Retractable Leashes, My Opinion

I am often asked of my opinion on retractable leashes.  My immediate reaction is that they are EVIL!  Seriously, I do not know of any trainers or dog walkers who like retractable leashes.  Why not? They are dangerous.  First, you have to be coordinated enough to use them.  I struggle with coordination.  Second, they are bulky and often hard to hold on to, especially if you are trying to walk two dogs.  In the last few months I have had encounters with three different dogs who got away from their parents while being walked on retractable leashes.  In each case the parents were walking two dogs, each on retractable leashes and they couldn’t hold on to them both.  Luckily no one was seriously hurt but it could have ended very badly.  In some cases dogs have become lost because they pull away from their pet parent and the bulky retractable leash handle appears to be something scary chasing them, making noise as it is bouncing behind them.  The dog just keeps running!  I also know of dogs who have been cut by the leash itself when it gets wrapped around their leg and then is allowed to retract, cutting into them.  People have been hurt the same way or while grabbing at the leash itself instead of locking the handle down in an emergency.  Or the leash has snapped and flown back into the faces of the owner. 

Besides being dangerous they are horrible for use when trying to train a dog not to pull.  How can you expect a dog to learn not to pull when you use a leash that is designed to let them go wherever they want?!  Nothing makes me shake my head more than a pet parent using a no pull harness with a retractable leash.  

Are they always a no-no? Not necessarily.  I do use them occasionally myself.  First, when we had Higgins, who was suffering from dementia, we used a retractable leash when letting him out for potty breaks.  He often wandered and this way we could reel him back in when it was time to go back in the house.  Also, some dogs insist on having privacy while going potty.  In that case it may be necessary to use a retraceable leash so Fido can get away to do his business.   You may also use a retractable leash while teaching your puppy to come when called.  If you do not have a safe, fenced in space for training you can keep the dog on a retractable leash (or long training lead) for practice sessions.  

So, do I like retractable leashes? NO! Are they a necessary evil?  Actually, no.  There are alternatives to using them.  But if you insist on using a retractable leash, make sure you are in control.  


Fear in dogs: How to overcome it.

We’ve been supposed to get winter weather for the last several days.  In preparation for this several people flipped the windshield wipers on their car up to prevent them from freezing to the glass.  Totally normal, right?  Right…unless you are a 7 month old puppy.  I was walking Mishka when he stopped dead in his tracks and stared at a car.  I couldn’t figure out what caught his attention.  Then he started growling and barking at the car.  I’m sure it looked like some giant metal praying mantis monster to him!  
    Over the last few months I’ve had experiences with my walking dogs showing fear at Christmas decorations in yards, a fan on the sidewalk on trash day and more “everyday” household items.  So, how do we prevent this?  The first way is to safely and positively expose our puppies to new experiences and people during early development periods.  Never force your puppy/dog to “face their fears”.  You can use treats to form positive associations with scary things.  Contact me to get more info.
    You can also help boost a dog’s confidence.  Agility, games and puzzles as well as basic obedience lessons can help.  The more your dog learns the more confident they are.  Often you can actually see the dog becoming more sure of themselves.  They get excited when they do the right thing, such as solve a puzzle to get a treat.

As always, if you have questions about how to help your dog overcoming fear, please contact me.  While this can be done it needs to be done correctly to prevent the issue getting worse.  Exposure and socialization must be done with POSITIVE reinforcement.  


National Train Your Dog Month

January is National Train Your Dog Month so I'd like to start the year off by sharing some training info.  First, WHY train your dog?  As long as your dog is not destructive or aggressive does he or she really need training?  YES!  Training isn't just to teach your dog what not to do.  It is great for teaching what we want dogs to do in any given situation.  And using POSITIVE training methods actually help build a bond with you and your dog.  We've all heard that Dog is Man's best friend.  Well, we can be our dog's best friend too.  

When I say POSITIVE training methods I mean rewards: treats, fun and games.  I do not advocate physical punishment or yelling at dogs at all.  While I will not say there is no use for e-collars and other "harsh" training tools, I will say they should be used only as a last resort and with proper training by a professional.  Positive training methods are much more effective in building that bond most of us want with our dogs. I mean, would YOU want to hang out with someone who yells at you whenever you make a mistake or hits you with a rolled up newspaper when you don't know what to do?  Most dogs will respond if we show them what we want (lure them into the desired position for example) and reward them when they do what we want (treat, verbal praise or play).  Does that mean I don't do anything that would be considered "punishment"? No!  If I'm trying to teach a dog to stop jumping on people I often ignore the bad behavior, therefore ignoring the dog until he/she does what I want (greeting me with all four feet on the floor).  That IS a form of punishment as I'm taking away something the dog wants, my attention.  

