Day 15: Surfaces

Your dog is probably used to walking on carpet and sidewalks. Maybe you also have tile and hardwood floors in your home. And likely your dog also spends time on grass. But how comfortable is your dog on grates or drains? What about docks and piers? Dogs don't instinctively understand these different surfaces. You can help your dog by introducing him or her to different surfaces early and taking as much time as needed to adjust. You won't cover every surface your dog may encounter in life, but you can help increase his or her overall comfort with new surfaces....
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Day 2: Go Somewhere New

Life always changes. Even if your dog is comfortable in all the places that are part of your daily routine now, you cannot be sure that routine won't change at some point during your dog's lifetime. It's good to work with your dog on comfort in new situations. Of course, the appropriate level at which to work on this depends on your dog. For more nervous dogs, taking a different walking route may be as much or more than your dog can handle. Confident dogs can handle a more challenging environment, but it still needs to be set to their level. I don't recommend starting even confident dogs with a new environment that will require them to stay for a long time. Look for something that allows a quick exit. In the DC-area, we have a number of dog-friendly bars and breweries, which can be a good place for this. Make sure you pick a time that the location is not likely...
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Take a Break

We all have daily routines that we can go through practically in our sleep. I don't need to be really awake to leash the dog up for his early morning bathroom break, or even to brush the cat’s teeth and feed her breakfast. These are all part of my routine. I frequently see clients whose dogs could basically walk their normal walk route without any guidance, because there is never any variation. And sometimes this is a good thing. Following the same routines can be soothing and can save our energy for other moments or decisions. But life is not predictable, and following the same routine too closely can leave us unprepared for the unexpected. If we always take the same walk, what do we do when construction on that street makes it unpleasant or unpassable? If we always do the exact same tasks in the exact same order, what happens when a new baby, or dog, or job requires a change...
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Recognizing Our Limitations

Recognizing Our Limitations

This article came to my attention today via a couple of animal professionals I really admire. One of them asked for other professionals’ opinions. I thought about responding via Twitter, but I decided this topic deserves a more extended and thoughtful response. First, let me say that despite my background in both psychology and animal behavior, I am far from an expert in emotional support animals. I am a believer in the ability of animals to help us feel better, including by providing comfort during emotional upheaval and on-going mental crises. In fact my own professional career with animals had its modest beginnings when I sought out volunteer opportunities with animal rescues while in college because I felt sad. All that is to establish that while I don't know a lot about emotional support animals, I am open to the belief that in some circumstances, they may be just what the doctor—or therapist—ordered. What concern me about the article cited above, and...
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Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! I hope this long weekend is spectacular—for you and your pets. Of course it will be, I can almost hear you thinking, friends, families, barbecues, fireworks... What else could we want? Of course, I agree that all these things are fantastic, but do your pets? As I have mentioned before, Fourth of July can be one of the most dangerous holidays for pets. Many pets get spooked by the sound of fireworks and end up getting lost. Any home firecrackers or sparklers can also pose a threat to any pets that are around while they are being used. And, of course, having guests in your home that are not used to being around your pet may result in things such as poisonous foods left at pet-level, open doors, and so on. So, make sure your Independence Day stays wonderful by following a few simple guidelines: If you're having people over, consider preparing a quiet, safe area for your pet out of...
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A Quiet Walk in the Park

When I left the house Saturday morning and spotted the sun, I admit I did a bit of a doubletake. What was that? After so many straight days of rain, it was easy to forget that the sun would be coming back again eventually. Since we did get lucky with some beautiful weather this past weekend, we decided to take advantage of it by going to the National Arboretum on Sunday for a walk. If you live in the DC area and haven't been to the Arboretum, it's well worth the trip. It's very family- and dog-friendly, but still has plenty of wide open places if you want to avoid getting too close to other people. Usually. That was less true than normal on Sunday, as the combination of sunny weather and Mother's Day had the Arboretum more full than I think I have ever seen it. If you are working on the basics of training your dog to be comfortable around...
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Permission to Enjoy Spring

Over the past few weeks, the weather has been rocketing between warm (60s and 70s with SUN) and threats of snow. I always feel pulled in a bunch of directions with this type of weather, because I am afraid the beautiful weather will disappear again, and I want to do all the nice weather things. What are all the nice weather things? Well, I definitely want to get some extra-long walks in with Sirius, but I also want to clean up my garden, since I never did get around to that in the fall. (And then there is all the cleaning that is more enjoyable with the windows open, and... the list goes on.) Every time a warm day passes without my having succeeded in doing all the nice weather things, I feel guilty for missing this opportunity. Do you ever have those same feelings? Well, today I am giving us (both you and me) permission to stop feeling guilty. If you...
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When We Change the Rules

Like any good trainer, I am always looking for professional development opportunities. Sometimes what I learn gives me more immediate insight into my own relationship with my animals then my clients' relationship with theirs. Currently, I am enrolled in a class to become a Family Paws Parent Educator. (More about that at a future date.) The point today is that a recent class discussion brought to mind the rules and expectations we create for our dogs--and what it does to them when we change those expectations. I always tell my clients and class students to set expectations for their dogs, and stick to them. Within certain boundaries, I am not usually concerned about what those rules are. Is the dog allowed on the couch? On the bed? Who goes out the door first? I don't really care what the answers to those questions are in most cases, as long as the answer is consistent within the family. However, the flip side of creating...
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About Group Classes

I welcomed new students to my classes this past Saturday. Every time I do that, I am reminded of the questions people have about classes, including questions about what they can and cannot do for you. So here are some quick tips. Things Group Training Classes Can Do Provide a support community. Group training classes, especially age-based classes like puppy training, provide a great place to meet other people with similar experiences who can help you with issues you might be facing. Connect your dog with playmates. Especially in puppy classes and play-based classes, you may find a good play match for your dog, even if you don't have any in your circle of family and friends. You may even find someone you can meet up with outside of class. The class will be supervised, and the instructor will provide guidance about what to look for in safe dog play. For young dogs, this socialization experience is especially important. Provide a grounding in the...
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