Collars, Leashes & Harnesses Part I in a Series

I haven’t written in quite awhile. It’s been a very busy late Summer and early Fall for my family. I’ve wanted to write about collars, leashes, and harnesses for a long time, but haven’t been able to decide on the best way to tackle the subject. Then it finally dawned on me, it’s not one subject, it’s not even three subjects – it’s somewhere between six to ten, or more. I’ll try to outline where I’m going with this, and you can jump in or out of the conversation wherever it works for you.

This article is not a defense of my “favorite” item. Think of collars, leashes and harnesses as tools. They help you to get a job done. Choosing the correct tool is a personal decision that varies for each dog/person team. Each person in the house may need different equipment for the same dog!

Your dog’s age and your level of training are both very important. It’s always easiest to teach a brand new puppy. While it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks, it takes much longer, requires more skill & patience, and is generally more difficult. But NOT impossible! Is this your first dog? Or have you owned (and trained) many dogs over the years?

We also need to discuss what you want out of your relationship with your dog. Are you looking for titles in Obedience, are you satisfied if your dog doesn’t pull you on your face when you go for a walk, or do you want something in between?

What about strength and size? This refers to both you and your pooch. A 67 year old woman with arthritis in her shoulders walking a 100lb untrained rescue dog that she just brought home will require far different equipment than a healthy, 25 year old, man walking a 5lb puppy that he just brought home.

Take a couple of days, think about it…
I’ll be back to talk about collars.


Self-Trained Service Dogs

Self-Trained Service Dogs.

Hot Dogs 2

Well this week I started a new job. I had to leave my Rosie behind while I traveled for some training. Thankfully, I have been able to stay with my sister Judy in Gettysburg, PA all week. She has a lovely 6 month old Border Collie/Lab mix named Marcy. We hit it off right away and have been having a lot of fun together (forget my sister ;-))

Judy also has some neck problems, we blame it on my Mother’s side of the family! While I’ve been here, I’ve been sharing some of the things that I learned when I was so sick. Yesterday, we were swimming and Marcy would get into the pool using the steps, but wouldn’t jump in. She wanted to, but was afraid. So I stood in the middle and splashed and carried on until she was sprinting in circles around the pool like a crazy dog, then I called her. She jumped right in – I got a faceful of dog! After that, she wasn’t afraid anymore, so we played a game. We took an empty water bottle and threw it in the pool. She would jump in like a Dock Jumping Dog. We had a great time, and so did she!
I shared 2 videos, one a success, the other not so much! Enjoy! Feel free to laugh at my expense!

Collars, Leashes & Harnesses, Part III in a Series or How To Stop Your Dog From Pulling on the Leash

The point of this blog and my webstore is to educate you about how to make spending time with your dog more enjoyable so that you can get out with them and enjoy life! I don’t want you to go for a walk, then come home and be sore for two days, and think “Ugh, that was horrible, not worth it, I’m never going out again with that dog!” People and dogs both need exercise!

Even though it sometimes seems impossible, you can get your dog to stop pulling when you walk. As with all things “dog”, the younger they are when you teach them, the faster they learn it. But it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks. (Hmmm, maybe I’ll start a 2nd blog about how to train from when you first bring a puppy home…What do you think?)

I had neck surgery and carpal tunnel surgery this past winter (11/2011 & 2/2012), this picture was taken in May 2012. Am I crazy walking 90lb Ranger and 65lb Rosie together on a leash with a coupler? Maybe – but I knew that they wouldn’t pull me, and yes I cheated with a pinch collar just in case. But they didn’t pull, so they never got pinched! Now that I’m more confident in my own rebuilt strength, I walk both of them without the pinch.


I know that pinch collars are a touchy, controversial subject in the dog training world. It’s not my job to judge what people do to control their dogs. I am trying to help people to understand how dogs think, how to let your dog be a partner in your healing, and to find some methods to let you work with your dog without giving you undue pain. So my perspective is this… Yes, pinch collars are meant to be a training tool and the dog should be weaned off of them as quickly as possible. Some dogs are gentle souls and never need them, others never seem to understand the whole leash concept. I’ve owned dogs on both ends of the spectrum. The other factor that comes into play is the strength and physical capabilities of the dog owner vs the strength and training of the dog. I had 2 German Shepherds that I bought when I was fully capable of handling them. When they were 1yr and 1 1/2 yr old is when I had my surgeries that were completely unexpected. They weren’t fully trained yet. Should I have given them back, or found tools to help me keep them? Believe me when I tell you that if you feel that you always need a pinch collar, I won’t judge you, sometimes it is the best choice!

