What is the best dog for my kids?


There is enough love to go around. (Photo by Jabrina Robinson.)

Have you decided to add a dog to your family? You may be wondering what the best way is to go about it. To be honest, there is no magic formula to ensure you will get the perfect dog. Much about the outcome is not under your control. Life is interesting that way! I think it’s important to acknowledge that in order to take some pressure off you, your dog, and your family. Having said that, I also think your wise efforts before, and after, you choose your dog can stack things in your favor for happy relationships and safety.

With that in mind, look for the following qualities when you visit with doggie candidates you are considering.


Why it’s so important:

  • A dog who prefers to be close to children is likeliest to be a safe, fun companion.
  • One who voluntarily wants to be in the kids’ space is less likely to take offense when one of them gets on her nerves.
  • You’re likelier to bond with a people-oriented dog and therefore help her with training challenges that crop up.
  • A dog who loves to connect with people will be a joy to include in family activities.

What does friendliness look like? If your doggie candidate enjoys toys, romps with another dog, or has an adorable appearance, it may look like friendliness because those things make us smile. However…

  • The key is to look for a dog who approaches your kids and maintains contact with them.
  • Look for loose, open body language and a tail held at spine level or lower.
  • Pet the dog and then stop, and have your child do the same. A friendly dog will ask for more by stepping closer.

No matter where you get your dog, friendliness should be the top priority.


Ideally your new family dog will be a young adult, about 1-2 years old (or older).

  • Parents with young kids usually find it stressful to housetrain a puppy, teach him or her to accept confinement, learn the right things to chew on, and how to sleep through the night.
  • It is challenging to teach children to interact gently and safely with a teething, energetic puppy.
  • By selecting a more mature dog, you’ll be able to see the dog’s grown-up personality when you meet, making a successful match that much likelier.

Settles down easily

Children have a lot of energy, come and go throughout the day, and have emotional ups and downs. When evaluating a dog, run around, play with a toy, or lavish the dog with excited attention for a couple of minutes. Choose a dog who simmers down when you become quiet.

Attentive to you outside

Interact with the dog outside. If the dog pulls moderately on the leash, training can turn that around. But if the dog fails to check in with you (without you coaxing), tunes you out when you try to get his attention, gets the leash twisted into a spiral, nearly drags you over, or leaps and mouths incessantly, he or she will likely be a challenge to integrate into your family.

Relaxed around other dogs

Picture your new dog walking beside your kids as they tell you about their school day, and imagine how stressful this will be if your dog habitually barks and lunges at other dogs. Arrange a mock leash walk with a helper who will walk one or two different leashed dogs past you to see how your candidate reacts. Whether the barking is out of aggression or frustration, helping a dog overcome this issue takes more time and training than most people wish to invest. Choose from candidates who are more blasé about canine cousins they see coming down the pike.

Not overly possessive of food or toys

Snacks and toys are a normal part of family life, so choose a dog who is not upset by a person approaching or reaching for valued items. While you will coach your child not to do this, it is impossible to always prevent your child and dog from being interested in the same items.

It is risky to assess a dog for possessiveness, since he may escalate quickly from keep-away to a frozen, hunkered body posture, growling, snapping or biting. It is best to get professional assistance with this, or follow the tips in the book Successful Dog Adoption.

Easygoing about everyday situations

An easy going dog will take in stride household routines, play dates and outings. Try to assess how calm or jumpy your candidate is.

  • Drop an item like some keys when the dog is looking away.
  • Have someone knock and enter wearing a hat or holding an open umbrella.
  • Sit quietly and simply hold the dog by the collar for one minute.

Choose a dog who remains nonplussed by these common events.

Consider your children, too.

Are they rough-and-tumble or quiet? Do they typically follow instructions or do they have trouble following through? Try to match the personality of the dog such that he can enjoy your kids. If they are well matched, your job will be so much easier, and their friendship will be much likelier to flourish.

