Day 14: Equip Yourself

You need to have the right equipment for what you want to do. I don't recommend trail hiking in dress shoes, and I don't recommend walking your dog without the appropriate gear. We used to use a harness for Sirius Black, but after he lost his sight, he found the harness stressful, so we switched to a wide martingale collar that he seems to find easier but doesn’t put too much pressure on his throat. ...
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Day 9: Sit at the Door

Does your dog charge out the door every time it opens? Perhaps it's time to work on sitting before going out the door. If your dog enjoys going outside, additional rewards, such as food, may not be required for this exercise. Do keep in mind that, if you have never worked on this before, your dog may not be able to sit until the door is all the way open. ...
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Day 4: Sit for Leash

Is putting on your dog's leash or harness a full contact sport? It doesn't have to be. Think about training to take the drama out of walk prep. When Sirius could see, he knew how to walk straight into his harness or collar. He cannot do that any longer, but he still knows how to sit and wait for his leash to be put on. As with any behavior, start with slight improvements from where you are. Don't expect to improve everything immediately. ...
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Training—This Time with Squirrels

My husband and I refer to this time of year1 as "ground squirrel" season because of the number of squirrels we see in our neighborhood hanging out under trees; dashing across the street, seemingly as close to our dog as possible; and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Most of the year, when the squirrels are hanging out in the trees, Sirius Black will ignore them. However, when there are thirteen squirrels hanging out under a tree a few feet from where we are walking, ignoring them becomes a lot harder for him. Instead, he thinks it would be a good idea to chase them. Barking at them is also a good alternative. (Barking is also his reaction to sheep, deer, and geese that are not where they belong.) There are a few ways to deal with this: I can resign myself to being spun around like a top by an almost-fifty-pound Border Collie mix barking and pulling.2 I can take advantage of this...
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5 Things You Can Do to Be a Courteous Dog Walker

Summer is over. Everyone is back from vacation. The weather is cooling off. You know what this means? That's right, dog walkers are back! Over the last few weeks, I've observed that spots that were nearly empty all summer long are filled with families and dogs all trying to enjoy the last of the warm weather and sunshine. I am right there with them. Unfortunately, along with more people come more potential problems. So, what can you do to minimize problems for yourselves and your neighbors and make sure everyone has the best possible walk? Leash your dog. I know, I know, your dog is friendly, or well-trained, or [your description here], but—unless you are walking in an area where off-leash walking is explicitly allowed—do everyone a favor and keep your dog on a leash. Why? Because you never know when the unexpected will happen: a loose dog, a family of deer running across your path, or a family whose children are afraid of...
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Dress for Success, Part 3: Leashes

Dress for Success, Part 3: Leashes

6 word blog post: six foot leather or fabric leashes.   I was seriously tempted to leave this post at that, since that is my best advice by far, but I eventually decided to add a few details. Length Four to six feet is a good standard length for most purposes.* Shorter leashes are okay for some uses, but they almost always end up being too short for others. It's easier to hold lower on the leash when you need to than to have multiple leashes for different occasions. Long lines, or multiple six foot leashes hooked together are great for long-distance training if you don’t have a secure area or you want to take your practice on the road. Never retractable leashes. They break, they get tangled, and they reinforce pulling on the leash. Material Fabric or leather. I prefer solid materials, but if you are going for that fancy design, make sure to check it is coupled with solid construction. The width of the...
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Dress for Success, Part 2: Harnesses

When I first started working in shelters as an adoption counselor, long before I was teaching, our standard advice was that small dogs should be walked on harnesses to protect them from trachea damage, and that large energetic dogs should be walked on "no-pull" harnesses to help their owners manage pulling. I carried that advice with me when I started training, but over time, I have gradually expanded my recommendations in favor of harnesses. I now recommend them for nearly all dogs, but especially energetic dogs, reactive dogs, and dogs that are strong enough to pull the people that walk them in directions those people don't want to go. I mentioned above that "no-pull" harnesses manage pulling, and I think it is important to emphasize the difference between stopping and managing a behavior. Managing a behavior is like putting the trash into a cabinet: the dog can't reach the trash, but he doesn't learn anything about not going through trash that's available....
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Dress for Success, Part 1: Collars

Story 1 We were walking our dog near our house when the dog ran up to greet Sirius Black. We looked around, but saw no one near the dog. When he approached close enough, we were able to catch hold of his collar and read the address, less than a block away. A minute later, we were ringing the doorbell and returning the dog home to his family, who didn't even know he was missing yet. Story 2 We were walking our dog near our house when the dog ran up to greet Sirius Black. We looked around, but saw no one near the dog. When she approached close enough, we were able to catch hold of her collar and read the information. The phone number had been disconnected, and the address turned out to be out of date. It took close to 18 hours to locate the dogs owner, only a few blocks away, and get her home.   Both of these stories are...
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Out of Place

We were walking today when we saw two Canadian geese. I barely noticed them, as we see geese several times a week, but Sirius, who normally walks by geese without a second glance, started watching them intently as he prepared to charge or bark. What made these geese worth noticing? Instead of being by a lake or stream, they were hanging out on the University of Maryland Quad. In other words, they were out of place. When working with dogs, on both training and behavior modification, it is important to understand how they see the world and when they will or will not generalize. In my training classes, I often tell my students that dogs don't generalize well. No matter how well they demonstrate "Leave It" in class, they are likely to go home and revert to their previous habits of picking up things that catch their attention, unless a lot of work is put into the activity at home. That happens because, in...
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Talk to your dog! (Your phone’s not listening)

Have you ever seen this? Someone is walking down the street with one hand on the dogs leash and the handle of the stroller and the other holding their phone to their ear. As you approach with your dog, what are you thinking? Do you feel confident that they will be able to react if their dog starts to lunge at yours? Or maybe you are a parent of small children. How do you feel as someone approaches your family texting on their phone while their dog eyes your unsteady toddler warily? I will admit right now that I am sometimes guilty of paying more attention to my phone than to my dog, whether it's texting, talking, or checking the baseball scores. However, in a recent push to improve our walking, I am working to become more aware of my own behavior and how it effects my dog. Part of this effort is understanding the role of technology. I have recently heard several...
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