I was walking a client’s dog last week in a relatively quiet DC neighborhood, like I do every week. The dog, Patches, is a scruffy little terrier with a long body and stubby legs. Patches is scared of other dogs. I’ve been working with Patches to help her feel less nervous around other dogs, including making sure she’s never put into a situation she can’t handle when it comes to being around other dogs on leash.

On this particular walk, however, we found ourselves in a difficult situation: with an off-leash dog running right up to us! The owner must have noticed how I was frantically trying to put myself between Patches and the charging dog, and they finally called their dog away – but poor Patches was already in a worried frenzy, barking and pulling at the end of her leash. This interaction was sure to cause a setback for her, and the worst part was it could have all been avoided.

Even though I was frustrated with the owner of the off-leash dog, this walk with Patches made me think about how not all owners are familiar with the needs of some dogs. So here are some dog walking tips that will help all dogs and handlers feel more comfortable when they’re out in the world:

1) Leash laws, leash laws, leash laws. I know it’s kind of a drag that I bring this up first thing, but out of respect for those of us with dogs who don’t love other dogs running up to them, following leash laws is very important. Dogs who cannot socialize with other dogs have every right to share space where other dogs might if those spaces are regulated with leash laws to keep everyone safe. If you want to run your dog off-leash, there are plenty of places to do it legally!


2) Always ask to say hi. Even if the other owner doesn’t seem to be actively avoiding you as you walk up, it’s still important to ask if your dogs can meet. Some people aren’t great about speaking up that their dog doesn’t want to say hi, or they feel embarrassed asking you to stay away. For both your dog’s safety, and the safety and the comfort of the other dog, simply ask the owner before letting your dog approach.


3)  Keep moving, please! If you do see a dog barking at your dog, or seeming like they’re having a difficult time as you pass by, please keep moving! Dog owners sometimes stop and stare as another dog reacts to the dog they are walking. The best thing you can do in this situation is keep moving along and enjoying your walk.


4) Give your own dog space. If you have a barky dog who sometimes doesn’t do well with other dogs, instead of testing it at each introduction, you might want to consider simply moving off the path as you pass another dog. I know it can feel embarrassing when your dog barks at other dogs, and a lot of times simply increasing your distance from another dog will help your dog feel more comfortable! Space is really your best friend when it comes to passing unfamiliar dogs.

No two dogs on the street are the same, so no two interactions will go the same way. It’s important that owners advocate for their own dogs, as well as respect the other dogs they come across. If we are all a little more courteous towards each other, everyone is more likely to have an enjoyable and safe walk with their best friend.



It was a chilly spring day, and Griffin and I had just started our afternoon training session together. I picked him up out of the backseat of my car because he still doesn’t think he can jump down, and off we went on that Wednesday adventure. I’d chosen the National Cathedral because its grounds are dog friendly and have a zillion distractions, plus it’s very pretty this time of year, despite the colder temps we were experiencing.

My job with Griffin is to spend a couple hours a week socializing and training him. He is about four and a half months of squishy Labrador puppy, and I’ve known him since he was just shy of eight weeks old. He’s a happy, friendly, exuberant and outgoing pup.


We trotted across the street to a patch of daffodils. Photo opp! I thought. The picture opportunities were half the reason we went to the Cathedral that day – the gardens are remarkable this time of year. I asked Griffin for a down, which he did enthusiastically because it’s one of his strongest behaviors (default downs, people: they’re a lifesaver with an excitable dog!). I then asked him for a wait and knelt down, rapid fire rewarding him for staying still while I got down on his level – a human action that I knew is just so hard to resist as a puppy! I held my phone up like I was taking a picture, but clicked my clicker and treated him again for staying still, as I’d now increased the amount of time he’s staying down and I’d put an object in front of his face. I still hadn’t taken the photo. I finally snapped, oh, probably a dozen photos in that exact spot and still managed to click and treat Griff before he started the protest barking he does when he’s bored. First victory of the day.