After You Bring Your Dog Home…

No matter which dog you choose, be a kid-canine coach. Successful kid-canine coaching requires that you:

1) Guide your child to respectful, kind behavior. That means no approaching the dog when he’s resting or chewing, and no imposing on his space by following him, sitting on him, or hugging him. Dogs may tolerate hugging, but unlike human family members, they rarely like it. Coach your child to play games like fetch and tricks, to read to the dog, and to show affection (when the dog solicits it) by kissing their palm and petting the dog on the chest. (If you find your dog is great and “will let the kids do anything,” read this.)

2) Monitor your dog’s signs of relaxation and tension. Loose, open body language, a partly open mouth, and choosing to be close to your child are good signs. Stiff body language, a tense mouth, or turning away from your child are signs you should separate them. This is Ruff Love. Otherwise your child may learn it’s okay to touch someone who is saying “no.” Your dog may defend himself when his pleas for space go unheeded.

3) Use a Safety Zone when it’s not a good time to coach their interactions.

Choose your dog wisely and be a kid-canine coach, and the friendship between your child and your new family member will be off to a dreamy start.

To blend a dog of any age into your family, see Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers. If it’s not yet time to get a dog, have fun with Don’t Lick the Dog in the meantime!


In good hands. (Photo by Celeste Huntington.)

The Best Dogs for Kids: Myths and Facts

Myth: It’s better to get a puppy.
Fact: You cannot raise a puppy to have a certain personality. Puppies are no more blank slates when they are born than people are.

Myth: Some dogs are hypoallergenic.
Fact: There is no such thing as a dog who poses no allergy risk. All dogs shed hair and dander, so talk with your doctor before getting a dog.

Myth: Certain breeds are better with kids.
Fact: You can’t judge a book by its cover. Certain personalities are better with kids. Get a friendly dog and teach your child the dos and don’ts.

Myth: Shelter dogs have too much baggage.
Fact: It is possible to get a really great or a really difficult dog or puppy from any source. Carefully assess any dog or puppy you’re considering, no matter the source.

Why and What Does My Dog Need to Chew?


With rare exception, dogs need to chew like birds need to fly and kangaroos need to hop. It’s part of who they are. Accepting that will save you huge headaches, property destruction and veterinary bills.

Dogs need to chew. So we provide appropriate outlets for what is a perfectly normal doggy behavior. People who live with a creature with a set of predator-style choppers need to plan accordingly, you know?

Here is how to figure out what to give your dog:

  1. A good rule of thumb(nail): Choose items softer than your dog’s teeth. Your ability to supervise, your veterinarian, and your dog’s chew style together determine the best items, which should be soft enough to leave an indentation with your thumbnail, but not so soft pieces can be torn or chewed off.
  2. Don’t believe the packaging. The package may say “safe,” “dental,” “natural…” There are many very popular products sold in stores and online that are a very bad idea because they are harder than your dog’s teeth. Skip them, I beseech you. Exhibit A on what can happen when you fall for the claims on the package (as I once did!).
  3. Toss worn toys that get the outer surface shaved off so that bigger chunks or the ends can be eaten. The two center-most toys in the photo above are past due and should be thrown out (in fact, I fished one of them out of the trash to take the photo, which is gross, but now you know my level of passion for your dog’s chew needs).

The orange Bionic toy on the far left in the photo is one of the few things I’ve found that is softer than teeth that my large, super chewy dog can dig into and not bite chunks off of. The Squirrel Dude and Chuckle from Premier work for him, as does a stuffed Kong. The softer, nubby toy pictured on the far right is usually a good one to try (for a dog less like a T-rex).

Stay away from sticks, rocks, metal, plastic, bones, glass, horns, petrified cheese, antlers, old coffee table legs, ice cubes, corn cobs. You get the picture.

If you think your tiny puppy or new young dog has outgrown the chewing phase, read this.

And if you don’t already, consider brushing your dog’s teeth. It’s pretty easy (your vet will show you), many dogs need it only a few times a week, and it is a great way to make sure your dog’s mouth is in good shape without risking fractures from sketchy toys. Something to chew on.

At the Dog Park

At the Dog Park (c) 2016 Barbara Shumannfang

As you know, I love dogs. I also love art. I am not sure how these will end up together, but I thought I’d include some of my art here and see what happens.

