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:

Warning: Predatory Drift Happens at Dog Parks. Do you know what it is?

Play, Aggression, And Predation

Many dog owners are nervous when their dogs are playing. It can be difficult to determine what is and isn’t play without a trained eye. Play behaviors imitate hunting behaviors: stare, stalk, chase, grab, shake, kill, and dissect. We have selected and bred these traits to work for us (point, track, herd, retrieve) and see modified versions of these behaviors in both dog/dog and dog/human play (fetch, tug, tear up your toy, wrestle, chase). A certain level of predation is not only normal, it’s expected… we bred for it. There is a lot of overlap in the topography of play behaviors, aggressive behaviors, and predatory behaviors.


Two dogs playing at a dog park.

Dogs Playing by Eric Sonstroem


Predation is often confused with aggression. Aggressive behavior is often an escalation of communication meant to resolve conflict, provide defense, or protect resources. You may see some aggressive behavior if playmates have poor social skills and do not take pauses to check in with one another, switch rolls frequently (dog on top becomes dog on bottom, chaser becomes the chased), or listen to their play partner when the partner says “hey, that was too much”. Aggressive responses usually require only as much energy as is absolutely essential to get the job done. While aggressive behavior in play is NOT okay, it is a predictable response when too many dogs are playing together or dogs are behaving rudely towards other dogs. Predatory behavior in play is also NOT okay, and it’s (thankfully) a very rare occurrence.

Unlike aggression, which serves to resolve conflict, predatory behavior (stare, stalk, chase, grab, shake, kill, dissect) serves to provide food for an animal. While play behavior, predatory behavior, and aggressive behavior may look similar, it’s important to keep in mind that these behaviors serve different functions. Context and purpose are critical to understanding and potentially modifying or preventing the behavior. The purpose of aggressive behavior is not related to the acquisition of food. Predations very specific purpose of food acquisition more often ends with injury or death. Food has to be caught and killed.

Predatory Drift

“Predatory Drift” is a term that was coined either by Ian Dunbar (who mentioned the phenomenon in passing during a lecture)  or Jean Donaldson (who first published the term) to describe a dangerous occurrence when seemingly without warning a large dog who is playing with a small dog will switch from appropriate play behavior to predatory behavior. This may result in severe injury or death to the victim dog and is the reason safer dog parks and daycares have separate areas for small and large dogs. The term was likely influenced by the term Instinctive Drift which has since been debunked.*

While “predatory drift” is not a scientific term and is not well studied**, it is a term used among many behavior professionals to describe this terrifying phenomenon when play quickly turns deadly. In the classic “predatory drift” scenario, the attacker is a large dog and the victim a small dog. While there is often no perceivable trigger***, in a classic case of “predatory drift” the small dog will trigger predatory behavior in the large dog by doing things that prey often does: squealing, giving submissive body language signals or by running away from the other dog. To further complicate matters, the little dog may even resemble a small critter to an under socialized dog. After all, a Great Dane and a Chihuahua are the same species but they don’t look much alike!


A big dog and little dog at the dog park.

“Big and Little Dog” by Ellen Levy Finch


It’s clear that the motivation for play, aggression, and predation is drastically different, as are the consequences. The confusion lies here: The motor patterns (the topography of the behavior) are so similar that it can be hard to tell the difference at first glance. The differences are especially subtle to an untrained eye. I often hear clients say “everything was fine and then OUT OF THE BLUE the dog attacked or OUT OF THE BLUE my big dog picked up the little dog and was shaking it.” But here’s the rub: Behavior always happens for a reason, and while some behavior professionals feel that classic predatory drift is a weird “tick” that we don’t yet have the tools or knowledge to explain or a phenomenon where the brain switches from the play neurological circuits over to the predatory neurological circuits in an instant (which we do not have proof of), others feel that this is not a mysterious phenomenon, but a predictable one. Play preceding the attack, if viewed by a trained eye, may not be as appropriate as an owner thought. Canine communication can be both subtle and quick, and even professionals may need to play a video in slow motion to truly analyze what went on in any one interaction. To complicate matters, a lack of socialization or insufficient socialization means many dogs don’t understand that certain vocalizations or body language postures mean “that’s enough!” “let’s take a break” “please stop that” or “I don’t want to play”. Instead of taking an appropriate breather, their play partner takes play to the next level. They remain aroused, continue to overwhelm the other dog, and may even do harm. To add stress to an already scary occurrence, anecdotal evidence shows that once a dog has exhibited this behavior it tends to escalate. If your large dog picked up and shook a small dog at the park but didn’t do any harm, chances are next time that little dog will have puncture marks or end up dead. There is an operant explanation for this: the behavior is fun. Dopamine is released during each phase of the predatory sequence****. It’s addicting.

