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October 28, 2014

Halloween Safety Tips & DIY Car First Aid Kit- Great for Holiday Travel!

Eerie Ernestine

Not really, but all is possible around Halloween! (checkout the photo of me on the right hand side of this page — definitely the GOOD witch!)

I have listed some Halloween tips to keep your precious canines safe. They offer simple info that we might not think of.  In addition, thinking about the holiday road travel coming up in the next few months,  it’s a great idea to put together your own first aid/ safety kit for the car. And, just so you know– Crate Escape too has a couple of pooch seatbelts and harnesses and travel bowls available.

ernie on hardwoodbday

Later, Ernestine

Halloween Safety Tips for Pets

HALLOWEEN DECORATIONS

It’s great to be festive during this fun holiday, but remember that some decorations can pose dangers to your pets. Keep string lights around the house or cords from other electrical decorations out of reach of pets. If your cat or dog (or rabbit!) has the tendency to chew, adding a new item to the home may be especially enticing and pose the risk of electrocution. Other decorations — like fake blood, fake cobwebs, glow sticks, rubber decorations — can be poisonous or pose a choking risk. Your best bet is to keep all of these items out of reach of your pets.

CANDY

It’s not healthy for anyone — canine, feline or human — to ingest a large amount of candy. You might be intelligent enough to know not to eat an entire bowl of candy, but your pet is not. Candy can be toxic to your pets, especially if they are made of chocolate, raisins or candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol. Not to mention the paper or foil wrappers that Halloween candies are often wrapped in. Keep bowls of candy out of reach of your pets and keep a lid on them if you’re not home.

CHOCOLATE

Though chocolate could be considered under the candy category, it is so dangerous to dogs that it deserves it’s own entry. It only takes a small amount of chocolate to sicken or even kill a dog. Chocolate contains methylxanthine theobromine, which causes reactions within the body similar to caffeine — heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, diuretic. Bowls of chocolate Halloween candies can be an inviting sight for pets, who likely won’t think twice about eating the entire bowl. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate are considered the most dangerous, but for safety reasons, keep ALL chocolate away from your pet.

RAISINS

A health-conscious neighbor might hand out little boxes of raisins to trick-or-treaters. While there are healthy for you and your kids, they are highly toxic for pets. Even very small amounts of raisins and grapes can cause kidney failure in dogs and cats. Keep raisins away from pets and seek veterinarian treatment right away if you suspect your animal has ingested them.

COSTUMED STRANGERS

Even the most friendly dogs and cats can become stressed out by the constant flood of outrageously-costumed strangers coming to the door. You pet doesn’t understand the concept of Halloween, so seeing someone at the door dressed up or looking threatening can trigger a negative response. Allow only the most socialized animals free reign of the house, and keep others in a room away from all the commotion.

OPEN DOORS

Constantly opening the front door for trick-or-treaters can make it easier for your dog or cat to escape outside into the night, possibly unbeknownst to you. Ensure that any pet with the tendency to dart outside is properly secured within your home and that they have identification tags and microchips. This will increase the chance that your pet will be returned to you if it gets out.

How to Make a DIY Dog First-Aid Kit for Car Travel

Alissa Wolf  |  Dogster

Each year, about 30 million Americans take their pets along when they travel, with a whopping 76 percent traveling with their companion animals by car or other motor vehicle, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. The majority of the pets who hit the road are dogs, and those who plan to rove with Rover are well advised to plan ahead and take along certain first aid and safety items, and also to expect the unexpected.

First, learn how to securely restrain dogs in a vehicle

Before we list the first aid items you should take along for car trips with your pooches, we can’t overemphasize the importance of properly restraining dogs when traveling. Indeed, dogs who are permitted to sit on drivers’ laps, poke their heads out of car windows and otherwise move freely about a vehicle are responsible for causing tens of thousands of accidents each year.

Aside from distracting drivers, AAA points out that in the event of a collision, your pooch can act as a furry projectile with forces of 500 pounds or more. Many states have passed pet restraint laws and will heavily fine drivers whose pets are not properly secured in a vehicle. In New Jersey, pet parents can be fined from $250 to $1,000 for traveling with pets who are not properly restrained.