Some people hear “art” and freeze.

“What am I supposed to think of it?”

“Do I have to say I like it if I don’t?”

“What if I like it, but I don’t know why?”

To this I say, pretend you’re a dog. If a dog sees a new toy, he or she doesn’t worry if they “get it” or if they are reacting appropriately (well, unless they’ve been punished around toys). Generally speaking, they act according to what they’re feeling and thinking and don’t sweat it.

So, you may see a new painting here and think, “Wow!” or “Nope. Doesn’t do a thing for me,” and either is okay by me.

If one of my paintings makes you happy, or if it gets under your skin, or if it reminds you of your Aunt Mildred for reasons you can’t put your finger on, I would like to hear your comments. Because, to be honest, when I ask my dogs what they think, they always say, “We think this should be in the Smithsonian. Now may we have a treat?” It’s just so hard to get a more nuanced response, you know?

I made this painting after doing some sketches at a dog park. I was incognito, on a bench with my sketchbook, until a very powerful dog showed serious predatory behavior toward a much smaller dog, who screamed in panic and got no help (at which point I took off my artist beret and put my dog trainer hat on). I left that part out of the painting.

No matter how perfectly socialized and dreamy your dog is, please download the $0.99 Dog Park Assistant for your phone and do not ever get sucked into bystander mode. If you don’t think you need the info on the App, you may be the very person who could use it the most. If you’re not sure about your dog, you can even upload a video clip for professional analysis. I highly recommend it!


Ruff Love: How to Create a Canine Connection

Ruby is approaching with her ears loosely back, soft eyes, and low, wide-sweeping tail. "Let's connect!"
Ruby is approaching with her ears loosely back, soft eyes, and low, wide-sweeping tail. “Let’s connect!”

Alrighty, before I start today’s topic I have got to tell you about a ginormous, bonus offering on dog training books. (Just skip this sentence if you are eager to get to the blog post. I mean, who has time for chit chat in this zany, fast-paced world?) Until midnight tonight, Monday, November 4th, you can get 40% off Puppy Savvy and Happy Kids, Happy Dogs (and all other books) at Lulu.com. Just enter coupon code FALLSALE40 at checkout.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

I was recently asked how a person, especially a child, should approach a dog. Naturally that is a trick question. Anyone who wants to interact with a dog should be waiting for the dog to approach them. This begs the following six questions:

1. What the heck are you talking about?
2. What if the dog doesn’t approach me?
3. What if the dog is prevented from approaching me because the owner has asked the dog to hold a position like a sit-stay, or is holding the dog by the collar or in their arms?
4. What if my dog goes bananas around people and therefore I purposefully prevent the dog from approaching others by having the dog hold a stay?
5. What if I have a dog who never voluntarily approaches people?
6. What if people don’t give my dog a chance to approach before reaching toward him or her?

I think it might be fun and useful to take on each of these questions in a blog series. What better timing than right before the holidays, when people and dogs are packed so tightly in each other’s space they might as well be stuffed into one of those little clown cars.

Let’s jump right in and start with the first question…

What the heck are you talking about?

As you can tell by my ABC’s of Dog Safety and Respect I am not only an advocate (as are other modern dog trainers) of asking the dog’s person whether it is okay to touch their dog, but I’m also an advocate of asking the dog. If you see a dog you’d like to greet, here is the way to do it: 

Ask permission of the person.

Be a tree in order to ask permission of the dog: With hands at your side, stand and wait for the dog to approach you.

Chin or chest is where you should pet.

Fight the urge to stick out your hand (presumably in an effort to allow the dog to sniff you). That is outdated advice. As in, using-leeches-to-treat-a-fever outdated. The dog has already smelled you. He or she can smell you from Coney Island, trust me. When you stick out your hand, you are making a rude gesture to the dog. “Rude in what way?” you may be thinking.

