Dog Trainer License Finally Proposed in NY

New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky is introducing a bill that could help the highly unregulated dog training industry gain credibility here in New York State. Senate Bill S8219 proposes establishing a dog trainer license and minimum education standards for obedience dog trainers. You can see the full text of the proposed bill here. 

The bill has been proposed because “dog trainer” Brian DeMartino of NYDogWorks on Long Island was caught on camera abusing a dog. If you don’t want to view animal abuse, don’t click on the link (I personally can’t bring myself to watch it). I love that Senator Kaminsky is pushing for a dog trainer license in order to reduce abuse in the name of dog training. I applaud him for it, and I hope that we can work together and shape the regulations and our industry for the better. Leading organizations I respect such as IAABC have already reached out to Senator Kaminsky to offer their guidance and support.


Dog Trainers Support Licensure, Right?

If dog trainers are all great at one thing, it’s disagreeing. Not all trainers support a dog trainer license. Trainers on all sides are going ballistic over what tools or methods may or may not be banned. Many trainers are worried about educational requirements. Some trainers feel the educational requirements don’t need to include a university degree, stating that materials covered in academic coursework are less applicable than the hands-on training for-profit schools currently provide. Others believe having lenient educational requirements will further devalue the work we do by giving increased credibility to poor trainers who could point to a license to defend their legitimacy. Veteran trainers without formal education are concerned this bill will put them out of work. Many fear increased start-up costs (education, licensing fees) could trickle down to consumers, making professional training assistance unaffordable to many who desperately need it. Everyone is concerned that the “wrong side” will influence the future regulatory body and the bill will set the wrong standards.

Many of these concerns have legs. Cesar Millan was given an honorary graduate degree, though he likely couldn’t pass even the basic CPDT test. Having him on board would be a disaster. Many states (and Canada) have a history of tearing sweet, loving dogs out of their homes and murdering them in the name of irrational and misguided breed specific legislation. Despite evidence that BSL doesn’t work, these laws still exist and continue to be adopted in the face of professional pushback. Luckily, New York State has laws that “identify, track and regulate dangerous dogs individually – regardless of breed – and prohibit BSL.” Even though we live in a state that up until now has made good decisions about canine-related legislation, there is plenty of room for legitimate concern about the way new regulation could unfold. The wrong requirements could be more than ineffective, they could backfire.

In all likelihood, the minimum standards for a dog trainer license will be just that: minimal. It’s not likely that any tools will be banned. The educational standards won’t be set high enough. However, in every training plan there is the first step.

Change more frequently happens in tiny increments, not sweeping leaps. This could be the first step towards great change for an industry with many problems.

I don’t want to be grouped in with trainers who hang dogs in the name of training (yes, I’ve spoken to trainers who do this “for 10-15 seconds” so the dog “never does behavior X again”). I do want to be held to a higher standard, and I believe holding dog trainers to a higher standard will increase the demand for better education.


What “Better Education” Means To Me

Professional dog trainers currently come to different conclusions about how to help our clients because we are coming from different and often incomplete educational backgrounds. We should all be following the same procedures via the tools we have from welfare science, applied behavior analysis, etc. If what I am doing is unethical, if my education is not well rounded enough and I am not making the best decisions, I should not be licensed. It doesn’t matter how much time or energy I’ve spent on education and certifications up until this point nor how long I have been working professionally. I don’t know of one comprehensive program that currently covers everything, and that’s a huge problem both for dog trainers and for dog owners.

I would love to see the future pet dog trainer license requirement include a bachelor’s degree that was both academic and practical, but no such bachelor’s program currently exists. Some dog trainers point to undergraduate psychology degrees as a qualification but these departments are not catering to dog trainers. Psychology undergrad students aren’t currently learning ethology,  genetics, applied behavior analysis, welfare science, hands-on skills, or professional ethics.  I would love to see a bachelor’s program where students learn theory in the classroom and earn credits doing practical work by teaching shelter dogs, provided low-cost dog training classes and consultations through a university dog training school (supervised), and have internships at local zoos. Most dog trainers I currently know have bachelor’s degrees – just not ones that support the work that we do. A program like this would not only be good for future dog trainers, it would provide free or low-cost support to shelters, community dog owners, and underfunded zoos.

I would love future behavior consultant licensing requirements to include education requirements (Masters or Ph.D.), supervising requirements, and testing similar to the licensing requirements for social workers and psychotherapists. A licensing board isn’t going to take your tools away, but they could make sure that you understand multiple scientific disciplines well enough to make informed decisions about any training scenario or tool you may use. This would further draw a distinction between “dog trainer” and “dog behavior consultant”. Too often dog trainers don’t know that they don’t know how to help a dog with a serious behavior issue and take on clients that they shouldn’t. This leads clients to believe that “science-based” “force free” professionals don’t know what they’re doing. Regulations would help owners find more effective help so they don’t waste time and money on professionals who may be quite talented but who aren’t quite ready to take on a severe behavior challenge. Dog trainers teach manners and help owners with nuisance behaviors like inappropriate jumping and chewing. Dog behavior consultants deal with problems ranging from separation anxiety to aggression, often in conjunction with veterinary professionals. This is a delineation most pet dog owners (and many dog trainers) are completely oblivious of.

I imagine a world where academic scholars and veteran trainers work side by side and challenge each other. I imagine a world where all trainers are able to read and understand a research study. I dream of a world where we all have awareness of our own biases and are better equipped to make educated decisions based on research and science instead of dogma.


How Do We Get From Here To There? One step at at time.

There are many wonderful organizations and leaders in our field. Historically, professional organizations have fought for legislation to improve and protect the work they do (See: NYS Society for Clinical Social Work – History). Our existing professional organizations and our educated and respected veterans must come together and lead us forward to help shape the next generation of canine experts. These organizations already set our code of ethics, provide our coursework and organize our conferences. Working towards licensure and legitimacy is the natural next step, so I am not surprised that these organizations are pro-licensure.

