Monday, February 17, 2014

Why You Haven’t Heard From Me Lately

It’s not that I think you are anxiously awaiting my next newsletter or blog post, or that you just wouldn’t be able to function without a review on the latest and greatest dog leash. But you might be wondering why you haven’t heard from me lately. I have cherished each and every private client and group class student that “The Persuaded Pooch” has reached. Because of the mutual care and respect that exists, I thought I’d update you.

In September 2013, I had the unexpected pleasure of taking a new full-time position with a St. Louis-based premium pet food company, called Nature’s Variety. As many of you know, I worked for PepsiCo while also growing The Persuaded Pooch in my spare time. Some might say I am a workaholic, but when you truly have a passion for what you do, sometimes it just doesn’t seem like extra “work.” The grand master plan could naturally have been to grow the business to the point of quitting my perk-filled corporate job and focus on training full-time.

Interestingly and unexpectedly, though, I was offered a sales position with Nature’s Variety, selling premium raw and raw-inspired pet food to two major pet specialty retailers. Even though I had envisioned Pepsi as my last “real job,” I was definitely intrigued by becoming a part of a small, yet fast-growing pet-related company, and truly feeling like my work could make an impact on pets and their owners. In September, I put dog training on hold a bit to focus on learning my new role. After the holidays, I joyfully reopened the business to accepting new clients in January of 2014.

Class graduates, Colleen & Daniel
Although I am still accepting new private training clients, regretfully, I’ve had to give up some other activities such as monthly newsletters and regular blogging, as well as my wonderful group class relationship with Webster Groves Recreation Center. (The March classes will be my last for a while.) My new position requires a bit of travel, and it was not only a challenge to schedule regular classes but to promote them effectively.

The scope of The Persuaded Pooch may be in flux, however, I am and always have been committed to being the most knowledgeable, effective and professional dog trainer possible. I am excited to be attending my third ClickerExpo in March in Norfolk, Virginia and continue to further my education through hands-on events (like “chicken clicking"), weekend seminars with some of the greatest animal trainers on Earth like Patricia McConnell and through wonderful written resources, like The Whole Dog Journal and the APDT’s “Chronicle of the Dog.”  

There you have it, in case you’ve been wondering. I want to thank all of my clients and students – and of course, their dogs – for teaching me so much and for giving The Persuaded Pooch a chance. I feel blessed to be employed by a company whose mission is "to empower people to transform the lives of pets." Indeed, impacting the lives of dogs and their people are both my motivation and my reward in getting up out of bed everyday. I’m lucky and proud to say that I get to do that in both of my “jobs.” All the best, and see you soon!

Sincerely, Sarah

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The “Four-Legged” Approach to Good Behavior

Image courtesy of
One of my most cherished bosses in the world once used the analogy that there are 3 “legs of the bar stool” of that particular company that supported our department and its efforts. Without one of those “legs” the entire operation would come crashing down.

I love the first day of group dog training classes, where I get to share my philosophy on training and get students on the same page before they even bring their dogs to class. This is where I, too, get to use my own “bar stool” analogy when it comes to obtaining good dog behavior. Except in my version, there’s four legs to the bar stool. Let’s face it, when there’s something as unpredictable as dog behavior at stake, you want to make sure you’re on the most stable foundation possible…

Leg 1 – Nutrition

What you put in Fido’s mouth is just as important as the behavior you expect to receive out of him. Think about your own diet and how it would affect your behavior. For example, if you ate a steady diet of McDonalds everyday, do you think you would look and feel your best? (Remember “Super Size Me?”) Do you think that the way you feel might impact your attitude and interactions with others?

It’s imperative that your dog receives a well-rounded and balanced diet. Does that mean you can’t treat him now and then with a well-deserved doggy ice cream treat? Certainly not. But his ideal everyday diet would consist of a foods that are high in protein and nutrients and relatively low in fillers. There’s a plethora of information on pet food, and it’s important to trust the professionals like pet store owners and veterinarians for information, as well as do your own consumer research on brands, like through

Leg 2 – Exercise

First and foremost, you should consult with your veterinarian to determine what type and how much exercise is best for your dog. That being said, unless your dog has a medical condition that prohibits exercise, I think it’s safe to say that your dog (and you!) will benefit from regular exercise.

Some dogs are okay with a short leisurely walk every day. Some other dogs won’t be satiated until they’ve sprinted in the park for a solid hour and a half. Regardless, most dogs that are under-exercised will undoubtedly find a way to communicate their needs. This might manifest itself in chewed furniture, shoes, door jambs, unsupervised toilet paper and paper towel rolls and kid toys, or something more serious like jumping, barking and general over-exuberance.

Leg 3 – Good Health and Hygiene

Certainly, nutrition and exercise contribute greatly to good health. Even so, there are many afflictions that a dog might suffer from, despite these things. Allergies, orthopedic issues, general pain, injuries and infections are all common conditions in even healthy dogs. Has your dog’s behavior changed or gotten worse recently? Maybe Fido’s not feeling well.