Rude like so: Imagine I just introduced you to a pal of mine, and she said hi and then went right in toward your neck with both hands and straightened out your crumpled collar. “Whoa! Easy there, well-meaning new friend!” you’d be thinking. On one hand, she has kind intentions, but on the other hand, she doesn’t pause to imagine how you would feel about her actions. Think how differently you would feel if she said, “It’s so nice to meet you. I notice your collar is rumpled; would you like me to fix it?” She has just invited you to be an active participant in the interaction. If you want to make a connection with her that is more on the intimate side, you might well take her up on it. If you’d rather wait to get to know her a bit before having her adjust your clothes, you will appreciate how thoughtful she is and just fix it yourself. By asking you first, she may well have earned your trust right off the bat, instead of alienating you by coming on too strong. Maybe, just maybe, she will become one of those rare you’ve-got-parsely-stuck-between-your-teeth friends.

If you’ve always extended your hand toward dogs and swear you’ve made zillions of dog buddies this way, please consider this: When you choose to reach toward the dog’s nose you are proving that there is a gap between you wide enough to allow a reach. That means the dog has not come up to you voluntarily. What might the dog be saying by hanging back a bit? (Dramatic pause for reflection.) Are you willing to listen?

It is polite, respectful, safer, and compassionate to wait for the dog to approach you, and here’s why (here comes the rough love portion of the post). Wanting to show your affection for dogs is a wonderful, wonderful thing. You may want to touch a dog because that makes you happy. Or maybe you are taken with a particular pooch. Or you want your child to feel comfortable with animals, or your child is desperate to touch the dog in front of you. These reasons are all perfectly understandable. However, and this may be difficult to acknowledge at first, none of those reasons is more important than the dog’s feelings. Remember, the dog has few options due to being on a leash, tethered, in a small space, or otherwise confined. If you fail to ask the dog, but instead just move in using old timey moves like sticking out your hand or patting the dog on the top of the head, you are invading the dog’s space and starting off your encounter with a fairly rude (and also potentially unsafe) maneuver.

Ask yourself: Would you want someone touching you (or your child) just because they feel like it, or because your child is (or you are) super cute? How about if you were saying, “No, I need my space,” loud and clear to the grabby person, and they touched you anyway? Even worse! And then there’s the awful ripple effect you could create: Do you want your child to learn that “I wanna!” is a good enough reason to touch others who are saying “no?” That thought should give you the heebie jeebies. No person should get to touch someone just because they really, really want to.

Dogs have their reasons for sometimes not wanting us to get close and touch them. And that should count. We should listen. And we should show our love in ways that take the other’s feelings into account. We should also teach kids to listen and to care about how others feel. We are all connected, and the more we practice paying attention to that, the better off we will be. This “ask and listen” practice may seem like no big deal at first glance, yet thinking of others this way is so powerful that it can change our world.

What do you think about doing an experiment the next five times you see a dog you’d like to touch? Would you be willing to try just standing still, and seeing if the dog comes up to you? If you’re even the least bit curious, give it a try! I would love to hear what you experience.

Tune in next time when we see grown adults have massive meltdowns on the sidewalk, trying to cope when dogs do not approach them, and we answer the question, “What if the dog doesn’t approach me?

Is Your Dog Ready to Hike Off-Leash?

A reader recently commented on the “Don’t Worry, He’s Friendly!”  blog entry. She is committed to training her dogs to be well-behaved in public, and asked that others be patient while she teaches her dogs off-leash manners. She rightly pointed out that a dog is not reliably trained overnight, and said she feels if she leashes her dogs as soon as she sees someone else on a trail (as I recommended), the dogs will “learn nothing.”

The key to solving the training aspect of this dilemma is to understand that dogs are always learning from the situations we put them in.

If dogs are allowed to gallivant off leash to a stranger (even if the dog is friendly, still in the process of being trained, or any other reason), then the dog will likely find that to be fun and interesting and therefore be inclined to repeat it. With many dogs, it takes only one or two rehearsals of the behavior for it to seem worth repeating.

If, however, they are prevented from running around in the presence of strangers by being called and leashed (which courtesy and common decency towards others requires of us), and immediately provided with something fun and interesting (like praise, treats, a tug toy, a chance to sniff something fascinating) then that is the habit the dog will enjoy. It is up to us to make the choice and do our best to instill good habits. Part of good training is refraining from putting our dogs in situations that set them up for failure (some old-time methods used to do this deliberately, but we now know better). Rather, we should set them up for success so they get to rehearse correct behavior over and over.

