Category Archives: Safety

No… you can’t pet my dog — but thank you so much for asking…

Do you want to pet “all” the dogs? I do! Do you believe that all nice dogs love to be petted and approached if you approach them the right way? Have you always loved dogs and believe that all good dogs love you?

I confess. This was me until a couple of years ago. If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I have a young dog that I rescued 10/2015 that is currently leash-reactive. My hope is that she will not always be reactive on leash. I have been doing my very best to tackle every behavioral issue that crops up with my Betty. I have learned a lot since I brought her home. We have made some definite progress too. We have handled digging and nuisance barking. I train her daily. Lately, we have gotten to the point that we can train pretty close in proximity to distractions. I use the engaged/disengage game to desensitize her to stimulating distractions and she is getting to the point where she can watch a bicyclist ride by and she will look at me instead of lunging or barking at the bike. She does well at the park when we go to practice around kids too. I have grandchildren that are quite happy to go to the park so Betty can train. They are very helpful. I have been working very hard to help her learn how to be calm. But, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with petting dogs?

The short answer: everything… Many dogs are reactive, timid, or shy around new people. I love dogs and I do want to pet them all. They don’t all want me to pet them though. Some, like my Betty, get way to excited by the prospect of a new person. She is what the trainers call a “social butterfly”. She is also beautiful and fluffy. She looks very happy and sweet — and she is. More people want to meet Betty because she is especially pretty. But she is more than just a pretty face. She gets frustrated when someone new is petting her and they stop. She reacts by barking and lunging — which looks aggressive. One minute you are petting her and she is loving it. The next (when you pull away), she is barking like a crazy thing. It isn’t attractive at all. This started a few months ago. When I am prepared to practice greetings, I have treats handy. I keep the greetings very short. And, she is treated when the petting stops and she remains calm. We just started this because this problem just started… When we are not prepared (like the first potty break of the morning before I have had my coffee and I am stumbling around with my eyes barely open), it is easier to just have our walk and not greet people. She is in training so she is not proofed for greeting everybody all the time. She is also learning that she doesn’t get to greet everyone that she sees. Sometimes I am in a hurry and I have somewhere to go. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Our trainer told us to practice polite non-greetings and then we will graduate to polite greetings. When I am prepared and mindful, this dog does everything right. When I am not paying attention, have my hands full, or am in a hurry, that is when she misbehaves. I know that I can do better. With more training and time, I know she can do better too. Some dogs are very fearful of new people. Some have been horribly abused and may never want strangers walking up to them and petting them. It isn’t you. It is them. For others, it is just their personality. You can train them to accept greetings politely — but they may never really love it. Just like some people are more introverted than others, dogs do have varying degrees of sociability. Service dogs need to work for their owners and should never be bothered or touched by strangers. Okay, but what do you do if you still want to pet the dogs?

Ask. Please

The owners usually know their dog’s temperament and training level. If you ask to pet someone’s dog AND THEY SAY YES (this is also a prerequisite), then pet the dog. Don’t pet them too long. Don’t get in their faces or be rough. You are a total stranger to this animal. Animals need personal space to feel comfortable just like we do. Never. Never. Never just walk up to someone and start petting their dog. A perfectly calm dog can get freaked out in a matter of seconds if a stranger walks up to them and starts handling them. It seems like common sense to me now — but I have been the person that wanted to pet pretty dogs that I did not know.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Maya Angelou

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What you are doing now and what to do instead if you are terrified of dogs

Are you, or is someone you know terrified of dogs? Do dogs single you out and bark at you? Lunge at you? Do you have kids that are afraid of dogs and want to help them know how to behave around dogs to be safer? People often say that dogs can smell fear. I don’t know about that. But, I do know that there are common things that people afraid of dogs do when approached by a dog that I can spot every time. These fearful movements trigger barking and lunging in many dogs.

I live in a crowded area that is very dog friendly. Even so, not every neighbor loves dogs. Some are visibly terrified of dogs. This body language is very clear to me and startling as well. I can only imagine how it seems to a dog that is much more attuned to pay attention to body language. This behavior scares many dogs. . Many children are also very fearful of dogs. Being aware of your own body language can really help improve how dogs react to you and your kids if you are afraid of dogs.

