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Exploring the nuances of Canadian dog care: An in-depth conversation with Katie from KatyK9

Hi Katie, great to talk to you! Can you describe your background in dog services and what you offer now?

I have worked a lot with aggressive dogs, as well as anxious dogs. From potcakes and street dogs to older dogs with these issues. I’ve also trained tons of young pups to hit proper developmental and social milestones, as well as establishing solid foundational skills. For the last 2.5 years I’ve been based in Mexico (Playa del Carmen and now Oaxaca) helping at shelters occasionally and training dogs on the side. I offer dog walking/sitting services in Toronto, Ontario with my established & trusted team there (we communicate daily) and I offer online consultations and training to Toronto clients, as well as in-person training here in Mexico. When I’m home in Toronto, I also offer in-person training.

What principles guide your approach to dog care?

Understanding a dog’s behavioural, psychological, and emotional processes is essential. I teach owners about their dog’s perception of the world, how they communicate, and how their environment affects them. I emphasize bonding in training, using play and engagement. I’m a positive reinforcement trainer and while there is a place for a firm “NO!”, I avoid physical corrections.

How does your service area or community influence your care methods for dogs and their owners?

My team operates from Leslieville in Toronto’s east end, and I’m currently living / working in Oaxaca, training dogs and connecting with the dog rescue community. 

Leslieville is a great community to live in with people who care about what happens in the neighbourhood, lots of locally owned shops and tons of greenspace and dog parks. A super dog-friendly place with lots of stores, bars, and patios to take your dog with you! I love the transparency of living here. We are on-foot walkers. People see us everywhere and know how we handle the dogs.

My clients are part of the KatyK9 Fur Family. We keep our service area to our immediate community, we don’t spread ourselves too thin, and we focus on providing excellent, reliable, and accountable service to our clients. We have at least one Fur Family party per year to get everyone together, dogs and all, to hang out and connect. It’s super important that we cultivate genuine relationships. This is a trust-based business after all, and gaining and maintaining that trust is paramount.

How do you build bonds and ensure clear communication between dogs and owners during sessions?

My approach involves thorough explanation and demonstration to clients. I guide them step-by-step, emphasising the importance of understanding their dog’s body language. After sessions, I provide personalised notes to create a ‘playbook’ for them, and use articles or videos for further education.

What challenges have you faced and how did you address them to maintain high-quality service?

Unfortunately, the industry lacks regulation, which leads to low standards and internal conflicts. I’ve made conscious choices, like on-leash walks only, to ensure the safety and well-being of dogs under my care. Many parks are overcrowded and come with unknowing owners and untrained dogs, which creates an often-chaotic environment. We aim for a stress-free experience and provide great exercise and social time for our dogs, and we communicate any changes or recommendations to the owner immediately.

All of my team members undergo a minimum of two weeks of training by my side. They receive guidelines, a ‘doggie bible’ that profiles each and every dog, idiosyncrasies and all; safety protocols, and they become Pet First Aid certified. The dedication and commitment of my team is unmatched. 

Do you have a standout success story of a dog’s behavioural change or its bond with its owner?

Working with reactive dogs, particularly those showing fear-based aggression, is truly rewarding. I believe in addressing the underlying emotional responses of the dog, rather than just surface behaviours. This method is about creating lasting change, and not merely applying short-term solutions. Through education and the implementation of positive techniques, I assist owners in reshaping their dog’s perception, which results in positive behavioural change. The transformation is profound: many owners, previously on the brink of giving up their pets due to frustration, now witness their dogs confidently interacting with their environment. This holistic approach not only improves the dog’s behaviour but also deepens the bond and trust between the dog and its owner.

How do you ensure your practices are ethical and prioritise animal well-being?

We prioritise safety by personally meeting and screening each dog. We verify vaccines, and during extreme weather, we adjust our walking times, ensuring safety. Our dogs are always attached to us, ensuring consistent observation and protection. 

What are key logistical challenges in your city, especially regarding local regulations?

It’s basically non-existent in our city. Animal services and protection is truly lacking, sadly. Generally, authorities only show up if repeated calls are made and that’s usually about dogs at-large and off-leash where they shouldn’t be. We haven’t had any encounters with local authorities. 

The City essentially rubber stamps your permit if you show $2million [£1.2 million] in general commercial liability insurance.  They don’t ask for Pet First Aid proof, they don’t ask about education, experience, safety protocols etc.

How do you see the future of the dog care industry in the next ten years?

That really remains to be seen. My hope is we get more educated trainers, handlers, and owners out there, who are well-versed in their dogs needs and meeting daily welfare requirements. Recognising dogs as sentient beings who require understanding, care, and patience is crucial. 

I would also love to see the shelter system practice better protocols to ensure proper assessments to provide the best fit vs moving the dog out as quickly as possible. It’s essential for dogs to undergo a decompression phase to identify and address emerging behaviours. Transparency about a dog’s personality and potential issues is crucial—minimising problems can be harmful, a situation I’ve observed all too often. 

Any advice for fellow professionals aiming for top-tier, compassionate services?

Volunteer at dog shelters and find a mentor. Study dog body language and get Pet First Aid certified. Continuously educate yourself on dog psychology, be open to new facts and separate personal beliefs from objective information. Prioritise understanding and education, always seek to learn more. Uphold professionalism by being competent, accountable, and sharing knowledge.

For client care, prioritise transparency, honesty, and accountability. Ensure safety protocols and clearly communicate policies, including scheduling and emergencies. Always keep lines of communication open. Establish genuine connections, respect boundaries, and strive for consistency and reliability.

And just for fun, your favourite dog breed and why?

Oooooh – this is tough! My first-ever dog was a Golden Retriever named Muffin. She was my bestie, my snuggle buddy, my snow bunny, my nightly bed mate, my ice cream partner, my school project star, my dancing partner, my foodie piglet and so much more. Obviously, I have tons of respect and admiration for our working dogs; the Belgian Malinois, the German Shepherd Dog, the Border Collie. Just fantastic beasts! And I have a place in my silly heart for the “snarfle pigs”; aka French & English Bulldogs and Pugs! 

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