Training Tips to Keep You and Your Dog Safe
If your dog pulls on the leash during walks, a new harness may help curb bad habits
It was my dog Louie’s very first festival and I was excited to have him check out East Atlanta. After a long drive into town from Conyers, we both jumped out of the car ready to roll. But a gentle rainfall threatened our plans. With Louie already pulling on his leash, and crowds bustling past us in the other direction, I made a detour into Park Pet Supply for reinforcements.
After strolling through the selection of harnesses, I found a cute I-shaped version that seemed popular among Frenchie lovers. The sales associate approached to offer help and I asked about the harness. She quickly noted that I-shaped harnesses are adorable but not really effective. Instead, she recommended the Non-Pull Harness from YUP! ($21.99), noting that it worked with most breeds. I was skeptical until noticing that the YUP! harness comes with a lifetime manufacturer guarantee. Sold!
She helped me get Louie strapped into a size small black version and our product review officially began at the EAV Strut.
YUP! Non-Pull Harness — First Look
Most dog trainers tell me that pulling on the leash is a common complaint among owners – regardless of the dog’s size. Getting a dog to walk nicely on a leash seems so easy, but it actually requires some skill and patience from the owner. Proper tools can make a big difference. After enrolling in an obedience course with Louie, the first product suggested by our trainer was a harness to control his pulling. I purchased a $27 version from PetSmart that had two pieces; only to discover one part go missing a few months later.
YUP’s harness has one piece, which makes it easier to maintain. There’s a mesh portion that rests across the
dog’s chest area, and it’s connected to fleece-lined arm loops that go under each front leg. Guide the harness over your dog’s head and adjust the sliding cord at the top for a proper fit. When dogs pull, the fleece loops apply gentle pressure under each arm.
He stopped pulling! Even at a crowded festival, the YUP! harness made it easy to dart in and out of booths with Louie. The adjustable sliding cord made it easy to tighten up when necessary. At home in our neighborhood, I found that the YUP! makes it easier to manage walks with an inquisitive puppy.
Room for improvement
Once the harness is in place, everything is awesome. But I often struggle remembering how to get Louie into this contraption – and I use that word purposely because the YUP! looks pretty complicated. It helps to look for the metal heart on the sliding cord. When worn properly, the heart should point forward. To avoid confusion, I highly recommend that you keep the package, which has detailed instructions and helpful photos.
Also, note that this harness is more of a training tool. If you want something cutesy, this is not the best option. Since I’m more focused on a pleasant walk, YUP! definitely fits our needs.
Three out of four paws. While the YUP! Non-Pull Harness may be pricey, it deterred gets the job done. If your dog pulls during leash walks, this is worth the investment. Once you master the art of the walk, go ahead and purchase those cutesy floral or camouflage versions. Also, this is definitely not a harness that you want to leave on your dog after use. My sister learned that the hard way when her beagle Sallie chewed through the $21 training tool. (Ouch!)
NOTE: Tools like the YUP! harness help, but obedience training and regular practice are the best ways to reduce unwanted behavior.
About SoulPup reviews: SoulPup typically purchases products for reviews. We will specify when companies provide items for testing and, whenever possible, SoulPup will donate those products to local rescue groups.
Product Review: We put the Thundershirt to the test
Traveling with my dog Lulu (above) is an exercise in patience. Things start out innocently enough. When I grab the keys, she launches into her happy dance, dashing to the front door and wagging her whole body. She even leaps into the back seat of the car, eagerly waiting for me to lower her window just a bit so that she can sniff the breeze.
From there, things go downhill — fast.
Within a few blocks of our subdivision, Lulu becomes a whimpering, whining ball of nerves. She pants, she paces and occasionally, she even poops. I’ve tried soothing classical music, fast-paced walks around our neighborhood and even a spritz of dog-appeasing pheromones on her bandanna. Nothing seems to calm her nerves, so I limit our car rides, crank up the stereo and keep a bottle of Febreze stashed under my seat. Desperate for any solution to make our car rides more tolerable, I was mesmerized by before-and-after clips of anxious dogs that seemed to calm down immediately after owners put a garment called the Thundershirt on their dogs.
