Behavior

Breed Stereotypes – Valid or Not?

Miriam-Webster defines the word stereotype as, “something conforming to a fixed or general pattern – especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.”

I recently had a conversation with someone about a certain breed and the “stereotypes” associated with that breed.  While stereotypes are generally seen as negative, I do think we have quite a few stereotypes in our world that are neither positive nor negative, and do clearly come out of a place of at least partial truth.  (An example might be that “all Southerners love sweet tea.”  While we clearly know that not ALL Southerners love sweet tea, we can see by the drink’s geographic distribution that it is most definitely a beloved item in the Southern US more than in other regions.)

While dog breeds can and do suffer from negative/false stereotypes, I found in my conversation with this young person that in his/her mind, “stereotype” and “characteristic” had become synonymous – and therefore were not of much importance because he/she deemed all stereotypes to be false.  Allow me to give a few examples of how these two items become muddied in the dog world:

  1. Pitbulls
    • Stereotype – All Pitbulls are dangerous and aggressive.
    • Characteristic – Pitbulls, as part of the Terrier family, are naturally tenacious and, as the AKC website jokes (about the American Staffordshire Terrier), “eager for a spirited argument.”
  2. Labrador Retriever
    • Stereotype – All Labs are hyperactive and goofy.
    • Characteristic – Labradors are bred to be working dogs and are generally very energetic and friendly.
  3. Border Collie
    • Stereotype – All Border Collies are bad at chasing cars, people, and bicycles.
    • Characteristic – Border Collies are bred to herd livestock and have a natural desire to control movement.

Here’s why I feel we can’t dismiss a breed’s “characteristics” just because it closely resembles the breed’s “stereotype:” WE BRED THEM TO BE THIS WAY.

While a person may be inappropriately stereotyped based on nationality, dog breeds have been specifically and carefully crafted over (in some cases) hundreds of years!  A need for certain characteristics to become common or even close to “guaranteed” in a litter is exactly why different breeds emerged in the first place.  Humans needed/wanted dogs to perform certain tasks, so they bred the dogs who showed the most promise until they had refined the kind of dog they were looking for to do the job.

You’re lost in the woods.  You can choose a Bloodhound or a Great Pyrenees to come find you.  Who do you choose?

You’re a senior adult with mobility issues.  You can choose a Beagle or Pug to be your companion.  Who do you choose?

You’re blind and you need a guide.  You can choose a Golden Retriever or an Akita.  Who do you choose?

If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with these breeds, I hope you chose the Bloodhound, Pug, and Golden Retriever. 🙂  And while it is possible to get a Bloodhound with a bad nose/work ethic, a Pug who wants to run marathons, or an anti-social/unintelligent Golden Retriever, those aren’t the most likely scenarios.

So, when you’re choosing a BREED – not a specific dog – please keep in mind that whether you call them stereotypes or characteristics, certain breeds do generally possess certain behavioral qualities.  Now, if you’re adopting or buying an adult dog, you can sometimes easily see where he/she differs from the generalized characteristics of a given breed.  However, when you’re adopting/buying a puppy of a certain breed, I highly suggest you feel prepared to handle whatever those generalized characteristics may be!

What’s my point?

Choose wisely.

Don’t choose a high drive working breed and hope that it turns out to be a couch potato!  Don’t choose a low drive, stocky breed and then be surprised if it doesn’t want to run an agility course with you!

Yes, there are ALWAYS exceptions, but I feel those exceptions are normally minor.  Let’s use my dogs as an example using some buzzwords from their breeds’ AKC website listings:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATucker: Labrador Retriever
Friendly – Yep!
Active – Ha! Nope!
Outgoing – Yep!
High-Spirited – Nope!
Affectionate – Yep!

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1Ellie: German Shepherd Dog
Confident – Yep!
Courageous – Mostly!
Smart – Yep!
Loyal – Yep!  To a fault.
Steady – Nope!

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What you see here aren’t two dogs who are totally opposite of their breed standards, but who are individuals who carry most, but not all, of those breed standards.  Tucker is still very Labrador and Ellie is still very Shepherd even though neither one of them is a perfect textbook example.

