Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kid Stuff

May I suggest NOT letting your child walk the dog? Please. Any child under 12 should not hold the end of a leash. And they all want to. I know they do. Parents will need to explain to me why kids want the leash so badly.

Small dogs shouldn't be at the whim of silly kids. Small kids shouldn't be at the whim of large dogs. It's hard for someone not to get hurt--and to make good choices. Even kids who are 9 or 10 do some dopey things--like bring their dog over to visit another without knowing if the dogs will be friends.

It's FANTASTIC to give responsibility to children. They should definitely feed their dog; they should ask the dog to sit; they should play hide-and-seek with her; they should work on recall with their sibling and the pup "monkey" in the middle. But not walking. Leash handling is hard enough for adults, let alone young-uns.

Having said that, I sometimes see a fantastic 4-year-old girl run her Westie in agility trials! For real! Adorable. Junior handlers are all over the dog world. But they take special guidance in the training process and the dogs have to be special, too.

One more point: let's all work on teaching children to "be a tree" around dogs they don't know: stand still with arms at their sides. You can't blame dogs for being tentative around kids when so often they are unpredictable and loud and erratic. They flail around and stomp and scream and run up to dogs. One little boy in my neighborhood--he's probably 4--actually comes over and on his own stands very still for my dogs. He will even kneel down on the sidewalk so he and Tanner can kiss each other. He innately knows or has been taught that he's taller than toy dogs, so he makes his tiny self even smaller. So sweet. I love his dad!

Monday, August 18, 2014


The most basic equipment for dogs is less than basic for their people. When you live in a big city, you see lots of dogs being walked every day in every fashion, and I think most of the dogs take little notice of the lead attached to them. Because their "handlers" are not handling at all.

The leash can be a powerful communication device. When used with a trained dog, the slightest nudge can be communicated down the line. If your dog weighs less than, say, 40 pounds, the loop should go around your wrist. You can't possibly pay attention all the time, and one good squirrel can mean your dog goes running off down the street. And we will never be as fast as our dogs. Dog gone. A larger dog can take you down if you're not ready and have the leash looped around your wrist, so you may just have to be on a better lookout for squirrels.

Choose a side: your dog should walk on the right or on the left of you. Tradition says on the left of the human--so you can carry your sword or rifle in the right hand--but either will do unless you're competing in an AKC ring. Letting your dog cross back and forth in front of you is bound to lead to your landing on your head, so why not have Fluffy stick to one side?

Your loose hand can be on the lead (instead of texting!) to let your dog know you're there and as an extra safety. Sometimes you need two hands to wrangle a strong pup. And you can hold up a little of the slack so the leash doesn't wrap Millie's paws. Any extra slack should not, in an circumstance, be wrapped all around your hand like a mitten. If you have that much slack, go for a 4-foot lead instead of a 6-foot.

As I remind my husband sometimes, dogs weren't born with leashes attached, so don't expect them to remember it's there. If you attach that leash to some harness on Fluffy's back, the likelihood, too, is that she  walk without noticing you at all. Your dog should learn to walk properly so there's no strain on her throat anyway, so there's no need for a harness over her back. Sometimes an Easy Walk or Freedom harness can help you manage Millie while she's in training, but before long, she should no longer need it. I've seen dogs who have lost hair where their harness has rubbed them every day for years....

If I see another dog on a retractable leash come whipping around a corner with his person six feet behind, I may just surrender and move to the country. A retractable leash can literally cut your hand wide open when it slides suddenly across your palm. It can catch your finger and take it off! It gives your dog the ability to get to other dogs before you even see them. Scary. Your dog should not be running six feet ahead of you. Your dog should be beside you. You're a team, right?

If you aren't easy with your leash handling, you may just need a little guidance. Give me a call or take a class. But by all means, the leash is NECESSARY. You're not macho if your dog is off-leash; you're just telling fate to come and get him. Dogs are lost and killed ALL the time because they weren't on leash. It's far less work to know where my three dogs are because they are on leash. I'm Lazy. I can't be bothered to keep track of them any other way. And isn't it funny that the dog poop left around my neighborhood all belongs to the off-leash dogs? But that's another blog entry.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


If you a procrastinator, please raise your hand! Every one of us procrastinates about something--or several things. I am the first to raise my hand to say I procrastinate with my own dogs sometimes.

But humans live for years with behaviors from their dogs that are often very easy to change. The longer they wait to call in a trainer, often the harder it is to extinguish the behavior. In the meantime, both the people and the dog are unhappy. "I wish my dog would tell me when she needs to go out." We can train that so quickly! "I have to lift my dog to get him into the car every time." Fixed in one lesson. "I can't get my dog to come when I call him." Probably the most important cue for a dog to have! That needs to be addressed immediately.