To start, perhaps the dog trainer license will require us only to pass a basic theory test, agree to a code of ethics and meet continuing education requirements. All legitimate trainers have already done these things. These minimal standards will weed out only the truly abysmal trainers and will need to be improved upon. As the average trainer gains knowledge, minimum standards will rise again. I am no expert on regulatory bodies, but this is what I hope to see over the next 50 years. When higher standards evolve, our collective knowledge will push both licensing requirements and the research envelope. New discoveries will help us all to make even more refined, effective, and ethical choices for the companion animals who depend on us for everything.


Hair of the Dog: NYC Dog Training, Safety, and Beer

In lieu of this week’s blog post, I bring you a podcast. Why? Because I’m the guest this week!

If you’ve ever seen Drunk History on Comedy Central, this podcast is just like that except we’re talking about all things dog. The podcast is Hair of the Dog, and the guest gets to pick the alcohol of choice. Since the hosts are huge fans of beer, I chose my favorite beer. Sarah picked up that beer and two related beers (all excellent), I made dinner and we did a tasting.

If you like to listen to podcasts while you walk the dog, you can listen to me on this week’s episode of Hair Of The Dog here.

Hair Of The Dog

Want more podcasts? Here are my favorite podcasts to listen to while out strolling with Grayson:

Invisibilia – About the Invisible Forces that Control Human Behavior

Radiolab –  Science meets human interest meets great storytelling

Science Vs – Science takes on hot topics. So far they’ve covered attachment parenting, fracking, and gun control. What they find might surprise you!

The Longest Shortest Time – A parenting podcast for everyone

The Modern Dog Trainer Podcast – Tips for dog trainers

ABA Inside Track – A podcast about Applied Behavior Analysis and recent research in the field.

TED Radio Hour – Ted Talks in Podcast form


Dog Friendly NYC Restaurants – The East Pole

Welcome to my new summer series “Dog Friendly NYC Restaurants”. Thanks to a new bill that was passed in 2015, restaurateurs are now legally able to invite pups to dine at their establishments. Dogs must be on leash, but are allowed to relax tableside in outdoor areas. NY is still a long way from reaching the dog friendly status Parisians enjoy, but this is a step in the right direction! In the summer Evan and I refuse to go to dinner without Grayson. We’re thrilled there are now many more dining options for the WHOLE family and have been spending our Friday and Saturday evenings finding the best of the best.

Beautiful Golden Retriever sits leash free inside cafe while we eat breakfast. (Paris, 2013)

Beautiful Golden Retriever sits leash free inside cafe while we eat breakfast. Cafe creme, crepes, et un chien. (Paris, 2013)

In this series Grayson and I will let you know where to go. We’ll rate each restaurant’s food quality, service, and dog friendly nature. Grayson will let you know how quickly the servers brought him water, if he was offered a biscuit or special treat, and how thrilled the staff was to see him. The first restaurant we are reviewing is one of my new favorites where I’ve spent 2 of the past 4 Friday evenings.

The East Pole

5.0         |            5.0           |        6.0

food                 service                dog

Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Cuisine: New American, Farm to Table, Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Price: $$$

Water for Grayson: Immediately
Treat for Grayson: Bacon
Love for Grayson: From 100% of the staff

Must Try: Grilled Shishito Peppers with Citrus Salt, Daikon and Fried Barcat Oyster Salad, Striped Bass, Reginetti Pasta, Goat Cheese Cheesecake


Located in a Brownstone on E 65th St between Lexington and park, The East Pole is the perfect place to bring your dog before or after a romp in nearby Central Park. The outdoor seating area is depressed, so your pup won’t be eye to eye with dogs passing on the sidewalk. If you have just taught Fido to settle calmly on a mat but haven’t tested his skills at an outdoor restaurant yet, I recommend starting here because of the reduced visual distractions.

When you arrive you will be greeted by Dennis, a talented multidisciplinary artist known in the neighborhood for his bold fashion statements. Dennis is an anomaly, and at first you might question why he is the host at this upscale farm to table restaurant on the UES. Let him take you on a journey. His character reflects everything that is great about this hidden gem. Allow people (and vegetables!) to express themselves eloquently and you will find divine flavor seeping into your life.

The dogs come first here. Before we began our evening with cocktails and the chef’s amuse bouche – radishes dressed in olive tapenade and olive oil (you will ask for a second portion) – Dennis asked us if Grayson was allowed to eat bacon. Of course! The chef fried some up and brought him out his own plate. Yes, Grayson got his own plate of bacon. Six out of five stars automatically awarded to the dog friendly category.

There is a creative cocktail list and an extensive wine list, and it’s hard to make a bad choice. The food here is just as I love it – fresh and organic, enhanced by carefully selected oils, vinegars, and spices. I am a big believer that the best food starts with high quality ingredients prepared by a great chef who knows when to leave those ingredients alone. The East Pole makes me remember the garden tomatoes of my youth, salted and consumed straight off the vine in the afternoon sun. You can taste the local (and see the local on their map of purveyors).

While we have only been to The East Pole for dinner, their brunch also looks divine. Soon we’ll be sipping peach bellini’s after off leash time in Central Park. I have my eye on the Maine Lobster sandwich.

Can Your Dog Trainer Solve Your Problems?

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.56.04 PM

At my very first clicker expo, one of the talks I attended was “Common Trainer Mistakes” by Ken Ramirez. The mistake Ken closed his talk with was “Assuming All Training Can Be Done By Anyone”. I thought of this talk again while reading this blog post recently. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a worthwhile read. In it, my friend and colleague Andre Yeu argues that good trainers are turning down hard cases for fear of not knowing enough. He makes some great points and his post resonated with me. I am The Dog Trainer Colleague Who Undersells Herself, and I might suffer slightly from both Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger effect he references. Andre warns that when well informed trainers pass on difficult cases, clients are more likely to fall into the hands of aversive “shock and pop” trainers. My differing perspective is that taking a case you might not be ready for is unethical and just as likely to lead clients into the hands of trainers who offer sub par, harmful solutions. Accepting a client without certainty of your ability to solve their problem is a common trainer mistake Ken warned us of.

