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Posts tagged ‘DINOS’

Surprise! I Made a Book: The Official Guide to Living with DINOS

Shut the front door. I made a book! The Official Guide to Living with DINOS is on sale. Right now.

WHAT?! Yeah girl, it is. Look at how pretty:

DINOS book cover

This tiny book took me so long to get done that I thought it would never happen. But let’s be honest.  It once took me an entire year to make a tri-fold pamphlet.. I’m nothing if not slow moving.

Weighing in at just over 60 pages, my book is technically a booklet. I think the let makes it sounds more mysterious. Like it’s a French woman who, unlike me, knows how to wear a scarf the right way.

The booklet is a collection of ten lessons I’ve put together to help anyone who is living with DINOS for the very first time. Some lessons are brand new. Some are old favorites from the blog. But they’re all in one place now, so that the next time you come across someone who is new to living with DINOS and they’re having a panic attack, you can say,

“Breathe into this paper bag, then check out Jessica’s booklet The Official Guide to Living with DINOS. It won’t teach you how to wear a scarf, but it will make life with your dog way easier.”

And no, the book isn’t about dog training. It won’t tell you how to fix your dog’s problems (I’ll leave that up to the experts). The guide is all about how to make it through the day with a dog that needs space. It’s a 60 page pep talk with practical tips.

I know you guys with fearful and reactive dogs are the ones struggling the most, so you were at the front of my thoughts as I wrote this. I’m hoping that dog trainers, dog walkers, and shelter workers who have clients that are feeling really down about their fearful and reactive dogs can offer up the booklet as support. So instead of feeling isolated and overwhelmed, the newbies will feel empowered and excited about living with their not-so-perfect dogs.

Here’s a look at the Table of Contents so you can get a feel for what’s inside:


I was definitely writing the booklet for people who are brand new to the DINOS scene, but I think some of you who have been around since day one will really enjoy this too.

Jenny Williams, Team DINOS member and creator of the 66 Dogs Project, has been reading my ramblings for years. I was truly lucky that she gifted me her brilliant editing skills for the book and after reading an earlier draft, this is what she wrote about it:

“Reading this I laughed, I cried, and I took snuggle breaks with my dog to remind myself of how lucky I am to have him in my life, in spite of (and because of) his challenges.”


Crying! Laughing! Snuggling! What more can you ask for from a booklet, right? Seriously though, Jenny’s feedback was the kindest and I hope – down to my toes – that you all feel the same when you read it.

You can pick up a print copy or ebook on Amazon.

Or you can buy a print copy straight from Createspace.

Finally, a big fat thank you to Jenny for the editing and feedback, Nat and Bill for the gorgeous cover design, and my mom for the encouragement, proofreading, and for pointing out that using the term “stewardess” in the book was old fashioned and kind of sexist and, uh, maybe I should use “flight attendant” instead. Good call. Thanks mom.

But, wait. There’s more!

Want to win a free print copy of The Official Guide to Living with DINOS?

Here’s what you have to do:

1. In the comments tell me: Your dog just published their first book. What’s the title?

For example: Birdie’s would be This Beagle Don’t Bark: A Memoir 

And Boogie’s would be How to Touch Your Butt to Your Forehead: Maximizing Your Unique Talents and Creating the Life You Want*

*He’s into self-help books.

2. The deadline to leave your comment is Monday 4/27/15 at midnight EST.

3. One comment will be chosen using randomizer. On Tuesday 4/28 I’ll announce the winner here and on Facebook. I’ll also contact the winner via email to get their mailing address, so I can send out the book!

So go, one tell me: What’s the title of your dog’s book?


4/28/15: The winner was just drawn….Congratulations goes to Hannah of Eriesistibull! Thanks to everyone who commented. Your creative answers always make me laugh!!

You’re Not Alone: The Difficult Pet Support Group

When I found about the The Difficult Pet Support Group created by fellow dog walker and pet sitter, Rachel Bow of Ruff Mutts, I couldn’t wait to learn more about this Portland, OR resource.

As many of you have experienced, living with a pet who has behavioral or medical issues can be challenging, and is often exhausting and isolating. So I’m thrilled to see that pet owner support groups which focus on supporting families with “difficult” pets are becoming more widespread. I asked Rachel to tell me more about her group and here’s what she had to say:


Jessica: Can you start off by sharing a bit about the group? 

Rachel: Sure! The Difficult Pet Support Group is a monthly peer-to-peer support group for people loving and living with a difficult pet in Portland, OR. Enid Traisman, the Director of the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Group and who’s been working in the field for over 25 years, facilitates the group with me. We’re also very lucky to have DoveLewis donate space each month for us to run the group. Dr. Christopher Pachel of the Animal Behavior Clinic was kind enough to give us free support and advice as we were getting the group off the ground.

The group has a few goals. The first is to provide a safe, supportive space for people with difficult pets to vent and brainstorm about management techniques. The second is to make these people feel worthy of being a pet guardian. We’ve found just being around others who understand one’s plight is so helpful in not feeling alone and this makes people who fall in this demographic feel empowered in their relationship with their pet. All of this leads into our final goal, which is to strengthen the bond between people and their pets and therefore keep pets in their homes.

We talk a lot about what our pets actually need to be healthy and happy versus imposed beliefs. It’s important for good guardians to feel like they are good guardians. I loved reading Uba’s story. Uba’s guardian has such a healthy perspective on Uba’s needs and while their lifestyle might not be conventional, it sounds like they are both very happy living their way.


How did you get started?

The group was started just from seeing there was a need. Ruff Mutts provides pet care for difficult pets and I’ve run into many guardians along the way who I felt would benefit from a group like this. I ran the idea past Enid who is also a client of mine and we got the ball rolling.

rachel bow


Was there a special animal in your life – past or present – or a particular experience that inspired you to do this work?

I had a pit-mix named Bowie who was particularly difficult when I was in my 20s. Bowie inspired Ruff Mutts and Ruff Mutts work inspired the group. Once I saw there were many people going through all the turmoil and emotions I had, I knew that the group was needed.


I see a lot of parallels with your group and DINOS. For example, my intention with DINOS was never to be a dog training site, even though I sometimes share training resources. It’s always been about connecting people, so they feel less isolated, less frustrated, and more supported in what can be a really challenging experience.

I often write that our dogs want us to be happy, because happy people keep their pets. That’s the shelter worker in me talking! So I’d love to hear from you: Why is it important to have a place where the owner’s emotions are the main focus?

Yes! I see a lot of parallels between our ideas, too. I think guardians of difficult pets deserve a lot of support and praise for all the hard work, dedication, and compassion they exercise daily. There is a strange idea in the dog world right now that people with difficult dogs are absolutely-to-blame-no-matter-what for aggressive or bad behavior but often enough, that just isn’t the case.

Everyone who has ever attended one of our meetings has worked with a trainer and often more than one trainer. These are very responsible and dedicated guardians who are sticking with their crazy beast through thick and thin – an admiral quality that we should condone, not condemn. I, too, want to keep pets in their homes and my belief is that people who feel they’re capable of providing a good home for their pet will feel good about keeping their pet even if their lifestyle looks a little different than what we think of as a normal life for a dog. I also believe that pets are happier when they’re with happy people.

On another note, I don’t think there are enough resources out there for difficult dogs! The industry focuses so much on changing difficult dogs but what happens to these people and their pets if this isn’t possible?