These snug-fitting shirts target various pressure points, creating a sensation similar to swaddling a baby. Veterinarians and dog trainers frequently recommend this drug-free option for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, fear of loud noises (thus the name “Thundershirt”) and travel anxiety. But would it work for my anxious pit bull? When the company called and offered samples for testing, I was ready to give the Thundershirt a try — and I enlisted a few other MNN pets to join me. Check out our results. [Read more…] about Product Review: Does the Thundershirt Really Work?
All pups need exercise, some more than others. Lace up your shoes (and your dog’s, if it’s rough out there) and get moving. You’ll both feel better for it.
I admire people who can complete a hectic day at the office, then hit the gym to exercise for an hour. For me, the perfect end to a busy day involves channel surfing with a cup of salted caramel ice cream and cuddle time with my dog. Alas, every vice has its price. No matter how many fun and fashionable colors I find, super stretchy yoga pants are not acceptable work attire at my office.
Also, I know from experience that a tired dog truly is a well-behaved dog. Neglecting those twice-daily walks has led to mischief in my home. Out of sheer boredom, my dog Lulu often chose naughty activities that included — but were not limited to — chewing shoes, shredding dog beds and redecorating my bedroom with toilet paper confetti.
“When you have a bored dog, that’s when you start having trouble; they get destructive, especially in a bully breed,” warns Craig Hughes (above, with his dog Pearl), owner of Petmeisters Pet Sitting service in Atlanta. “It’s good to keep that energy burned.”
A tired dog also tends to be a bit healthier. Unfortunately, pets have packed on the pounds right along with their human companions. More than half of the cats and dogs in this country are overweight or obese, according to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). That extra girth carries an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and several other pricey health issues no longer reserved for humans.
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 33.8 percent of adults and 17 percent of our kids and adolescents are obese, maybe the New Year is a perfect time to drop the remote and master the lost art of walking your dog. Now that we have little Louie, the same rules definitely apply!
1. Put some pep in your step
Whether you take a short circle around the block or trek through the woods, focus on maintaining a good, steady pace. I quickly worked up a healthy glow trying to keep up with Hughes and his pit bull, Pearl, during their afternoon walk. Huffing and puffing (that would be me), we cruised the neighborhood to the tune of Pearl’s jingling collar.
“If you are really moving and have pep to your step — even for 10 minutes — it makes a big difference,” Hughes says. “Sometimes a good, solid 10-minute walk might be better than 20 minutes of playing ball in the backyard.”
Most dogs would spend their days playing fetch or tugging a rope toy, but Hughes says that dogs need physical and mental stimulation to avoid boredom or unwanted behavior. Consistent walks help dogs mentally reboot.
“When we started working with Pearl, she was all over the place, trying to go here and there,” Hughes says. The pooch had been rescued from a backyard breeder and spent most of her life tethered outside. “She would see another dog and have total meltdowns trying to play, and then would become leash-aggressive. She’s come a long way for sure.”
During our walk, Pearl barely broke her stride as she passed chained dogs and four-legged neighbors barking feverishly in their backyards.
Even if your pooch has been around the block a few times, Hughes says you can teach old dogs new tricks. Start each trek by letting your pooch relieve herself. Afterward, she should walk at your side in the heel position without pulling or giving in to distractions. Maintaining a steady pace keeps the dog focused on your walk, and helps you remain in control when the unexpected occurs.
“Otherwise,” Hughes says, “it’s harder to control if a dog runs loose or a child runs out.”
2. Invest in user-friendly gear
To reinforce consistency, Hughes uses his clients’ leashes during typical dog walks. At home, he prefers leashes with dual handles. The short handle offers more control when a dog needs to heel and focus during walks, while the longer handle gives them room to roam on the way home. He also recommends martingale dog collars, which are more difficult for dogs to shed if they get distracted or scared and try to flee during a walk. Any time your pet goes outside, she should wear ID tags with up-to-date contact info.