It does take time to train a dog to respond reliably when we call, and I admire dog owners who make the effort. The good news is that there is no reason the training must occur at the expense of strangers’ comfort (or that of their dog!). Any solid recall training program will introduce gradually the distraction of other people, dogs, and wildlife, with the proper prevention measures in place to avoid subjecting anyone to the behavior of an untrained dog.

For example, we can start off in a training class designed to teach these skills using tried and true methods, rather than simply doing our best and hoping things go well. As the dog reaches more advanced levels, we can set up situations in which the approaching “stranger” is actually a friend we’ve enlisted to help assess and strengthen the dog’s skills. Until you can reliably call your dog away from the most tempting distractions under controlled situations, it is not fair to others to attempt it in real-life circumstances where you could cause problems for people and dogs, however well-intentioned you may be.

So where does one find a solid training program, one that uses modern, reward-based methods to get a jaw-dropping reliable recall? The book Out and About with Your Dog: Dog to Dog Interactions On the Street, On the Trails and at the Dog Park by Sue Sternberg offers one such training program. Another solid approach is Leslie Nelson’s Really Reliable Recall DVD or Susan Garrett’s Five Minute Formula for a Brilliant Recall webinar. Nowadays most anyone has access to a professional trainer who can create a customized plan (try Association of Pet Dog Trainers and do a Trainer Search). You might also find it helpful to train towards Canine Life and Social Skills (C.L.A.S.S.) degrees, in which the dog must come instantly even when tempted by a stranger offering treats or with food and toys spread on the ground.

By the way, even if your dog is on leash, and especially if your dog is on a retractable leash, it is important to keep your dog by your side when passing others and not allow your dog to approach them (joggers, cyclists, people on horseback or with a stroller, people walking their dogs). Please put yourself in others’ shoes; while your dog may be lovely, young or just learning, their dog may be shy or unable to tolerate invasions of personal space. If you are interested in a doggie introduction, you must first ask, “Can they meet?” and wait for an answer before even considering letting your dog approach. This protects your dog, their dog, and shows respect for your fellow humans.

None of us is perfect, and we all make mistakes from time to time. Hopefully we all try to do our part on public trails by recognizing we each play a role in the continued availability of these spaces to people and dogs. Just as we avoid littering and leaving behind dog waste, let us to be courteous and not allow our dogs to intrude on the outdoor experience of others. Happy training!

When Can I Take My New Puppy Out Into the World?

New puppies are curious, inquisitive little sponges, soaking up experiences and information about the world. They also, it is widely held, have a so-called “critical period” of social development up until approximately age sixteen weeks. So when should you take your puppy into the world? The answer is, right away!

You may be wondering about advice you’ve heard regarding vaccinations. Most veterinarians now recommend early and frequent socialization opportunities, even if the puppy has not finished all vaccinations. Veterinarians who are board certified in behavior, in fact, say the risk of your puppy dying from exposure to a virus is far less likely than death from euthanasia due to behavior problems later on that might have been prevented through planned exposures to novel people, places, other animals, and things.

Here is the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statement on puppy socialization and vaccines. In a nutshell, they say that puppies can attend puppy classes starting at 7-8 weeks of age. They say pups should receive a first deworming and a set of vaccines a week before they attend class. They should meet as many new people, dogs, and environments as possible. For complete instructions on how to socialize your puppy correctly and exactly what do do if he is bold or bashful, see the new book recommended by veterinarians, trainers, shelter experts, breeders and behaviorists, Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers. In the meantime, here are some tips to get you started.

If you are uneasy about making the change to the new recommendations, I advise taking the pup with you and just not setting him on the ground. You can keep him or her on your lap, in your arms, or on a huge blanket so the pup can take in the sights, sounds and people you encounter.

Your job is to make sure the puppy is not merely exposed to new things, but rather that that her little puppy tail is wagging out of happiness most of the time you are out. To achieve this, don’t stand by and watch your puppy. Be involved. Pair her interactions with others with a cheerful, confident, upbeat attitude, along with plenty of treats and a favorite toy.