I totally believe in training, don’t get me wrong, but at a point, we need to see dogs as individuals, accept them for their faults, and manage them in a way that still allows them to be healthy and happy.


Without compromising the confidentiality of the group, are you able to share any stories of how the group is having a positive affect on the pet owners who are attending?

It seems that people are getting a lot from having other understanding, non-judgmental people really listen to their stories. People go through a range of emotions while we’re in session. There are tears often followed by laughter. It’s a ride for sure and people appreciate not having to be on it alone.

worried dog


Do you have any advice or tips for anyone that’s considered starting a similar support group in their area?

Yes! Reach out to others in the community who might know people who would benefit from a group like this, such as dog trainers, pet care providers, doggie daycares, and veterinarians to get the word out. If you’re providing a community service, people will want you to succeed. People can contact me directly for more information about getting a group going and I’m happy to help.

I’ve had the privilege of helping the awesome Kristin Buller get her group going in Chicago and Dr. Meredith Stepita of Veterinary Behavior Specialists get her group off the ground in the San Francisco bay area.


What one’s thing you wish every owner of a “difficult” pet knew?

I just wish that they knew in their heart that they are probably doing a great job! And if I could say one more thing about it, I’d say that they are definitely not alone.


So true. Thank you for the work you do and for talking with us Rachel!


Note from Jessica: Wishing there was more support in your area? I’ll continue to update the DINOS support group page, so if you know of a group that’s not listed there, please contact me.

Later this year, I’ll be offering a 4 week online class for DINOS families focusing on reducing caregiver stress and helping you see to your dogs in a whole new light. And, there’s a Living with DINOS booklet/ebook coming out in just a couple of weeks. It’s designed to help all of you living with DINOS, especially the newbies,  feel more supported and less alone (also: there are poop jokes). So stay tuned…more help is on the way for Team DINOS!



Beyond Daily Dog Walks: Uba’s Story

We do it every day (or at least we’re told we should be doing it every day), but do you ever stop to think about why we walk our dogs and if it’s really benefiting them?

As a professional dog walker, I can come up with tons of good reasons to take dogs for daily walks: for exercise, to go to the bathroom, to train them and teach them leash manners, to help them socialize with other dogs and people, to expose them to new things and environments, and to spend time enjoying their company.

But the truth is, for some dogs, going on walks isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And if that’s the case, there are lots of ways to meet the varying needs of dogs beyond the typical daily walk.

Last year at the BAD RAP Rescue Jam, I had the chance to meet Letti de Little, owner of former Vick dog, Uba. Word on the street was that her little survivor was a card carrying member of Team DINOS and wasn’t a big fan of going for walks in public.

I talked with Letti about how she fully supports Uba’s needs, without relying on a daily dog walking routine. These two are a great example of how thinking outside of the box (or walk in this case) might benefit some dogs. I think y’all will dig our conversation!


Jessica: Can you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and Uba?

Letti: Uba is one of the dogs rescued from football player Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation in 2007. He was quite young when seized, probably under six months old, and he was held in custody in a small kennel with no enrichment from April until October 2007. He did not have bedding, toys, walks or any of the other stimulation that is so important in a young dog’s development.

It was assumed while he was in custody that he and all the other dogs rescued in the Vick case would be euthanized once the case was over, as was the general rule for dogs rescued from fighting operations at the time.

Luckily, the Federal investigators, the prosecutors, and the judge in the case were willing to explore the option of saving the dogs and Uba and his extended family were given a chance at real life.

uba letti

When he arrived in California he showed everyone that he was a huge character. He had a very vertical approach to the world and would jump around rather than walk or run. After a wind storm he decided to collect the fallen sticks from the yard and fill his crate up with branches and twigs. Later he learned to unlatch crates and he would let himself out and then break in to other dog’s crates so he could borrow their toys.

Balancing out all this silly, ridiculous behavior were his worries about the big world. At home he was a party boy, but out in the world he was very anxious and would ‘pancake’ – shut down, freeze and be unable to recover.

I had been a BAD RAP volunteer for about a year and a half when the Vick dogs were evaluated for placement and I offered to foster one of the dogs. As soon as I met Uba I knew I’d keep him and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve learned so much from my funny, energetic, intelligent, sweet and worried little dude. I’ve fostered at least ten dogs and he is the highest energy dog I have ever lived with. It’s not always easy to meet his needs while keeping up with my sometimes demanding career, but we’ve muddled through it and I think we have done OK.

What were those early dog walks like for him? And why did you choose to stop taking him for traditional daily walks?

Uba made it clear from the start that he needed a lot of exercise. As a city dwelling dog owner my answer to that was lots of long walks.

Uba really didn’t have much of an idea about leash walking, let alone cars, buses, pedestrians and all the other sites and sounds of city living. He accepted some things, like garbage trucks, without question. Other city events, like groups of pedestrians, made him collapse in fear.

We would go on long walks and he would enjoy the parts of the walks in quiet and natural areas, but would shut down and ‘pancake’ in busy areas. Living in San Francisco, most parks are full of off leash dogs, and, although he’s not particularly dog reactive, it was difficult to find places to walk him where he was comfortable and we wouldn’t be accosted by MDIFs.

[Note from Jessica: MDIF stands for people who shout “My Dog is Friendly!” and let their dogs approach yours without permission. How rude! You can read more about them here.]

I used to have a roommate who is a psychologist working with combat veterans and she noted that his physical reaction on walks was very similar to her patients suffering from PTSD. Uba scans for trouble, shakes, and can’t focus on anything other than his fear. Once Uba is triggered into his scary place there is no talking him out of it. He won’t take treats or toys; even super high value treats like steak don’t distract him from his fear.


I moved to Oakland after about three years with Uba, and my neighborhood is still pretty urban, although I have a much bigger back yard than in San Francisco. He had a hard time adjusting to the neighborhood and did not enjoy his walks at all.

After much debate and discussion with BAD RAP’s Tim Racer, I decided that we should re-set and not go for neighborhood walks for a month. We still went on weekend walks in places he enjoyed, where there is nature and limited MDIFs, but I didn’t make him go into the neighborhood at all.

In that month I found that he became more relaxed and our relationship improved when I wasn’t making him face his worst fears every day.

Instead of dog walks, how do you provide Uba with exercise, enrichment, socialization, and time outside?

Since Uba was so energetic as a youngster I started using a dog treadmill for exercise soon after he came to me. The first time I put him on the Grand Carpet Mill he was hooked. I didn’t have to teach him what to do, he just hopped on, let me hook up his harness and he ran as fast as he could with a huge smile on his face.

I also use a flirt pole and a spring pole. The flirt pole is nice as it can also give an opportunity for working on impulse control (not Uba’s strong suit) and other basic training. I have a spring pole set up near my treadmill and some days Uba runs to that instead of the treadmill when its time to work out. The tugging lets him use different muscles and makes him just as tired. He gets really excited when I say “treadmill” or “spring pole”, just like some dogs get excited when you pick up their leash.

Uba has always loved training and learning, so I have tried a few different activities with him. Vick dog Audie’s owner, Linda Chwistek, introduced me to K9 Nose Work as it was just developing as a sport and Uba loves it.