3. Focus on the walk
Always watch for potential distractions that may trigger your dog to react negatively. Hughes prefers to avoid sidewalks and hit the asphalt. That tip came in handy on trash days; otherwise my Lulu would have happily romped from house to house snorting garbage cans.
“With the sidewalk you are in the trenches, that’s where all the smells are, and the dog has a harder time focusing,” Hughes says. “[Walking on asphalt] creates a buffer for situations where there might be a loose dog or people hanging out. Also, on the sidewalk certain situations could escalate much quicker.”
Determine the safest option for you and your pet and be on the lookout for potential distractions. That means you will have to abandon phone calls, iTunes playlists or Pandora Quick Mixes and enjoy Mother Nature, just like your pooch.
4. Know your pet’s limitations
At 4 years old, Hughes says that Pearl requires frequent walks to burn energy, while one of his older dogs suffers from arthritis and can handle only short treks. Consider your dog’s age, weight and health conditions before establishing a walking routine. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian before engaging in any strenuous exercise. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention lists the ideal weight range for various breeds. An adult Labrador should weigh between 65 to 80 pounds. For overweight pets, the association recommends a walking regimen that begins with a brisk, 10-minute walk, followed by 20 minutes at a casual pace. Allow your pooch to stop and smell the roses — or the trash bins — during that second leg.
“The key is just knowing your dog and reading what they are telling you,” Hughes says. “Gauge their temperament afterward: How calm are they?”
I knew that the walk had done its job when Lulu stepped inside the house, took a few gulps of water from her bowl and then retired to the nearest dog bed —without chewing it.
“Watch your older dogs because sometimes you can over-walk them,” Hughes warns. “If I walk my Lab as long as I walk Pearl, she will be hurting, even though she will walk as long as I take her.”
5. Extreme dogs require extreme pet gear
If you plan to take your trek way off-road, your pet may require extra gear. Patrick Kruse created collapsible dog bowls after his pooch refused to drink water from a plastic baggie during their hike. That product launched Ruff Wear nearly two decades ago. Now the company specializes in gear for active dogs such as backpacks, boots, coats and harnesses. Four-legged ambassadors, such as the Mount Bachelor Avalanche Rescue Dog Team, get free gear in exchange for valuable product feedback for the Oregon-based company.
“We try to make sure the gear is suitable for dogs in all conditions,” says Susan Strible, marketing director for Ruff Wear. They have to be comfortable while keeping dogs dry and protecting them through the elements. Think of what we walk on with our shoes, especially sidewalks in winter with salt.”
Strible says the company’s all-terrain Bark’n Boots are top sellers. Adjustable straps provide a snug fit while pooches tackle hiking trails or salt-lined sidewalks. On its blog for active dogs, Ruff Wear offers tips to address the “boot dance,” that awkward, paw-shaking adjustment period when dogs first try on the new shoes.
“Once you get the boots on your dog, distract them with a favorite toy or treat — or go on to the activity,” she says. “The sooner dogs are distracted on other things, the sooner they avoid focusing on wearing shoes.”
In addition to all-terrain boots, Strible says that Ruff Wear fans typically stock up on insulated jackets and overcoats to help dogs handle the elements. If you want your dog to do more than a standard walk around the block, consider gear that will keep them comfortable without limiting mobility.
“Start with the climate,” she says. “In some places it’s really warm and the dog may need a cooling jacket to keep the sun off its back. Then think about the terrain. There’s ice and snow, and it’s rocky in Oregon, boots are important so the dog is not injured in middle of nowhere.”
6. Keep it interesting
Everyone needs a little change of pace, including your pets. Once Hughes establishes a walking routine, he likes to keep pooches mentally stimulated by changing the route. Taking the road less traveled often benefits pets — and their people.