So please, as you search for your next dog or counsel a friend about his/hers, don’t allow yourself to assume that yours will be the exception.  When we are choosing a dog, I feel it is our responsibility to do so with great care, research, and thought.  Yes, sometimes dogs (literally) just wander into our lives and we end up with a breed we never imagined – and that’s okay!  But when you’re calling the shots and making the decisions – please do so responsibly!

 

 

At Discovery Dog Training, we treat every dog as an individual and we don’t have a “no-go” list of breeds we won’t train.  We understand that genetics (physical health) and training play a huge role in every dog’s characteristics/personality, regardless of breed, and we feel honored to have been able to work with so many diverse breeds – and mixes thereof!

 

 

Categories: Adopting a dog, Behavior, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Purebred dogs | Leave a comment

Leash Laws – They Aren’t Just About YOU!

This one is going to step on some toes – sorry folks!

I often hear people explain their choice to have their dogs unleashed in public/leash-required areas by saying, “My dog is super friendly – he won’t hurt anyone!”  I’ve also heard, “He doesn’t go too far, and he almost always comes when I call.”

These individuals assume that the leash law is just for them – and that because their dog is friendly or usually comes when called that the law is irrelevant to them.  Friends, this simply isn’t the case.  Nearly every week, I hear my clients complain about off leash dogs who run up on their leashed dogs.  And here’s the thing – most of these client dogs ARE REACTIVE.  Dogs who are aggressive or fearful do not need your happy-go-lucky pup running up into their faces – no matter how much of a social butterfly your pup may be!

I have clients who have worked extremely hard to improve their dog’s behavior, but they are still nervous about going to our local Greenway because of the large number of off leash dogs who show no obvious training or manners.  That is simply unacceptable.

Listen folks, I get it.  Most of you don’t have large yards to let your dogs run and we only have one dog park (which I hear negative reviews on regularly) in the area.  Regardless, it doesn’t give you the right to ignore a law or rule that has been put in place not only to protect other dogs and people, but your dog as well!  If you need to practice obedience at a distance, or even play a small game of fetch, why not use a lightweight long line to make sure you remain in control?

Please, respect your fellow dog lovers and keep your dog leashed where required – especially when that area is a high traffic area.  Remember that some of the dogs you see at the Greenway have been attacked by off leash dogs – and they are still affected by that fear and anxiety!  

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Fall 2017 – I needed to work on off leash obedience with Beau, but since we were at the Greenway, I used a green parachute cord as my long line to make sure we were still being respectful of other patrons.  Choosing a material that blends in and isn’t heavy helps simulate an off leash environment.  

Categories: Aggressive Dogs, Behavior, dog health, Dog Parks, dog training, Fearful dogs, freedom, leash laws, training tips | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Freedom is Earned

In my domain, my dogs have always earned freedom.  What does that mean?

It means that before Tucker earned unsupervised free run of the whole house, he had to show good unsupervised behavior in my bedroom.

And before he earned unsupervised free run of my bedroom, he had to show good partially supervised behavior in my bedroom.

And before he earned partially supervised behavior in my bedroom, he stayed in his kennel when I wasn’t able to watch him – because that was the safest place for him (and my stuff).

It would surprise most people to know that Tucker was not left outside of his kennel if I wasn’t home until he was somewhere between 2-3 years old.  Why?  Because I knew his kennel was safe, and when he was an adolescent, I didn’t 100% trust him not to stick his head in a trashcan or steal some kleenex.

I have received numerous calls, emails, and text messages from folks who have provided their dog (usually a puppy) with too much freedom too fast.  Young dogs are like children – they get distracted, they “forget” rules, and they are easily tempted.  You shouldn’t feel guilty for limiting your dog’s unsupervised freedom – it can save you money and your dog injury!  I have heard of dogs destroying couches, digging through walls, and even ingesting foreign objects – all because they were trusted too soon.