Nose work has built Uba’s confidence like nothing else. Before nose work, new environments and new people were very difficult and Uba would shake and pancake to avoid the new experience. Now, Uba can walk in to a new place and he wants to see if he can find a target odor, even if that’s not at all why we’re there. We take nose work classes at least once a week and he loves seeing all his friends as much as he loves searching.

uba and jamie

For socialization I have almost constantly fostered well-matched playmates for Uba and many of them have also been rescued from dog fighting busts. We stay in touch with former foster dogs and other friends he’s made along the way and meet in his comfortable spaces for walks and have play dates at home. Uba sometimes accompanies me to the BAD RAP Pit Ed training classes I teach to “supervise” and see his human friends (including his number one hero, Tim).

There’s a lot of pressure on dog owners to walk their dogs every day. Do you have any advice for dog owners who may be feeling like these walks aren’t benefiting their dogs?

We all need down time. I don’t feel like going out and facing the world every single day, and neither do some dogs.

I think we should be focusing on “all dogs need regular exercise” instead of “dogs should be walked daily”.

Yes! That’s really well said Letti! 

Exercise is not opening the back door and letting your dog wander the yard, though. If you’re not walking your dog you need to consider how to keep yourself and your dog engaged in a healthy and happy relationship. If she loves fetch, that’s wonderful, but make sure you play other games too. Take that hour you would be walking and spend it with your dog – not on the phone or computer – but actively engaging with your dog. Learn a new trick or find a new game to play.

Remember that mental stimulation can be just as tiring as physical exercise, so find ways to combine both and see how pleased your dog is. Training classes of any kind are great ways to get your dog exercise, mental stimulation and socialization opportunities while working on useful and fun skills.

On the flip side, there are lots of dogs that could really benefit from more walks! But because they’re reactive or are lacking in basic manners, their owners avoid walking them.

You work with families like this in your training classes. Is there a difference between what they’re experiencing and what you experienced with Uba? Any advice for these folks to help them feel more comfortable walking their dogs?

I should be clear that Uba is not particularly dog reactive. He is a DINOS because I want to protect him from bad experiences that could make his phobias even worse or push him to be reactive. He collapses in fear rather than screaming at the end of his leash.

If your dog lacks manners, get to a training class! If you are too far from training classes or can’t afford them, You Tube has some great resources and examples of how to work on leash skills. Or hire a trainer for one on one help. I truly believe that any dog can be well mannered in public if their owner puts in the time and effort and effectively manages the situations the dog is in.

If the dog simply needs to get out for exercise right now, do some research and find places that are safe to walk. Be willing to take a short drive to your walking places if needed. Think outside the box about where to walk and try different routes. Just walking on a different side of the street can dramatically change the walk for your dog. Your neighborhood may be packed with challenges for your dog, but what about other areas nearby? What about the outside perimeter of a public park, golf course or a cemetery? Is there a downtown business district that’s super quiet on the weekend?

I advise people to stop worrying about what other people think. You are your dog’s only advocate. Speak up and protect your dog from MDIFs and mean people. If you encounter people who criticize you for something you’re doing or not doing, shrug it off. Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t conform to some general theory of what dogs should be and help your dog be the best dog she can be. So what if that means walks at midnight or running on a treadmill?

I also highly recommend nose work classes as therapy for the dogs and as a place to find solidarity with other owners of DINOS.

How’s Uba doing today?

Uba is still not a big fan of neighborhood walks. He will go with me once in a while and enjoy himself, but I don’t force the issue. More often we’ll hop in the car and drive to a cemetery that allows leashed dogs or one of the parks where leashes are required.

This means that in the winter when it’s dark after work he really only gets walked on weekends. During the week we go to nose work class, run on the treadmill and play at home.

He is getting a little calmer now that he’s eight, but he’s still more energetic than most dogs half his age, and I think he gets a good amount of exercise, is appropriately mentally challenged and gets out to see his friends regularly.

uba walk

We still have little moments of victory over his worry – just this morning we went on a very pleasant neighborhood walk. He sniffed things, peed on a million things and worked through his “oh shit!!” moments. I think he enjoyed it.

Earlier on, I came to realize that in my desire to have a walking companion I was ignoring Uba’s needs. I have learned to respect what my dog is telling me and now I really accept Uba for who he is and not who I’d like him to be. We are both happier and more relaxed and our relationship is much more fun for both of us.

Great advice Letti and thank you for sharing Uba with us!



On Ambassadors and Advocating For (Your) Pit Bull Dogs

Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. Why is it so hard to find the perfect black hoodie? You know, not too baggy, not too tight, not too lightweight, not too heavy.

2. What is Terminus and how will I survive waiting another year for the new season of The Walking Dead to come out on dvd? No spoilers or I’ll stalk you when I turn.

3. What gets in the way of responsible people making smart choices for their dogs?


Since this isn’t a blog about zombies (yet), let’s look at #3:

We already know that it’s our job to stand up for our dogs and be assertive in protecting our dog’s physical and mental health, as well as the safety of those around them. Right?

We know that what gets in the way of us doing that is we often don’t want to be perceived as rude or “bitchy.” Not sure what I’m talking about? See one of my most popular posts of all time: Stop Caring What Others Think and Stand Up For Your Dogs.

But in addition to the regular worries about what other people think about us when we are standing up for our dogs, there’s this other thing that affects a really big group of dog owners that I love dearly and belong to myself. I’m talking about my pit bull peeps.

Many people who own pit bull dogs are concerned about how our dog’s behavior (or our own actions) will influence public opinion about all the other dogs out there that look like ours. It’s not just internal pressure. We’re generally encouraged to make our dogs into “ambassadors.” But here’s the thing:

Wanting your dog to be an ambassador can sometimes get in the way of you being a good advocate (for your actual dog).


For those of you who get to go about your daily business without ever spending a second thinking about your dog being an ambassador, please let me explain what that means:

Those of us who share our lives with pit bulls would love to bust stereotypes and change minds about our misunderstood dogs. We know that a positive, real-life interaction with our nice dogs can go a long way in undoing the myths that surround pit bulls. So we’re extra sensitive to how our dog’s behavior in public might either mistakenly confirm peoples’ fears or cause them to have a change of heart about pit bulls. We work hard for the latter. Every time we leave the house.

There’s a lot of pressure on our dogs to be “ambassadors” for all the other pit bulls and that’s a heavy load for the average dog to bear, because guess what?

Pit bulls are just dogs.

And dogs aren’t pre-programmed ambassador robots.

Dogs are, well, dogs. Even the very best behaved dog – no matter what their shape, size, breed, or political orientation – have boundaries that need to be respected. For example, few dogs (even very social ones) enjoy rude, uninvited greetings from out of control dogs and grabby kids.

The point is to say that even dogs that are excellent ambassadors still have needs. It’s our job to pay attention to them and speak up when they need us to, so they stay healthy and safe. We’re our dog’s everyday advocates.

And yet: our desire to change public perceptions of our dogs sometimes means that we ignore what our dogs need, because we’re afraid that if we speak up, that other people will think our dogs aren’t friendly or that we’re mean and that will reflect badly on all the other pit bulls out there.

Look, if you’re ever feeling icky about speaking up for your dog, here’s the deal:

Never put your desire to change public perceptions of pit bulls before your own dog’s needs.