So here is the “trick” to teaching your dog to stop pulling on the leash. Choose a leash that is comfortable in your hands, and feels good when you hold it. (That will be the subject of an upcoming blog when I’m done taking all of the educational pictures!) This is especially important if you have arthritis in your hands like I do.

Know your dog and what makes them respond. Are they thrilled just to hear you say “Good Job!”, or do they need a treat, or a chance to bite on their favorite toy? Whatever it is that works for you & your best friend, take it along when you go out, also bring a lot of patience.

The first part of this has nothing to do with walking. It’s all about developing attention.Your dog must know that he needs to always know where you are and what you are doing. He needs to understand that no matter what other exciting things are out there in the world, you are the bearer of the best things, and that he should stick with you. This exercise you can do from a park bench. If you are not strong enough (yet!) to hold your dog for a long period of time, tie the leash to the bench. Keep an eye on your dog, (you remembered your treat, toy or kind words – right?), every time he looks at you say. “Good Look!” or “Good Watch!”, treat him and then let him go back to watching the people or squirrels, or whatever is fascinating to him. Pretty soon, (it may take a few trips to the park, but what is so bad about that?) he will learn to look at you every so often, just to check in. When that is solid you can move to the next step, the actual walking part.

When you first try  to get your dog to walk without pulling, if at all possible, go to a place, or at a time when things are fairly calm, and your dog won’t be too distracted. This is just an extension of the exercise above, so fewer distractions means that you get more attention. You have to be sneaky and fake your dog out, they’re smart!

When you walk your dog, watch them very carefully. When they get almost to the end of the line, but before they start to pull – STOP in your tracks. Your dog will get a little tug. They may: 1. walk back over to you, 2. look at you in surprise, or 3. try to pull you. Any reaction is ok. If you get the 1st reaction, it will be fairly easy to teach your dog to stop pulling on the leash. Tell him how good he is and reward him, then start to walk again. Repeat, over and over! If you get the 2nd response, call her over to you, tell her she’s a good dog, reward her and start to walk again. Repeat over and over! If you get the 3rd reaction, your life will be a bit more difficult, but there is hope! It’s all up to you, and you can do it! DO NOT let your dog pull you forward. If you are not strong enough to do this, try to find someone to help you. They hold they leash, you get to give the rewards! Eventually your dog will look back to you. Tell her “Good Look!”, reward her and when there is no tension on the leash walk again. Repeat over and over… (Reminds me of the awful joke from 3rd or 4th grade: Pete & Repeat are on a boat, Pete jumps out. Who is left? Repeat. Pete & Repeat are on a boat, Pete jumps out, who is left…?) Keep the first few tries at this short, or you will both get tired and frustrated – keep it fun and upbeat.

If you are feeling really good, or are fortunate enough to have recovered from whatever illness slowed you down, or have a friend or family member to help, there is another more difficult exercise that also reinforces this. Take a very thin leash and put some rocks, pylons or other markers in a straight row, about 2 feet apart. Keep the dog close, and move very quickly around the obstacles. You can also just walk in a random fashion, changing directions quickly. The idea is that the dog has to stay with you and pay attention to you in order to move forward. This is difficult and can be tiring at first. Don’t try it if you’re not up to it. It’s like putting the extra trim on a nice car. It looks good, and finishes things off, but not completely necessary if you can’t afford it.

Eventually your dog will understand that pulling means stopping, being near you on a loose leash means being allowed to walk. As the two of you turn this into a more solid behavior, try walking in busier places or at busier times of day. Eventually it will gel, and both you and your dog will be happier! More walks = more exercise =  a healthier you + a calmer dog in the house – it’s all good! Patience and consistency are the keys – you can learn them. If I did, anyone can! Sometimes it’s easy, others it is not, but the time and effort are always worth it.

Go have fun – enjoy your dog!

