Tag Archives: walk and train

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.

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!