Helping Lebron With His Ups

I no longer work at my hometown shelter, but just before I left I spent time with some really awesome dogs. My coworker Kim and I have both been doing lots of training work lately and decided to try and help a few of our shelter dogs. LJ – or Lebron James as we nicknamed him – was one in particular need of our help if he was going to get adoption attention.

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When you would take LJ out of his kennel to go for a walk, he would barely spend time on the ground. He was either jumping on you or jumping to grab the leash or jumping to try to get a ball – all not uncommon, yet scary, behaviors in shelter dogs who have too much pent up energy and not enough ways to expend it. Some volunteers and staff tried their best to curb the behavior, but without knowing any better their pushing and saying, “OFF” in a stern tone was actually just reinforcing LJ’s rude behavior.

Kim and I decided to try our hand at getting through to LJ. We went in armed with lots of hot dogs, a few tennis balls, some peanut butter on a stick, a clicker and our best, most positive attitude. So much of working with shelter dogs is management because even the best shelters are tough on dogs and are not practical places to expect a dog to turn into the perfect pup with just a few training sessions.

We started LJ off on the right paw by leading him out of his kennel with a spoon covered in peanut butter. This way, he focused on licking the peanut butter on the way out instead of talking smack to the other dogs or biting his leash. Success #1. When we got out to the yard where it is a bit calmer, we introduced him to the hot dogs. Thankfully, LJ is very food motivated so this helped us catch his attention from the very beginning. Any trick you can find to capture a shelter dog’s attention in such a crazy environment is something you want to stick to and use to your advantage! Again, management is key.

We took LJ off leash and let him run around a bit, careful to not let him get too hyped up. Yes, he needs to expend energy, but getting the zoomies and amping himself up until he is so “stressed up” that he can’t focus on anything is not healthy for him. We want LJ to practice calm behaviors. We did a lot of sits and touches in the run. These two cues  are pretty easy for dogs to learn and are a great way to practice focus.

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Then we decided to work on his jumping. Even when he is calm, LJ would default to jumping on you. Kim and I decided to make it a game for him. As he would come toward us, ready to jump, at about one foot from us we would click and toss a treat away from us. The first time this happened he skidded on the breaks like he was thinking, “Woah, what was that?!” and went after the treat. We continued this many more times: clicking and treating right when he got to our 12” personal bubble, before he got the opportunity to jump. He thought it was the best thing ever. “I stop in my tracks and I get a treat. Awesome!” Very quickly LJ began to run towards us and stop at our feet, waiting for his reward. We even began to throw in some extra stimuli like us moving more quickly or waving our hands – things that would normally set him off to jump – to slowly raise the criteria. Still no jumping. LJ had gotten it.

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In just ten minutes, we had taught LJ an incompatible behavior to jumping up on us. If we continued to work with him, we would practice that behavior for one or two short sessions per day, then move on to practicing it in different areas of the shelter and then with different people. We would manage our expectations and understand that the shelter environment means that LJ might deteriorate a bit between sessions, and that it might take extra practice for him to be able to generalize the behavior in other situations. Continuous practice and repetition, though, would have helped turn the behavior into habit for LJ. But, luckily, we were not able to work with him again because he got adopted! That is the kind of outcome I love, of course.

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Happy Independence Day!

. . . from some adorable adoptables at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington! All of these cuties are looking for forever homes!

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Hope you all have fun today! But remember – this is a really scary holiday for a lot of pets. July 5th is a crazy busy day for animal shelters because of all the animals who get freaked by the fireworks and run away from home. Keep your pets inside!

Happy 4th of July!


City Dogs: Meet Max!

How perfect that I was asked to photograph Jasmine’s House adoptable Max downtown around the same time that I move to the city! I knew this would be a fun shoot as soon as I heard he lived with his foster mom on Capitol Hill. I spent all weekend moving in (more on that later!) and just as I settled in, I hopped on the metro to photograph Max Sunday evening.

If you live in the area you know that pretty much any day and time are vulnerable to thunderstorms this time of year. It’s been a hot, humid and wet start to the summer. Sunday was no different. For the whole day on Sunday Sam, Max’s foster mom, and I went back and forth about whether to brave the looming storms and do the shoot. We decided to go for it last minute – just as a storm passed through – and it actually ended up in our favor! The storms drove all the tourists away and for about thirty minutes we literally had the city to ourselves. I was in photo shoot heaven with the dark skies, empty streets and awesome DC landmarks in the background.

Max was a total sweetheart. He was happy to calmly walk up and greet me when I first met him and Sam. He lives as an only pet in his foster mom’s apartment, and, while he’s only about two years old, he is very low key in the house. She said he loves his long walks and just snoozing on the couch. He was full of personality during the shoot! We got some awesome shots thanks to how cooperative he was.

0301 05 1014 13 He is just a big goofball! He even won over DC’s finest:

12With such good looks and a personality to match, adopters should be fighting over this guy! I mean really, how can you resist this face or hunkin’ bod?