The Proof of My Insanity Has Arrived!

Last week I told all of you that I had lost my mind. Well, the proof of that arrived today. She is a 7lb., 9 week old, red, Border Collie from a working ranch in Oklahoma. Her breeder told my daughter that she was the “terrorist” of the litter. Of course Teresa wouldn’t pick the calm, laid back one! Her name is Fiona.

Poor 100lb Ranger doesn’t know what to make of her. He is being very gentle, which is tough for him, because he is so big, still growing, and therefore clumsy. When Fiona jumps at him and yips, he sits back with a surprised look on his face. Don’t tell anyone, but I think he may be afraid of her! He’s supposed to be the tough guy in the house!

Rosie loves her and is taking great care of her. She is smart enough to know that all of us dumb humans can’t handle a puppy. Good thing Rosie is here or disaster might strike! Fiona and Rosie are playing well, lots of “tug”, which mainly consists of Rosie holding one end of a small end of the rope in her mouth while the puppy goes crazy at the other end.

The cats are not happy with us and are reserving comment for now.

I think Teresa’s face says it all though, somebody in the house is happy! I haven’t seen her this excited in a long time, sometimes a puppy does fix everything. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.
Don’t forget to get out and enjoy some time with your dogs!


Socialize Your Dog and the Neighbor Kids!

I have 2 German Shepherds, and some people tend to be afraid of them and walk out of our path simply because of their breed. Other people love them and approach us to pet them, again because of the breed. Either reason is a great one to socialize your dog.This can happen with any breed of dog, I’m just picking on GSDs, because I have them!  We strive to make both Rosie and Ranger good ambassadors for dogs in general, and for the GSD breed in particular.

We live in a wonderful neighborhood where people are friendly and accepting. Even my neighbors that really don’t like dogs have admitted that, “as dogs go, these two are really good.” I consider that an accomplishment! There are also a lot of young children that will run up to the dogs to pet them. Ranger is 100 lbs, and Rosie is a petite 65lbs, but if either one of them jumped on the 40lb, 5yr old, boy that lives down the street, even to say Hello! and give kisses, they could hurt and scare him badly. I think it is my responsibility to teach the kids and the dogs how to behave around one another.

So sometimes we train obedience and socialization at the same time. I teach the kids that dogs have their own “manners” just like people do. When kids are young, their parents teach them to say, please & thank you, hello & good bye, nice to meet you and things like that. When dogs are young, their parents teach them that it is rude and aggressive to run right up to another dog’s face. If you want to be a polite puppy and make a new friend, you approach slowly, from the side, maybe even stop a few times on the way over, make sure that the new dog knows that you don’t want to hurt them. I show them how to hold their hand out for the dog to sniff, and I explain that we learn a lot by looking at things, dogs don’t really see as well as we do, they learn by smellling. Then I tell the kids that Rosie and Ranger really like kids, but that dogs show excitement by jumping on each other, and I don’t want them to jump on anyone and hurt them by accident. So the kids learn to approach slowly, from the side, and hold thier hand out. That way everybody is safe and happy!

Once they’ve mastered that, I ask them to help me train my dog. That always gets a great response! I have a long lead, or sometimes we walk to the enclosed tennis courts that are close, and lots of string cheese, which is Rosie’s favorite. Like I’ve said before, you figure out what works for you and your dog, I’m here to make suggestions, no judgment! I give each of the kids some broken up cheese, and have them stand in a circle. I stand in the middle holding the lead and some cheese. Here are the rules of the game:

  1.  Oldest child calls “Rosie – Come!”
  2. When she gets there, he gives her a small piece of cheese. (Dropping it in front of her is legal – she has big teeth!)
  3. As soon as she gets her cheese, I call her “Rosie – Come!”
  4. I give her a small piece of cheese.
  5. The next oldest calls her and treats her.
  6. Repeat! until everyonehas had a turn, or 2 or 3 or until the dog seems bored.
  7. Thank the children for being such great helpers and teaching your dog to behave and to like kids!

What this does, is teach the dog that children are wonderful! They play games and have cheese! Yeah!    It also teaches the children that dogs can be friendly, but they have to be treated with nice “dog manners” and they need to be trained. 