We walked up the sprawling lawn of the Cathedral. Griffin was walking calmly next to me. Click, treat at nearly every step of loose-leash walking. Good boy. Wow, he’s being really good today. Click and treat for eye contact, because he was offering a bunch of that, too. More pictures on the lawn. This time I walked away from him to capture the breathtaking Cathedral in the background of the photo. Take two steps back, click and treat. Take three steps back, click and treat. Take three steps back and kneel down, click and treat treat treat, good boy. I finally got a dozen or so more photos there, too.


Griffin was happy to lounge on the lawn for a bit as we both soaked up the sun. Thank goodness we started building that default down at eight weeks old, because now he’s happy as a clam to stay in a relaxed down position. For a dog who is so inclined to be bouncy and exuberant, I welcome the opportunity to just chiiiiill.

I decided we were ready to tackle the gauntlet of distractions by the front of the Cathedral. School groups, business folks on their lunch breaks, tourists, other dogs – you name it, the distraction was there.

We came across a friendly security guard who started coo-ing and smiling at Griffin. I turn into a really rude dog handler during these situations because I keep my eyes glued to Griffin watching for opportunities to reward his desirable behavior, not worried about social interactions with people. I watched as Griff acknowledged the smiling woman and then LOOKED BACK AT ME. I could have exploded I was so happy. Click, treat, GoodboyGoodboyGoodboy!

You see, what I have spent nearly every week teaching Griffin is that he can see exciting people or dogs on a walk and not move towards them. I love friendly dogs – love them! But what I don’t love is a dog who pulls me all over the place deciding on his own where we are going or who we are approaching. Since he was just about two months old I have been marking and rewarding Griffin nearly every time he acknowledges an exciting trigger and *stays by my side!* That afternoon, it seemed to click for him (pun intended!).


The rest of our time at the Cathedral continued to be just as wonderful. I sat on a bench and Griffin settled by my side. Click, treat for deciding to go into a down on his own. Click, treat for watching all the people walking by and staying in his down. Click, treat for hopping up and walking with me as we moved on. Click, treat for sitting still for one million more photographs.



When you work with a dog this closely, you get pretty attached. My heart was bursting with pride as Griffin had success after success that afternoon. I thought about why we were possibly having such a good day, and some words from Dr. Susan Friedman kept coming to mind:

“If your learner isn’t doing what you expect, the problem is in the program.”

What I took away when I first heard this quote by Dr. Friedman is that we can’t blame our learners for messing up. If my learner is being unsuccessful, I need to be clearer with my criteria, and clearer with my reinforcement. I attended a lecture of hers at ClickerExpo, a behavior and training conference, about errorless learning, which is where I heard that quote. She discussed how it is better to move away from the idea that your learner has to be wrong to be right (meaning they have to learn by making mistakes), and instead have a mindset that is focused on making your learner successful. It is the teacher’s responsibility to, in her words, “redesign the environment so that we get the learner to reinforcement more quickly, without frustration.”

This was spot on with my work with Griffin. I had been raising my criteria too quickly, therefore causing him to mess up more and more frequently. We were both frustrated. It was time to go back to my process. How could I get the behavior I wanted, and then make it clear to him he was being successful?

That trip to the Cathedral was a turning point. I shifted my focus back to Griffin – helping him make the right choices, giving him the feedback he needed, preventing him from getting frustrated – and successful he was!

Dogs are always learning, and Griffin is no exception, so I know we have a long road ahead of us to help him be the well-behaved pup his parents are hoping he will be, but he’s certainly helping me become one heck of a better trainer to get him there!



Okay, I don’t actually mean my closet is full of these brown and black boots. But I realized the other day that I spend a lot of time in my L.L. Bean duck boots. You never realize how similar your outfits become each day until your work uniform is basically “clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty but that also looks half way decent.” There’s only so much wiggle room with that criteria!