There are now a wide number of pet car-restraint products on the market, such as those available from companies like Kurgo and K9 Car Fence (pictured above), just to name a few. So please research and invest in a sturdy restraint expressly designed for traveling by motor vehicle with dogs.

Now, let’s get to your first aid kit:

Research dog first aid

The first things you should have in your dog first aid arsenal when traveling with canines by car is a good first aid manual.  There is the handy “Pet First Aid” guide released by the American Red Cross, which is now available as an app.. In addition, you should record the names, addresses and phone numbers of emergency veterinary facilities along your route and destination, as well as the number for a pet poison control hotline hotline. The ASPCA operates a 24-hour Animal Poison Control Center helpline at (888) 426-4435.

Items for your DIY dog car first aid kit

It is easy to put together your own first aid kit with items from dollar stores, pharmacies, and health food stores and keep them in a waterproof tote. You could also purchase a cute waterproof fabric lunch carrier with a dog motif so that you can easily store and identify this among your other travel effects. You might want to buy travel sizes or smaller travel bottles, which are less bulky, to store supplies in the kit.

Among the items your dog first aid kit should contain are:

*A very important note about hydrogen peroxide: Always check with a poison control hotline before administering this, as some toxic substances should not be regurgitated.

Dr. Cathy Alonovi of Indiana — who helped to develop a pet first aid kit for BARF World — also recommends adding some homeopathic apis for insect bites to your doggie kit. She further suggests the natural Bach Flower calming aid Rescue Remedy, and pure lavender oil to lightly sprinkle on a favorite blanket to soothe nervous dogs.

In addition, it’s a good idea to take along a supply of inexpensive wash cloths and a liquid soap such as castile, which is natural, safe and gentle, for cleaning cuts and abrasions, as well as dirty paws and other soiled doggie body parts. It’s best to avoid baby wipes, because these often contain harsh chemicals that may irritate a dog’s skin.

Water should be a part of your dog travel supplies

This is one suggestion you might not even have considered. It’s important to bring along water from home, as pooches (and other pets, for that matter) may develop upset tummies from drinking water that they are not used to. Or you could bring along bottled water. Don’t forget to pack some collapsible bowls for the water, and be sure to clean them thoroughly after each use.

Hitting the road with pooches can be a real adventure, and great fun — as long as you plan ahead, bring the right supplies and anticipate the unexpected.

October 13, 2014

Who Is Your Pooch for Halloween? GREAT Info on Dog’s Brains and Their Potentials!

Ernestine

OK, just a little over 2 weeks ’til Halloween! My Mom has definitely picked out my costume — but keeping it a surprise! Stay tuned!! We might have a ‘Best Costume’ challenge, the last week of October!  Here are some photos from past years….

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         Hedy, CEtoo


hall3

PUDGE! CEtoo

 

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The Great Mulligan! (RIP, Mully! Love you!!)

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Charlestown (name to follow!)

So, put your creative costume hats on! Day and time of contest to be announced!

The World’s Smartest Dog, really?? (ok, I will settle for 2nd!)

The following article was a segment on 60 Minutes. It is fascinating, and I know that many of you suspected (or knew) that we have more intelligence, emotions, and overall understanding than we have been given credit for.

ernie  Later, Ernestine

 

The Smartest Dog in the World

Anderson Cooper meets Chaser, a dog who can identify over a thousand toys, and the scientists who are studying the brain of man’s best friend.

The following is a script of “The Smartest Dog in the World” which aired on 60 Minutes on Oct. 5, 2014. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. Denise Schrier Cetta, producer.

Human beings have lived with dogs for thousands of years. You’d think that after all that time we’d have discovered all there is to know about them. But it turns out that until recently scientists didn’t pay much attention to dogs. Dolphins have been studied for decades, apes and chimps as well, but dogs, with whom we share our lives, were never thought to be worthy of serious study. As a result, we know very little about what actually goes on inside dogs’ brains. Do they really love us, or are dogs just licking us so they can get fed? How much of our language can they understand? Before you answer, we want you to meet Chaser, who’s been called “the smartest dog in the world.”