But here’s the reality folks – as you begin providing freedom, you may have great success for a while and then your puppy does something very “puppy.”  So what then?  Just like a parent with an unruly teenager, it’s okay to take freedom AWAY again for a time until you feel it can be handled appropriately again.

Exhibit A:

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Ellie just turned a year old this past Saturday.  She’s a firecracker, so she has not been given much freedom yet.  It’s only been in the past few months that she’s even been trustworthy enough to leave in the living room while I walk down the driveway to get the mail.  Lately, she had been showing much improved maturity – so the hallway gate blocking off half the house was used less frequently and fewer doors were closed when she was out of her kennel.

This morning I took a phone call from a client.  I didn’t realize that Ellie was no longer in sight until the call ended – less than 10 minutes.  I found her ripping up Tucker’s bed in the back room.  So what now?!  We’ll take away some freedom – we’ll spend a while using the gate again and closing more doors – and when she has gone a while without an incident, we will slowly begin providing more freedom again.

Restrictions and boundaries aren’t mean folks – they’re a safety net for you AND your dog.  Don’t feel guilty – feel in control!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Behavior, Chewing, crate training, dog training, Ellie the Warrior Princess, freedom, kennel, owner encouragement, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Matter!

Yes, you!

You matter.  You are important.  And, dare I say it, you are more valuable than your pet.

I know this concept is taboo in today’s society, but I believe it to be true.  Our society has taught us to believe that our dog’s happiness far exceeds the value of our own.  I simply do not agree.  Yes, we should care for our animals and ensure that they have proper food, water, shelter, medical attention, and socialization (and training!).  That does not, however, mean that they get to rule the home and do whatever they please at your expense.

I have several clients who start to look anxious at the very mention of going to the park.  They’ve had so many horrible experiences because of their dogs’ behavior that they experience a stress trigger just thinking about it.  Even the ones who aren’t experiencing that level of stress usually say, longingly, “I just want to be able to go to the park again.”

While there are always exceptions to the rule, I have found that these dogs can typically make vast improvements with a little boundary setting and self-control.  In the image below, you will see my Labrador, Tucker, and a client’s dog, Archer, walking side by side at the Greenway.  We did a few lessons at my shop and then ventured to the park.  Archer’s owner had become very wary of taking him out as he had become very dog reactive and somewhat aggressive.  While at the park, Archer not only walked happily with his new buddy, Tucker, but was able to pass by other client dogs we ran into with much more composure.  It was the first time in a long time that his owner had felt in control enough to walk him around other dogs.

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Tucker and Archer walk side by side at the park.

Interestingly enough, while checking out kennels in my area this month, I saw Archer and his brother at a boarding facility.  Upon telling the kennel owner that I knew him and why, she said, “I just told his owner yesterday that he’d been so much better behaved this time.  Now I know why!”  Boundary setting and teaching self-control can have an effect on so many areas of your dog’s life – and can reduce the anxiety that is often the root of the poor behavior.

So, don’t disregard your own happiness and quality of life.  If your dog is making you miserable – do something about it!  Don’t let our society tell you that setting boundaries and rules makes you a bad owner.  We always want to treat our dogs humanely and with respect, but that doesn’t mean letting them run the show at your expense.  Yes, your dog matters – but YOU matter, too!

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Our dogs are going to have bad days and they’re going to do ridiculous things at times, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t still be enriching your life.  If you’re stressing more than laughing, find a trainer and make a change.  [Picture – me laughing after one of puppy Tucker’s “oops” moments – 2012 – photo credit Beth Anne Ho.]

Categories: Aggressive Dogs, Behavior, dog training, owner encouragement, training tips | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accidental Training

Ordinarily, when you think about your dog learning a new behavior, you think about actual training – specific, planned instruction to elicit the response you want.

What few people realize is that your dog is constantly learning – not just when you’re actively teaching.  Dogs are masters of association.  Have you ever marveled at how your dog sometimes seems to know what you’re planning to do next before you do?  For example – I pick up the dog toys in our living room each time before I vacuum.  Well, as soon as I start putting toys away, Tucker goes to his bed to get out of the way and prepare for the entrance of the vacuum cleaner – and the vacuum isn’t even out of the closet yet.