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with a client’s black lab puppy named Griffin. Griffin and I bounce around the city once a week in the name of socialization. Yes, that’s right – I get to spend the afternoon with a puppy so I can rapid fire treats at him whenever we see, well, just about anything. New people, places, things – they all mean good treats for Griff so he learns that the world is an awesome place! And, no surprises here: I do it all wearing my duck boots.


Then, on the other end of the dog-trainer-job spectrum, I spent time with a shelter dog, out of the shelter! Her name is Kyra and she is ah-maz-ing. My behavior team had to run an errand to Home Depot so we figured we’d bring along a dog. Turns out we picked the best dog in the whole place, because Kyra was a rockstar for the outing. I did a lot of rewarding her like I do Griffin (basically showering her with treats throughout the whole experience) but I also paid her for practicing the skill of acknowledging all the crazy sights, sounds and people of Home Depot, and still sticking with me. I’m about to throw you all for a loop right now and tell you I was wearing my duck boots for the occasion.


But forreal, I have bad knees and I work in potentially very muddy environments, so my Bean boots have been one of my best investments this season, just like my flannels in the fall and my work-appropriate khaki shorts in the summer. Now that I have to skip the heels and dress pants every morning, I’m clinging on to every ounce of “fashion” I can, even if it means lumberjack chic (yes, that is a thing).


P.S. Adopt Kyra so I don’t.



Dear Buggy,

Today, December 30th, marks the one year anniversary of me and your foster dad Eran adopting you. It also marks the one year anniversary of the day we took away your pain, gave you wings, and set you free.


All of my foster dogs got letters when they left me. It felt like closure to the journey of loving them and letting them go. Even though you weren’t technically my foster, you still deserve a letter, Bug. But when we said goodbye to you I just didn’t have the words. I’m hoping that now, one year later, I can put words together in a way that will do your little soul justice.

You came into our lives during the snowy month of March. I remember the text your dad sent me. “I think I decided on one.” We’d gone to the shelter the night before to check out foster candidates, but no one really clicked with Eran. The next night, one dog did. That dog was you. He described the way you acted when he met you. Outgoing, wiggly, goofy, lovable. You sounded perfect. You were perfect.


The first day with you was a whirlwind. Everyone was so excited you were home! You went on a walk, you met your six new human roommates, you enjoyed a stuffed Kong and even did some clicker training. You were fitting right in, and you loved being out of the shelter.

Then it happened. You growled at one of the roommates that first night. I think we were all a little unsettled, but we chalked it up to first night jitters. Transitions are hard, we get it. You’d been through so much, after all! We’d show you really fast that the world isn’t a scary place. We weren’t worried.

You opened up to us so much over the next few months. We learned all about your perfect little quirks. We learned about the rhino run you did when you were excited. We learned how far apart your eyes went whenever you worked on a frozen Kong. We learned how stinkin’ brilliant you were as you showed us how quickly you mastered new behaviors. We learned how food motivated you were when you figured out every single food puzzle your foster family diligently created for you. We learned how hard you snuggled, and how perfect of a couch buddy you were.



We also learned that you were a sensitive soul. It turns out the world was scarier than we realized, and that you had some fears ingrained in you that we just couldn’t combat. What we wouldn’t have given to just be able to talk to you, Bug. We would have told you there was no need to be worried all the time. We would have begged you to just trust us, to know that we would take care of you.

If there was one person who helped you find some inner peace, it was your dad. The bond between you and Eran was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. He’s fostered other dogs before and after you, but he didn’t love any of them the way he loved you (even if he says differently). Eran spent some time funemployed while he and his housemates fostered you, and during those months it was just you and him a lot of the time, Bug. I watched you two go on daily road trips, sometimes to Campbell as you helped him overcome his own fears, and sometimes to a secluded hike so the two of you could escape the city for a little. Your dad would also bring you by my work for a midday visit almost every week, and those visits would brighten my whole day. He used clicker training to teach you an entire repertoire of behaviors. You turned him into one amazing trainer, you know that? He worked with you, sacrificed for you, and advocated for you.