Don’t do anything that will cause them to have a training set back or damage their own social tolerance of other dogs or make them uncomfortable or allow them to get hurt because you’re hesitant to speak up for their needs for fear that it will give people a bad impression of pit bulls.

That’s not your problem. Your dog’s needs come first.



If your dog seems uncomfortable meeting a new person or dog or is uneasy at an event, please walk away. Don’t stick around because you want people to meet your nice dog and have an a-ha moment about pit bulls.

When someone wants to just “say hi!” but it’s not a good match for your dog, don’t agree to it because you’re afraid the other person will think that all pit bull dogs and their owners are unfriendly if you say “no thanks”.

It’s awesome when our well behaved, outgoing pit bulls are enjoying themselves in public and change some opinions in the process. I love when that happens and I’m super grateful to all the pit bull owners out there who are making a real difference through their public appearances and awards, therapy dog work, sporting events, and parade dance parties.

But our desire to have our dogs be ambassadors should never come at our dogs’ expense. All dogs, even UN World Happiness Ambassadogs have boundaries and emotions that need to be respected. Never put the needs of the “movement” before advocating for your individual dog’s needs, ok?

And for those of you who have pit bulls that you know are not “ambassadors” because they’re reactive, fearful, anxious, or whatever other common dog behavior issue you may be dealing with, listen up.

Please don’t hide at home because you’re afraid that if your dog has a meltdown on a walk that it will make people think bad things about pit bulls. Go on and walk them in public (if that’s what works for them) and practice their training, just like any other dog owner would do. Don’t deny your dog a chance to work on their leash skills or do some counter conditioning work because you’re afraid of showing the world a not-perfect pit bull.

You are not responsible for everyone else’s opinions about pit bulls.

You are responsible for properly managing and training your dog, as well as protecting their well-being. Just like all the other dog owners out there.


Focus on that. Do right by your dog and you do us all proud.

Side bar: If you need to muzzle your dog, just do it. Don’t get hung up on what other people will think about pit bulls because your dog is wearing one.

It took me a minute to be ok with the fact that Boogie, my sensitive, sometimes leash reactive, and fearful pit bull, was not going to be an ambassador. But I realized life is hard enough for him. I didn’t need to put any more pressure on Boogie by asking him to represent every other dog that looks like him.

boogie sun

Sweet Boogie seen here impressing the wilderness beyond the porch with his polite behavior.


My job is to be Boogie’s advocate. That means that sometimes people will shout out “Can my dog/kid say hi? Is your dog friendly?” and I have to say “No! Sorry!” and I’m dying a little because I want to say is:

“My dog is so sweet and he lives with another dog and three cats peacefully, but strange dogs and random kids scare him, so he needs his personal space respected. But please don’t think that pit bulls are aggressive or mean because my dog can’t say hi to you guys right now. He’s only representing Boogie. It has nothing to do with his breed. Thanks! Also, do you like the Walking Dead? Do you know what Terminus is? Wait, wait, don’t tell me!”

But there’s no time to say that, so I just say “No!” And I let them think whatever they’re going to think about my dog. Or make whatever generalizations they’ll make about pit bulls and short women with New Jersey accents, because we hustled to get away.

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not saying you shouldn’t train your dog and help give them the skills they need to be better behaved or more comfortable out in the world. Or that you shouldn’t want your pit bull to be an ambassador. By all means, help them learn how to navigate the world with grace and if you can, change some hearts and minds along the way if they’re comfortable doing so.

But I am saying:

It’s not fair when our desire to make a good impression or change public opinion comes at the expense of our own dog’s needs or their safety.


When we do that we wind up setting up our dogs to, at best, have a rotten time, and at worst, force them to make a choice that could get them in a lot of trouble.

Being a good advocate for pit bulls (and all other dogs) means that we make choices based on what our individual dogs need to succeed in our crazy world. Even if that means leaving our advocacy work at our desks when we take our dogs for a walk. Your dog is counting on you to stand up for them, not just on the big issues, but in life’s everyday occurrences. Be your pit bull’s hero and advocate for them first.




I Heart Boundaries: Compassion Fatigue Education

Earlier this summer I met the coolest bunch of rescue and shelter workers at BAD Rap’s Rescue Jam. There were 70+ people at this unique weekend-long event and they were all stoked to get to work using the new tools, ideas, and connections picked up during their time in Oakland.

I was there to give two presentations: one for DINOS and another on compassion fatigue. My compassion fatigue talk was a way to remind them, before they jumped back into work at home, that their most important tool – the one that is capable of making the biggest impact and doing the most good – is themselves. We are our most important tool and yet, we rarely take time to care for ourselves.

As far as our Make-A-Difference-Toolbox goes, nothing trumps the tool of people when it comes to making things better for dogs and their peeps. But generally speaking, our field doesn’t spend a whole lot of time, energy, or resources addressing the needs of the people who dedicate themselves to the difficult work of making a difference for animals.

So that’s why I’m hanging out in hot tents talking about compassion fatigue these days. At the Jam I shared strategies for managing compassion fatigue related stress. There are many, but setting boundaries is an important one. In fact, it’s critical.

Setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves allows us to engage in sustainable, effective, and ethical work.


jessica dolce

You can score “I heart boundaries” gear here  | photo credit: Maggie McDowell


I wasn’t the only one talking about setting healthy boundaries at the Jam. It’s such an significant topic that many of the other speakers touched on the importance taking care of ourselves and setting limits too. It’s the only way to stay in the game long term and do good work.

Ironically, I had “I heart boundaries” t-shirts made for DINOS a few years ago because I want people to respect the personal space of dogs. Turns out this tee is made for compassion fatigue work and was a big hit at the Jam.

So this brings me to my announcement: I’ve got a whole new website and new blog! 

The site is still a work in progress, but you can check out the new compassion fatigue resources I’m offering here:



Just in case you’re wondering, Notes From a Dog Walker and DINOS aren’t going anywhere! I just needed a separate space for all my compassion fatigue offerings, which are aimed at helping animal care workers, to live.

So, let me tell you a little about why this work is super important to me:

1. No one talked to me about compassion fatigue, stress, or self-care while I was working at the shelter. When I had trouble dealing with the work, I thought I was crazy and weak. Now I know I was having a normal reaction to the stress of constantly providing care for people and animals in need and that there are things I could have done to help myself.

2. Our industry has a very high turnover rate. When we invest in training an employee, only to lose them to stress and trauma (the pay isn’t anything to write home about either), we lose their knowledge and skills too. If we want to make progress, we need people to stick around long enough to make a difference.

3. I respect the hell out of animal care workers: animal control officers, shelter workers, foster families, vet techs. If they’re working hard at making things better for animals and their people, then they’re my heroes. I want to do what I can to support them. This is a way for me to give to others what I wish I had had for myself.

I believe that compassion fatigue education and self-care practices need to be made a priority in our field. We can’t do effective, ethical work if we’re depleted, stressed, traumatized, and burned out.

We need to be well to do good.


So that’s why I’m dedicating so much of my time to compassion fatigue education these days. I’ll be travelling to a few organizations this fall, but in between my live workshops, I’m whipping up what I think will be my best offering to date:

A multi-week online class for animal care professionals and volunteers called Compassion In Balance:

compassion in balance online class photo


The class will be a way for anyone who works with animals to easily access the resources they need to better understand and manage compassion fatigue. It’s going to be a safe online community where we can support each other each week, as we build our self-care toolbox and practice new strategies for being well, while we’re doing good. No one else is offering anything quite like it.