Here's a great blog by Patricia McConnell on the topic of being a positive trainer.


Meet my Insprirations Part 2

As I mentioned in the last post, Higgins was the "perfect" puppy.  Oh, he made a few mistakes but overall was an easy puppy to live with. He knew how to roll over on his graduation day, a trick a lot of dogs never learn.  He wasn't a perfect dog though!  He pulled on his leash during walks, barked quite a bit, pretended he needed out to pee by hitting the bells on the door whenever he heard is friends outside.  But we socialized him a lot by going to classes at 9 weeks of age, taking him shopping, to the dog park, daycare and for walks around our apartment complex.  He loved other dogs and often played with the big dogs at daycare.  Even as an adult he LOVED to destroy paper, paper towels, napkins and toilet paper, often sneaking into cabinets to get the coveted items.  He would also steal food off your plate if you weren't careful!  This is where my new career as a trainer came in.  I learned how to stop the leash pulling and we taught him to go to "time out" when we ate so he couldn't grab our food.  

Benson was totally different.  He wasn't socialized as we didn't know anyone in CA when we got him and we weren't able to take him out to socialize him until he had all of his shots.  When we finally made friends and had them visit we found that Benson was leary of tall people.  When we ran into kids on walks he was nervous and hid behind us.  When I introduced him to my coworkers he hid behind me and barked at my coworker who happened to be a black gentlemen.  Benson wasn't a bad dog.  He just hadn't been socialized!  If you know me and my husband you know we are of average height.  Benson wasn't sure what to think about tall people.  Having not been socialized with kids he was afraid of them.  I mean, they are short, often loud little humans who don't have the best control of their movements.  SCARY!  And since our social group in CA wasn't culturally diverse, Benson wasn't comfortable with certain people.  As funny as it sounds, my dog was a racist.  It wasn't his fault!  And after I realized it was an issue I worked on better socialization.  He learned to accept the tiny humans and folks of different colors.  As an adult Benson was mellow (unless you danced around him - he did not approve of dancing).  He really didn't get into any trouble as an adult.

Even though Higgins tried our patience as he got older due to dementia and Benson tried them as a puppy, I wouldn't have traded them for the world!  We lost Benson in June 2014 at the age of 9 1/2 from stomach cancer.  Higgins followed in May 2015 at the age of 12 1/2 after complications from dementia and Cushing's Disease.  While deciding to end their suffering was the hardest decision we've ever made, it was best to let them go to the rainbow bridge.  Not a day goes by that we don't think of them and laugh about all the mischief they got into!  


Meet My Inspirations part 1

I mentioned Higgins and Benson before.  Like most proud mommas I like to talk about my babies!  I'd like to take this opportunity to do just that.  Not only will you get to know my boys, the inspiration behind my interest in all things dog, but you'll also see that I have faced a lot of the same puppy raising and dog training issues many of you have.  

My dad had two Bostons while I was growing up.  When Pat and I moved into an apartment together during college our neighbor had a little Boston named Murphy that we just fell in love with.  We decided then we wanted a Boston Terrier some day.  About four years into our marriage I started asking for a puppy.  We were both working full time and Pat was attending grad school part time.  Maybe not the ideal time for a puppy but Pat said if I could find one we could get it.  He admits now he thought it would take a while for me to locate one.  Well, it took less than a week.  Not knowing what I do now about breeders and adoptions we made arrangements to meet the breeder at a restaurant parking lot to pick out our puppy.  She was to bring several males for us to choose from.  When she arrived she opened the crate in the back of her SUV and one little boy came strutting out.  My husband pointed and said "that one, I want that one."  He happened to be the only male she brought so I guess that worked out.  We were just supposed to pick our pup and make a deposit but Pat insisted he come home with us right then.  We were not prepared!  We had to stop on the way home and get food, toys, puppy pads, EVERYTHING!  We let him sleep in the bathroom, then a box beside our bed...then IN our bed.  And not wanting to crate him we got him a pack-and-play.  I'm completely serious.  It wasn't long before he started destroying the potty pads and the pack-and-play itself so he graduated to a crate.  Higgins was the easiest puppy to raise.  He was very quickly potty trained, though I remember nights in freezing temps begging him to potty so I could go back to bed.  He really wasn't destructive.  He was quiet, loved other dogs, traveled well.  We couldn't have asked for a better first dog.