“You have to diversify,” he says. “You work all day, then you come home and sit on your couch. Then back to work to sit at a desk. You want more, you want to feel the air, you want to feel the grass between your toes.”
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network
Q: After years of denial, my family has finally come to the conclusion that our dog’s antics are no longer cute. She needs training, but we don’t know where to get help. How do I find a reputable dog trainer who will help us fix the problem without costing an arm and a leg?
A: While some dogs go through life without ever soiling the carpet, chewing a shoe or growling at the mailman, others need obedience training or other tools to address their issues. Correcting a problem pooch takes time, patience and a little bit of expert advice. But finding a trainer can be the biggest challenge.
“A lot of trainers have very similar jargon so it can be confusing,” says Chris Redenbach, director of The Park Training Academy in Tucker, Ga. “One thing you can do is really interview several trainers and ask pointed questions about methods and tools.”
Here are some tools to help find a reputable dog trainer in your area.
Rule out any health-related issues
Keep in mind that dogs will be dogs. “Even great dogs can go astray, especially when they’re adolescents,” Redenbach says. “Shelters are filled with dogs given up at 10 or 11 months, when dogs are teenagers and rowdy with no proper training. The biggest thing is to get them started right.”
Basic obedience training sets a good foundation and helps address general problems such as jumping. For positive tools that you can try at home, also check out the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) “Virtual Pet Behavior” database, which is filled with expert advice for problem pets. It also helps to schedule face time with the veterinarian. In addition to ruling out any health-related issues, your vet may have advice or strategies that you can incorporate quickly.
“I would hope the client would ask me for a recommendation,” says Dr. Erin Ringstrom, a veterinarian with East Atlanta Animal Clinic in Georgia. When they do raise concerns, Ringstrom typically recommends trainers who use positive reinforcement. “Studies show that approach gets results,” she says. “Negative reinforcement just doesn’t work very well.”
When searching for expert assistance, animal trainer Kristen Collins of the ASPCA recommends trainers certified through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. “This is a private, not-for-profit organization that is well-respected in the field,” she says, adding that CCPDT features a directory of trainers across the country.
Narrow down your training options
To get the “best bang for your buck,” Collins also suggests group classes in agility, obedience or dog sports. Most group classes last about six to eight weeks. Private consultations typically involve one-on-one sessions with a charge for each visit.
“I like the idea of offering packages,” she says. “They help people commit to a program, like joining a gym.”
Redenbach also is a fan of classes such as agility or sessions on canine scent work, which makes the most of a dog’s sense of smell. Classes allow pets and people to bond, and many of the activities involve one dog at a time, which helps dogs that don’t work well with groups. More serious issues, such as fear aggression or anxiety, typically require private consultations with a certified behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist — and prices will vary based on experience. If you have a problem that requires medication and a behavior modification plan, the vet behaviorist is your best bet, Collins says, noting that this will be the priciest option.
“The more education your professional has, the more expensive they are going to be,” she says. “It hurts at first, but if you are getting really quality advice, most feel it’s worth it.”
Regardless of the trainer’s education level, Collins stresses that pet owners seek pros who have experience handling their pet’s issue. “Ask for a former client’s information, ask about their training philosophy. That’s important for people to know,” she says. “If you aren’t comfortable doing what the trainer asks you to do, that isn’t a good situation.”
Collins also suggests that you observe a training class before enrolling. “If instructor says ‘no,’ run for the hills,” she says.
Set a strong foundation
Your dog’s trainer will need detailed information to get started, Collins says. Before the first session, sit down with your family and identify the exact problem you want to correct. Be sure to note when the problem occurs. On training day, she says, food-motivated dogs tend to do better if they skip breakfast. Break soft treats into smaller pieces that can be used to keep them motivated during class.
“If you have a fear or aggression issue, we tell people to have a place to put the dog when we get there so we don’t get eaten,” Collins says. “If the dog bites, they want us to see the problem so the dog is out and running free. But for any private session, the pro will want to talk to you first before working with your dog.”