I’m finishing up the class design now and will be beta testing it this fall on a group of animal welfare bad asses. We’re gonna let them deal with all the first-run kinks. The class should be ready to launch this winter.

My goal is to get the class running for animal care workers and then later offer a modified version for people who own dogs with serious behavior or medical issues. Those of you who live with dogs like this may be suffering from compassion fatigue and you bet I want to support you too!

I still have a few months to go before I can roll out the classes, but if you’re interested in finding out more or just hearing from me every once in a while, may I suggest that you:

Sign up for my brand new e-letter!


Starting in September I’ll be sending out a monthly(ish) e-letter with news and notes on what’s shaking in relation to compassion fatigue and self care, plus highlights from DINOS and Notes From a Dog Walker too. It’s the best way for me to stay in touch about everything I’m working on, share the resources I think you guys will find helpful, and offer you special deals when the classes are ready to launch.

So that’s what I’ve been up to this summer and what I’ll be buried in this fall! I’m so excited to offer this to you guys – nothing makes me happier than connecting you all to life-changing resources that will support and empower you in your important work with animals.

So get psyched:

Boundaries are the new black y’all.

Roots, Rescue, and The Jam: Lessons from BAD RAP

The other week I got to attend BAD RAP’s 2nd Annual Rescue Jam in Oakland, CA. The Jam was the JAMMIEST. 

It was one hot weekend, filled with good people, powerful presentations, and complex questions about rescue work. We covered legal issues and contracts, the rising epidemic of hoarding and failed rescues, effective advocacy and community building, harm reduction as a model for pet owner support, media training, and so much more.  I’m taking some time to process it, so expect to hear more from me about these topics in the coming months.

Anywhoozle, I was there for two reasons. One was to talk about Compassion Fatigue and the non-negotiable self-care all rescue and shelter workers need to engage in pronto. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

BAD RAP Rescue Jam | photo credit: Maggie McDowell


The other reason I was invited to the Jam was to talk about my project DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space.

And so, my first DINOS PowerPoint was born. It was heavy on the silly and filled with cartoons (is it just me or does anyone else believe that single panel cartoonists are the truthsayers of our day?). I got to read My Dog is Friendly: A Public Service Announcement out loud which was super fun – we all shouted “My Dog is Friendly!” together a bunch of times. Very cathartic.

After that, I told the rescue groups about the message of DINOS and what they could do to support us. Specifically, I asked that, as animal care experts, they share dog walking safety tips with their community and adopters, so that being respectful of a dog’s need for space becomes common knowledge.

I also told them that you guys are AWESOME.

Team DINOS is one of the smartest, most compassionate, respectful, and helpful online communities in the whole interwebz. I shared that it’s my privilege to be able to crowd source Team DINOS and curate the knowledge that you’ve earned the hard way, so that others (like their adopters) can benefit from what you’ve been through.

photo credit: Maggie McDowell

Me at the Jam (am I giving myself a fist bump here? perhaps.) | photo credit: Maggie McDowell


It was a good time all around and I met tons of inspiring people from all over the country. There were lots of Team DINOS members at the Jam and meeting them in person was super cool for a Maine-based hermit like me.

Fact: It was a huge honor to speak at a BAD RAP event.


Gang, these guys are my teachers. Over the years, Donna and Tim (co-founders of BAD RAP) have had a tremendous influence on the work that I do. Truth is, I’m not sure that DINOS would exist without BAD RAP. For serious.

So it was a real trip to be in their house, sharing what I know and my message, when so much of it is rooted in BAD RAP’s work!

Let me explain how they’ve influenced what I do. Here are a few things I’ve learned from BAD RAP:

A dog’s social tolerance of other dogs is a fluid thing. Their dog tolerance level information was a light bulb learning moment for me years ago – giving me the language to explain what I had been experiencing as dog walker. They taught me how to better understand and talk about the individual social needs of dogs and the important role we have in protecting our dogs from rude, rushed dog-dog greetings. They taught me to stand up for my dogs.

Learning how to walk politely on leash can be a matter of life and death for many dogs. Their Pit Ed classes, where they run multiple dog training classes at the same time (we’re talking 60+ dogs/handlers!) are a joy to watch.  Many of the dogs attending class are reactive shelter dogs who have not yet been adopted and are there to learn the leash manners they desperately need, so that they can make it out of crowded, urban shelters alive. The volunteer handlers are dedicated to changing the outcome for these dogs in the limited amount of time they have to make a difference for the dogs. This taught me that smoothing out reactive leash behaviors can be the difference between leaving the shelter through the front or the back door.

Working with reactive dogs can be super fun. By watching and participating in these classes, I learned to find the joy in working with a variety of reactive dogs – especially the large, strong, and fearless ones. BAD RAP taught me how to appreciate their sass. To be fully present to the dogs and mindful of my own body as I moved with them. To reward the dogs generously with treats and praise. To not let my own fears of looking stupid prevent me from engaging and being enthusiastic with the dogs. To brush it off quickly when I bomb and keep trying. They taught me how to build better relationships (complete with soulful eye contact) with the naughty clowns dogs in my life.

Positive, long lasting, meaningful change doesn’t grow out of polarized, judgmental, either-or thinking. Five years ago I attended a BAD RAP community event serving low income families who, if judged by the standards of many of us in animal welfare, would not be considered ideal dog owners. Rather than chastise them, I saw how BAD RAP chose to connect and collaborate with the crowds of people lined up for help. They met them respectfully, as equals, offering care for beloved family pets without conditions. They taught me to look for the common ground – the love we all have for our dogs – even if it that love looks different on the outside. And to celebrate what people are already doing right, while offering assistance. Through their continuing owner support work, they’ve taught me the power of compassionate action and a positive approach with people (in real life and online).

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place.

BR will be out this weekend in Oakland making their corner of the world a better place for families who love their dogs.


BAD RAP has most definitely shaped my work. They’ve helped me to think about the big picture issues, but also to remember the needs of the people and dogs who are right in front of me.

Donna and Tim have been doing this hard work for a long time and are generous about sharing what they know. Getting to spend time with BAD RAP isn’t just fun, it’s an education in the history of our field for newbies like me who have only been around 2, 5, or 10 years.

I find it kind of odd – disorienting, really – to be in a business where there is so little discussion of our lineage as animal welfare workers: the origins of our field, the people who have stood before us, and the mistakes and subsequent hard lessons that have been learned along the way. I wonder if we’d be stronger and more effective as a community if we saw more clearly whose shoulders we were standing on, whose footsteps we follow in, and the work we are building upon every time we rise up to push for more change.

The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, you know?

I consider BAD RAP to be a significant part of my lineage as an animal care worker and educator. I’m still working to understand the paradoxes and profound truths of our work with dogs and people. It’s a slow and winding road, this education. But BAD RAP makes the journey all the richer for being ahead of me.

So here’s a cheers to BR for all the lessons and the laughs. And to all the work they’ve inspired me and so many others to do. I know that 70+ people left the Jam last week excited to make a difference for pets and people back in their hometowns. We’re all mighty lucky to have these compassionate, smart rescuers among us. Thanks to all of you!