In 2005, when Higgins was almost three years old, we moved to Southern California.  He sat in the back seat in his bed and was the perfect traveling companion.  We even lived in a hotel for a full month and he was never a problem.  After we got settled in the house we decided to get Higgins a brother.  I quickly located a breeder in northern California.  We drove for hours, stayed in another hotel then drove even longer though the mountains near Modesto to pick up Benson.  I had put a deposit down on one puppy but when I met him I didn't feel he was a good match.  He was smaller, shy and not fond of the other puppies.  When the breeder opened the crate door another puppy, bigger and outgoing, ran right to me.  I guess it's true...our dogs picked us!  That outgoing little guy became Benson.  Higgins sat in the front seat on the drive home while I sat in the back with the new baby.  Higgins wouldn't even look at us.  When we got home, Benson learned to climb the stairs in about 5 minutes, giving Higgins NO peace at all!  Higgins completely ignored me and the new baby for days.  After all, I'm the one who went into that house and came back out with the annoying brother.  It didn't take long for them to become friends.  After Higgins, Benson was definitely a challenge.  He was destructive, chewing shoes, remote controls and anything else he could get ahold of.  He took Pat's wallet outside, emptied the contents and chewed on credit and insurance cards.  (Until we changed insurance companies Pat's ID card still had puppy teeth marks!)  He also took Netflix DVDs and other mail outside.  He didn't learn as quickly as Higgins but that may have been our fault.  We expected him to be as quick to pick up things as his brother and we didn't work with him as much.  Higgins attended puppy classes and graduated first in his class.  We dropped out after only a few weeks with Benson. And Ben was a NIGHTMARE to potty train.  In CA, because it doesn't get cold enough to freeze the ground, our vets told us not to let Benson touch the ground until he had all his shots.  That really limited our ability to potty train in a timely manner.  Benson also wasn't socialized with people or other dogs as much which presented new challenges when we started making friends. (I'll cover those in the next blog.)


January 2016

Getting to know me
If you read the About Us page, you already know that I'm a farm girl from West Virginia.  I was born in Ohio but my family moved just outside Glenville, West Virginia in November 1980.  We lived on my paternal grandparents' farm while my family was building our own home on adjoining property.  While living in Ohio we had dogs, cats, chickens and even a pony.  Once we moved to West Virginia we got sheep, cows, horses, chickens, ducks, geese, goats, pigs, a donkey...pretty much if Old McDonald had it, we had it!  We spent hours playing in the barns, roaming the hills and catching crawdads in the creek that ran behind the house.  There was never a dull moment while growing up in the country.  But wasn't all fun and games as we had to help on the farm as well.  There are six kids in my family but by the time we moved to West Virginia there were only four of us living at home.  We helped in the garden, hay fields and with animal care.  We fed the livestock, cleaned the barns, even milked the cows.  We watched as new babies were born and even took care of goats, sheep and miscellaneous feathered creatures in the house.  We bottle fed calves, sheep and goats.  They weren't just livestock.  These animals became our pets, which certainly led to big challenges when it came time to butcher.  But when you live on a farm you learn that you do what you must.  I learned compassion on the farm.  Even though many of these animals were to feed us throughout the year, they were treated as well as possible. They had big stalls, clean barns, large fields.  It was on that farm that I was exposed to toy poodles, medium size "mutts" and giant Great Pyrenees.  

Its my dream to one day have a small farm of my own.  I'd love to have some goats and donkeys, lots of dogs and cats, and anything else I can sneak by my husband.  While he loves animals too, he isn't too fond of livestock as pets.  

We strive to provide the highest level of service, treating your furry or not-so-furry family members like they are our own.  Whether it's a walk when you are working, a quick play date when you are out sight-seeing for the day, or vacation visits for home bodies, we do it all.  We can schedule for the week or "as needed" appointments.  Let us help you care for your pets when you can't be there yourself.