  1. When you see a dog on a leash, do you stop suddenly with a terrified look often accompanied by a sudden gasp for air and throwing your hands up while staring at the dog. People actually do this. Don’t. Instead, when you see a dog and you are startled or overcome with fear, turn around and go the other direction if the dog is leashed and walking with it’s owner. Or, if you have enough room to pass without the dog lunging at you, keep walking normally.
  2. If the dog is off-leash, back away without turning your back on the dog. If the dog approaches you off-leash, yell “no”, do not run. Do not turn your back on the dog. Teach your children to be a tree and to yell “no” to the dog. Breathe normally. Do not stare at the dog. Look away. Staring at a dog is aggressive as far as the dog is concerned. Create some distance from the dog if you can.
  3. Do not run or cycle closely by a dog from behind. You do not want to startle a dog. If you must pass a dog and dog owner, call out and let them know that you are passing (on the left is the standard side to pass). Give them as much room as possible. If you cannot pass at a safe distance, wait until you have enough distance to pass comfortably. Teach your children to not dart past dogs and teach them to give a safe distance.
  4. When you pass someone walking a dog, do you pass tentatively while staring? Tentative, abnormally slow walking while staring gets a dog’s attention. It is aggressive body language to dogs. Don’t move like you are stalking a dog. Keep moving normally. Don’t stare. Keep a safe distance. This happened to me during my morning walk this morning. A young boy came running around a corner and practically ran into us. I kept my dog calm. That was our first “win”. Then there boy jumped up the nearby stairs, stopped abruptly and leaned over the rails to stare at us. My dog tensed up immediately in response to his unusual movements. Don’t do this. Teach your kids how to be safe around dogs.
  5. Do you or your kids shriek when you see a dog? If you think about it, that is pretty scary to a dog. Please don’t shriek. I have been walking my dog minding my own business with a calm dog as someone saw us, got startled and started shrieking. Of course, my dog reacts to this with barking and lunging. If you or your kids are so scared that you want to scream, please cross the street or go far around us.
  6. Do you take small fearful children to the dog park? I see this happen. Don’t do it. Dog parks are for dogs. They are not for small children or people that are obviously afraid of dogs.
  7. If you see someone walking their dog on a retractable leash while texting, do not pass closely. Retractable leashes break and give a dog too much room. It can take too long to regain control of the dog. The owner may not have enough time to pull their dog back in if they are oblivious to their surroundings. This is common behavior with retractable leashes. About 1% of the people using them are safely doing so.

I believe that dog owners are responsible to keep their dogs under control and as well behaved as possible. Dogs should be leashed in public for their safety and the safety of others unless they are at an off-leash park, private property, or are a highly trained service dog that is working. But, dogs sometimes escape their yards or owners. They shouldn’t — but it does happen. If you are afraid and can be aware of the message that you send to dogs through your body language, you can help reduce the risk of being attacked with these tips.
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Dear oblivious dog owner with the retractable leash…

I am a normal dog owner that also does pet sitting and dog walking for a living. I am doing the best I can with my dog. I am usually pretty good with dogs too. It seems like as soon as we get one thing under control, another issue pops up. I work with my dog every single day and often wish she gave me less to tackle. She is a smart, active, sensitive dog that I love. Some of my neighbors are making it really tough on us right now though and I am pretty frustrated.

Before I rant about my neighbors, let me share a little about my dog, Betty. When I first adopted Betty almost two years ago, she had no training except crate training and potty training from the rescue group. She was a digger, a nuisance barker, and a chaser of anything that ran or moved quickly. She has made huge progress. She doesn’t dig anymore. She is quiet most of the time. She is great with kids. She is wonderful with elderly people. She has always been good around other dogs. She is a sweetheart of a dog. We have completed group obedience classes and are at an intermediate level currently. We have had private sessions with a trainer as well. Two things happened at the same time that I think contributed to her current leash reactivity: she matured (maturation can sometimes have an effect on reactivity), and we moved from a quiet suburban neighborhood with lots of space to the city with crowds of people walking dogs everywhere at all hours. I am just going to say it. I hate retractable leashes. Hate them! They are a lazy way to walk your dog and give your dog too much room to get into trouble- which happens very quickly when you are not paying attention. They break. The locking mechanisms often fail. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked a dog and the retractable leash was broken. They make it hard to control your pet. They wrap around ankles and fingers and can cause injury and even amputation of fingers.

So, as I have already mentioned, right now I am working on leash reactivity that has gotten worse after moving to a crowded city. I have to walk my dog several times per day and neighbors with their dogs and retractable leashes seem to be oblivious to their effect on other people and other people’s dogs. Here is an example of what happens regularly here. Just this morning, I was walking out to my car to get something. Took my dog with me because I just woke up and she needed to go potty. Figured I would get both done at the same time. I’m working on loose leash walking and she is doing well. It is quiet. I am approaching the stairs to get to the parking area when I see a neighbor with a little dog. No problem, I will take Betty over in to the dirt area right before the stairs and this will give us about 10′ away from the passing dog on leash. I have been practicing with her daily so I know how much space we need before reaching her normal threshold of excitability. There is no exit from here -which was a big mistake on my part in retrospect. I am just trying to create some space while they pass. I have my treat pouch. I start to give Betty treats. She is staying quiet but is noticing the other dog. Then the other owner starts RUNNING straight for us. Uh oh. I wasn’t expecting that.. Now I don’t have time to turn around and go the other direction and my dog is definitely excited — but still quiet. I am loading her up with treats as I have no exit plan. The other owner and her dog on a retractable leash reach us and STOP. They don’t pass and continue with their business. THEY JUST STOP AND WATCH US! WTH??? Now, my dog cannot control her excitement anymore and she starts barking and lunging and acting nuts..I was as far away as I could get from this lunatic. Why? Would you run to a stranger with a strange larger dog and just stop and stare?? I really don’t get it. My 5 year old grand daughter knows you don’t run up to strange dogs and or people! This is typical behavior around here. It has been very hard to play engage/disengage here because they let their kids run up to us and kick dogs too. That happened to my mom and her chihuahua. The parent then told the girl to leave the “bad” dog alone. Bad dog? Seriously? If you run up to me and kick me, I would defend myself too!