Up next: Compassion Fatigue at the Jam and an announcement…



Look Ma, No Hands! [contest]

Last week, I told you about a sweet deal Fit For A Pit is offering you guys: $10 off any purchase of $20+ through 7/31/14. See that blog for details + promo code to get your deal. 

Pretty swell me thinks!

But when it comes to you guys, I go for all the freebies I can get. So this week lovely Heather, owner of  Fit For a Pit, is giving one of you a FREE Squishy Face Studio Hands Free Dog Leash Belt.

squishy face belt

oooh, pretty.

Want to win one? Contest details are at the end of the blog. First, let me tell you about the belt, so you can decide if you want one.

Jessica, owner of Squishy Face Studios (another awesome small business) sent me a belt to test out last year before they were made available to the public. I got the belt for free in exchange for giving them my feedback on their new product. Guess what? In my opinion, they didn’t need to make changes because they got it 100% right.

This is not me or my dog, but they're both cute, right?

This is not me or my dog, but they’re both cute, right?


3 Reasons The Squishy Face Hands-Free Belt Rocks:

  • It’s super strong. Jessica shared that the belt had been tested with three dogs at once and they’d done a 165lb strength test.
  • It’s really comfortable. The belt is 2″ wide, so it doesn’t cut into your chub (not that any of you have any chub, but if you did, it wouldn’t bother you). And, it’s pretty darn cute.
  • It’s simple to use. You put on the belt. You open the colored nylon strap via the quick release buckle. You loop the handle of your dog’s regular leash handle in there and snap the buckle shut. It works with any leash.

Here’s how it works:   Simply put the belt is: Easy, Comfortable, and Safe.

8 Reasons to Give a Hands-Free Belt a Try:

  • You aren’t holding the leash, so you won’t be sending your tension down the line to your dog.
  • Your hands are free to give your dogs treats, wipe ice melt off their paws, scoop poop, or pull chicken bones out of their mouths (city dog walkers I know you feel me on that last one).
  • They make it easy to obey leash laws while doing whatever you want to do with your dog – hiking, running, snow shoeing, biking, pushing a stroller, or yoga. No excuses, yo.
  • Instead of dislocating your arm, your dog is attached at a spot lower on your body, closer to your center of gravity, where you are stronger and more stable.
  • If you’re teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, this will help because you won’t be pulling and jerking the leash.
  • You can use this with a new dog in the house when then aren’t crated. Back when I fostered dogs, I would attach the newbie to my waist for the first few days to help them avoid making naughty choices around the house (like tasting my cats).
  • If you take your dog to a picnic, eat too much macaroni salad and fall asleep under a tree, your dog will remain attached to your waist until you wake up and get your act together. Not that any of you would ever do that.
  • Here’s the #1 best thing: You don’t have to worry about dropping the leash. This is a big one for any of us that are anxious about walking our reactive dogs. With a hands-free belt, you don’t have to worry that the leash will be ripped out of your hand because you were relaxed (for once!) while walking your dog, when — BOOM! another dog sneaks up and your dog goes bonkers and you drop the leash. Yeah, you won’t have to worry about that.

BTW, If you want to, you can still hold the leash in your hands while it’s attached to the belt. Whatever floats your dog walking boat.


Dog (and lovely small waist) not included.


The contest has ended. Booo.

Congratulations to Sarabeth Tolbert  who won the prize!

Here’s the CONTEST!   

Leave me a comment answering the question below and one lucky person will be chosen to win a Squishy Face Hands Free Belt from Fit For A Pit!

A movie about your dog is about to hit the big screen. What’s the title?

Share your answer in the comment section between now and Thursday, July 10th at Midnight EST. One entry per person please (you can name as many movie titles in your comment as you’d like though!). One comment will be chosen at random and the winner will be announced here and on the DINOS Facebook page on Friday, July 11th.

You know, you’re already all winners because with that special offer from Fit For a Pit, you can take $10 off any purchase of $20+ this month (including this belt)! See this blog for your promo code + offer details.

(p.s. My dog Birdie’s movie would be called “The Moderately Paced and The Curious” – kind of like The Fast and The Furious, only with an old Beagle – and Boogie’s would be “Romancing the Ball.”)

I’m Busy, You Win! [A Special Offer From Fit For A Pit]

Hiya! It’s been a while, huh?

Here’s the scoop: I’m juggling 2 bazillion projects this year (some of which you’ll be hearing about soon) and I’m so overwhelmed this summer that it’s a tiny miracle that I’m able to wrangle enough brain cells to write this at all.

Quick story: I donated blood the other week and during the rigorous interview to make sure I was safe to give up a pint of blood, I got so confused that the tech and I started joking that I was going to be turned away from donating because I was just too dumb. Really, my brain is that compromised from multitasking related-stress. Don’t worry. In the end they took me and my befuddled blood. And I enjoyed getting to lie down for a few minutes. Plus, free cookies! I highly recommend donating blood if you need a break from work.

Here’s the thing, stuff is only getting busier for the next two months, so despite the fact that I’m dying to write stuff here, I just CAN’T. Grad school, presentations for work, dog #2 in physical rehab (yep, it’s Boogie this time – more on that later), and a sorta secret project will do that to a gal.

These days I’m working at finding the positive – noticing the pear, if you will-  so I want to tell you what I CAN do:

Give you stuff!


That’s right. To celebrate my inability to write a substantial blog post, I’ve got a deal just for you! I’ve been feeling bad about not hanging out here with you guys, so I asked my friend Heather who own Fit For A Pit if she could hook y’all up with a deal. Heather, Champion of Generosity that she is, said “Hells Yeah I can do that!” and thus the DINOS discount was born.


fit for pit

This dog is super psyched that you’re getting a sweet deal.


Shop for anything your heart desires over at Fit For A Pit and:

Take $10 off any purchase of $20+ now through July 31st!*

All you have to do is use the coupon code: DINOS  

*Limit one per customer (because we don’t want to put Heather out of business)


Despite the name of her store, Fit For a Pit carries stuff that ALL dogs love. But if you do happen to have a blocky-headed, chesty, bull of a dog, they carry products that fit. My dog Birdie – not a pit bull – can’t fit into anything because she’s really busty (she got that from me), but that’s no problemo here!

Let’s do some window shopping together, before you head over to grab your discounted loot, ok? Here are just a few of my favorite products that Fit For a Pit carries:


The Flirt Pole (read my blog on them here):



Dog Tees – that really fit:

fit for a pit tees

Goughnuts and other durable toys (read my blog on them here):



Books from Patricia McConnell and Ken Foster (I like him):

good dog

And everyone’s favorite dog walking accessory Spray Shield! (I mention that one all the time):



There’s tons more cool, high quality stuff, like Doggles, backpacks, Chilly Dog sweaters, sunscreen, and even the Freedom No-Pull Harness. You can take $10 off on all of this stuff! Frankly the chance to get a flirt pole on the cheap or restock your Spray Shield at a discount is enough to head on over there and get clickin’, ammirite?

Heather carries just about everything I’ve been sharing with you all these years, so I’m genuinely happy to be connecting all of you to her store. You may be wondering, savvy consumers that you all are, is this an affiliate partnership? Why yes it is smarty! If you’re counting, I now have two affiliate partnerships: this one and Your End of the Lead.