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Max and I agree – we love this city!

08To adopt Max the City Dog, fill out an application on the Jasmine’s House website.


My Journey to Becoming a Dog Trainer: Part 2

As I dove into learning about dogs, I simultaneously learned about the culture of dog training. I learned that there are people out there who know so, so much and are a wealth of great knowledge because they’ve gone to school or they have certifications (yes, in my opinion you need more than just “experience”), and I learned that there are people out there who should not be working with the dogs that they do (nor getting paid the buckets of money that some do!). It’s an unregulated industry. Anyone can give themselves the title of dog trainer, or, even worse, a behaviorist. No one will call you on it, especially if you make it sound like you know what you’re talking about (or, in many cases, you truly think you do know what you’re talking about). I’ve heard so many scary and heartbreaking stories about people who try to work with dogs and behavioral issues that are outside of their knowledge base, and the stories often do not end well.

My point for bringing this up is that I want to be one of the people who knows what they’re talking about, who has education and credentials to back it up, and who knows when they’re at their capacity to help, as well as what to do when they do reach that limit. What this means is that I am going to start small. I am going to start by learning. A lot. As much as I can. Then practice. A lot. As much as I can. Then get a certification. As many as I can.  Then I’m going to learn some more.

Virgil Ocampo Photography

Virgil Ocampo Photography

In terms of learning and practicing, I’ve gotten very lucky. The shelter trainer I told you about on Tuesday, Beth Mullen of Dog Latin Dog Training, has sort of taken me under her wing. She seems just as excited as I am about my career in dog training. The amount that she knows about dog behavior and how to communicate with dogs astounds me every time I watch her work. I began helping her out a few months ago, and have officially signed on as a trainer now. Currently I am teaching puppy classes and helping with basic manners clients – two things I feel very comfortable dealing with.

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Because I’m not okay with just comfort level to back up my abilities, I enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy Puppy Start Right class. I absolutely loved it! The course went over everything from the way a dog is built to how dogs learn to their developmental stages to how to manage puppy behavior. It was a great course (though I was actually pretty happy with the fact that lots of it was review!), and now I have more to back up my experience when I talk to puppy parents. Also, let’s take a moment to point out the fact that my job is to hang out with puppies. Life is hard.

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Speaking of puppies – did you know a dog’s brain at 8 weeks old has the same learning capacity as that of an adult dog? Just a shorter attention span. You can teach puppies SO MUCH!

So that’s basically where things are right now. I have been blessed with the opportunity to join Dog Latin Dog Training to learn more and practice my skills, and will hopefully one day get my Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed title (REMEMBER: being a member of an association is not the same as having a certification!). I’m not sure how far I’ll go into the “difficult cases” category during my long term career – or if I’ll ever even go there at all. I just know that right now I love teaching people how to better understand their dogs, and I can’t wait to improve my ability to do that!

Newly permanent additions to my "can't go anywhere without it" collection: treat pouch, hot dogs & string cheese, clicker, six-foot leash with knots in it, and front-clip harness.

Newly permanent additions to my “can’t go anywhere without it” collection: treat pouch, delicious treats, clicker, six-foot leash with knots in it, and front-clip harness.


My Journey to Becoming a Dog Trainer: Part 1

I had a dog growing up. I’ve loved dogs all my life. I worked at the humane society in high school, and then even studied Animal Sciences in college. But I didn’t really have an interest in training dogs until about ten months ago when it felt like a switch flipped. Since then, I can’t seem to learn enough about working with dogs.

With my childhood dog, a Wheaten Terrier named Barley, we used a shake can when he would do the wrong thing like get into the garbage. We walked him on a retractable leash and didn’t pay much attention to how he was invading our surroundings. We wondered why he acted the way he did around other dogs (he could be reactive) and why he wasn’t ‘normal’ like the ones who love every other dog they meet. We would scream at him when he would bark out the front window. But I figured that was Barley and that was the way you interacted and dealt with dogs. Looking back, I can now see why we didn’t have the closest relationship.

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I remember bits and pieces of being exposed to training as I got older. Some of the first, I think, was watching Victoria Stilwell’s It’s Me or the Dog show on Animal Planet. I would catch it whenever it was on and was fascinated with how she could change a dog’s behavior by adjusting schedules, house rules and basic guidelines. Fast forward to college when I took animal behavior courses and companion animal courses (when we weren’t taking companion animal courses we were learning mostly about cows and poultry) and I got another glimpse of how animal’s learn. In our behavior courses we covered learning theory and discussed famous studies like those by Pavlov and others and how they related to why animals learn and act the way they do. We also learned about clicker training, though many of the examples we were shown that demonstrated clicker training used horses, donkeys or pigs!

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People think that Animal Science majors get to hang out with dogs and cats all year. False. This is what I spent most of my time doing.

