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Ottawa Canine School and the Barking Barista support our four-legged friends through the pandemic

By Gloria Song on May 27, 2020

As measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have restricted business operations, it has been interesting to see how small businesses in Ottawa have adjusted. How has it been working for dog-related services? Apt613 spoke to Chantal Mills, owner and head trainer of the Ottawa Canine School, to see how they have changed their dog-training practices during the pandemic.

“The Ottawa Canine School stopped offering group classes and in-home private training on March 17,” Mills told me by email. “About a week later, we stopped offering private training sessions at the school and transitioned all of our services online. Pre-pandemic, there were up to 1,000 people walking through our doors every month to attend a group class.”

Luckily, the school was able to continue offering some of their classes on Zoom. “By the end of March, we had started offering our Puppy Kindergarten classes online,” Mills said. “Shortly after, we added Basic Good Manners. All of our private training sessions were done online.”

“Pre-pandemic, there were up to 1,000 people walking through our doors every month to attend a group class.”

“I’m a Certified Separation Anxiety trainer and I have seen an increase in clientele. This is, thankfully, a service that has always been offered online. I am glad to be able to help dogs with separation anxiety and there is a growing concern with how dogs who were suffering from anxiety before the pandemic will cope with seeing their guardians return to a regular schedule.”

Anyone who has started taking classes online during the pandemic knows the virtual experience can differ from in-person learning. While trainers, clients, and dogs all adapted quickly, Mills observed some initial challenges, but was able to work around them. “It is hard for us not to be able to interact with the people and dogs in person. We tried to make our online classes as interactive as possible, showing demonstrations and then observing students practice the exercises. I have a 14-year-old dog who has retired from being a demo dog. I was able to demonstrate a few things with him, but relied on my fellow trainers who have younger and more energetic dogs.”

“One big advantage is that the dogs didn’t have to deal with the distractions that come with a group class: smells, sounds, other dogs!”

Moving the training online has provided some unexpected benefits. “One big advantage is that the dogs didn’t have to deal with the distractions that come with a group class: smells, sounds, other dogs!” Mills noted. “We created Facebook pages for our students where they could share videos and ask questions. The students could also send their video homework through email. They really appreciated this, as they didn’t have to wait until their next class to get their feedback or answers to their questions.”

Mills also runs the Barking Barista Coffee Roastery with co-owner Matthew Ellis, an engineer by trade. Together, they roast small-batch coffee with dog-related names like Off the Leash, Just Neutered, Leg Humper, and Squirrel!?! A portion of the proceeds go towards dog rescues. “We have donated to a variety of different rescues, either donating coffee for their events or money to help cover vet bills. We want to help dogs get adopted and a vet bill shouldn’t get in the way of that. We particularly like to surprise a rescue with a donation,” said Mills.

Ellis originally began roasting green coffee beans in a popcorn maker over a camp stove in the garage. As he and Mills began selling their coffee at craft shows, they decided to invest in a commercial roaster. They get some of their coffee beans from Chalos, a coffee farmer in Colombia.

“He was going to start importing them into Canada and was looking for coffee roasters. We met Chalos and his family in person when they were in Ottawa. We even had them over for dinner! A couple of years later, Matthew was invited to Colombia to visit the coffee farm and help with the harvesting. The beans we get from Chalos have consistently been our best-selling beans,” Mills said.

L to R: Matthew Ellis, Chantal Mills. Photo provided.

“We would love to have this kind of relationship with all of our coffee farmers. We pay a price fixed by Chalos, which ensures that he and his farmers get a fair price. Our other suppliers are at the very least done through fair trade.”

My personal favourite is their dark roast coffee Muzzle Punch, which I’ve been ordering throughout the pandemic instead of going for my usual Starbucks latte. Indeed, Mills has noticed growing demand for their coffee, which can be delivered anywhere in Ottawa for free. “More people have ordered our coffee online, which is great. We participated in our first virtual market in mid-May, which was a hit!”

With pandemic measures slowly loosening, the Ottawa Canine School opened again on May 24. They plan a gradual re-opening, first offering their Puppy Kindergarten classes and Basic Good manners classes again in person (and dog). They have also resumed one-on-one private training. “I’m most looking forward to seeing puppies, dogs, and clients again,” said Mills.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing puppies, dogs, and clients again.”

I asked Mills how her own dog Everest is dealing with changes at home. She says he’s getting less sleep. “He used to head right into his crate when he knew we were about to leave the house and he’d spend the day sleeping there. Even during the weekend, when we were home, he’d sneak into his crate to take long naps. Since we are all home now, he no longer goes into his crate and spends his time napping near me. Pre-pandemic, any activity near the front door would have him going right into his crate. Now, he comes running, spins and waits hopefully that the leash will get attached to his collar,” she said.

“After the first few weeks of extra walks, he developed the bad habit of barking at the door. We did not, however, want to reinforce this behaviour. We started leaving the house without him, even if it was a short jaunt to the mailbox. He stopped barking at the door.”

As distancing measures begin to relax and dog owners begin to return to work, it will be interesting to see how their dogs will adjust to being alone at home again. If there are problems, Ottawa Canine School can help get your furry friends used to the new normal.


Check out the Ottawa Canine School and Barking Barista online. 

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