It is my understanding that most ethologists, neurobiologists, and applied behavior analysts agree that Predatory Drift is not an unexplained, mysterious phenomenon. I believe it is a predictable behavior elicited by a combination of poor canine social skills, high arousal, and a trigger that is predictable but hard for humans to perceive. The dangerous behavior that follows is heavily reinforced (fun! dopamine!) and likely to reoccur. Whether I am right and there is predictable stimuli and variables that elicit an attack or there is a “switch” we haven’t yet found that clicks the brain over from “play” to “predation” doesn’t matter much. There is only one solution:

Prevention. Prevention. Prevention.

If you are the owner of a large dog who, mid play, has attacked a small dog “out of the blue” your dog can no longer enter mixed sized dog parks or day cares. No large dog/small dog interactions are allowed. Your pup needs to play exclusively with buddies of his or her own size.

However, when looking at the “whys” and the “how can I prevent this?” there are a few additional things to consider.

Medication Induced

If your dog just started a new medication, a paradoxical effect to the medication or disinhibition due to the medication may cause an unwanted change in behavior. Let your veterinarian know immediately.

Health Issue

Any sudden change in behavior warrants a trip to the vet for diagnostic testing. Dogs who are feeling unwell or are in pain can display aggression “out of the blue” with no perceivable triggering stimuli. Schedule a check up ASAP.

Lack of Play Skills and Adequate Socialization

Your dog may not play appropriately, even with dogs of a similar size. Learn more about dog body language and play. Is your dog playing appropriately with dogs of all sizes? Perhaps your pup is not comfortable or happy around other dogs. Perhaps your dog is pushy and doesn’t read other dog’s body language signals accurately. If your pup is stressed in canine social situations, you may have a dog that shouldn’t go to the park or to daycare. Many dogs are much happier playing with their people, and don’t need to interact with dogs to have a happy life. In fact, these canines are much happier not interacting with other canines! Maybe you have a humans-only canine! If you need help, there are many professionals who are happy to review video footage of your pup playing, or meet you at the park to assess your pup playing (with pups of similar sizes). Keep in Mind: A good behavior professional will NEVER put your dog in a dangerous situation (or ask you to) hoping that your dog will repeat an aggressive or predatory response. Professionals will only ever set you up for success with safety always in mind.

Training and Behavior Modification

Training: Perhaps there is a clear trigger (antecedent) to this behavior for your dog. Maybe you know what it is – maybe you don’t. It doesn’t matter. You can’t train your dog out of this. Don’t allow your large dog to play with small dogs. It only takes one slip up… stand your ground. Advocate for the safety of your dog and for others dogs. Don’t let someone else convince you that your large dog will play with their small dog just fine because “my small dog prefers playing with big dogs”. Nope. Never. Make sure that everyone who is responsible for your dogs care is clear about this as well. Repeat yourself ad nauseam. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and this is compounded by the truth that there is no cure for these dogs. The risk of training is not worth it. Imagine if your dog injures or kills another dog during training. There is no room for error. PREVENTION. PREVENTION. PREVENTION.


*We now know that poor training choices – like choosing a “reinforcer” that the animal does not find reinforcing – explain why this would happen. Instinctive Drift is not a real phenomenon. However, Breland and Bailey’s paper The Misbehavior of Organisms is still a great read.

**I’m not sure how this would be safely studied. It’s a rare event and is caught on camera even less frequently. After the fact descriptions are often incomplete, as this happens very quickly and often in the presence of owners who may not have a full understanding of canine body language.

***If further study were possible, this information may change. The term predatory drift specifically refers to this phenomenon when there is no circumstance or stimuli that triggers one dog to move instantaneously from play to predatory behavior. Predatory drift does NOT refer to cases where there is a predictable, stimuli inducing aggressive response.

****Ken McCort Seminar on Arousal, 2016


Thanks to Ken McCort, Ruth Crisler, Greta Kaplan, Brian Burton, and Sarah Fraser for sharing their thoughts with me on the topic of Predatory Drift! I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments.

What Everybody Needs To Know About Socialization


…and you have spent your entire life indoors with few visitors. You’ve never stepped foot outside of your apartment. Suddenly, on your 7th Birthday you are allowed to walk out the door and experience Manhattan. Take a moment to comprehend the magnitude of that experience and you will immediately understand why socializing your pup to New York City before 16 weeks is so important.

Puppies learn more in the first few months of life than at any other time. A puppy’s sensitive period for socialization starts at 3 weeks and lasts through 12 weeks of age. From weeks 3-12 everything a pup experiences permanently shapes the way they feel about the world and what’s in it. During this time, pups are open to bonding with people and other animals. Their brain circuitry is developing, and they are *literally* making neural connections that will determine how they deal with stress, novel objects, and novel environments.

How they experience the world during this time has an enormous influence on whether they will move through the world confident and prepared to explore or nervous and ready to hide, defend, or aggress.

