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Hitting the trail with Paws On The Shore


By Leslie Emmons


(Posted in 2014)

On the last Sunday in March, over 30 dogs and their owners gathered on the corner of Lakeshore Blvd and Kipling Avenue with a common goal: Hiking through Colonel Samuel Smith Park. They were brought together by Paws On The Shore, (POTS) an organization that aims to: provide an opportunity for ALL dogs to gain the benefits of proper socialization.


It seemed like almost every dog breed was represented. There were Rottweiler’s, Pitbulls, Sheppard mixes and Yorkshire Terriers, and although some kept their distance at first, as soon as we hit the trail there were happy owners and wagging tails as far as the eye could see!


I spoke with POTS organizer, Niki Richer the morning of the walk about her organization's beginnings and its ambitious future.


Q: What is your position in POTS and what does it entail? 

A: I am the founder of POTS and help with every aspect from organizing to marketing/advertizing, public and corporate relations, creation and maintenance of the website and social media pages. [ I also] communicate with rescue groups.


Q: Do you have a team you work with on POTS? 

A: We have a great team of volunteers and are always looking for more hands to help out!


Q: How did POTS begin, did anything inspire it?

A: POTS was created simply out of a need to fill a void for dogs of all types to gain the 'three keys to success' and happiness: socialization, stimulation, and exercise. These 'keys' are essential to a dog’s physical and mental well-being.


For dogs with any type of social issue, (dislike towards other dogs or over excitement or nervousness etc.) there are limited options for them to gain these skills as their displays of barking or jumping can make their owners feel excluded from most doggie daycares, parks or walks.


So many times during my work with dogs, I have stressed the importance of giving dogs of ALL social levels proper stimulation, exercise, and socialization - especially those dogs who are displaying a lack of social skills. Many times over clients would tell me that they are unable to socialize their dogs due to reasons including:


  • Lack of opportunity: other dog owners crossing the street or picking their dogs up at the sight of a barking or hyper dog.

  • Not being welcome anywhere dogs would normally socialize: dog parks and doggie daycares/playgroups are no places for a dog with any social issues. They can be intimidating to other users and are usually not welcome. Sometimes even walking down their own street, owners of dogs with social issues can run into embarrassing situations that can make them feel unwelcome.

  • Embarrassment: other dog owners giving them dirty looks and/or making comments when their dog barks or is too hyper. Unfortunately, out of frustration and lack of options, many owners will resort to only walking their dogs late at night and avoiding other dogs and people altogether. This ultimately leads to the dog’s behavior becoming worse, a solution that does not work for the dog, or the owner. Owners remain frustrated and embarrassed, and the dogs remain under socialized. POTS was created to help these dogs, and their owners have a place where they could come together, feel welcome and meet other dog owners in similar situations. They can provide their dogs with the same socialization opportunities that all dogs should be entitled to - free from looks of judgment, or feelings of embarrassment.

  • My dog is already socialized: Socialization, stimulation, and exercise are needed all throughout a dog’s life and providing these to your dog should never 'end.' These hikes are not just for dogs with social issues, these hikes are for ALL dogs including the ones with social issues. The majority of the dogs at our events have amazing social skills and are there for the same benefits gained from socialization, stimulation, and exercise. POTS hikes provide a place to work on your dog's skills with the added distractions of new places, people, dogs, smells, and sights.


Q: How many dogs and owners usually show up? 

A: We have had a dozen or more dogs present at some hikes! Weather plays a huge role in our attendance numbers. Our hikes take place in ALL weather conditions, as it is important to desensitize and condition dogs to all types of weather conditions and terrains. We also know that being a dog owner, you have no choice but to take 'Fido' out for his business in all weather conditions so the hike must go on!


Writers note: Niki and a lot of the attendees noted this was one of their best turnouts! We estimated that around 40 dogs/owners were in attendance. Visit the Pinterest page for photos!


Q: Is there usually a meeting before or after the hike? 

A: Yes, before the hike there is a brief 'meet-up' where loot bags are distributed and photos are taken. The loot bags are an important part of POTS vision as they strive to educate and inform on animal related issues, as well as build community involvement and roots.


Content varies month to month but can include information such as: dog body language, dog bite prevention education materials, brochures for local rescues, advertisement for local events/animal events, spay/neuter information, training tips, responsible dog ownership info, breed specific legislation info, wildlife education materials etc. Local businesses that support POTS by donating prizes include their marketing material, flyers and coupons/freebies into the bags! Any leftover bags after a hike are distributed throughout the month in the community, parks etc. During our meet-up, the prizes donated by local businesses can be won! Any monies raised go to the highlighted animal rescue organization for that month.


Q: Where do the hikes take place? 

A: Hikes take place in the summer at Marie Curtis Park. This trail offers some privacy and an incredible scenic view. The trail follows Etobicoke Creek so the dogs (and us) can walk right in! Plenty of trees provides an almost completely shaded trail to keep cool on hot days. Colonel Sam Smith, we hike in the winter months as this trail is maintained. This trail offers an amazing view of the lake and the city skyline. This park is well used and even has a Tim Horton's at the start of the trail! Hoping to add a few new parks in the near future!


