A Chance Encounter

As we round the bend on the path, we come across a small, shaggy brown dog bounding toward us off his leash. Nugget braces himself with excitement, and suddenly I find myself struggling to hold him in place as he fights to free himself from the leash. “Sammy, come!”, the brown dog’s owner orders. Amazed, I watch as the dog immediately stops in his tracks and turns away from the temptation of playing with Nugget. As Sammy trots back toward his owner, Nugget settles into the grass by my side. Nugget and I both momentarily take a break from our walk to watch Sammy interact with his owner. I have never seen a dog so in tune with his owner, and I begin to feel frustrated with my training progress with Nugget as I watch the two play with each other. The owner throws the ball in the grass, and Sammy gleefully runs off leash to grab it and return to his owner’s side immediately. No matter how many dogs pass by and bark at Sammy, he consistently looks to his owner for his next cue. “This is the kind of relationship I want to have with my dog”, I thought. As the two pass by us, Nugget quietly watches his new friend fade off into the distance while I start brainstorming how to train my dog to be like Sammy. 

We continue our walk and are approached by a small, black dog. I decide to put Nugget in a down stay until they pass for him to practice being polite. Nugget and I watch as the little black dog begins to pull, jump, and bark at the sight of my puggle lying in the grass. The owner hurriedly pulls her dog past us and scolds him for his misbehavior. Nugget and I lock eyes, and in that moment I realize I should never compare our training journey with anyone else’s. I need to focus on how far we have come as a team and appreciate how much my dog loves me no matter what. We still have a lot of training to complete, but I am so proud of the dog Nugget has become so far. As I put Nugget back in the car to head home, he gives me a big lick on the face. “I love you too, Nugget”, I say. We could really learn a thing or two about unconditional love and acceptance from our pets. 

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The Ins And Outs of Therapy Dog Testing


Our dream is becoming reality! Nugget and I are signed up for therapy dog testing and basic training in July. I am very excited about this process, but I realize that this is only the beginning of a very long journey. Nugget has come very far in his training, but from now on I will have to eat, sleep, and breathe training to get him prepared for our testing. (We will have fun times too) 🐶😬

In addition to Nugget’s two training classes per week, I am working diligently on training him at home. I have integrated a “Nothing in life is free” approach in our house. This is a good way for us to constantly incorporate training into daily life. Basically, anything Nugget wants he has to earn. If he wants to go out the front door, he has to wait patiently until I signal to him that it’s okay for him to cross the threshold. When I return home from work, I wait until he calms down and sits before I pet him. This one is so hard because he is so happy to see me! But I do give him lots of loving once he calms himself. Additionally, we are working very hard on our loose leash walking. He generally does well loose leash walking with his harness. However, I am also working on training him just using a collar. It takes a lot of patience. Every time he runs forward and starts pulling, I have to stop in place until he turns around and comes back to a heel position. Currently, I am bribing him with some good treats when needed. Fortunately, Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog testing now allows the use of most harnesses.

Loose leash walking!

The therapy dog testing requires Nugget to perform tasks that are very similar to the Canine Good Citizen test. To be able to start visiting approved facilities, Nugget will have to at least pass the basic level of testing. This means he passes all of the requirements, but he may need some assistance. He can be given a command up to three times. To be able to visit facilities with children, Nugget will have to pass the Advanced level of testing. This requires him to carry out every behavior on the first command.

For the first part of the therapy dog assessment, Nugget will have to do the following:

1) Accept a friendly stranger

2) Accept a stranger staring at him without showing anxiety or aggression

3) Sit at my side for a stranger to pet him

3) Have his ears, eyes, breath, and feet checked and be brushed

4) Walk on a loose leash (straight, right turn, left turn, about face, and stop)

5) Sit, down, and stay as I walk 20 feet away and back

6) Come when called from 10 feet away

7) Approach another pet team without Nugget engaging with them. He must sit by my side, and I am allowed to command him to sit before I greet the other team.

8) Leave a treat on the ground that I drop in front of him

9) Gently accept a treat from a stranger

The second part of the therapy dog assessment will test Nugget’s reaction to people in a crowd. He will have to do the following:

1) Accept someone staggering toward him. I am allowed to reassure and pet him during this.

2) Accept a loud, angry person. I am allowed to reassure and pet him during this.

3) Accept someone touching him from behind. I am allowed to reassure and pet him during this.

4) React to loud metal noise without showing fear or stress (He can be startled)

5) I have to act as an advocate for my pet and work to encourage him throughout this part of the testing.

6) Nugget is allowed to be startled during any part of this, but he has to be able to recover.

