Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Shannon Nicholson hosts weekly Paw Parade walks in Cambridge parks for free, helping owners boost their confidence with leash skills and providing a safe space to practise good behaviour in real life settings

For many dog owners, taking their pup on a stroll through the neighbourhood is anything but a walk in the park. 

There’s the dreaded leash pulling, frantic barking at pooches passing by and, of course, the obligatory apology to explain away the behaviour. Some owners alter their routines just to avoid triggers, going for walks early or late in the day.

It can be embarrassing to own a dog exhibiting out-of-control behaviours, but exasperated owners shouldn’t give up hope, says Cambridge dog trainer Shannon Nicholson, owner of Unleash Clever Canines.  With the right tools, patience and perseverance, it’s possible to reshape a dog’s brain, she maintains. She can empathize with frustrated dog owners because she’s been there.

Although Nicholson has had dogs most of her life, and considered her dogs to be perfect, she met her match when yellow Labrador retriever Darby entered her life.

The pup was highly intelligent, mastering training levels and competition, but still displayed undesirable traits. He barked his head off at squirrels, jumped on people and lunged at other dogs.

“I didn’t know how to help him manage those situations in a way that I felt I could still take him places,” said Nicholson, who admits to being embarrassed on occasion.

“You get a dog and he has a problem, all of a sudden you realize how incapable you are. I got curious and I just started investigating.”

Leaning into the challenge, Nicholson studied the art of concept training through an Absolute Dogs program. It was a game changer, helping Darby become more calm and confident.

Now a certified trainer through the program, she has a deep understanding of how a dog’s personality, strengths and weaknesses, shape their brain, and how training tools like games can rewire their brain to turn undesirable behaviours into desirable ones.

Nicholson was inspired to share her success story and wants to give back to her community, one dog at a time.

“For me it’s about the dogs,” she says without hesitation. “I love dogs, and if I can help one dog, then that’s a win.”

As part of her services, Nicholson offers customized sessions to help address issues ranging from biting and resource guarding to separation anxiety. But she doesn’t sit back and wait for opportunities to help families build rewarding relationships with their pups – she creates them.

Nicholson hosts weekly Paw Parade walks in Cambridge parks for free, offering advice to help owners boost their confidence with leash skills and to provide a safe space to practise good behaviour in real life settings.

During a recent group hike around Dumfries Conservation Area she reminds participants to pay close attention to improvements made since previous outings and encourages them to “celebrate the win” when their pooch makes gains.

The road to better pup etiquette is a journey, she insists, built one celebratory moment at a time. 

“I’m not looking for perfection,” she says. “I’m looking for progress.”

Krista Morgan and husband Will bring their pups – a dachshund named Milo and a hound named Olive – on the treks, hoping to improve focus.

It’s helping, says Morgan, especially for the seven-month-old dachshund.

“He was too reactive,” she says. “His attention span now is way better. He doesn’t bark at things. He’s much nicer to walk.”

As Nicholson marches through the Dunbar Road park, she stops for breaks to demonstrate positive interactions while engaging with her own black Labrador retriever, Cormick. Conversations like these help struggling dog owners better understand what makes their dog tick and how to develop strategies.

Nicholson is quick to preach positive reinforcement over fear or physical-based discipline to transform a dog’s behaviour because she knows it works. 

“If you look at a positive, they’re going to give you more,” she explains. “They’re going to give more because they want the reward, they want the connection with you.”

That education equally involves identifying how an owner’s fears and lack of confidence unknowingly contribute to behaviours. That often begins with helping dog owners realize what social interactions their dogs can handle.

“We put them in the position all the time, like going to a dog park,” contends Nicholson, “and you look at all the bad behaviours happening there.”

That’s not socialization, she argues, that’s owners putting a priority on their own preferences. 

“When you look at your dog, you need to look at what your dog needs, not what you need.”

That’s why Nicholson is quick to correct assumptions that her weekly walks are meet and greets for four-legged friends. The walks are opportunities to step out in a public place and learn how to manage the sights and sounds of other dogs and people, while learning to maintain calm.

“I want real life results.”



By admin