A quick glance at my books reveals that I’ve spent over $20,000.00 on continuing education over the past five years. Last year I had four times the continuing education credits required to maintain my certification. While I am not a seasoned veteran, I’m good at what I do and I take the responsibility I have to my clients seriously. There are many specialties in training and many paths I could follow to broaden my abilities. I could focus on puppies, manners, tricks, various sport training, working dog training , body conditioning for canine athletes, or behavior modification. Within these specialties are further subspecialties. Some trainers only teach agility. Others only work separation anxiety cases. While I am focusing on behavior modification, many of my clients are interested in more than just manners work. While I would never purport to be an expert in a specialty I have only a basic knowledge of (when was the last time you saw a gun dog working in Manhattan?) I feel that it’s important to have a foundation in all of the above disciplines to best serve my clients needs. The trainers I most respect are humble education junkies, continuing to expand both their intellectual knowledge and their skills. As Aristotle said, the more you know the more you know you don’t know.


Shouldn’t we know what problems we’re qualified to help our clients solve? This is the crux of the issue. There are great schools and organizations, but there is no one school, program, or organization that teaches it all. I  must put my own curriculum together and connect the dots by myself. While I have fabulous mentors guiding me, it’s not the same as attending a well designed comprehensive program where material  builds on itself. Unlike therapy for humans, there are no supervision requirements. When you are continually learning, it’s hard not to feel like you know nothing when there’s nobody there to tell you that you’re doing a great job. We rely on our clients satisfaction to keep tabs on our capabilities, but there can still be a seed of doubt. Could I be doing this better? Quicker? Is there a different approach?

It’s up to each individual trainer to listen to their inner voice and make responsible decisions about accepting a case or referring out. I would rather decline a case than provide a partial solution to a client’s problem, leaving them questioning the efficacy of humane training methods. If we are thoughtful with our self assessments and honest about our current level of knowledge and skill sets, we can make very good decisions for ourselves – and for our clients – about what cases we shouldn’t take on. In this profession, clients come to us with high stakes problems. If a case is handled incorrectly, the safety of a client or the public at large may be compromised. Rehoming or euthanasia may be on the table. If a professional has 90% of the knowledge they need to help these clients, 90% of the knowledge they need is not good enough. The sliver of information missing could result in prolonging the suffering of an animal in severe physical or emotional distress or suggesting euthanasia to an animal that might otherwise be helped.

While not every trainer has the luxury of being surrounded by a community of other excellent professionals to refer to, we are lucky to have that here in NYC. There is an excellent network of trainers, behavior consultants, and veterinary behaviorists in the NYC area that are happy to work together. On the occasion I feel a case might be beyond my experience level, I provide the client with immediate management suggestions while sending the client to both a veterinarian (medical issues can cause behavior change) and a colleague better equipped to handle the case. If you are a fellow trainer, for the good of our profession and our clients, I urge you to to do the same.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.46.13 PM
Tips For Dog Owners
  • Read your trainer’s biography and philosophy. If they don’t have one listed, keep looking.
  • Make sure your trainer has obtained a certification. This is not necessarily proof of competence, but it’s a good start.
  • Ask for your trainers official resume listing the courses they have taken and continuing education they have done and/or the seminars and workshops they have taught to other professionals.
  • Ask if your trainer has solved your problem before.
  • Ask who your trainer turns to when they’re stuck. Look up that person’s biography.
  • Ask your trainer in what scenarios they refer out to other professionals. If they don’t list any scenarios at all, keep looking. Even the most experienced behavior modification professionals need to refer to veterinary behaviorists on some cases.

NYC Dogs Are Not Traveling Petting Zoos

NYC Dogs Are Not Traveling Petting Zoos

My pup Grayson is pretty cute, if I do say so myself. Even though he’s four, many people still think he’s a puppy and many people want to touch him. Some people ask permission, but most do not. The first time I took him to a public dog park, within 5 seconds a total stranger picked him up. I am often the person saying “Please stop touching my dog!”. This happened most recently at Deux Amis, where my husband, my dog, and I go for dinner most Friday nights in the summer. Grayson settles on the mat I bring for him, and he earns his bread and butter (and filet mignon) by staying relaxed on it — see video below. I don’t want him to learn that leaving his mat gets him attention and free food from other patrons. I’m glad we’re surrounded by fellow dog lovers who think he’s cute, but he’s not a traveling petting zoo. These table neighbors are ruining our training and his future behavior, making it harder for me to take him into public. Touching an animal that doesn’t belong to you is inappropriate.



I fully believe in training our dogs to behave appropriately in public and to help them feel safe and comfortable in all of the human centric environments they will encounter. Strangers approaching without asking makes it much harder for me to accomplish this task.

Even if I’m with a dog who behaves politely in public, dogs don’t speak English so he can’t advocate for himself. We expect our dogs to not only tolerate but to love every interaction that is forced up on them. Yes – forced – they are on the end of a leash and can’t get away. Many dogs tolerate interactions but give off stress signals that are unread and ignored. I don’t think this is reasonable or fair. There are plenty of reasons our dogs shouldn’t have to endure certain situations. It’s up to us to speak up for them.