It’s important to get him to your veterinarian, or least put in a call to them, to get their professional medical opinion if something seems a little off. It may be nothing, or it could be something… Isn’t it worth your peace of mind and your dog’s comfort to find out for sure? Of course, to ensure you are doing everything to prevent some of these common ailments, be sure to maintain good canine hygiene, including keeping toenails clipped and cleaning ears, teeth and even those most-aversive anal glands.

Leg 4 – Training

Did you really think the dog trainer was going to leave out dog training?! Of course training basic obedience is imperative to having a polite, well-behaved dog. But why does it come last in the list? It’s not because I’m saving the best for last… It’s truly because if the other three things are not in place first, the likelihood of success with your training plan could be diminished.

Is it possible for an unhealthy, under-exercised, under-nutritioned dog to learn new tricks? Absolutely. However, it’s with the success of the trainer, not the trainee, in mind that I rank training fourth in the list. If your dog is set up for success before you start, then you, as the trainer, will also find an increased chance of success and desired results. This also means less frustration and a better bond with your dog.

So there you have it in a nutshell… the four legs of behavioral success. Without one of these four legs in place, you risk the chance that your dog’s behavior won’t be as stable as possible. Without one of these legs, the entire operation may just fall apart. Do yourself and your dog a favor and always prop yourselves for success from the very beginning. Happy training!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tips for End of Season Doggy Swims

Photo credit: Seth Casteel - Little Friends Photo

Well, here we are… Another summer almost behind us. Before you pull out the fall sweaters, tailgate equipment and pumpkin carving knives, there’s one left thing to do. Yep, that’s right… Close the pool!

What? You don’t have a pool? (Congratulations, you’ve just saved years off of your life in checking Ph levels.) That’s okay, because many of the municipalities around town do have public pools, and many of them offer end of season doggy swim parties before closing down for the season.

But this sort of event can be a little tricky, especially for a first-timer dog - or person for that matter… You must be really willing to trust perfect strangers with the capability to protect not only their dog, but your dog, from harm and injury. Nevertheless, end of season public dog swims do exist and can have their place in the doggy social repertoire. So here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan on attending an end of season doggy swim:

1)      Be Mindful – You must first ask yourself if you truly believe that your dog a) wants to swim at all and b) wants swim with other dogs. If your dog can’t swim, is too old to swim comfortably, has orthopedic problems, fear issues or just flat out does not get along with other dogs… please, please, please do not take him to the doggy swim. You may think that exposure to other dogs will help him get over his social anxiety, but overwhelming your dog with too much stimulus at one time could potentially cause more harm than good. You risk too much by experimenting with your dog’s health and safety. Contact a professional dog trainer or board certified behaviorist to help with these issues instead.

2)      Vaccinations – Be sure that the host of the event is checking for vaccinations of all dogs prior to the swim. One of the most contagious diseases among dogs is Bordetella, or kennel cough. Much like a cold in humans, the particles can be transmitted through the air, direct contact, or by touching something that is infected – like bowls, leashes and toys. Although a “cold” doesn’t sound that severe, Bordetella can provide an avenue for uglier things to creep into your dog’s body and cause more damage. It’s better to be safe than sorry and stay away from any event that does not verify the Bordetella vaccination and other important inoculations, like Rabies.

3)      Leashes – Much like with dog parks, it’s typically not a good idea to keep a dog on leash inside an off-leash area. Dogs who are restrained in an otherwise unrestrained situation might feel like a target within their environment. Should they be approached by an over-exuberant dog, a dog with an incompatible play style or a dog with a bullying mannerism, your dog might feel inadequate to escape the situation. When paired with owner tension on the leash, this could lead to an uncomfortable and dangerous fight situation. If you feel you must keep your dog on a leash in this type of situation, be sure to honestly question the reasons why and, again, address them accordingly with a qualified trainer or behaviorist - and maybe your therapist, too... Ugh, those control issues! :)

4)      Toys – Does your dog have a favorite toy that he just cherishes and can’t live without? Great! Don’t bring it to the doggy swim. If he can’t bear the idea of having other dogs play with his prized bone, or risk the chance of losing it altogether, it’s a good idea to forego it and bring ranking toys #2 or #3. With the stimulation of all the other dogs around, it’s very likely your dog might not be interested in playing with toys at all anyway (= less to carry!).

5)      Canine Body Language – Familiarize yourself with doggy body language. These great illustrations from Lili Chin will help you to identify what your dog – and what other dogs – might be trying to communicate about their emotional state.

6)      Relax – Lastly, but most importantly, stay relaxed when in a doggy swim environment. This isn’t to say pull up a lounge chair, close your eyes and roast in the afternoon sun. What it does mean is to reduce any sort of tension or stress you may be carrying prior to coming to the swim. If you are tense, your dog might pick up on it and become tense or anxious himself. If you find that you are nervous, maybe it’s best to go for a nice walk in the park as an alternative, where both you and your dog might enjoy yourselves more.