Q: There are many parks and organizations that would ban what some may see as “problem breeds.” So Pit bull’s or dogs that look like Pit bull’s with “bad reputations.” Why did you make it a point to include all types of dogs? 

A: In 13 years of working with dogs I have never come across a 'problem breed'. I myself have owned two "Pit Bull" type dogs for the last 13 years, Lucky and Empress. Lucky passed recently (R.I.P baby girl) but Empress is still with me and she is a shining example of an amazing, loyal, obedient, loving and silly dog who sometimes barks at other dogs. She deserves to go on a large pack walk and make new friends and learn new social skills, she has a great time at the hikes and she sleeps for the rest of the afternoon when we get home! Judging an entire breed as a whole with breed bans and restrictions is unfair and unjust. Each dog is an individual and each dog deserves the chance to prove their social skills, or to work on them! 


Q: Since some of the dogs have issues socializing with others, are there ever any issues on the walks?  How are they solved? 

A: Owners are expected to have their dogs on a leash at all times and to follow all city by-laws. We walk in leashed areas of the park only (no leash free areas). During the meet-up, owners are asked to keep their dog's leash short, and their dogs close to them. We require that owners be in control of their dog at all times. It is advisable that dogs should not be approaching other dogs, and people should not be approaching other people’s dogs until permission has been granted, and both dogs body language examined. If your dog is known to bite, it is best to have him wear a muzzle. Tips on how to let dogs greet and how to muzzle train can be found on our website soon!


Before the hike, there can be some barking and lunging. The hikes expose dogs to new environments, new smells, new people and new dogs. Multiple additions of increased stimuli can make any dog a little over-excited, or shy. Once the hike begins, the dogs begin to relax and enjoy the pack walk.


Q: Can you give us three tips for newcomers who may have a dog that has trouble socializing? 

A: The most important thing I want newcomers to know is YES! Your dog is welcome to come out to the hikes! Please read through the website and if you have any questions let us know! One: Make sure your dog's collar is fitted properly and all equipment is secure. Two: Keep space between yourself and others and always ask before approaching, or allowing your dog to approach others. Three: If another dog is making your dog uncomfortable (or the other way around) just reposition yourself within the group.


Q: What's next for POTS? And how can people find out when the next walk is? 

A: We hope to put together a board of directors this year, and to expand the Toronto Pet Food Drive! Our events are posted on the website and also on our Facebook page and group.



A Word With Some Attendees!































Mary Jo and Sadie


Q: What brought you here today?

A: I know Niki who is one of the organizers. She’s Sadie’s regular dog walker so I come out to support

them and give Sadie the opportunity to socialize with other dogs.


Q: How old is Sadie and what kind of dog is she?

A: Four-and-a half and she is a Cockapoo.


Q: How many POTS hikes have you been on?

A: This would be about the third I think.


Q: What do you think of the environment? There are all types of dogs, some with socialization issues, some without.

A: I think it’s really important not just for the dogs but also for the dog owners. Sadie is a nervous type dog as well, so it takes her a little while to get used to other dogs and sometimes it’s hard to interact. As an owner to know that this is a safe place to bring your dog and a welcome place for more challenging dogs, it kind of makes you feel better as well. You’re not the only one that has struggles with nervous or challenging dogs.


Q: What do you think Sadie gets out of it?

A: I think it’s a great opportunity to smell other dogs and get to know other people. We lived downtown where it was a necessity to socialize your dog because you were dealing with dog parks all the time. Out here it's more dog walks so it’s important to take advantage of opportunities.

















































Kim Osmond and Sadie


Q: How did you hear about the POTS hike?

A: My son and my daughter-in-law found out about POTS. We live near Woodstock, which is an hour and a half away. We decided we’d come and join the dog walk and support the organization.


Q: Is this your first time here?

A: Yes, this is our first time.


Q: What do you think of the environment and incorporation of all types of dogs?

A: I think it's great, I like the way the dogs are starting to interact with each other. I’m watching this little white dog in particular and when she got here she was quite skittish. You can see the difference already that she’s getting used to the environment. I think it’s great, I love it.


Q: Does your dog have any socialization issues?

A: She’s pretty good, we have a lot of dogs in our family so she’s used to my sons' dogs, nephews and my mom and dad and so on. But strange dogs she’s a little skittish. She likes to look and step back a bit. Do a little sniff and then walk a way.


Q: Tell me about your dog. 

A: Her name is Sadie and she’ll be seven in June.


Q: What kind of dog is Sadie?

A: We’re not quite sure even the vet doesn’t know. She’s got Sheppard in her for sure and I think maybe a little Alaskan Malamute, because of her tail curls around when she stands up, it got a distinct curl to it.



The next POTS walk will take place on Saturday, April 19, 2004 at noon !

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