Despite all this background, I still wasn’t that interested in dog training. I started working at the humane society, and even fostering, and didn’t realize the importance in training past just basic obedience (sit, down, stay). Our shelter trainer, a CPDT and graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy (man were we lucky to have her), would chat with me about my fosters and basic ways to help any problematic behaviors popping up and, while I appreciated it and tried to follow through with her advice, I still just didn’t get the big picture of why dogs do the things they do and how I could change the way they behave.

My outlook changed when I attended the Animal Farm Foundation internship last September. Even though the course focused mainly on learning about how to help pit bull dogs get adopted from shelters, the most valuable lessons I took away from that week were the training ones.

Practicing shaping with Eli.

When we arrived Monday afternoon, I met our house dog Lady Bird (LB). She was an energetic little thing – way more spunky than I had ever really dealt with. Throughout orientation the first night Lady Bird kept trying to jump up on my fellow intern while we were all talking – something that was quite annoying. The intern simply stood up every time LB got on her lap, ignoring her the whole time, causing LB to naturally fall back to the floor. By the end of the time we were all together, Lady Bird had quit jumping up. No shoving, no pushing, no yelling… just a simple change of consequences and reinforcers.

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The week continued with “aha!” moments like that, like when I realized I could pretty quickly teach a dog to sit while I open a door or not bark in the kennel – all using the same basic principles. I couldn’t believe it: the basics that I had learned in school and had watched others do for so long could be applied to behaviors across the board – with great results! I was hooked. By the end of the week, Lady Bird was a delight and I was a training-knowledge fiend.

Upon my return, I quickly realized that I had so many resources at my finger tips: Your Dog’s Friend, Beth the shelter trainer, other blogging friends, books, websites and so much more. I dove right in. While I am learning so much valuable information, I am also realizing that this is how it’s done, this is how people get into training. You’re not born knowing everything about dogs or wanting to train them (okay, maybe some have dreams to be a dog trainer as a kid, but not all of us), and you might not even wake up one day and just decide you want to be a trainer. Sometimes it takes lots of exposure to it or lots of trial and error or lots of exciting successes to get you hooked. Everyone’s story is unique.

Come back on Thursday to see how my dog training journey is unfolding. I am excited to share with you all where things are headed!

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Boy Meets Dog (& Has a Blast!)

Last time I brought Frankie home for a shelter-vacation, Mark was away on a business trip. I, of course, was spamming him with photos of Frankie all weekend and kept telling him how much he would like him. Last weekend, once Mark was finally home, we went and snatched Frankie out of the shelter for another afternoon of adventuring. I couldn’t wait for Mark to meet this big hunk of goofy loving!

04Frankie’s not always the most outgoing dog when it comes to forming relationships right off the bat. He takes about 15 minutes to warm up to you – but then he recognizes you from then on, greeting you with tail wags and “please give me rubs!” body leans. I was worried that Frankie’s lack of enthusiasm for meeting Mark initially would make it tougher for him and Mark to bond. Luckily, a hike in the woods together was all these two needed!

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Mark enjoyed Frankie’s “go with the flow, up for anything” attitude. He immediately noticed Frankie’s silly demeanor (and comical lack of coordination!). The icing on the cake was when the two discovered a creek together. Both could look for fish, skip rocks and cool off in the refreshing water. Can you say match made in heaven?

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Two peas in a pod, these two! Frankie is still looking for his perfect buddy to come adopt him and give him as many adventures as his heart desires. Mark and I agree – this pup is too good for people to keep passing up!

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If you’re interested in meeting Frankie to foster or adopt, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com!


All Good Things Must End… (Or At Least Slow Down)

It hurts my heart to write this post – but after nearly two years of posting on this blog every day of the work week, it’s time to cut back. From now on, I’ll be posting entries on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

It’s a very difficult decision to make that I’ve wrestled with for a long time, but I have a lot of exciting changes coming up in my life very soon that have (and will continue to) commandeered most of my time and energy. Starting July 1, I’m moving into a row home in DC (like, literally downtown, far far away from the suburbs I’ve lived in for 23 years – eek!) with five of my girlfriends. I’m taking a full time position at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and I’ve also officially joined the team at Dog Latin Dog Training! These exciting beginnings are all things I need to talk about in more detail later, but I hope it gives you a bit of a sense of what blogging is up against in my life right now.

So while I am closing a chapter on Peace, Love & Fostering, I am proud to look back at some achievements we’ve made since this blog was first created:

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Crazy to reflect back on all that, right? Looking at the numbers still truly stuns me. I cannot believe how many people have stumbled across PL&F.

To make it clear: I’m not going away, I’m just only going to be around twice a week. I hope you’ll understand, and perhaps even keep coming back? I’m actually a little excited about this change because it will free up some time for me to write better, more thought out posts. I’d rather give you guys two solid posts a week than five so-so ones. So thanks for sticking with me through all this craziness – I have YOU to thank for the past 1.75 years of complete and total success. Seriously, thank you!

See you Tuesday and Thursday :-).