This same principle is at work when we teach “auto” commands.  If you habitually ask your dog to sit as you approach a cross walk, odds are high that he will eventually start sitting at cross walks before you even ask.  He has learned that certain actions from you warrant a certain response from him.

Because dogs are creatures of habit, love associations, and pay attention to every little detail, it can be very easy for us to “accidentally” train behaviors.  Allow me to give you a funny example.

When Ellie was a small pup, I didn’t trust her to be out of my sight for more than three seconds.  She was notorious for getting into things and even more likely to have an accident in the house – housebreaking was not an easy task for her.  I spent a lot of time with her corralled in the living room so I could sit on the couch and work on my computer while still monitoring her playtime.  Well, when I needed go to the bathroom, I would pick her up and take her with me to the closest one, our guest bathroom.  As she got a little bigger, but still no less mischievous, I would entice her to come into the bathroom with me with a toy.  At the time, my only thought and concern was that if she was closed in the room with me, I would at least be able to see if she had an accident instead of missing it and stepping on a spot of soggy carpet later in the living room.

Fast forward several months.  Ellie is now more trustworthy and no longer has accidents in the house.  And yet, nearly every time I walk into our guest bathroom, regardless of where she is and what she’s doing, she follows me!  Without meaning to, I convinced Ellie that when I go into our guest bathroom, she is required to come with me.  Now, she is a shepherd, which means her desire to keep an eye on me is fairly high.  So, how do I know that the behavior is accidentally trained and not just a virtue of her breed?  She only does it with our guest bathroom – never the master bath.

As she gets older and the behavior isn’t reinforced, it will likely fade.  But for the time being, she seems very convinced that I either need moral support or a bodyguard when I go to the guest bathroom!

Ellie’s example is a funny one, but sometimes, we can accidentally train behaviors that we don’t like.  As you’re evaluating your dog’s behavior and trying to figure out how to stop a certain action, ask yourself if you may have accidentally taught it or still be reinforcing it – it might give you some insight into how to fix it!

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This is Ellie’s self-appointed “spot” when she follows me to the bathroom.

 

 

Categories: Behavior, dog training, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Many Lessons?

How long will it take to train my dog?  How many lessons will I need?

I get this question almost every time I meet with a new client.  And it’s a valid question – people want to know how much time and money is going to be required for their dogs to reach their goals.

My typical answer is this:  It’s up to you and your dog.

Every person is different.  Every dog is different.  Every situation is different.

And yet, I think I can say with relative certainty that those who consistently put in the time and effort and do their best to maintain good training habits typically reach their goals faster.

But it takes two to tango – and your dog is the other half of the training equation.  I had a client, now friend, who called me for help training her two dogs.  They were not related, but both were Miniature Pinschers mixes.  The same owner, using the same methods and equipment, experienced two different rates of success.  Her female dog was a pleaser and very eager to learn.  She figured out the “heel” command with a high level of consistency in just one lesson.  Her male dog was a stubborn guy and not eager to have to follow rules.  He figured out the “heel” command with some consistency after about two weeks of practice.

As the owner, your part in the equation is commitment to practice, consistency, and patience.  Some dogs/breeds will learn faster/slower than others, but no dog is going to learn quickly if the owner cannot effectively take the lead in training.

Bottom line?  Do your best, do right by your dog, and be patient in the process.

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Ellie, June 2017

Categories: Behavior, Blog, dog training, training tips | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting Your Dog

You are your dog’s only true advocate.  If you won’t protect him, who will?  He will, that’s who.

Most aggression comes from a place of fear and insecurity.  Sure, there are some dogs who are just plain aggressive – but they are in the minority.

Even if your dog doesn’t show aggressive and/or fearful tendencies as a general rule, all dogs have teeth, all dogs can bite, and all dogs have a breaking point.