I don’t recommend letting strangers pick your puppy up, or even pet her until they agree to do so in a way that will most benefit the pup: only if the pup comes to them, and then only under the chin or on the chest. Not everyone will do it right, so if someone comes on too strong and your pup should need encouragement, be quick to say, “What a brave puppy!” in a happy tone and if necessary be on your way.

Here are some more reasons to take your pup out into the world with you as soon as you bring her home at 7 or 8 weeks of age. Doing so will provide a chance to:

  • create happy associations with the types of experiences your pup will need to take in stride as an adult.
  • tire your puppy out. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. You’ll be amazed how much calmer your pup is after a field trip or visiting with new people.
  • get your puppy to the veterinarian’s office, just for fun.
  • teach your puppy how normal, and even fun, car rides can be.
  • have a mildly stressful experience or two and bounce back from it, just like will occur throughout your dog’s life.

Next up: ideas for where to take your puppy, how often you should go, and whether puppy class will meet your little fuzzball’s socialization needs.

Photo Contest: And the Winner Is…

Announcing, the winner of the Photo Contest in celebration of National Train Your Dog Month! Kay Nellis has the winning entry and a free hour of dog training with her Airedale terrier, Capella Rose! Congratulations!!

The entrants were asked to describe how the photo depicts an action taught with reward-based methods and how it benefits both dog an person.

This photo depicts Capella in the position she arrives at when Kay calls her. Notice how close and straight she is positioned. To teach her to come so close and straight, Kay dropped treats straight down for Capella to catch (if she came in crooked or too far out, no treat). Kay also mixes this in with playing fetch with Capella’s favorite ball, to make a game of it and keep it fun for both of them.

The sitting so close and straight after being called benefits Kay because, as you can see in the photo, she gets great focus and attention from Capella using this method. Kay also competes in precision sports with Capella where this high level of performance is required. Even a half inch off from center would be penalized. It doesn’t look like Kay will have to worry about that! (And if memory serves, Capella is just shy of being 18 months old.)

It benefits Capella because it’s good exercise for her brain and body, she gets to play with and bond with her person, and she can be kept safer since Kay can easily reach her collar should she need to put her back on leash during off-leash play.

Again, hearty congratulations! I am looking forward to working with Kay and Capella in their free hour of dog training.

For information on scheduling appointments, please visit http://www.topnotchdog.com

“Don’t worry, he’s friendly!”

“Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” Perhaps you’ve heard that sentence before, or maybe you’ve even uttered those words yourself. They are usually called out by an owner whose dog is off-leash and approaching another dog or dog-person pair.

If you have ever said these words I will now let you in on a little (albeit tough love style) secret: It does not matter if you think your dog is friendly. It doesn’t even matter if he actually is friendly. What matters is that, at best, it is poor doggie etiquette to fail to gain immediate control over your dog (i.e. have him at your side, leashed) as soon as others come into view. At worst, you are making life more difficult for the other person. Many people are afraid of dogs, and, honestly, you are putting them in an awful position by allowing your dog to galavant around them, run towards them, or approach them in any way. If you encounter someone who is with a dog, you should know that, even if your dog is the sweetest dog on earth, and has never fought with another dog, and who in fact has had magical calming effects on every dog he has ever met, you are putting that person’s dog in a very difficult position. Many dogs have a very hard time with other dogs coming up to them, and it is unfair for you to make that dog feel that way, or to potentially sabotage the training the person has invested in getting their dog to be more comfortable with other dogs.

When you call out, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly,” you may be trying to reassure the other person. Your intentions are good, but the effect is the opposite. By calling out reassurances instead of calling and leashing your dog, whether you mean to or not, you are letting the other person know you a) don’t have control over your dog, which is usually a bit nerve-wracking for them; b) you are putting your convenience above how they feel or how their dog feels, which is not a nice thing to do to your fellow human beings or their pooches; and c)  somewhat paradoxically, they may automatically find your dog annoying, which will earn him a bad reputation, despite your belief that he is friendly and a nice dog.