Eighty-six-year-old retired psychology professor John Pilley and his border collie Chaser are inseparable.

John Pilley: We are almost there. We are almost there. Can you speak? Speak? Speak!

Chaser: Woof!

John Pilley: Good girl. Good girl.

Anderson Cooper: Do you view Chaser as a family pet? As a friend? How do you see Chaser?

John Pilley: She’s our child.

Anderson Cooper: She’s your child?

John Pilley: She’s our child, a member of the family. Oh yes. She comes first.

Many people think of their dogs as children, but John Pilley has been teaching her like a child as well. By assigning names to toys, Pilley has been helping Chaser learn words and simple sentences.

[John Pilley: Take KG.]

He’s been teaching her up to five hours a day, five days a week for the past nine years.

John Pilley: My best metaphor is this is a two-year-old toddler.

Anderson Cooper: That’s how you think about your dog, a two-year-old toddler?

John Pilley: Yeah, she has the capabilities of a two-year-old.

[John Pilley: Chicken, chicken, chicken. Where’s chicken? Yes. Good girl.]

He’s not kidding. Most two-year-old toddlers know about 300 words.

[John Pilley: Figure 8. Figure 8. Good girl. That’s figure 8.]

Chaser’s vocabulary is three times that.

[John Pilley: To tub.]

She’s learned the names of more than a thousand toys. And all those toys add up.

[John Pilley: Wheel. Yes, bring it on.]

To show us Chaser’s collection, Pilley’s brought us to his back porch.

Anderson Cooper: So, these are all the toys in here?

John Pilley: Yes.

Anderson Cooper: Got a chicken in here. Is it all right if I dump them out?

John Pilley: Please do. Please do.

There are 800 cloth animals, 116 different balls and more than a hundred plastic toys. One thousand twenty-two toys in all. Each with a unique name.

chaser.jpg

Anderson Cooper: So Chaser could recognize the names of every one of these toys?

John Pilley: That’s true, that’s true.

To prove it, Pilley cataloged the toys and then, over the course of three years, gave Chaser hundreds of tests like this.

[John Pilley: Chaser, find circle, find circle.]

In every test, Chaser correctly identified 95 percent or more of the toys.

[John Pilley: Find circle Chase. Yeah.]

The results were published in a peer reviewed scientific journal, and a star was born.

[Fan: How are you? I’m so glad to see you.]

Chaser even landed a book deal. But John Pilley didn’t stop with the names of toys.

[John Pilley: Nose, KG. Nose KG. Nose it. Nose it. Good girl.]

He’s taught Chaser that nouns and verbs have different meanings.

[John Pilley: Paw it. Paw it.]

And can be combined in a variety of ways.

[John Pilley: Take wheel. Do it girl, do it. OK. Out. Out. Chase, take KG. Do it. Good girl. Good girl.]

Anderson Cooper: So she’s actually understanding the difference between take, paw, putting her paw on something and putting her nose on something?

John Pilley: Right. And that’s what we are demonstrating.

All this learning has been possible, Pilley says, because of a breakthrough Chaser had when she was just a puppy.

“There was no evidence until the last decade that dogs were capable of inferential reasoning.”

Anderson Cooper: At a certain point she realized that objects have names?

John Pilley: Right. It was an insight that came to her.

Anderson Cooper: How could you tell that she’d suddenly had that insight?

John Pilley: Well, it was in the fifth month and she’d learned about 40 names. And the time necessary to work with her kept getting shorter and shorter.

Anderson Cooper: She was starting to learn words faster and faster?

John Pilley: Yes.

Brian Hare: It’s the closest thing in animals we’ve seen to being like what young children do as they are learning words.

Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, believes Chaser is the most important dog in the history of modern scientific research.