Anyway, I am digressing. I have read everything that I can find to work on leash reactivity around other dogs. My dog is not aggressive. She regularly socializes with other dogs and never has a problem when off leash. Our problems occur on leash. She started out being reactive to everything while on leash (bicycles, cars, joggers, kids, cats, squirrels, bunnies, other people and other dogs). She is a border collie and her herding instincts are strong. Now, we are working on this last thing that she is reactive to: other dogs on leash. She can walk past many dogs when we are in a crowded setting. If a dog barks at her while on leash, she will bark and lunge. It is the most important issue that we are tackling now. Whenever I walk her and leash her up, I have treats on hand. We practice the engage/disengage game every single day. We create distance when we see other dogs. We turn around if we cannot create distance. Sometimes we turn around and their is another dog right behind us. So, we cross the street or look for a way to create distance. I sit out front with her and load her up with treats when she lets people walk by and is calm. She is improving slowly in spite of my neighbors. I don’t want to use punishment or e-collars in this case because she acts out of excitement. The current protocol for animal training according to the latest science on the subject discourages punishment except as a last resort because it can contribute to aggression. I don’t think I am there yet.

If you have a dog that will walk with you and mind it’s own business, that is wonderful and I am jealous. Please, please, please do not assume that all dogs can do that. I hope that mine will be like that very soon. But, she is not there yet. I walk dogs for a living and I will share that many dogs are not calm around other dogs or people on leash. It is a common issue. If you see someone turn around, cross the street, or walk off the path to give you space, please just walk past them calmly without causing any extra excitement They probably don’t want to meet you at that moment or have their dog petted. We will add polite greetings to our training once she can handle proximity on leash. It is a process. She is not a bad dog. She needs a little space.

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In case of fire, do this for yourself and your pets…


Do you ever worry about your pets being caught in a house fire? Here are a few ways to be more prepared in case a home fire:

  •  Have leashes by the door and spares by crates. Many people are afraid to leave pets in a crate while they are away from home because they worry about a pet being trapped during a fire. During a fire, animals often hide under beds and are too terrified to try to escape. Their chances of being rescued are actually greatly improved by being crated when you are not home. Place crates near windows or doors to make rescuing pets faster and easier. Let your neighbors know that you have pets.
  • Also put a sticker on your doors and on the window nearest the crates location stating that you have pets that need saving in case of fire. It will be much quicker if the animals are easy to find. Sometimes there is not a lot of time.
  • Always have your pet wear a tag with your information clearly stated and also micro-chip your pets in case they lose their collars during the disaster.
  • Desensitize your pets to noise, other people and other dogs. This is especially true when you are dealing with rushing crowds of frightened people, sirens, flashing lights, and other pets.
  • Have first-aid kit, bowls, dog and people food and a few gallons of water for both you and your pet near the door and in your car. In the summertime, the car can get really hot and heat up plastic  to levels that will leach into water so make sure the bottles are BPA free.
  • Keep a copy of important personal documents handy near exits in a grab and go  folder with originals in a  fire-proof box in addition to veterinary records for pets.
  • Make sure to have flashlights with good batteries in your car.
  • Teach dogs that the car is a safe place to relax. It provides separation from crowds and emergency vehicles if the commotion is just too overwhelming for your pet.
  • Teach a good heel. You don’t want to worry about losing your pet during a disaster. Teaching a good heel and recall can save your pet’s life.
  • I also keep a small sleeping bag, tent, and camp axe in my trunk. I also always have a gym bag with spare clothes in my trunk.
  • Keep you cellphone charged and keep a charger in your car.
  • Never let your gas tank go below half empty in case of emergency evacuation.
  • Always have some cash on hand hidden away.
  • Oh and I almost forgot, keep some decent clothes nearby if you sleep in the buff.  Have some shoes near your bed too.  You don’t want to run out of a burning house with little or  nothing on!

Home fires are devastating.  Being prepared will not undo the loss of a home or personal belongings.  Hopefully, it can help save lives.




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