Here’s why you shouldn’t touch a dog you don’t know without asking permission:
  1. He could be training (learning to settle, learning to ignore people or dogs, learning to sit for pets, learning how to walk, insert behavior here: X)
  2. He could not be in training but need to be in training (just because he’s in public doesn’t mean his owners are responsible)
  3. It might be a puppy going through proactive socialization
  4. He could be stressed out, fearful, or aggressive (see #1 and #2)
    • He could not like strangers, the bag you’re carrying, the skateboard you rode in on, the suitcase you’re dragging, the smell of your cat on your clothing, the fact that you’re loud and wobbling around tipsy, etc. etc. etc.
    • He could not like being touched
    • You have a dog with you he might not like, might be scared of, or might behave inappropriately with (barking/lunging/over aroused greetings, etc.)
  5. He could be sick, in pain, or recovering from surgery
  6. You’re modeling dangerous behavior for your kids (who are more likely to get a bite to the face if they run up to and grab/pet a dog without asking)
  7. Your toddler is running around and/or screaming and it’s freaking the dog out (just because your kid is in public doesn’t mean they’re behaving appropriately)
  8. He’s about to go potty and his owner doesn’t want you to interrupt him
  9. His owner doesn’t feel like interacting with strangers right now
  10. He could have limited sight or hearing
  11. He’s not your dog


Before I was a dog trainer, I was that obnoxious stranger on the street stopping to pet your dog and hold you hostage while I went at it with your furry friend on the leash, so… I GET IT. Dogs are CUTE and interacting with them makes everything better.  At the time, I was a professional dancer whose constant anxiety about life and making a decent living in my chosen profession was ruining my mental health. I didn’t have a dog, and I really really needed one. When I quit dancing, it was my then-boyfriend/now-husband who suggested I walk dogs while I figured out my next moves. Since then, I built and ran a dog walking company while simultaneously getting an education in training and behavior and have taken on progressively more challenging cases as my education and experience allows. Here in NYC I have worked with puppies, with dogs who are reactive to other dogs, and dogs who bite strangers. “Don’t Touch” vests, “In Training” vets, DINOS (dogs in need of space) gear, yellow dog project ribbons – all of these visual cues meant to instruct strangers to leave these dogs alone are often ignored. Telling people to please stop approaching or stop petting earns eye rolls and shouted profanities. I have had to walk a mile out of my way to avoid other dog owners who insist their illegally off leash dogs need to greet my legally on leash ones to keep the dog I’m working under threshold.

I have had to learn the most effective ways to get strangers to leave me and my dogs alone. Here they are:
  1. Telling a stranger “he’s sick and contagious” usually works even for the rudest of rude people, because it gives them a reason to stay away that they care about. Strangers don’t care if they ruin your training but they do care about getting sick.
  2. If the dog I’m working has a solid leave it behavior, I will tell the dog to “leave it” – the stranger is the “it” they leave while we walk on by. If they don’t have a leave it and we are outside, they likely have a hand target or eye contact behavior. I will ask the dog to hand target, to look at me, to go find a treat I’ve tossed in the opposite direction, or to do anything incompatible to interacting with the stranger.
  3. If I am in the middle of a training exercise and clearly and obviously actively training a dog, sometimes I have no choice but to pretend like the person does not exist. So often I am working a client dog outside when a stranger approaches and starts talking to me or the dog. The rate at which this happens while I am obviously training (treat bag out, clicking and treating rapidly, dog doing behaviors) is actually quite astounding. In this situation, I drop my criteria for the behavior and increase my rate of reinforcement since the stranger is now a huge distraction. My focus is on my dog, the criteria we’re working at, my timing, and my treat delivery. It’s not on the stranger.
  4. If I am working with a dog for whom getting close to a stranger is not an option (due to fear, aggression, or for whom getting close to a stranger will elicit or reinforce pulling or jumping up) I simply turn around and walk the other way without comment. I might feed the dog while doing so – not as a training strategy but as a distraction or to prevent unwanted behavior in a pinch.
  5. I am not going to abandon a dog mid-session to meet a stranger’s needs. My responsibility is to the dog I am with. I have worked with dogs who are triggered by their handler talking to a stranger. In this situation, I literally can’t stop and talk to the stranger while I am with the dog. If I do, the dog will bark and lunge, and that causes a huge training setback for us. It’s not worth it. I have gotten on an elevator at floor 25 and rode all the way down to floor 1, facing the wall and pretending like the stranger does not exist for the entire ride.
  6. If I am in the middle of a training session and the dog has the skill, I sometimes put the dog in a down or sit stay so that I can turn to the stranger and point out to them that we are in the middle of training and it’s not a good time.
  7. Body blocking can help prevent strangers from physically touching the dog I’m with. If the stranger is very pushy, this doesn’t always work so I prefer to just get away from the person. I have had strangers reach around my body to touch a dog I have in a sit stay behind me in the corner of the elevator after I have asked them not to approach. (Elevators are so hard!)
  8. Putting out your hand in a “STOP” sign and stating firmly “please do not approach” or “please call your dog” while body blocking or just before turning to walk away sometimes gets the message across. If I can, I will sometimes hold a hand out while I am training to try to silently convey this message.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it. Aggressive dogs shouldn’t be going out to restaurants with their owners. Any dog with a bite history should be muzzled if they are in public. Owners should be responsible. But sometimes they’re not, and sometimes they’re not in the mood to talk to you, and sometimes they’re proactively training or retroactively working on a behavior modification protocol. Please, read the situation and if you’re asked to leave the dog alone – do so without an attitude. You expect dogs to behave politely and appropriately in public, and you should too.

A Shaping Plan That Sparks Joy

The decluttering technique known as the “Konmari Method” outlined in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo makes very good sense when viewed through the lense of behavior analysis. Kondo sets her followers up for success. Her process looks an awful lot like a well thought out shaping plan, and boy do I love finding good examples of effective human behavior modification in real life.