Lastly, Nugget and I will have to perform a 3 minute practice visit. I will have to be friendly and knowledgeable about the organization. Nugget will have to accept petting from multiple people and awkward handling. Nugget should be comfortable and interested in the client. Additionally, I always need to be an advocate for Nugget including foreseeing potential problem areas (another dog in the room, a vacuum cleaner, etc.). I can help him through the difficulty or remove him from the room if needed.

We definitely have our work cut out for us, but I feel very passionately about helping Nugget succeed. We have three months to work toward our goal! Wish us luck 🙂

Dog Friendly Baltimore: Exploring the Suburbs 


Another spot I like to visit with Nugget is Bel Air which is about 45 minutes northeast of Baltimore. It’s easy to spend a whole day on Main Street with your pup!
You can start your morning with breakfast at Sunny Day Cafe, where you can sit outside with your dog. Many mornings I drive by and see a handful of dogs sitting outside as people enjoy a beautiful morning eating delicious food. They also provide your doggy with a water bowl to keep them hydrated! Enjoy a yummy crepe, omelette, or breakfast sandwich with a cup of hot coffee.

 


After breakfast, head about a mile down Main Street to the Ma and Pa Trail. This is a wide paved walking trail, and they are currently working to expand the trail to 8 miles in length. There is even a dog park right off the trail that is open to the public. It is located about 2 miles from the trail head off Main Street in Heavenly Waters Park and has separate areas for large and small dogs. If you choose to venture further on the trail, there is a pet memorial where people go to remember their beloved pets.

After a trail hike, head on back toward Main Street and check out Independent Brewing Company. There are a ton of various craft beers to check out, and dogs are allowed both inside the building and on the patio. They provide water bowls and even sell beer-shaped dog treats! If you worked up an appetite from your hike, there are various food trucks on site which serve absolutely delicious food! Just check the calendar on the website http://www.independentbrew.com before you go.


Lastly, I walk back up Main Street and take Nugget to the pet boutique To Wag For. We browse the items in the store, and then I buy Nugget a tasty treat such as The Bear and the Rat dog ice cream. He loves it!

 


It’s always fun to get out of our normal routine and check out a new town. There are so many dog-friendly places to visit. You just have to explore!

From Reactive to Relaxed: Taming My Dog’s Greeting Behavior

Nugget loves other dogs. He loves them so much that he wants to run up to every dog and give them a big sniff and play bow the second he sees them. The problem is he is tethered to me via his collar and leash, and this is frustrating for him. What happens when Nugget is frustrated? He barks and squeals and lunges and pulls.

Nugget found a puppy!

I have been working so hard to train Nugget the difference between appropriate play time with dogs and inappropriate behavior on the leash. If we are at day care or the dog park Nugget is free to run, jump, and tumble with other dogs. Walking on a leash through Petco, he is not. He is slowly starting to understand the connection, but it has not been easy. In the beginning, I dreaded taking Nugget anywhere. It was so embarrassing to have an out-of-control dog barking and pulling me down the street. People glared at me or quickly pulled their dogs in the other direction. “I’m sorry!”, I would yell at them from afar. “He is a puppy in training!”

Nugget stares at the dreaded leash

I would sneak out of my apartment during the wee hours of the morning to let Nugget use the bathroom before the swarm of dogs came out around 7:30 AM. If I saw a dog coming toward us in the distance, I would quickly change our route and run down another street or pathway. This worked in the short-term, but I realized if I didn’t really work on this problem, Nugget would never be able to stroll through the park with me in the middle of the day. He would never be able to lie by my feet while I had brunch outside at a restaurant with friends. He would never be able to go anywhere with me. I love Nugget, and I want to share as much of my life with him as I can.

Nugget is now able to sit at a restaurant with me!

The first thing I did was buy the book, Feisty Fido. It is a great place to start. After reading the book, I incorporated the training tips by sucking it up and taking Nugget to places where he would encounter dogs. We would go to a crowded park, and I would be armed with a bag full of chicken or cheese. I worked hard on his training. He is now able to walk by most dogs or sniff them and keep going. However, there are certain dogs that still trigger his excitability. I knew that this would be his biggest obstacle when it comes to Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog testing. I had to step up my training. When I found a class called “Reactive Rover” at the MDSPCA, I knew I had to sign him up. It consists of six 90 minute sessions working with a small class of reactive dogs. We had our first class this week, and Nugget did great. He did not react at all, and was able to get fairly close to the trainer dog. However, from my experience Nugget seems to only react to other excitable dogs. I am excited to see how our training goes as he interacts with other reactive dogs in our class. The trainer gave us very positive feedback and stated Nugget should be able to easily walk side by side with dogs at the end of training with no reaction. I sure hope so! We are now only six weeks away from our CGC test, and it is starting to become real!