Brian Hare: This is very serious science. We’re not talking about stupid pet tricks where people have spent, you know, hours trying to just train a dog to do the same thing over and over. What’s neat about what Chaser’s doing is Chaser is learning tons, literally thousands of new things by using the same ability that kids use when they learn lots of words.

He’s talking about what researchers call social inference – a capability humans, like Hare’s son, Luke, acquire around age one. To demonstrate the concept, Hare hides a ball under one of these two cups.

Brian Hare: Hey Lukey guy. Where is it? Can you get it? Can you get the ball?

Luke doesn’t know which cup the ball is under, but when his father points, he makes an inference.

Anderson Cooper: Hey, nice job.

Brian Hare: You got it.

Anderson Cooper: So what does that show you?

Brian Hare: So when kids his age start understanding pointing, it’s right when the foundations of what lead to language and culture start to develop.

bonobo.jpg

It might look simple, but when Hare tried the same test with bonobos, great apes he studied for more than a decade, look what happened.

Brian Hare: Oh, you chose the wrong one.

Bonobos, our closest genetic relatives, can’t do it. But Hare discovered dogs can.

Brian Hare: You ready? So I’m going to hide it in one of these two places.

This two-year-old Labrador named Seesu has no trouble understanding the meaning of pointing.

Anderson Cooper: Now she doesn’t know for sure which place you’ve put it in?

Brian Hare: That’s right. There is no way she could know. And I’m just going to tell her where it is. Okay Seesu. So that’s really hard for a lot of animals and that’s what is really special about dogs is they’re really similar to even human toddlers.

Anderson Cooper: That’s a level of thinking that people didn’t really think dogs could do?

Brian Hare: Right. I mean, there was no evidence until the last decade that dogs were capable of inferential reasoning, absolutely not. So that’s what’s new, that’s what shocking is that of all the species, it’s dogs that are showing a couple of abilities that are really important that allow humans to develop culture and language.

It’s not surprising that dogs share characteristics with humans; after all we’ve evolved alongside each other for more than 15,000 years. There are now some 80 million dogs in this country, more dogs than children. But for all the playing and petting, the companionship, we still know very little about their brains.

Dr. Greg Berns, a physician and neuroscientist at Emory University, has studied the human brain for more than two decades, but three years ago questions he had about his own dog inspired him to start looking at the canine brain.

Dr. Greg Berns: It started out with the desire to know, really, what does my dog think of me? I love my dog, but do they reciprocate in any way? When they hear you come home, you know they start jumping around. Is it just because they expect you to feed them? Is this all just a scam by the dogs?

Anderson Cooper: Are dogs just big scammers?

Dr. Greg Berns: Yeah.

“…When dogs and humans make eye contact, that actually releases what’s known as the love hormone…”

To try and answer that question, Dr. Berns is doing something scientists have had a difficult time with. He’s conducting brain scans on dogs while they’re awake and un-sedated. Inside the fMRI machine they’re trained to stay completely still.

Anderson Cooper: How hard is it to get a dog to do this?

Dr. Greg Berns: This represents probably about three to four months of training. So most of the dogs take that long.

Anderson Cooper: What’s around Tigger’s head here?

Dr. Greg Berns: The scanner makes a lot of noise. It’s quite loud. And because dogs’ hearing is more sensitive than ours, we have to protect their hearing, just like ours. So we, we put earplugs and earmuffs and just wrap it all to just keep it in place.

[Trainer: OK. Now we can go up.]

Tigger certainly knows the drill. Once in the machine he lies down and doesn’t move. These scans are giving Dr. Berns the first glimpse at how a dog’s brain actually works.

Anderson Cooper: So these are slices of Tigger’s brain that you’re seeing?

Dr. Greg Berns: Yeah, exactly. So we’re slicing from top to bottom. We analyze them later to see which parts increase in response to the different signals.

While in the scanner the dogs smell cotton swabs with different scents. First, the underarm sweat of a complete stranger. Next, the sweat of their owner.

As Dr. Berns expected, when the dogs sniffed the swabs the part of their brain associated with smell, an area right behind the nose, activated. It didn’t matter what the scent was.