No matter where on the neat freak to slob spectrum you land, I’m willing to bet two things:

1. You wish your home was beautifully organized and would stay that way forever.

2. You know the current location of your kitchen plates.

Dishes have an easily defined place and after mealtime they get washed, dried, and go back in the cupboard where they belong. Why isn’t everything we own that easy to clean and put back? My husband and I are not slobs, but we’re busy and during the workweek items tend to land… anywhere. We pick up on the weekend, and we LOVE when everything is tidy and in it’s place. It would be lovely if our apartment looked more put together on a daily basis, but our focus is elsewhere.

As busy as I am, my dresser drawers are living proof that Marie Kondo’s method works. I dumped and organized my tops in October.

Here are those drawers now (8 months later), still perfectly organized. And no, I did not clean up before taking this photo. I just opened my drawer.

Here are those drawers now (8 months later), still perfectly organized. And no, I did not clean up before taking this photo. I just opened my drawer.

Kondo approaches decluttering in a way that makes SENSE. She’s serious when she says you only have to do this process once. Here is a brief outline of the process and why it works:

  1. The first step is to gather each and every item you own from one category (example: shirts)

    You’ll be surprised at how much you have once it’s all in one place – reality check! You pick up each item and ask “Does this spark joy?” and then keep only the things you love. You also thank the items you’re not keeping, before sending them on their way (hopefully donated to goodwill). Instead of feeling guilty, you feel grateful. When you’ve gone through the process, the items you still have are ones you really care about. This motivating operation makes you much more inclined to take care of the clothes you have, because you love them. Taking care of your stuff is no longer a chore.

  2. The second step is to learn a new skill – folding is your alternate behavior.

    I used to hate folding and thought this would be the part of this method that didn’t work for me, but there is something magical about the way clothes are folded in the Konmari method. Each item is inspected, so you notice stains or rips that need mending, and can see at a glance if it’s time to “thank the item for it’s service” and let it go. Once folded, each item stands on it’s own, placed next to other items of the same kind. It’s reinforcing to see how all of my clothes sit beautifully next to each other in the drawer. I’m motivated to keep it up because it’s useful to see all my options at a glance. The clothes I’ve folded properly are never wrinkled when I put them on again.

  3. The last step is to designate a place for each item.

    It’s easy to put something away when you’ve designated a spot for it so you know where it goes without thinking. Instead of organizing based on how easy it is to get to an item when you need it, you organize based on how easy it is to put an item away. This smart motivating operation will make us much more likely to put our things where they belong! Maintaining organization is about modifying your environment so that you know where each item belongs and it’s easy to put things back in their place.

  4. The process teaches you to listen to your gut when answering the question “Does this Spark Joy?”

    Kondo insists the process starts with items that we are least emotional about (tops) and work up to items that have the most sentimental value (letters, photos). This is an excellent shaping plan. It takes effort and practice to connect with our true selves and decide what is of value to us. So many of us don’t know what we want or love and don’t give ourselves permission to honor our true desires. What we love is buried under social pressure, the taste of our family, friends, and peers, trends in advertisements, and other psychological muck. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t need to go to therapy to go through this process. Marie Kondo’s simple question: “Does this Spark Joy?” is one that each person can answer for themselves if they are willing to take a moment and listen. Looking at and being surrounded by the items you have chosen to keep is reinforcing, so it’s easy to continue the process. As you move along you get better at listening when your gut answers “yes!” or “nope” and the process of letting go of material objects that DO NOT “Spark Joy” switches from daunting to liberating. The physical objects that remain inspire happiness and gratitude. The Konmari Method of Tidying Up becomes more than a way to keep your house clutter free. It’s also a practical practice of saying yes to joy and letting go of everything that does not serve us. With practice and an incremental shaping plan, it becomes easy to face – and answer – the big questions. Does my marriage spark joy? My job? The city I’ve chosen to live in?

  5. A practice of Gratitude.

    A helpful recommendation therapists often make to their dissatisfied or depressed clients is to end the day by writing down 5 things they are thankful for. This is a great first step, but Konmari takes it further and helps us generalize the practice of gratitude so it becomes a regular part of our everyday lives. Going through the process of “Konmari-ing” your home helps awaken gratitude for the things you have. Replacing unwanted thoughts and behaviors (complacency, lack of appreciation, feelings of sadness, failure, or of not keeping up with the Jones’s, of not getting what we thought we wanted or deserved out of life, of keeping things or doing things out of obligation) with thoughts and actions of gratitude has shown time and time again to be a large factor in countering depression. Each time you touch an item, examine it, fold it, and put it away you are practicing gratitude. The process of “Konmari-ing” our homes leads us through small actionable steps we can take to reawaken our own small joys, which lead to discovering big joys and passions.  Through this process, Konmari is helping us shape ourselves, in tiny micro criteria, towards being happier and more fulfilled.

So, what does decluttering your home have to do with dog training? So many of my day training clients see their dogs performing new behaviors for the first time and look at me like I’ve performed magic, so it’s apt that the title of Marie Kondos’ book is “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. But it isn’t magic – it’s science. The laws of learning apply to all living beings on earth, not only to our canine companions. Shaping molds our behavior whether a plan was carefully developed by a behavior analyst, dog trainer or merely by life. We learn through shaping in small steps of criteria, repeat what has been previously reinforced and cease to do that which has been punished. Want a cleaner home? Use this to your advantage. You don’t even have to write a training plan. Konmari has done that work for you.


Puzzle Toys

Starter Work To Eat Toys -For a new puppy or dog who has never had to “work” before!
Kong - your pups first work to eat toy!

Kong – your pups first work to eat toy!


Kong Wobbler

Busy Buddy Twist & Treat

Tricky Treat Ball

Squirrel Dude

Work To Eat Toys – They get the concept, now put them to work!

Bionic Stuffer, Bionic Bone

Bob A Lot – Like the Kong Wobbler, but with adjustable treat holes for adjustable difficulty

Nina Ottosson Treat Maze

Monster Ball, Monster Mouth, Monster Girl

IQ Ball

Nina Ottosson Magic

Nina Ottosson Twister

Nina Ottosson Dog Casino

Challenging Work To Eat Toys
Dog works the Nina Ottosson casino.