If you’re interested in the neurobiology behind brain development and how socialization and an enriched environment affect the development of your puppy’s personality, check out this article.


Developmental Stages of Puppyhood: Before You Bring Pup Home

The exact timeline can vary slightly between litters and individuals, but here’s what you need to know about the critical developmental stages your pup goes through between birth and 16 weeks of age:

Neonatal Period: 0-12 days

Puppies are born blind, deaf, and unable to regulate their body temperature or eliminate on their own. Survival is reliant on mom’s care & huddling with siblings for warmth. Their first experiences of the world are through smell and touch. Mom does everything for them, including stimulating their genitals so they will eliminate. Her nurturing presence lays the groundwork for healthy emotional development.

Transitional Period: 13-28 days

Pups open their eyes and begin to hear! They start to stand, walk, and play. There is so much to see, hear, experience, and talk about. They expand their vocabulary from grunts to barks.

During The First Sensitive Socialization Period, between 3-6 weeks, your pup is learning what it means to be a dog among dogs.

Weeks 4-7 are spent growing teeth, transitioning from milk to solid food, and exploring. Pups continue to be exposed to new things, play, and learn how to understand and communicate with their body language. Time with mom and pups is critical as important social skills, such as bite inhibition, can only be learned from other canines. A pup should never be removed from mom & siblings before 7 weeks of age.

Puppy should be in a high traffic area in the home and have the opportunity to explore a variety of environments at this stage in their development. They should spend the majority of their time hanging in a high traffic area where lots of humans are present, meeting new dog friendly people and exploring different surfaces, objects, smells, and sounds.

If you’re currently considering purchasing a puppy from a breeder, ask your breeder about their socialization practices. Here are a few short videos of breeders doing socialization very well… and the pups are adorable!


The Second Sensitive Socialization Period: Welcome to NYC!

Your pup will come home with you between weeks 7-8! If you can, let your pup stay with mom for week 7 and make the end of week 7 or the beginning of week 8 the time they transition to life with you.

Weeks 8-10 or 9-11 (depending on the litter and the individual – your breeder can guide you) are critical. Positive experiences in many safe environments and around a large variety of people and other pups is a *MUST* for pups during these two weeks. Preventing scary things from happening is especially important during this time. The experiences your pup has during this short window leave an indelible mark on their brain circuitry that is difficult to change. Flying a pup solo to his or her forever family is discouraged during this time. If you are acquiring a pup from a shelter, choose the least stressful option for transport and bring your pup home sooner rather than later. If your pup is in a stable foster home with a foster family that is actively socializing, bringing your pup home sooner may still better but preventing trauma is of the utmost importance. Make an carefully weighed, informed decision.

Make sure to have a veterinary appointment scheduled for their first week home and schedule a private training session in advance of pups arrival. Your pup will need to have completed one round of vaccinations and have been cleared by a vet before attending class or trainer supervised play groups. At this time it is critical that your pup interact with other healthy puppies to continue the lessons mom & siblings started.

“It is now the standard of care for puppies to go outside and socialize before they are fully vaccinated.  Inadequate socialization and lack of exposure to the New York City streets as a young puppy is the greatest cause of behavior problems later in life.To minimize risk, pups who are not fully vaccinated should avoid high traffic areas where other dogs with unknown vaccine status congregate, such as pet stores and dog parks. Lauren can help guide you through this process so that your pup receives the ultimate cognitive and emotional benefits of socialization while staying medically safe. NYC also offers many safe organized classes and playgroups to socialize your puppy with other dogs starting as early as 8 weeks old.”

Jeffrey Lavine, DVM: VetCierge – Veterinary House Calls

Weeks 7-12 are an especially sensitive time in a pup’s life. At this point pups are curious about the human world and are very impressionable. It’s essential that pups of this age be introduced to many environments in a systematic, safe way. Just as vaccines are an important part of routine preventative medical care, socialization acts as a vaccine against many problem behaviors. The majority of the second sensitive socialization period happens in pups new forever home, so it’s up to YOU to continue the good work your breeder has put in or to make up for lost time if you don’t know what’s happened in the first 2 months of your pups life. One word of thumb is that each pup needs to meet 100 dog friendly humans in the first 12 weeks of life! Yikes – that’s a lot!

As a resident of Manhattan, your puppy will need additional socialization. Pups need to explore at their own pace and have lots of positive experiences with new things, and there is a long list of stimuli that your pup needs to be safely exposed to to in a very short amount of time. They are learning that sirens aren’t scary, toddlers are erratic and that’s ok, how to deal with rolling carts coming towards them, and what different people and breeds look like.

Now that you know what socialization is, future posts will focus on the “how to” of socializing our pups so that they are emotionally and physically safe. Don’t worry, I can help!  I’ll be writing more on the how to’s of socializing your pup in NYC soon. I am always here to answer questions or help you hands on.