Part of your job, your responsibility, as a dog owner is keep your dog out of compromising positions.  Today, I’m going to address that thought by harping on dogs and alcohol.

I have spoken with multiple clients whose dogs have had poor experiences involving intoxicated humans.  In each case, the owner had chosen to take the dog to an event or place where large amounts of alcohol were present, and in each case, the owners neglected to remove the dog from the situation once things started getting tense.

In one scenario, a drunk man grabbed a dog by its head and pulled it up into his own face.  The dog tried to back away, but the man persisted in holding his head right up to his own.  The dog bit the man on the nose.  While some dogs may have been able to keep holding on to hope of rescue, this dog had clearly reached the point where he believed his only option was to try to rescue himself.  Who is at fault in this scenario?  The owner – who stood by and watched the whole thing happen.

Don’t let your dog become another bite statistic because you made the poor choice to put him in a bad situation.  Be responsible – if you take your dog to a party and things get a little more “exciting” than you anticipated, be the adult and take your dog back home.*

Show your dog you are worthy of his trust, will do your best to protect him, and really do have his best interest at heart.  

*Do not drive your dog home if you have been drinking.

Note:  I may live in a college town, and colleges may be notorious for alcohol related incidents, but the example given above did not involve a college student.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Aggressive Dogs, Behavior, Blog, Fearful dogs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monsters are Everywhere – When You’re a Puppy

The world can be a big and scary place if you’re a puppy!  As you’re socializing your puppy and taking him/her to new places, keep in mind that things that seem completely normal to you can be very frightening to a young pup.

If your puppy suddenly seems afraid of something, try getting down on his/her level to see if you can understand (A) what they’re actually afraid of and (B) what they find scary about it.  A statue in a park might not seem scary to you or me, but if you get down to a puppy’s level and look at it from that height, you may find it more intimidating than you realized.

Such was the case with Ellie the Warrior Princess earlier this week when I took her with me to get the car inspected.  As we were leaving, Ellie began to growl and bark towards the road.  It wasn’t immediately clear what was upsetting her, so I had to get down to her level and track her gaze.  That was when I realized that she had spotted a bright red fire hydrant way up on the hill by the road.

When your puppy is panicking over something you deem silly, it may be tempting just to walk away and avoid feeling like you’re causing a scene.  In reality, it goes a long way if you can help your puppy overcome that fear instead of just leaving it to linger in the back of his mind.

So, how does one help her puppy overcome a fear of a fire hydrant?  You walk up to it, crouch next to it, and pet it like a dog – all the while encouraging your puppy to come check it out with you.  I may have looked quite silly petting it and trying to introduce my puppy to a fire hydrant next to a four lane road that day, but it’s worth it to make sure she continues to gain confidence and overcome her fears.

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A few tips on overcoming fearful objects:

  1. Say hi to it yourself!  If you look like you don’t want to touch it or get near it, why on earth would you puppy want to do that?
  2. Do not coddle your pup.  Resist the urge to hold, cuddle, and coo to your dog as he backs away or growls.  Speak confidently and calmly, and make sure you convey to your pup that it’s really no big deal.
  3. Practice!  When you’re out and about and see something weird, encourage your pup to check it out, sniff it, and say hi even if he hasn’t actually noticed it yet.  Get ahead of the weird fears and suspicious thoughts – lead the charge and say hi first!

If your puppy encounters a fearful object and you aren’t able to work through it all in one sitting, try to return to the spot or object again later to continue practicing and working through the anxiety.  Avoid the temptation to drag your puppy up to something and try instead to encourage independent forward movement by making it look fun!

 

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Prince Tucker had to learn how to meet weird new objects all the time as a Future Leader Dog puppy, too!

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Fearful dogs, Puppy, Puppy Socialization | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dog Parks – Good or Bad?

I get the “dog park question” quite frequently.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Is it fun?  Is it unsafe?

In my opinion?  It can, and will at times, be all of the above.

I know dog people who swear by them and those who swear they will never set foot in one.