Dog works the Nina Ottosson casino.

Dino Egg

Kong Genius LeoKong Genius Mike – Increase difficulty by linking these together

Buster Activity Mat

Nina Ottoson MixMax


How To Select A Dog Walker in NYC

There are many iconic scenes that come into one’s head when thinking about NYC. Bagels & Lox. Broadway. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Dog walkers managing a tangle of leashes with 15 dogs in tow.

I wish the last one on that list wasn’t so, which is why I’m here to help you select a dog walker in NYC.

Grayson wonders why the dog "walker" isn't walking those 7 dogs. Hmmm.

Grayson wonders why the dog “walker” isn’t walking those 7 dogs. Hmmm.

When Lauren’s Leash was a dog walking company, we did things differently. Each pup saw the same walker every day. Most of our pups got walked on their own. Some socially appropriate dogs had a buddy or two, but never more. If a pup was a social walker, they walked with the same dog(s) every day just like they walked with the same human every day. We were the first company in NYC – and only the second company in all of the USA – to offer GPS tracking on all our walks.

Walking dogs solo or with a buddy, guaranteeing the same walker daily, and providing GPS tracking on top of it without charging so much you price out most of the market is fabulous for the dogs but a terrible business idea. Even if solo or buddy walks are more expensive, they still bring in much less profit than when a huge group of dogs are walked together. By the time you pay your employees a good wage, pay for liability insurance, workers comp and disability (which is astronomical in the industry), shell out monthly for the software, and take the time and energy to find and properly train quality employees, you’re barely breaking even. Lesson learned: Given the quality of our service, I should have been charging way more than I was charging. Since discontinuing walking services, I have yet to find a dog walking company in Manhattan that operates the way I did. So many walkers and dog walking companies operate under the table, charging $10 or $15 to take your pup out with a hoard of other dogs. The dogs spent more time tied up outside of buildings, unsupervised and stressed, than they spend actually walking. You couldn’t pay me to put my dog in those circumstances.

Finding a dog walker that is trustworthy and knows what they’re doing can be very, very challenging. If you have a challenging dog, it can be nearly impossible. Dog walkers have little or no education on dog body language, problem prevention, and management. They think they know what they’re doing, and most give awful training advice when asked. This advice is well intentioned, but misguided. I have heard dog walkers give advice about medication, how to train the dog to walk on a loose leash, and what to do to rectify X, Y, and Z behavior problems. Most of the time the advice is inaccurate, sometimes it’s harmful.

Professionals have education and training and have passed tests to prove skill and competency. Don’t ask your dog trainer or your dog walker for medical advice. Don’t ask your dog walker for training or behavior modification advice. Stick to asking professionals for their professional opinion. If someone you know who is a professional in one area gives you advice in another area, ignore it. You wouldn’t take surgical advice from an architect and you wouldn’t trust a surgeon to draw up plans for a building.

Here are 10 things you must consider before hiring a professional dog walker:
  1. Whether you hire an individual or a company, whomever you choose must be both bonded and insured. Ask for proof of this. Your dog walker should also have gone through a background check as part of the hiring process. Make sure this happened. You may not ask to see it, but you may ask about the company’s hiring process.
  2. Your walker must be certified in Pet First Aid & CPR. Make sure your individual walker has been certified. The owner of the company being certified doesn’t count if they’re not the one walking your dog.
  3. Look for a company that has been certified by Pet Sitters International, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, or through the DogTec Dog Walking Academy. Huge bonus if the owner of the company or a member of the management team have professional credentials in dog training or as a vet tech.
  4. Look for a company that uses GPS Tracking technology. This software is available. There is no excuse for not having it. Keep in mind that the technology isn’t perfect, but choosing a company that chooses to use it means you’re choosing a company that cares about the quality of their work and holds their employees to a higher standard. I have heard owners of giant, “reputable” dog walking and dog running companies in NY say they won’t use it because “What if the dog walker goes to Starbucks?”. Really.
  5. The company should set up a meet and greet with the person who will actually be walking your dog. It’s great if a manager is also present on the meet and greet, but the person you need to meet and feel comfortable with is the person who will be coming in and out of your home on a daily basis. Ask lots of questions at the meet and greet. What is the policy if the walker arrives and the pet has (insert a scenario – had diarrhea, won’t come out from under the couch, growls at the walker on day 1)?
  6. Choose a company that will send the same walker every day, barring emergencies or illness. A rotating cast and crew is a terrible idea. When you have the same walker daily, that walker bonds with and loves on your pup, knows your pups behavior quirks, feeding schedule, medication needs, and your preferences about your home and how tasks should be accomplished. Your pup should be super excited to see your walker every day. Get a camera to make sure this is so (and to make sure your walker is arriving on time and keeping your pup out for the time you’ve paid for). Find recommended dog gear, including cameras, here.
  7. Accept now that if you choose a dog walking company, you are likely going to get a new walker every 6months – 1 year. Dog walking is not a permanent profession and even the best companies have a high rate of turnover. This is not something to complain about, it’s the way things are. If you luck out and get a college student who is in NY to stay for a while, be very very grateful.
  8. Dog walkers come in all shapes and sizes. Many of my best walkers were students, but others liked walking dogs because they weren’t naturally good with people or because they were artists who needed a flexible working schedule. When I hired employees, I made sure to choose employees that were good with the dogs. The biggest part of my interview process was watching to see how the candidate interacted with my dog. Genuinely loving dogs was a MUST for me. These are people who will be doing their jobs largely without supervision. I didn’t care nearly as much about how candidates interacted with people. When you meet your walker on your meet and greet, watch to see how they are with your dog. If they’re good with you, that’s a bonus.
  9. If the company is okay with walking more than 3 dogs at once, this speaks volumes – keep searching. If your company does walk dogs with a buddy, your pups buddy should be chosen based not only on proximity but also by size, temperament, energy level, walking speed, and play style. If your pup is introduced to other dogs in the area that might be a good match and it doesn’t go well, don’t force the issue. Buddy walks are not the right fit for every dog! It’s better to pay more for a solo walk to guarantee your pup is not stressed out. Also keep in mind that if you want your pup to be walked with a buddy your pup needs to have loose leash walking skills and appropriate social skills with other dogs. Buddy walks are not for socializing your dog, they are for dogs that are already friendly and well socialized.
  10. Do not expect your walker to be a professional dog trainer. Do not leave your puppy in it’s critical socialization period (under 16 weeks old) to be socialized by an amateur with good intentions. Socializing your pup to NYC, loose leash walking in NYC, and modifying aggressive leash behaviors are advanced skills! If you’d like someone to take your pup out during the day and also work on training skills like loose leash walking, or if you have a new puppy or rescue, sign up for day training before you sign up for a dog walker. Your dog and your future dog walker will thank you.