When Heather started accepting affiliates, I asked to join her program. I want to shop from a small family business like Heather’s (instead of big anonymous drone-loving Amazon) when I can and I’m happier when I can link to small businesses here too. Heather has been involved in dog rescue for years and goes out of her way to support animal welfare groups, so I’m super proud to be working with her and supporting her business.

If you use the links in this blog to visit the store, I make a buck or two. But guess what, if you’re not into that, you can visit the store without using my links and you still get the $10 off with the DINOS code. Wheee!

Wait, a sec….now what was I talking about?  I believe that we will win! Where are my pants?

Oh yeah, you guys get $10 off this month. Say what?! That’s really generous of you Heather. Thanks pal!


But hold on, that’s not all. Next week come on back to look for a secret giveaway here on the blog. One of you is going to win one of my favorite new products…

Okay okay, you beat the secret giveaway right out of me: it’s a hands-free belt from Squishy Face. Next week I’ll share my experience testing the belt out on my dog walks and you can enter to win one!

See, life is good for you guys when I feel guilty about not writing anything new. My loss (of sanity) is your gain. Hip hip hooray!


Are You Giving or Taking Space? It Matters.

It’s Dog Bite Prevention Week again. Hey! Ho! Let’s Go (look at some ways to not get bit)!

There are a million ways to prevent dog bites. Fortunately dogs aren’t really into biting us all that much. Did you know there are more than 70 million dogs in this country? That’s a lot of teeth. And yet, they rarely use ’em on us, even when we act like fools. But occasionally, due to a variety of factors, dog bites do happen.

One of the ways that we can prevent dog bites is by thinking about space.

Specifically, how we take space from dogs.


When I started talking about Dogs in Need of Space a few years ago, I was looking for a simple way to communicate that all dogs have a right to their personal space and we should do what we can to avoid taking that space from them without permission.

Dog bite prevention tips are often about space (even if that’s not how they’re framing them). That’s because how we give and take space can influence the likelihood of a dog feeling the need to talk to us with their teeth. Let me show you how space plays a role in reducing dog bites:


Body Language: The way we move our bodies can help change how dogs are feeling about a situation. For example, we can take a step back, turn our bodies sideways, or crouch down to reduce the amount of space we take up and appear less threatening.

This week I was charged by a loose and under-socialized dog. I slowed my pace and turned my body 3/4 away from the dog to minimize the confrontation. I rocked my weight back, avoided looking directly at the dog, and kept my hands at my sides. I gave him as much space as I could in that moment through my body language. I got sniffed and he left.

Dear human, I am watching you carefully for clues.

Dear human, I am watching you carefully for clues.


Leash Laws: Using a leash helps to create space between your dog and other dogs or people (including the elderly and the disabled). When we leash our dogs and keep them by our sides as we pass others it maximizes the amount of space between both parties. This allows the person or the other dog, who may not appreciate meeting another dog while they are on leash, the opportunity to pass by calmly.

Leash laws can reduce bites between dogs, but also to humans (since we’re the ones who usually get bit when we try to intervene in a dog-dog brouhaha).

Not leashing your dog and allowing it to approach another dog  or a person without their permission robs others of their personal space. When that happens, many dogs and people will act in ways that will increase the likelihood of a bite (think: screaming, running away, and hitting or threatening your dog).

Not sure when to leash your dog? Ta-dah!

Proper Containment: Dogs that are properly contained on their property cannot escape to chase passing dogs and people. When we keep our dogs on our property using a fence, a lead, or a rock solid recall/proper supervision, we can create enough space between our dogs and passing pedestrians, playing kids, dog walkers, etc., so that they can all whiz by safely and without incident.

The other day while I was walking two dogs, I was chased by a loose dog that was not happy that we were walking by his lawn. I retreated into the street and up the block a bit to give him as much space as possible. I did not want him to feel as though we were in “his” space and that he had to protect his property. He followed us for 3 houses, then turned back. I gave him space, but I was at risk. You know what would have been a safer way to give that dog space near his property? A fence.

Don't makes us leave our yard.

Guard Wieners say: We see you. Just keep moving and no one gets hot dogged.


Being Polite: Every single time you pause to ask permission when meeting an unfamiliar dog you are creating space on multiple levels. You’re creating physical space by stopping your body/hands/your dog from moving forward without an invitation. You’re creating the space to observe by allowing enough time to look at the dog’s body language for clues about how the dog really feels about meeting you or your dog. You are creating the space for a response by allowing the dog and the other owner time to respond to your request, which might be “no”. In which case, you are giving them the space to leave. 

Seriously, just being polite and respectful by asking first is a real winner in the preventing bites category.


Kids and Dogs: When we teach kids that they are not to go near the dog when it’s eating or chewing a bone, we’re teaching them to give a dog space. Same goes for teaching them not to use dogs as full body bean bag chairs, not to hug them, not to approach loose or chained dogs, and also to get the heck out of the dog’s crate. It’s all about teaching kids to respect the dog’s space.

Kids, please give this dog space. Then tell your parents to call the SPCA.

Kids, please give this dog space. Then tell your parents to call the SPCA.


Avoiding Surprises: If you are a jogger or cyclist, please give dogs physical space by not zooming right up on them. When you make a wide arc around them, you maximize the space between you. Dogs are dogs – they don’t understand why you are running full tilt right at them. When they are surprised by your approach, it increases the likelihood of a bite. Even the best behaved, most well socialized dogs can have a bad moment when they are surprised by having you suddenly in their space.

Good Management: Making good choices gives our dogs the space they need to succeed. When we have guests come over, workmen, unexpected deliveries, etc. we can give our dogs the space they need to feel safe by using crates, gates, leashes, and old-fashion doors to separate them from people. Same goes for on-leash walks. You may need to say “no” when someone tries to approach your dogs. You’re making a smart choice, so don’t worry if  it pisses someone else off. You’re in charge of doing your best to create the space your dog needs to succeed. Always stand up for them.

Rocket Ships: Or, we can forget everything I said, load all of us humans onto a rocket and blast us into space. The dogs would miss us, but we’d prevent lots of bites if we were on Mars. Also, would I get to hangout with Neil DeGrasse Tyson if we were all in space? That would be so rad.


This here is a BAD ASS.

This here is a BAD ASS.


Wrapping it all up: The next time you’re with dogs and not sure what the best thing to do would be, you can ask yourself:

Am I giving space or taking it away? How can I create space so that everyone stays calm and safe?


And so, another Dog Bite Prevention Week comes to a close here on Notes from a Dog Walker with this thought: SPACE, it’s not just about the cosmos, it’s also a great way to prevent a lot of dog bites.


Interview with Janet Finlay of Your End of the Lead [contest]


This is Janet! I’d go for a walk with her.

So, the other day I told you guys that Your End of the Lead is now being offered as an on-demand online class and that I’ve partnered up with the creator Janet Finlay, to offer you a great deal on the class through April 30th, 2014.

You can read all about that here, if you missed it.

I had some questions about the class and I figured you’d want to know the answers too, so I put together this interview with Janet for all y’all.

Wait a sec! Before you start reading, there’s a contest too. You can win a free spot in the class! Details are at the end of the interview.  But check out the Q+A first (you might learn something):



Jessica: You’re a certified dog trainer, but Your End of the Lead isn’t a training course. Why did you choose to focus on addressing the human end of the leash?