Despite his best efforts, and the efforts of everyone else in your foster home, we couldn’t make you comfortable. Your rescue group supported you every step of the way, working to find you a foster situation that might better fit your needs. You know, that quiet home out in the country with no other pets – the one everyone looks for that is nearly impossible to find.

You finally landed with a wonderful family. They were so dedicated to you and they loved you like we loved you. We got updates, and I even got to go visit you. I was so proud when I was able to show them all the behaviors you knew, especially since we hadn’t practiced in a while. You flew through them with ease. You never ceased to amaze me, Buggy. Everyone continued working together to try to ease your worries, hoping for a breakthrough.

I remember the phone call to this day. Your fears and anxieties finally got the best of you. I know you didn’t want to hurt that girl. I know you were reacting from a dark place, a place you didn’t know how to control. You finally showed us that you couldn’t take this world anymore, that you were no longer capable of handling the stress that came with simple, every day life. Hearing what happened, and realizing how deeply distressed you were – Buggy, that broke my heart into a million pieces.

Eran and I immediately got in the car and raced to pick you up that night. We were your happy place. The three of us together, in our blissful bubble where the outside world didn’t exist. If I could have realistically given you that bubble for the rest of your life, I would have. I think Eran and I both would have.


When we came to the devastating decision that we were going to say goodbye to you, Eran and I made it official that you would leave this world with a family of your own. We signed that dotted line, Bug. You were ours. You were our perfect, goofy, block-headed, cross-eyed, black rhino. Gotcha.


You were in our lives for nine beautiful months. What we learned from you, however, will stay with us for a lifetime. I see you in the animals I help at the shelter. Eran sees you in the dogs he continues to foster and help through his advocacy work. You’re everywhere, Buggy. Your impact will linger much longer than the too-short time you were here on this earth for.

We love you, Bug. Thanks for running full force into our hearts. We miss you every day.



If I had a dollar for every time I tried to sit down and write this post, I’d be able to buy a lot of bully sticks. For some reason I just can’t get the thoughts from my brain on to my screen in a way that I’m happy with. But I just snuggled into a cozy corner of Starbucks with a peppermint mocha and classical Christmas music, and I’m not leaving until I get this done. Nothing like setting myself up for success, right?

The past eight months have felt like my life has been turned upside down and re-centered, all at the same time. To give you a refresher, I left my 9-5 event planning job in May to take two part time jobs: one on the behavior team at my local animal shelter, and one doing dog training with private clients.

I am so happy I made the jump, and there’s nothing I regret about the decision, but I can’t say it’s been completely easy and stress-free. The transition from being development staff for an animal shelter to working hands on with the animals was harder than I expected. I’ve worked in two other shelters prior to this one; I’ve seen and experienced what sheltering is about. Or so I thought. But I spent the first few months in my new role exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Working so closely with the animals has its positives and negatives.


My favorite part about working on a shelter behavior team is, as you can probably guess, the behavior. Oh my goodness, the stuff we get to see! I think I’ve seen more dog behavior here in eight months than I’d see in years as a private dog trainer. We evaluate every dog that comes in, so I’ve experienced the squishy, adorable emaciated stray dog, and the gives-you-the-heebie-jeebies-better-get-my-defensive-handling-skills-ready owner surrender. We quite literally never know what is going to walk through the door.

I’ve also found that working at an open-admission city shelter has made me fall more in love with my community. I’m proud to work for an organization that values the people we serve and prioritizes keeping our community safe. I get to know the people coming to us for help, whether I’m talking with them about a dog they are surrendering, or helping to match them with their new best friend, or giving them advice about an animal they just adopted. Putting a face with the homes our animals are going to helps me remember how I can best help animals by helping the people who love them. That part is, as a whole, quite rewarding.