So there you have a nice afternoon out, playing with kids and dogs. Off the couch, forgetting about your arthritis, or RA, or Lupus, or migraines, or whatever is getting you down. The kids and the dogs do most of the work, and learning. You get to enjoy the interaction. It’s all good! 

Enjoy your dogs!


More Indoor Training

I know I promised to give you some fun ways to train your dogs. Rosie used to get very bored doing the same routine at home she had already mastered in class. Also, in the first 6 months after my neck and wrist surgeries, I wasn’t quite up to really “making her do it the first time I asked…”  So, yeah, I had to be a bit creative.

As I’ve said before, Rosie is very bright, and tends to anticipate what I am going to ask her for. She learns the set up instead of, or in addition to, the command. She is very attached to me, so in class we never had trouble getting her to Recall in general, but would have lost points for jumping the gun, and positioning. Watch your own dog, when you put them in the stay position, are they relaxed and waiting for you to tell them what to do next, or more like Rosie, staying, but every muscle tensed and ready to spring into action? If they are  relaxed, you’re golden. Even if they don’t “come” when called, you can teach them the Recall using a long leash and their favorite treat. I would put Rosie in a Sit-Stay or Down-Stay, turn and walk about 20 ft away. She would be there just waiting for me to call her back. Her hind legs were quivering in anticipation of the command to come and be with me, sometimes she couldn’t contain herself and she would come to me before I even asked.  Then she would get to me, and instead of sitting nicely in front of me, she was so excited, that she would run around me, or jump up to kiss me! It’s nice to be so loved, but not really what we’re working toward!

Ready to GO!

See how her weight is forward, her ears are perked, both hind legs are under her and she’s staring at me? Not how I want her in a long stay situation.

So I had to learn to mix it up a bit. Really, it was when  I was recovering and trying different methods to get results that she made the most progress.  So the first thing that I had to do was teach her to “relax” or “settle” before I walked away from her. That was pretty easy; I started with down-stay, because it is a more comfortable position for a dog than sit. I  would tell her “down”-“stay”, then “settle”. As I told her to settle, I would put my hands on her shoulders and hips and kind of push/massage so that she would relax a little bit. When I saw that she was in a comfortable lying position, I would walk just a few steps away so that she didn’t get so anxious. If she stayed calm, I told her “good stay” and would take a few more steps. I kept repeating this until I could see that she was getting uncomfortable, anxious or distracted by something else, if that happened, Iwould tell her “good stay” and take a step or two closer. If she was too distracted or anxious, I would call her to me right away. Better to have a successful short stay than a “broken” long one. Set your dog up to succeed! It took us a couple of weeks to get to the point where she was OK with me being 20-30 ft away and not looking like a race horse at the gate.

Notice the difference? She is smiling, her tail is flat on the floor, her hind leg is out.

Once we had that part solid, we moved on to getting her to sit in front of me when she came. (To be honest, we’re pretty good at this inside, but outside, we are still working on it.) All you need to do this inside is a hallway or a few chairs that you can set up to create a “lane” where the dog can’t get around you + your delicious stinky treats, or toy whichever gets your dog more motivated. Can’t get much cheaper than that for training equipment! Put the dog in a down-stay on one side of the room, then walk into the hallway or lane of chairs. Make sure they are relaxed, if they are not, bring them closer. Wait as long as the dog seems comfortable, but not more than a minute at this point, then call them. You can use whatever command you want, there are several, the point is that to the dog it should mean, “Get your butt over here now!” As your dog approaches you, make sure that you stand up very straight, fingers together holding the treat, elbows out a little to the side, these are the visual cues that your pup needs to understand that you want them to sit when they get to you, and not run around like it’s a party because they found you! When they get to you, tell them “Good Come…Sit” then give them the treat. Eventually, they will learn that “Come!” really means “Come,!sit in front of me!” We’re working on an outdoor version of this now using a soccer(football) goal or a Lacrosse goal. I’ll let you know how that works out! Once they get all of this solid,  start introducing distractions, like a cat, or walk around, don’t stand still, or have another person walk through the room. But take it slow, set them up for success, because every time they (you) get it wrong, you have to redo it 4-5 times correctly so that they will learn.

Let me know how it works out for you. Remember to have fun!

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