My two cents?  Use your best judgement and make the decision that fits you and your dog while keeping in mind the following:

  1.  Not all dogs are, or want to be, social butterflies.  Dog parks can be a great place for dogs who seem to love everybody and can think of nothing better than a field full of strange new friends.  However, for dogs who are shy, introverted, or no-nonsense, it’s probably not their idea of a good time.
  2. People are irresponsible.  It doesn’t matter how responsible you are as a dog owner, you cannot control the owners around you.  When at the dog park, your primary focus should be – you guessed it – YOUR DOG.  Dog parks are not the place to do your yoga, get lost in a good book, or take a nap on a bench.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a lot of folks do – at the expense of those around them.  You have to be your dog’s advocate – if you see them being bullied, go to their rescue.  And by all means, if your dog IS the bully, put a stop to it!
  3. Vaccinations are not guaranteed.  Now, if your dog park is owned/run by a humane society or other animal welfare organization, you may be required to show proof of vaccinations to gain access.  That being said, I have been told by multiple people that they share their gate code/park access credentials with friends.  While those folks no doubt believe they are doing their friends a favor, if those dogs aren’t properly vaccinated, they’re doing everyone else a disservice.
  4.  It’s a playground – accidents happen.  As you can read in this article – “How a Routine Trip to the Dog Park Ended With a Broken Hip” – it’s not just dogs who have the potential to get hurt!  Most dogs possess great athletic ability, but that doesn’t mean they never run into something!  There is also the possibility of run-ins with unfriendly dogs.  I have personally witnessed a person being backed up onto a bench by an aggressive dog – the owner was on the other side of the park and had no idea his dog was being a bully until I yelled at him.

 

After pointing out some of the shortcomings of dog parks, you might think I’m totally against them.  I’m not!  Tucker has frequented several parks and has, for the most part, had really great experiences!  That being said, I didn’t take Tucker to a dog park until he was a full blown adult – physical and mentally mature.  He was a well rounded adult with a happy go lucky personality and good manners.  Even so, we had our fair share of weird experiences and days when we left early because someone else got out of hand.

I don’t know that we’ll ever take our new German Shepherd to one, but if we do, I can tell you that I’ll be watching her, and everyone else, like a hawk – and we will leave at the first sign of trouble.

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Dog Parks | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Dog People Need Dog People

Dog people need dog people.

That may sound pretty obvious.  I mean, of course dog people like to hang out with dog people, right?

But I’m not talking about the casual, lets meet for coffee and bring our pups, kind of people.  I’m talking about the people who will go down into the trenches with you.  Crazy dog people need crazy dog people.

Let me tell you about my favorite crazy dog people: Roy and Suzie.  They started as my mentors for a project in high school a decade ago and have been my doggie mentors ever since.  This past weekend, they very graciously went above and beyond the realm of normal dog friends.

They let me bring a brand new puppy into their house.  It just so happened that we had already planned a visit to see them on the same weekend our puppy was ready to leave her litter, and since they live on the way to the breeder, we decided to go ahead and do both.

Now, let me tell you about our newest little addition – Ellie.  She is the strongest willed, most confident puppy I have ever met – and she kept everyone in the house awake until just after 4am on her first night with us.  My friends work shepherds in Search and Rescue, so they know high drive dogs – and they say she’s the highest drive little shepherd they’ve ever seen.  We were all astounded that she had the energy and lung capacity to sing us the song of her people at the highest volume imaginable almost constantly from about 10pm to 4am – and that was with plenty of potty breaks, snuggles, and playtime mixed in to try to wear her out and calm her down.

And yet, they never complained and consistently offered help and advice on what we could try to help Ellie settle in with her new people.  They sent us home with toys and collars for when she grows, and an offer to help whenever needed.  Those are the kind of crazy dog people that every crazy dog person needs in their corner.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about dogs and puppies in general – each one you meet and raise will be different from the last, and it’s always good to have people around you to offer new tips and tricks.  🙂

Below:  Roy and Suzie with Tucker the day after I picked him up from Leader Dog six years ago (top) and with Ellie this past weekend (bottom).

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Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy | 1 Comment

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