People finally book an appointment with a trainer. She comes to the house and learns a lot about their life and their dog--and the clients learn a lot about their life and their dog. The people have new tools to try--but the dog has probably not made a permanent change in one lesson. Follow-up appointments are necessary! And right away. Not a month later when things fall apart again. And you may have your car's oil changed, but you can't ride around for months before getting the brakes done, too.

Trainers complain again and again that dog guardians don't show enough compliance. That means working with the dog between appointments as prescribed and booking the next appointment no later than a week from the last.

Everyone is busy, of course. But don't put your dog at the bottom of the list. C'mon, Dori, let's go proof those stays more!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Snack Often

Positive reinforcement means rewards for desired behaviors. Those rewards can be praise and toys and play--and food treats, the most common. Whatever makes your pooch happy reinforces the desired behavior.

"Do I treat my dog forever?" clients ask. Most trainers will say to wean treats as behavior is learned--otherwise you're bribing your dog to sit when she knows 100 percent what the word means. Reward--not bribe.

But: once in a while surprising your dog with a treat keeps her on her tiny toes. You are a Vegas slot machine: you could deliver at any moment. Surprise! Walking quietly by the landscaper with the leaf blower deserves a sudden treat. Good doggie!

I always always carry treats on me. You just never know when they'll come in handy. My three dogs and I were having a nice walk this week, and Tanner suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. What was this 12-foot green man flailing around? Our local auto body had recently added an inflatable balloon man to their storefront. I'm not sure any of the dogs have ever seen one of these up close before, but only Tanner said, "What the heck?" So we stopped and I treated and said, "Look at that, Tan! Isn't that cool? Crazy, right? The tallest, greenest man ever. Here's another treat! You see a big guy and get tasty snacks. Not bad, right?" And on we went. Nipped that scary moment in the bud. (Even the other dogs got a lil treat at that sight.)

And a year ago my mother-in-law's dog was attacked on the street by a neighbor's dog. Just maybe if she had one more second's notice, she could have thrown a handful of treats at the Rottie, which just might have been more exciting than Skipper. Sometimes that trick can work and sometimes not. But I always always carry treats now just in case. (Skipper had a few stitches but otherwise turned out just fine.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Never Too Many Toys!

Two dozen  toys. That's the minimum. That doesn't seem like too much, does it? Yep, you'll pick out a few your dog wouldn't. But put them in the toy box and see. Six months from now he might change his mind and find that new treasure awaiting. Or you'll get a second dog who will love that toy your first dog ignored. All else fails: you donate the bad choice to a rescue group.

(Our toy box is for three dogs, after all--but they have small toys, since they're small dogs.)

Variety! Lots of different kinds! Rotate the choices: turn the box inside out once in a while and hide some away so they look new again. I've met dogs who have only three or four toys--really!--and they get into trouble a LOT. Go figure. Would your human toddler get persnickety if she had only four toys? Boring! One of my favorite things to watch is a dog looking through the box, pawing through toys to find the one she wants. Adorable!

These puzzle games aren't inexpensive--though watch for great deals--so I lend them out all the time. Dogs love them--until they're too easy to solve. Hide them away and then bring them out again after a couple months. Ooh, new toy! You're the best dog parent ever!

Have fun!

Then have more fun!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hallelujah, Doggie!

How much do you praise your dog? How are your walks going? How much do you connect on those walks? Praise your pup! "Hallelujah, Dori! You're the best walker ever!"

Because walks need to happen regularly, both sides can tune out if the human is boring. Often on walks we connect with our dogs only to say no or to give a cue! "Leave it" when Tommy wants to eat something cool on the sidewalk. "Watch" me when a bike goes flying by. "Sit" because you're at a curb. How annoying are humans?

But what about the praise? What about a little petting on the walk? If a group of dogs walked without the obstruction of their human, they'd connect with one another periodically, touching, checking in. Are you on auto-pilot?

Why walk with us if we're not any fun? If he's daydreaming about something else, Tanner, our "street dog," can forget the nice walking technique he's learned, but you know what brings back his attention? "Hi, Tanner! What a good dog!" He goes right into step beside us again. Even advance praise for what you know the dog should do will have him working as part of the team.

We're all so bossy. We're too stingy with praise and attention. Put away your cell phone and leave your coffee at home. Be the fun part of the walk--you've got a lot of competition for your dog's attention. You'll be surprised how only a little extra attention is needed to change your dog's attitude--and your own.