride and joy and another Olde English Bulldogge). He unfortunately came to me with a background of extreme correction training and when he was just two years old, another dog attacked him. This event changed his behaviour towards “strange new” dogs for the worse. I really had no idea how to deal with an intense dog reactive dog. I could not see how nervous and fearful he really was until I did my first formal training session with a force free trainer.

 

Being heavily involved in the rescue world, I was constantly involved in assessing dogs to bring into our program. It was during this journey that I formed a relationship with an outstanding Behaviour Consultant. I started my two-year apprenticeship program with her and was hooked on the science based and cognitive learning theory. I was amazed with the way Lexi (my adopted Pit Bull mix with a great deal of separation anxiety) could learn this material quickly and through this process we built a solid bond. Mason and Lexi have both made amazing strides with force free training and it is the only method of training that I use with my own dogs, clients’ dogs, and my rescue’s dogs.

 

I am passionate about education and continue taking seminars and classes to build on my science based foundation. I am excited to be part of the Alberta Force Free Alliance and to help promote their mission in providing a resource for dog owners wanting to make force free choices!