If you have a reactive dog, I would definitely suggest reading some helpful books and investing in a trainer that specializes in reactivity. It is SO worth it!

Hitting the Baltimore Trails


In between my busy schedule and Nugget’s training sessions, I try to get out and do some hiking around the Baltimore area. One of my favorite nearby parks is Lake Roland. Dogs are very welcome here, and in fact, the place is swarming with dogs! The park is tucked right outside the Baltimore City limits and located off Falls Road. After driving down a long, wooded road you end up in a large parking lot overlooking a lake and dam. There are trails for all levels including a long paved pathway, a boardwalk, and a handful of trails through the woods. The paved pathway makes a circle throughout the park and passes by a playground, picnic pavilions, and Paw Point Dog Park. The boardwalk extends about a half mile and leads to the light rail. The wooded trails range from easy walking trails to difficult terrain. While none of the trails are over 2 miles in length, they certainly provide a good day of hiking. One cool feature is art on the trails! Various local artists create pieces in nature.  And of course, there is a lake where you can canoe, kayak, paddle board, and fish. So many activities available!

Nugget checking out the boardwalk


Art on the trail

Paw Point Dog Park is a members only dog park, but it’s fairly easy to become a member. I find it to be well worth the money. It is a large, fenced-in play area with a roped off lake area for the dogs to swim. Nugget absolutely loves it!

 


For hiking and running with Nugget, I’ve starting using a hands-free leash by Ruffwear. It makes active life a lot smoother when your hands are free, and your body can move more easily. It clips around my waist and even has a place I can hook my keys and doggy bags on. It really did not take Nugget long to adjust to running with the new leash. I was afraid he would be out of my control without having my hands to reign him in, but he seemed to naturally stay by my side.

Nugget’s first trial of the new leash!

An easy to use water bottle for Nugget has also been essential. I bought this water bottle with a built-in bowl so I can easily stop and pour water when needed.

Lastly, I use this small Egogo backpack that is super lightweight and has a lot of pockets to throw in a water bottle/snack for myself, dog treats, and whatever else I may need while out and about.


Sometimes I bring along my hammock so I can set up a comfortable seat if Nugget and I find a good spot to relax. This hammock is incredibly easy to set up and use. It’s lightweight and compact which makes for easy traveling.


Nugget and I plan on visiting a lot more parks and hiking trails as the weather keeps getting warmer! I will review our hikes as we explore! 🏞🐕

Every Dog Has Its Day

Nugget and I work diligently to perfect his doggy manners, so we both really enjoy when his training incorporates something a little more fun.  Gradually we have been learning some really cute tricks to use to wow our audience! We were still working through our puppy level classes when my trainer encouraged us to participate in the Petco Unleashed Champion at Heart Dog Show.  She explained that each Petco store was hosting its own obedience competition, and she thought Nugget would do really well.  It was a fairly simple competition in which the dog had to trot around the ring with its handler, sit and stay, and perform its best tricks!  We decided to enter the contest and work on some new adorable tricks in the meantime.

So motivated by treats!


Paw is a very simple trick, and it was the first trick Nugget and I learned from his trainer. We later transitioned from “paw” to “high five”.  We started by putting Nugget in a sit position and then softly picking up one of his paws while pairing it with the command “Paw”. We then treated him generously. After practicing awhile, we were able to hold out our hand and use the command “Paw”, and he readily provided his paw in exchange for treats. From there we started practicing with the opposite paw so he became used to using both paws. To transition to high five, we just switched our hand position from an open palm to an upright hand paired with the command “high five”. Pretty easy first trick to learn!

Other tricks we have been working on with the trainer include “Crawl”, “Walk”, and “Roll Over”.  He learned crawl and walk very quickly, but has still been resistant with learning roll over.

I decided to start working with Nugget on some tricks at home as well.  It was around Valentine’s Day, so I decided to teach Nugget to give me a kiss on the cheek! Thanks sweetheart.


Lastly, I taught him how to dance and jump through a hoop!


We were ready for our competition.  I was super nervous for it even though it was a small local competition.  We only had a couple of other dogs to compete against, and we were up first! After trotting the ring, sitting, and staying, it was time for our tricks! Nugget gave me a cute kiss on my cheek and a high five! The competition was tough, but it was time for the announcement of the winner. Victory was ours! We got a first place ribbon, a free bag of Purina dog food, and a purple bandana. It was such a great bonding experience for the two of us and a good test to see how we did under pressure.

Nugget and his first place ribbon


Mom is so proud