I’m sure you can also guess what the toughest part is. It’s both a blessing and a curse to get to be involved in decisions about euthanasia. So far, there hasn’t been a decision made that I don’t agree with, but that doesn’t necessarily make any of them easier. I’ve been there as we said goodbye to animals who are no longer healthy, happy or comfortable. I’ve fed them hot dogs as they took their last breaths, knowing that someone failed them long before they came to us, and that they spent their final days knowing what a consistent meal, warm bed, and fierce love felt like. The emotional weight the job of a shelter worker brings is something I actually welcome, as I know it takes a certain kind of person to be able to do our jobs with responsibility, compassion and empathy. If that person is me, then so be it.

The following are all pictures from work over the past few months. We really do have a great time working with the animals. I love love love my team. While we do have to deal with the tough stuff, admittedly there is a decent amount of “playing with puppies” (aka what my friends think I do all day) as well.

At my other job, I find that my work with private clients helps to balance out the emotional fatigue I sometimes carry from the shelter. The shelter is full of animals who are not yet committed to by anyone (loved by the staff, of course, but you know what I mean). With my private clients, I see the dedicated families putting work in with their pet dogs. It’s refreshing, and it’s usually just what I need in the middle of my work week (I’m at the shelter Sunday – Tuesday and see clients the rest of the week). Having the time to really dedicate to my clients makes working with them that much more rewarding. I’ve gotten so close with so many of my regulars. From rushing one client’s dog to the emergency vet because he got bloat when I was walking him (he survived!), to mourning the passing of another’s pup as the dog declined during the months we spent training her younger sister, my clients truly feel like family to me sometimes!

Through all the ups and downs, when I take a step back and look at where I am now, I can’t help but realize how different this life feels than my “past life” (which is how I refer to my role as an event planner). There’s never a day I wake up and dread going to work — in fact, quite the opposite. Even though I work pretty much six full days a week, I’m not feeling any kind of burnout yet. I think that’s because I am so fulfilled by what I’m doing for “work.” My friends are hitting the age where you start to realize working your butt off in a window-less cubicle for a nice paycheck kind of sucks. I can’t say I relate to that. I almost feel, I don’t know, selfish? self conscious? in a way, because I’ve been able to find a career that makes me so incredibly happy, while many of my peers are miserable at their desk jobs.


Life outside of work is great as well. I’ve found a mental escape in the workout group I joined a little over a year ago. Three times a week I go run a bunch of miles with them before I start my day with the dogs. They helped me run the Marine Corps Marathon in October! These workouts and these people help so much with my work-life balance.

I’m spending time with my friends. I continue to fall in love with DC every day. My friend Eran fostered another dog that every once in a while I pretended was my own. I’m giving seminars on behalf of Dog Latin. Life is good, guys. I’m really lucky.


A big shout of to my friends who kept calling me out for not keeping up with this space the past six months. Hopefully I’ll be back soon.

Happy Holidays!


Last Fall I found myself in the worst fitness shape I’d been in since college. I was busy, I didn’t have room in my budget for a gym membership, and in my little bits of free time I prioritized seeing my friends over exercising. I never thought of myself as someone who would “fall off the wagon” when it came to taking care of myself – but I had, and it was bad.

Then one day I decided to attend a workout put on by a free fitness movement called the November Project. Despite it being 6:30 am on a Friday, I really enjoyed the workout. The group meets three times a week, and I showed up the following Monday, then the following Wednesday, and even the next Friday. Today I am happy to say that I consistently attend those 6:30 workouts three times a week all over the city (which is going to produce a whole post on motivating a learner to increase behavior!). I am in the best shape I’ve been in since college!


While I have come a very long way since the day I started, I still find myself discounting my progress. I watch the friends I’ve made, many of whom started around the same time I did, getting faster and faster, while I feel like my pace is staying the same. I beat myself up when I struggle during the workouts because these shouldn’t be this hard anymore. I wonder how the heck I am ever going to complete the marathon I’m signed up for in October. I get frustrated and angry when I can’t keep up with my peers. I’m used to being someone who stays positive and motivated by progress, so these doubts can be really discouraging.