But it was when the dogs got a whiff of their owner’s sweat that another area of the brain was stimulated – the caudate nucleus, or “reward center.” Dr. Berns believes that means the dog is experiencing more than the good feeling that comes with a meal. It shows the dog is recognizing somebody extremely important to them. It’s the same area in a human brain that activates when we listen to a favorite song or anticipate being with someone we love.

Anderson Cooper: So just by smelling the sweat of their owner, it triggers something in a much stronger way than it does with a stranger?

Dr. Greg Berns: Right. Which means that it’s a positive feeling, a positive association.

Anderson Cooper: And that’s something you can prove through MRIs? It’s not just, I mean, previously people would say, “Well, yeah, obviously my dog loves me. I see its tail wagging and it seems really happy when it sees me.”

Dr. Greg Berns: Right. Now we’re using the brain as kind of the test to say, “Okay, when we see activity in these reward centers that means the dog is experiencing something that it likes or it wants and it’s a good feeling.”

Anderson Cooper: My takeaway from this is that I’m not being scammed by my dog.

Dr. Greg Berns: Did you have that feeling before?

Anderson Cooper: Yeah, totally. I worry about that all the time.

Watch YouTube videos of dogs welcoming home returning service members and it’s easy to see the bond between dogs and their owners.

Brian Hare says there’s even more proof of that bond. It’s found in our bloodstreams.

Brian Hare: We know that when dogs and humans make eye contact, that actually releases what’s known as the love hormone, oxytocin, in both the dog and the human.

It turns out oxytocin, the same hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies, is released in both dogs and humans when they play, touch or look into one another’s eyes.

[Dog owner: Thank you very much.]

Brian Hare: What we know now is that when dogs are actually looking at you, they’re essentially hugging you with their eyes.

Anderson Cooper: Really?

Brian Hare: Yes. And so it’s not just that when a dog is making a lot of eye contact with you that they’re just trying to get something from you. It actually probably is just really enjoyable for them because they get an oxytocin or they get an uptick in the love hormone too.

All these new discoveries about dogs have led Brian Hare to create a science-based website called Dognition, where owners can learn to play games to test their dog’s brain power.

14y09m02web-extra-hare2shot.jpg

 

Anderson Cooper: So you’re allowing people to do an intelligence test for their dogs?

Brian Hare: That’s exactly right. And the idea though is that there’s not one type of intelligence. We help you measure things like how your dog communicates, how empathic your dog is. Is your dog cunning? Is your dog actually capable of abstract thought like reasoning?

Anderson Cooper: So there are different kinds of intelligence for dogs just like with humans?

Brian Hare: Absolutely. And so just like some humans are good at English, and others are good at math, it’s the same for dogs.

When Hare tested his own dog, a mixed breed named Tassie, he was surprised by what he learned.

Brian Hare: What I found out was that I had someone sleeping in my bed that I didn’t even know.

Anderson Cooper: Really?

Brian Hare: And I didn’t know my dog doesn’t really rely on its working memory. So if I’m saying sit and stay, I no longer have to wonder why my dog wanders off. He like literally forgot.

Anderson Cooper: So you’re dogs not the sharpest of dogs?

Brian Hare: He did great on communication. He’s very communicative.

Anderson Cooper: So he can basically be a TV anchor?

Brian Hare: Yes.

[John Pilley: Fetch shirt. Fetch shirt. There we go.]

If you’re wondering how Chaser did on Brian Hare’s intelligence tests? She was off the charts on reasoning and memory. Not surprising perhaps considering Chaser is a border collie – dogs bred specifically for their ability to understand how farmers want their sheep herded.

Anderson Cooper: Is Chaser just like an Einstein of dogs?

Brian Hare: So that’s really fun. Is Chaser somehow special? And I think the idea actually is that no. I mean, when Dr. Pilley chose Chaser, he just randomly took her out of a litter.

[John Pilley: Drop. Drop.]

Brian Hare: What’s special is that he spent so much time playing these games to help her learn words, but are there lots of Chasers out there? Absolutely.