If you have a dog walker or a dog walking company that you LOVE – or if you are a dog walker or dog walking company that meets the criteria above – please reach out and let me know!

Puppy Shopping List For New Pet Parents


Crate with Divider (Tip: Don’t get a crate pad. They look like pee pads! Instead, put a heartbeat pillow in with your pup for cozy comfort and always give your pup something fun to do in the crate like a Kong or Bully Stick. )

Water bowl for crate

Pen and/or Baby Gates


Big plush dog bed (that looks nothing like a pee pad). Find some stylish options here.

Pee Pads & Pad Tray (if you are pad training)

Freshpatch grass pad for elimination (optional – this is a great alternative to pee pads)

Nature’s Miracle Enzymatic Cleaner & Paper Towels

Tether (optional). If you know you’ll want your pup to hang out near you in specific locations (next to the couch on a bed, for instance) a tether that you can place semi-permanently or permanently is very convenient. This way you don’t have to constantly hook and unhook the leash from your furniture. Tethers can be mounted on the wall, under closed doors, and around heavy furniture.

Travel Bag. If you’ll be flying with your pup in cabin, make sure to get a carrier that is airline approved. If flying isn’t of concern to you, there are many carriers in a large variety of shapes and sizes. You’ll be using this bag a lot in the city – for socialization, to take your pup on the subway, into cabs, and onto Metro North or the Long Island Railroad.

Collar and 4-6 foot leash

Identification Tags With Pups Name, Your Number, and “Reward” or “Needs RX” engraved

Harness (optional)

Husbandry Items: Nail clippers, Brush (this curry brush is a nice starter brush, but make sure to get tools appropriate for your dog’s coat), baby wipes (don’t waste money on expensive “pet wipes”), ear flush, toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner

A way to keep track of your pups daily schedule. I recommend clients dedicate one notebook for schedule/house training tracking, or download an app to keep track of your pups progress. Poopee Puppy and Pupdate are two currently available for download.

A clicker! If you’re my client, I will give you a few.

Puppy appropriate food – whatever your pup has been eating AND what you’ve decided you’d like your pup to eat. Make a gradual transition onto your preferred food.

A variety of treats: zukes minis, wellness pure bites, dehydrated (made in america) jerky style treats, cheese, deli meat, peanut butter, cream cheese (starters for stuffing Kongs)

Chews & Toys: etta says! chews, bully sticks, grab bag of assorted chews, teething keysPlush toy, Rope toy, Squeaker toy, Ball (but no tennis balls which wear away at tooth enamel), Tug toy. It’s essential to give your pup lots of options for appropriate exploration, teething, and chewing so they develop a chew preference for appropriate items, IE: not your couch).

Work To Eat & Puzzle Toys: Kongs (4 – minimum), Busy Buddy Twist & Treat, Interactive Feeder, Omega Paw Treat Ball. Notice that I didn’t put a bowl on this list? That was intentional! Use these instead. Want more puzzle toys? Look here.

To help your new pup feel safe:

DAP Diffuser, plugged in near crate/pen area

Petzu Heartbeat Pillow with Heat Option

A camera with a live feed such as petcube or dropcam – make sure your pup is comfortable and happy while you’re gone. Verify your dog walker (or dog trainer) arrives on time and follows your instructions. De-stress during a break at work to watch your pup snuggled soundly.

Pet Health Insurance is not great for routine exams, but does wonders when your pup is sick or there is an emergency. I will always say yes to medical care regardless of cost (as long as my dog has a good quality of life) so for me this is a must and has been worth the monthly expense. Having a sick pet is difficult enough – I never want to deny my dog good care because of finances.

A veterinarian. We have some great vets here in NYC! I recommend Dr. Tu at Park East Animal Hospital, Dr. Roswell at Animal Medical Center, and Dr. Lavine of Vetcierge who provides full service veterinary care in home. Schedule a vet visit within the first few days of bringing your pup home.

The dog decoder app and/or The Language of Dogs DVD… IE: your canine translator so you can quickly learn to understand how your dog is feeling and what your dog is saying.

A pet sitter, dog walker, or dog trainer for mid-day visits to assist with house training while you’re at work. Some dog trainers (like me) will also help socialize your puppy and teach manners while you’re at work.

A dog trainer! Many of my clients call me before their puppies arrive. We set up the pups area, define goals and house rules, write a customized schedule for house training and proactive positive socialization, and go over do’s and don’ts to make the first few days and weeks after pups arrival are as easy as possible. There is so much to teach your little one, and guided instruction will save you from pulling your hair out over puppy antics.