Janet: In my work as a trainer, I was regularly meeting people who were stressed out by their dog’s behaviour. They could no longer even enjoy going for a walk with their dog and often things were also difficult at home so they had no break from it. Even the most committed owners, who were working really hard to help their dogs, were telling me they felt guilty because of what their dog couldn’t do and many felt that it was their fault. And of course well-meaning people – even trainers – often reinforce that feeling by saying things like “he’d be better if you could just relax…”  – but of course you can’t just “switch off” all that stress. So it becomes a vicious circle that leaves people feeling useless and isolated.

While there is a lot of help out there for how to train your dog, I couldn’t find much specifically helping people with this problem. As a qualified coach for people, I know that reframing the way we think about a problem can fundamentally change how we respond to it. And as a TTouch practitioner, I have a whole toolbox of techniques for reducing tension and stress. So I put together a face-to-face “Your End of the Lead” workshop, which was very popular – and later this online course.



J: The new version of the course is “on demand.” Can you describe what that means and how that’s different than the full support version?


Janet: I’ve run Your End of the Lead Online twice now as a fixed session course, where all the students start at the same time and work through the lessons at the same time, as if they were in a class. This works really well but limits numbers and isn’t very flexible. Each time I have run it I have had people ask if it was it possible to do the course at a different time or to fit their particular schedule – and up to now this hasn’t been possible – partly because I feel strongly that online courses are next to useless if they just provide content without any support structures to help students actually complete the course. But I’ve now come up with a support package that will allow people to choose to do the course when they want but without being left to do it alone.

So with the On Demand version you get the whole course immediately and you can follow it at your own pace and in your own time. You’ll get prompts by email reminding about the course, there’s a Q&A page, and I’m running monthly webinars to answer questions live. And as a bonus I am also including 6 months’ membership of my private online community, so that people can discuss what they are doing on the course with other students, past and current. And I’m there daily too. So I am confident that the On Demand package has the flexibility people wanted, but without losing the support that is so important.


J: You’re a TTouch practitioner. Can you tell us a bit about TTouch and why it’s included in YEL?


Janet: TTouch is a very respectful and gentle training approach that recognizes the connection between physical state, emotional state, and behaviour. It uses a combination of observation, light body work, body wraps and leading exercises to increase an animal’s awareness of themselves, to reduce physical tension and to shift them out of habitual responses. It is well known as a way of calming dogs (and people – it works on any animal that has a nervous system), but it can also help change behaviour by improving the animal’s physical and emotional balance.

It’s included in Your End of the Lead because it offers a really valuable set of tools for owners of reactive dogs. It can really help with stress reduction for both dogs and people – it can reduce the overall level of stress, as well as providing tools to help owners calm themselves and their dogs before, during and after challenging incidents. It is also a great foundation for other forms of training as it reduces physical tension, pain and postural imbalance, all of which can make behavioural issues worse. And the leading and handling techniques we use in TTouch really enable people to keep a loose lead and avoid introducing the tension in the lead that can often trigger reactive behaviour.


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Photo credit: David J Laporte on Flickr – CC-BY 2.0 license


J: What does it mean for a dog to be out of balance in their body – particularly for dogs that are fearful or aggressive? How does TTouch help?


Janet: A dog may be out of physical balance in many ways. They may have tightness in the muscles, which limits free movement and results in stiff posture. They may be weighted unevenly, so they are putting more stress on one or more limbs. They may have poor awareness of some parts of their body, so they may appear uncoordinated. They may have tension in the body that makes them uncomfortable about being handled or touched in that area. They may be out of balance for lots of reasons – such as old injuries, their physical conformation or life experiences – or we can inadvertently throw them out of balance by the way we lead them (pulling into a collar for instance or holding their head up and back).

These physical issues affect how a dog feels and how they behave. For example, if a dog is tight in the neck and head, so that their posture is stiff and their head carriage inflexible, they can be reactive when approached and their posture is also more challenging for other dogs. If we can reduce that tension then we not only make them more comfortable and less defensive, but we also change their posture to make them less threatening to other dogs. Fearful dogs often have tension in the hindquarters and tail – again we can release that tension and enable more relaxed posture.

TTouch helps because it gives us a set of tools to work on these physical and postural issues and ways of leading and handling dogs to encourage them to stay in balance.


J: I love the sections of the class that cover human psychology – from why people invade our dog’s space to how our own thinking can get in the way of positive changes.

One lesson covers the power of language and labels. With DINOS, I’ve tried to give people a more neutral or positive label for their dogs, but as you say in one of the YEL lessons, all labels (positive and negative) can affect our behavior and thinking about our dogs. I agree! Can you share a little more about that idea?


Janet: When we label our dogs it can make it more difficult for us to see them clearly. We tend to interpret their behaviour according to our labels. So if we call our dog “stubborn”, for instance, and they stop in a particular situation, we are likely to think it is because they are being stubborn and so may miss the fact that they are actually frightened.

The same happens with positive labels. How many people tell us their dogs are “friendly” when in that moment they are being rude and inappropriate? Positive labels can also be deceptive.

So I would rather ditch labels altogether and focus on learning to be more observant of actual behaviour. That way we don’t fall into a fixed mindset about our dogs. We can see them as they are in any given moment and can more easily notice when they change.  And we can respond to how they are actually behaving rather than to what it is we think they are.


J: If there’s one thing you want DINOS families to know about the YEL class, what would it be?


Janet: Just one thing?

That it is possible to enjoy being out and about with your dog – even if he or she can be reactive.

The secret to being able to relax is to know you are able to manage any situation you find yourself in calmly and confidently. This is what Your End of the Lead aims to do for you. It will complement whatever training you are doing  to work with your dog, by making you a more aware, calmer and more effective handler, enabling you and your dog to really make progress.


Thank you Janet! 



Want to sign up for Janet’s class?

You can register for Your End of the Lead using the DINOS affiliate link. Through April 30th, the class is only $99! That’s a savings of 40% off the normal price of $165.

There’s more – you’ll also score a free 6 month membership to Janet’s ACE Owner’s Club which offers a ton of extra support, monthly training challenges, and a community forum. All for $99

Update May 1st: The “early bird” special is now over, but you can still register to take Your End of the Lead anytime! For $165 you’ll get all 15 lessons, monthly webinars, and 6 months FREE access to the ACE Owners Club. A great deal!

And here’s the CONTEST!   

The contest has ended – thanks to everyone who entered. Congratulations to Val Appiani and her dog Lilly – they won the free YEL class!

Leave me a comment answering the question below and one lucky person will be chosen to win registration to Your End of the Lead for free! And, because so many of you have registered already, we want to open it up to you too. If you’ve already paid for the class and you win the contest, Janet will refund your $99 so you can take the class for free.  So everyone gets to play. Neat, right?

Leave a comment between now and Wednesday, April 23rd at Midnight EST. One comment will be chosen at random and the winner will be announced here and on the DINOS Facebook page on Thursday, April 24th.  Please make sure your comment or gravatar includes your email contact info, so we can notify you directly as well!

Tell us your answer in the comments for your shot at the prize:

If your dog won a gold medal, what talent or skill would it be for?


(My dog Birdie would win a gold medal for staging an effective  nonviolent  pool resistance movement or maybe couch cushion management. Boogie would win for completing a successful Wubba water extraction mission.)





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