[John Pilley: On your mark, get set, go!]

Anderson Cooper: There’s going to be a lot of people who see this and are jealous of your relationship with Chaser. I mean, I now think about my own dog and kind of think, wow, I’ve missed the boat, I haven’t sort of help my dog live up to her potential.

John Pilley: Well, start working with your dog more.

[John Pilley: Yeah, you’re so sweet.]

October 5, 2014

What is Your Dogspeak? Who only says, Sit, Down, Come, Stay? & Tips to Train a Problem Barker

Ernie

Second to loving beachtime in the summer, this time of year is awesome! It’s so much cooler that you people will walk farther and stay out with us longer. There is an article below on the ‘protocol’ (or not!) for dog walking.  I have heard some pretty funny requests? commands? conversation? corrections? from you guys; my stepbrother, Spankie, has shared a few he gets frequently.

REALLY?  Jeez Louise! Sorry!  Don’t Eat that! Be nice!  What are you doing?  Not on the flowers! You are starting our walk like that? Spankie – no second winds at the end of our walk! Stop it!  awwww… look at that handsome labby! NO!! Leave it!  OK, you guys, good job! who wants breakfast?

spanksoncouch

Spankie looking innocent.

ernie hildy's toy

Later,  Ernestine

 

How to Train a Problem Barker

Drew Webster, Petfinder

problem-barker

Nuisance barking can be a big problem for owners.  No one wants to be the neighbor with the crazy barking dog. If you want to improve your dog’s behavior you first have to understand it. Dogs have different barks for different behaviors. Dogs will bark to alert, for attention or out of frustration and many will bark or howl when left alone.

Barking is very hard for pet parents to work through because a lot of our instincts end up reinforcing the behavior. For example take a dog who is barking at a strange dog or person on the street. As nurturing human beings, pet parents often think they should sooth and calm him with petting, where the dog most likely will take this to mean you like my behavior, keep doing it. The other major issue is barking dogs can trigger owners to yell or punish the dog to try to stop them. This might suppress the behavior but it is more likely to cause the dog increased stress and to continue barking. Frustrated owners will sometimes turn to punishment in some form like “anti-bark” shock collars, these tools are not very safe or humane and most of the time they will make the problem worse by creating anxiety.

To train your dog not to bark or to stop barking you will need to understand what is causing him to bark. If a dog is barking because there is something outside triggering him (by sight or sound), change the environment so your dog doesn’t have access to watch and bark out the window, or some noise like music to cover sound. This is a “self-rewarding” behavior for the dog. Think of it from the dogs’ point of view. The mailman comes to the house, dog barks, mailman leaves. He thinks he made the intruder go away, success! If your dog is barking or howling because he is alone, increase his exercise routine before you leave him and give him something interesting while you are gone like a puzzle toy with treats inside. For the attention seeking barker find something that makes him bark out of excitement like a toy, ball or your attention. Wait until he is quiet and reward him when he stops barking; he will learn quiet behavior gets him what he wants faster than getting too excited.

Lastly, reward and praise your dog when he is calm and quiet. Quiet dogs are often ignored, but barking gets a lot of feedback. Let your dog know he has made the right choice when people walk by the window or when his ears perk up, and he will be more and more likely to watch quietly.

 

Whose Walk Is It, Anyway?

Walks let dogs get mental and physical stimulation by exploring and interacting with their surroundings — this should be the priority. One dog parents view… from Dogster

Quite often, when I’m out walking my dogs, I see numerous other dog/handler teams out for a stroll in the neighborhood.

I see all kinds of things I don’t particularly like that compromise dogs’ physical or mental health –- dogs getting yanked around on leashes, yelled at, and constantly scolded. I also see training concerns, and people reinforcing correct behavior. I can’t recall a single time I’ve seen a dog in my neighborhood get a treat for doing the right thing when out on a walk.

But of all the things I see on walks, one of the most frustrating for me is seeing dogs being punished, incessantly, for being dogs. This is National Walk Your Dog Week, so it’s a good time to consider what a walk is all about — and who should benefit more from it. Read on for some observations, advice, and tips on dog walking.