Then I think back to something my mama brought up one time I had a conflict that I needed help managing (because moms always know best). She asked, “Well, what would you tell your clients to do in this situation?” This might sound funny, because dog training and someone’s personal life aren’t really the same, right? Actually, you’d be surprised at the overlap (or maybe you’re not surprised because you’ve been reading his blog, ha!).

In this instance, I remembered all those times I told my clients – or maybe adopters, or first time foster parents, or just any dog owner – to manage their expectations as they work towards their goal. “Don’t let one bad experience ruin the loads of progress you’ve made,” I tell them. “You’ve come too far to let this small step back keep you from being proud of your accomplishments.”

My heart breaks when my clients come to a session discouraged because their reactive dog had an outburst yesterday, after so many weeks of doing so well! So we talk about what their dog was like on day one. We reminisce about how every walk was a nightmare, how they were at their wits’ end, how their household was full of stress. Then we look back at the most recent incident – the dog barked, maybe lunged a bit, and the owner stayed calm, got the dog’s attention back, kept moving, and everyone recovered quickly. It’s like night and day from where they started, even though in the moment it didn’t feel like it.


Progress doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t go away overnight. Journeys like working with a reactive dog, or conquering separation anxiety, or improving your mile time, are all works in progress that have their ups and downs. When I start to doubt myself and my fitness progress, I remind myself of how far I’ve come. Then I give myself some good old positive reinforcement to keep myself motivated, and I head out for my next run – just like the dog owner who grabs the treat pouch and heads out for their next walk.



When New Year’s Eve rolled around this past year, I remember thinking, “I accomplished a lot in 2014. I got my KPA certification and I finally got the Manager of Special Events promotion I wanted at the shelter… I guess 2015 will just be a coasting year.”  Boy was I wrong.

As of next Wednesday, I am officially saying goodbye to my full time, 9-5 job as an event planner. Yup, I’m doing it – I’m moving to training and behavior full time!  I’ve accepted a part time position on the behavior team at the Washington Humane Society and then will be expanding my role with Dog Latin Dog Training.

What does that mean? It means that for two and a half days a week I’ll be working with shelter dogs – evaluating them for adoption, running playgroups, doing behavior modification, teaching volunteers and staff about positive training as it relates to shelter animals, working with adopters, and so much more. It also means that when I’m not at the shelter, I’m working with private clients. It means I have more time to devote to them and their dogs. It means I can make my own schedule. It means I have time to actually blog (!!) and to organize more presentation opportunities and to do continuing education. It means I get PAID to put 110% of my effort and my heart and my soul into exactly what I want to do. Every. Freaking. Day.

I feel so thankful for the four years I spent in nonprofit development. Being an event planner for two different animal shelters taught me so much. Event planners have to be organized, detail oriented, good at working under pressure, able to multitask and really good at working with people. Thanks to the years spent mastering these skills, I consider myself relatively business savvy and able to connect with people in a way that will help me accomplish my long term goals in the dog world (and I’ve got some big goals!).

While I enjoyed my time on the admin side of helping animals, there was no denying the nagging feeling that dog training – specifically as it relates to the human-canine bond – was my purpose in life. I recently went to a TEDx talk about “being rebellious.” One of the speakers really stuck out to me. He talked about his experience breaking away from his own set status quo, and how it was scary, risky and against the norm, but so necessary and exciting. What resonated with me most was when he said, “You don’t make a difference by staying comfortable.”

So I left my comfort zone. It was scary to let go of my 9-5 job. It was even more scary to let go of my consistent paycheck (duh). But as soon as I made the decision, everything felt right. Even when I told my coworkers at my current job, I got the response, “Well that took longer than we expected :-).” This is where I’m supposed to be, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic (I’m literally tearing up as I write this). Welcome to this new ride you’ll be joining me on, you guys. Cheers to growing up, taking risks and following your passion!