The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter whether or not your dog is friendly. It is simply rude (and likely illegal given leash laws) to fail to gain immediate control over your pooch when you see other passersby. You may be scaring someone and you may be upsetting their dog. Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem. If you allow your dog to run off-leash, teach him to come instantly to you, even in the face of distractions. That will immediately put others at ease, show off what great training and control you have, and give the impression that you and your dog are both good community members. There are many effective strategies for improving your dog’s leash manners, too, so that you won’t hesitate to walk him on leash when needed.

With so many people enjoying their dogs on hiking trails, in town, at dog parks, and on suburban walking paths, it is time we all polished up our doggie etiquette. If you don’t know how to train your dog to pass other dogs politely, or how to get him to stay with you when other people pass, do not despair. There is a wonderful new book that will teach you what to do, step-by -step. It is called Out and About with Your Dog: Dog to Dog Interactions On the Street, On the Trails and at the Dog Park by Sue Sternberg. It will teach you how to pass others on a trail, how to recognize doggie communication and play styles, how to recognize dog park habits that we humans have that are helpful (and some that are not), and, I am not making this up, how to teach your dog to ignore other dogs (and how to know whether that is what your dog needs). You’ll also find a cool quiz so you can assess your dog’s behavior, and beautiful color photos throughout.

Here are other ideas for getting your dog ready to hike off leash. Soon when we dog owners pass each other, we will be calling out to each other, “What a wonderful dog you have there!”

“What if a dog pees on you?”

“What if a dog pees on you?” that is one of the questions an audience member posed to me during the Q&A portion of a presentation I gave yesterday.IMG_1660 In fact, all of the audience members, the first graders at Rashkis Elementary School, were attentive and asked me a lot of great questions. I was part of a speaker series featuring community helpers. I described my job by saying that dogs have feelings and thoughts, but they don’t have words; my job is to help people teach dogs some words, and to help people understand better what dogs are trying to say to us. I told them how important it is to be gentle and safe with dogs. For example, they should never touch a dog who is eating out of a bowl, who is lying down, or who has something in his or her mouth. What if the dog has your homework in his mouth? “Ask a grown-up for help.”

We talked about our dogs at home, at our friend’s house, and in our neighborhood, and how to be respectful of dogs so they don’t become frightened or upset, which can lead to a bite. We covered the ABC’s of Dog Safety, and Buddy the Dog helped demonstrate the right way to pet a dog. Several of the children had been previously taught to extend a hand for a dog to sniff.I explained that this is outdated, old-timey advice. And that’s ok, we learn new and better ways to do things all the time. I asked the children if it’s ok to cough into our hands. (You would have thought I had asked them whether it was ok to start a forest fire!) “No!” they exclaimed, and showed me how to cough into my elbow. So I compared that old advice about preventing the spread of germs to the old advice about sticking our IMG_1651hands in a dog’s face. Now we know better; the dog can already smell us, it is better to just stand still, and if the dog approaches us, pet him under the chin or on the chest. If he doesn’t approach, don’t touch.

One little boy asked me, “How do you train a dog?” (Some of the teachers really perked up for that one.) I told him we make a list of all the things the dog really likes. Then we show the dog what we want him to do. When he does what we want, he gets surprised with something he really likes, so that he will soon do the thing we want any time we ask. Buddy demonstrated (sort of, he’s not very bendy) how we would train a dog to sit by rewarding him with a treat. I then asked the little boy what his favorite thing was. “Pepperoni!” was the reply. And then he agreed he would be happy to clean his room if he got pepperoni as a reward for doing so. I can’t help wondering what his parents must have thought when he reported about his day: “The community helper said if I clean my room you will give me pepperoni.” Of course I would not want to bribe a dog to train him; rewards are what effective dog training is all about. But I may have to wait for the kids to hit second grade before I explain the difference.

I think little kids ask the most profound questions. It was so much fun to spend time with all of them, to see their art work on the walls, to hear about their dogs at home, and to think back to how much I enjoyed learning as a kid, and still do every day. I swear I have the best job in the world.

Oh, and if a dog pees on you, you will need a new pair of shoes.IMG_1664