Sometimes it seems as though owners take their dogs for walks and forget what a walk is all about — for their dog. For dogs, a walk is about sights, sounds, and experiences. It’s about checking “p-mail,” sniffing hydrants and trees to find out where the neighbor’s dog or cat last peed. It’s about shoving their faces down a groundhog hole and sniffing until they finally pull their faces out, dirty, blissful, their nostrils full of the smell of wild animals. It’s about munching a particularly tender blade of grass, saying “hello” to a friendly stranger they’d like to greet, lifting a leg on every fire utility pole or tree you pass, splashing in a puddle or creek, or chewing a stick for a brief moment.

This is what walks mean to dogs. It’s a chance to investigate and interact with their environment. It’s mental and physical stimulation.

Many owners approach a walk with the mentality that, “We’re going to walk X route in Y amount of minutes whatever that takes. It will be your exercise for the day and you’d better well like it.” It’s a “Let’s just get this over with” mentality, a “You’re an imposition to me and I’m doing this because I have to, not because I like to,” mentality. For these people and their dogs, walking is a chore. For me, Cuba, and Mokie, more often than not, it’s a game.

Let’s face facts. For many dogs, a daily 30-minute leash walk barely begins to address their true exercise needs. Mokie, my Chow mix, is a very active dog and for her, a walk is certainly more about mental stimulation than it is about physical stimulation. A 30-minute walk is only the beginning for her. If I want to really tire her out, we need to go hiking, backpacking, swimming, or have a long and adventurous romp with some of her favorite doggy pals.

When we go on a walk, I’m walking for my dogs. It’s their chance to just get out there and be dogs, to sniff and explore. If I want to go on a brisk, no-nonsense, let’s-not-stop-for-anything power walk (which happens rarely, I just can’t see the point in walking without at least one dog and would feel utterly naked), I would go without the dogs.

Despite the fact that I’m a trainer, I also don’t insist on perfect obedience from my dogs when we walk. A colleague once said, “Well, my dogs would NEVER pull on the leash because I’m a dog trainer.” Well, la-dee-dah. Dogs are dogs. They move faster than we do and think poop is fascinating. I’m not saying I let my dogs pull me around, but sometimes the leash does go tight. So what? I just stop, wait for the tension to come off the leash, and we start walking again. No biggie.

I do use equipment as a cue for the type of walk we’re having. If I’m going on a training walk, where we’ll work on heeling or obedience, my dogs can wear their collars and six-foot leashes. If we’re going for fun, a “for the dogs” walk, they get to wear front-clip harnesses and a long-line or flexi leash. (For dogs — and owners of dogs -– who are not already trained to walk politely on a regular leash, a flexi leash can be a safety risk and inhibit the learning of appropriate leash manners.) When they have those “clothes” on, they know they’re off the hook. It’s dog time –- do whatever you want. Sure, I’ll still call them back and reinforce the behavior for coming, ask for a few steps in heel and reward with a chance to shove their face in a hole dug by a woodchuck, or ask for a few hand targets and reward with a stick tossed into the creek for retrieving.

But my dogs aren’t always “on.” They’re not always performing, I’m not always rigid. I don’t spend every second we’re together thinking of criteria, reinforcement schedules, and so on. I think of behaviors I like, and I look for ways to make it fun for them to offer those behaviors by giving them the things they want and need. Yes, dogs do NEED to sniff things and interact with their environment.

Sometimes, I’m not even a dog trainer, I’m just She Who Likes to Have Fun With Dogs.

I don’t want robots, I want canines. Yes, I find their good behavior rewarding and fulfilling. It makes me proud to know how wonderful my dogs are. But at the same time, I want them to have plenty of opportunities to just do the things that they like to do, even if means that they’re sniffing for 30 minutes out of a 45-minute walk, and we make it around only four or five blocks instead of a few miles. Sometimes, I let the dogs pick the route we take on our walk. Something smells good on Fairview Avenue? Let’s go that way instead of taking Riverside today!

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