Make training a family affair
Kate Jackson of Jabula Dog Academy in Decatur, Ga., encourages the entire family to participate in training efforts. As a trainer with the Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life program, Jackson and her training partner Gill Poisat provide weekly obedience classes to Chihuahuas, pit bulls, German shepherds and human companions who range in age from about 10 to 70.
“Everyone needs to be working with the dog,” Jackson says. “At home, the dog will only respond to who puts work into it.”
Even if your dog goes away to “boarding school,” a pricey option that consists of two weeks of intense daily training along with follow-up care, don’t assume the issue has been resolved.
“Training is a nice, solid foundation, but you won’t live happily ever after,” Jackson warns. “You have to do homework, and that’s for everything. You can’t ever just stop training; it has to be a lifetime commitment, a lifetime commitment to education.”
Redenbach offers the same advice, but in more blunt terms. “Don’t assume your dog is aware of the master plan — that you just paid $2,000 for training and expect it to come home better,” she says. “The dog and trainer may have built a relationship that worked, but the owner has to learn those tools. There is no way to shirk responsibility if you want to get results.”
All the best!
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network
5 simple rules for keeping your pet out of the emergency clinic this season
Every year around this time, I think about hospital emergency rooms nationwide overflowing with holiday-related injuries. Unfortunately, veterinarians also see their share of holiday mishaps. At Eagle’s Landing Veterinary Hospital in Georgia, the season of discontented tummies started a few months ago. One four-legged patient consumed a fabric Halloween decoration. Cost of extraction: $1,000.
Pets eat some crazy things, including holiday decorations. Veterinary Pet Insurance even has a contest for the most unusual insurance claim. Their Hambone award pays tribute to a dog that got trapped in the refrigerator and ate a Thanksgiving ham before being rescued. To help dog and cat owners maintain a festive yet safe atmosphere, Dr. Joey Fraser of Eagle’s Landing offers these tips:
- Watch pets around decorations: For pets, the holidays usher in a wealth of new sights, sounds and scents. “Part of the fun is seeing how they respond,” Fraser says. But if your pet fixates on certain items, avoid leaving the animal unattended around holiday decor. For dogs, that may mean kennel time. (And if you need more reasons to consider the crate, here’s a great video of holiday destruction that underscores need to keep pets and all those unique holiday decorations separated!)Cats, of course, present a different set of challenges. “Cats are harder; they do all the bad stuff when you are not looking,” says Fraser, who owns two dogs and three cats. Over the years, her cats have been known to climb the Christmas tree and knock ornaments down. “I’ve heard of some people having a squirt gun handy. Most cats lose interest pretty quickly.”
- Keep food gifts out of reach: Even if your pet has earned a bone, a sachet of catnip or a bag full of Scooby snacks wrapped with a bow, keep those gifts out of paw’s reach. “Most dogs can smell that and will unwrap it to get it out,” Fraser says.
- Watch for tummy troubles: If you do suspect that your pet has consumed something suspect, keep an eye out. “The dog may be hunched over or act like it’s hurt,” she says. Other warning signs include diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite. If these symptoms persist, call your veterinarian.“I really worry if the pet is vomiting and can’t hold anything down,” Fraser says.
- Ban table scraps: ’Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry. Just make sure to monitor what your pet consumes. It may be best to limit the number of people in charge of daily feedings. A hilarious YouTube video called “Fed Up” shows a dog reaping rewards and regrets of begging for table scraps. “A dog will eat anything. Be sure that tasty things are out of reach,” Fraser warns, noting that raisins and grapes have been linked to kidney failure in dogs. “Let friends and family know that it’s not OK to feed the animals anything.”For a list of dangerous household products, and tips in case of an emergency, bookmark the ASPCA’s Poison Control site.
- Watch the flora, too: Plants make easy green gifts. But some plants can be toxic to pets. For example, lilies are highly toxic to cats. Check out the ASPCA list of toxic plants before adding greenery to your home
I hope these tips help protect the festive items on display at your home. Have a lovely holiday!
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network