Some of my favorite places to shop: – no tax, free shipping. chewy has almost everything and you can set up autoship so your pet supplies arrive when you’re running low – because odor free bully sticks are ideal – from barkbox, many of my pups favorite toys can be found here – everything dog, stylish. for the discerning pet parent


5 Things Expecting Dog Moms Must Do Before Baby

1. Remember that you have a dog

You’re pregnant. Congratulations! You are about to become a mom – again! (Your fur baby totally counts – he/she is the older and wiser sibling, right?) Amongst the excitement, nerves, fear, doctors appointments, baby brain, and other stressors like moving, shopping, and preparing to take time off of work it’s easy to forget that this is a big change for Fido too. I often get calls from expecting mothers 2 weeks out from their due date who are suddenly realizing they have to prepare the dog! Their pup might not have polished manners, and they don’t know what to do with the baby toys that look like dog toys! New moms might not know where to begin with dog/baby introductions. Here’s a Tip: Hold your baby so your pup’s snout can just reach your baby’s foot. Keep your baby upright in your arms so their face is away from your dog’s face. Let pup sniff your baby’s foot. That’s it! Safe, simple, no stress.

Even worse are the calls my colleagues and I get after the baby is home and the dog has already rough housed with, growled, snapped at, or bit the baby. So often, these incidents are preventable. I love helping expectant moms (and Dads, and Grandparents, and Aunts and Uncles) prepare so these incidents never happen in the first place.

2. Set Realistic, Healthy Expectations

Every new parent has a picture in their mind of what parenthood will be like. We imagine who our children will grow up to be, what activities we’ll do together, and in what ways our family members will support our child. Maybe you imagine your dog cuddling with your newborn, instant best friends. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and your pup! Realistically – you are bringing a new and very strange thing into your household and disrupting your dog’s routine and living space. Babies look nothing like humans, and they grow and change rapidly. Just as your pup gets used to that blob that sleeps, eats, and cries that blob will be sitting up and interacting with the world. Shortly after that, the blob will be crawling and exploring with their hands – grabbing everything in sight. Yikes! It’s a lot for your pup to handle – especially in a NYC apartment. As New Yorkers, we have to get very creative with our space so that we can provide our pups with a space of their own to chill out and decompress from the chaos. When I am working with expectant families, we throw out the ideas of propping our newborn against the dog for photos and focus instead on helping our dog build a relationship with our newborn over time. We do this by setting up safe zones, allowing the pup space to relax safely away from the baby, and being an active part of all dog/baby interactions so that we can build positive associations and prevent the stress that leads to bites.

Many pup parents are sure that they will continue to give their pup the same level of love, attention, exercise, and mental stimulation post-baby that they did pre-baby. This is a wonderful goal, but remember – you will be exhausted & preoccupied with your new bundle of joy. This is normal, and you should bask in the glow. Even the most dedicated pet parents need support. Lose the guilt and hire a dog trainer to come in and give your pup some mental stimulation during the day, a dog walker for regular exercise, and employ neighbors and friends to come over and entertain the dog while you bond with your baby. Plan for this now.

3. Learn about dog body language & signs of stress

“But my friend just posted a photo of her dog and baby together and the dog was giving the baby kisses!” Yes, I know. The dog was licking the baby. But what may look like “kisses” to us is often a communication tool called “Kiss to Dismiss”, coined by  FamilyPaws founder Jen Shyrock. Dogs do lots of things to tell us that they’re uncomfortable – the problem is that “dog body language 101” wasn’t an elective in school so we often miss when our dogs are saying “please stop” or “please leave me alone”. My pup is a kisser too, and I am one of those dog obsessed people that can’t get enough. He has at least 4 distinct kisses – an excited kiss, a loving kiss, a kiss that is on cue, and a kiss that says “please stop cuddling me now – let me go”. That last kiss is his own kiss to dismiss!

Most people recognize that a dog who is showing teeth, growling, barking, or biting is unhappy. But dog body language can be subtle – a body that’s a bit stiffer, an eye movement, a head turned away, and/or a furrowed brow can mean that your pup is uncomfortable and stressed out. When expectant parents learn to recognize these cues in their dog they feel empowered in their ability to help their dog feel safe and help their baby stay safe.


Dog behind gate watching Baby Crawl

Dog safely behind gate watching Baby Crawl, Michelle Black


4. Set up “success stations” in your house – places where your dog will be relaxed without access to the baby

Success Stations (I sometimes call them Safe zones) are designated areas where your dog is happy, relaxed, and where he/she is separated from the baby. Crates, baby gates, and tethers are your friend! If you are not actively engaged with both your dog and baby, they shouldn’t have access to each other.

I recommend starting with the following setup (at minimum):

  • A baby gate for the doorway of the nursery, so your pup can see you but not participate (unless you are ready to actively supervise)
  • A comfy crate that your pup is taught to love, where he always has something to do (stuffed Kong or Busy Buddy Twist & Treat or a Bully Stick are just two ideas)
  • A comfy dog bed your pup is taught to settle on that can be easily moved from room to room, and a few tethers in predetermined locations

If your dog isn’t crate trained, whines or barks when separated from you behind a barrier, or has never learned to settle on a mat… now is the time to teach those skills.

5. Brush up on basic manners & resolve behavior issues

So many of our own parents tell us to expect the unexpected because parenthood isn’t something we can prepare for. While I know there is wisdom in those words, I also believe there is a great deal we can do to help ourselves succeed. Luckily, you probably already have an idea of what behaviors your pup might need to brush up on. Well… now’s the time! Does your pup know these skills? What about if you’re carrying a sack of potatoes? Walk around your house carrying a sack of potatoes to see if your pup responds to the following cues:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Back Up
  • Come
  • Go To Mat
  • Go To Crate
  • Relax on Mat
  • Loose Leash Walking
  • How about Loose Leash Walking next to a stroller?
  • Leave It?
  • Drop It?

What about behavior issues? Does your dog bark at the doorbell or lunge at other dogs when out for a walk? Let’s tackle these problems together before the baby arrives.


If you’re reading this, you’re like me – you like to plan ahead. Here are some additional resources for expecting families: