Skill Building: Attention

pexels-photo-551628.jpegAttention is the foundation of most things you’ll do with your dog. If your dog is busy looking at everything except for you, he’ll have a pretty hard time walking in heel, holding a sit, or performing skills in a distracting environment. 

Making direct eye contact isn’t necessarily a natural, easy thing for dogs to do. Some dogs are very sensitive to it, so go slow and make sure you aren’t unintentionally intimidating your dog! Invite eye contact by keeping your eyes soft and your gaze natural…staring at your dog while leaning over him isn’t very inviting. If your dog actively avoids eye contact, or you can’t remember your dog ever offering it, you may need to start with your dog looking in your direction or just at your face, rather than making eye contact.

To build a strong foundation of attention, start with this exercise.

Skill Building: Attention

Location: Low-distraction, such as your kitchen or living room

Supplies: One dog (this is not the time to work multiple dogs), 10 tasty treats, and a clicker (or just be prepared with your handy marker word)

What to do:

  1. Sit or stand and say nothing.
  2. Do nothing.
  3. Find your zen place.
  4. Be quiet. Soften your body language and your gaze.
  5. Bear with me…I promise this will work!
  6. The second your dog glances at you, say “yes!” or click and treat. I don’t care if it’s a quick, barely there glance, just mark and treat. Do this 10 times, then take a break.

When you’re successful in your low distraction environment, move to a different room, and then eventually move your practice to new places with more distractions. Keep your dog successful, by increasing difficulty slowly. You can also start building in duration, so that your dog can maintain eye contact longer.


Voila, you have now started building a foundation of attention, and you’ve taught your dog that checking in with you pays really well.

People always ask why I don’t use a command like “watch me” or “look at me.”  I really don’t think it’s necessary, and it’s yet another word to remember. I want my dogs to know that it’s always safe to look at me, and that it’s worth it to them to check in because I pay really well. Of course, they know their names and in high distraction times, their name does mean “look at me,” but it’s important for me to avoid nagging my dogs. I’d rather wait for them to choose to look at me then beg them to. Imagine how you’d feel if someone was poking you over and over again, and saying “hey! hey! HEY!” constantly. You’d probably get pretty annoyed. You’d also probably look at the person, but you wouldn’t feel great about it. You’d be doing it to get them to stop bothering you. Don’t be annoying…instead, be a quiet, patient, generous person who pays well.



My Top Recall Tips

We all want a dog who comes back to us reliably and quickly. Here are my top tips.

  1. Pay your dog well! Dole out a bunch of good, tasty treats, do a food scatter on the ground, toss cookies away from you, etc. Do more than just hand your dog a treat. Make the food interesting!
  2. Send your dog away from you. This is a big one, and may seem counterintuitive. We often call our dogs away from fun things, and that will actually damage our recall over time. Most dogs would rather chase a squirrel or sniff a tree than eat a measly cookie. So reward your dog for coming to you, then send him away again. He will learn that coming to you will get him some cookies AND he’ll be able to return to his own fun, too. If you ever have to call him permanently away from something especially fun, make sure you follow that up with other fun things…don’t just stick him on a leash or in a crate–play a game, practice known skills, etc.
  3. Practice in lots of safe, fenced areas. Ask to borrow your friends’ or neighbors’ yards, or head to the dog park when no one is there. The more places you practice, the more reliable your recall will be.
  4. Use long lines. Long lines are for safety, they are not training tools. That said, they can provide peace of mind and great opportunities to practice recalls. Your job is to reward your dog for coming to you and to be sure you are practicing in places where he can be successful.
  5. Never correct your dog for not coming to you or pull him toward you with a leash. He may indeed come to you in that moment, but you won’t be building speed, drive, or desire to come to you. We want our dogs to barrel toward us, not creep up to us slowly in order to avoid punishment.
  6. Avoid calling your dog before doing something your dog perceives as unpleasant. This includes: you going to work, putting the dog in the crate, cleaning ears, doing toenails, giving a pill, etc. IF you need your dog, and you need to do one of those things, you can do one of two things. One–go get your dog, rather than call him. Two–build in a break between your dog coming and whatever you need to do. That could just be some time, say 10-15 minutes, or you can do another activity before the “icky” one.
  7. Finally, never stop rewarding your dog for coming to you. Because the recall is so important, I keep it on a one to one ratio of reinforcement. That means I always reward my dogs for coming, but the reward may not always be food. When we are walking off leash, I will reward with food periodically for checking in, but I will also sometimes just send them away again. Freedom is often just as rewarding as food, the important thing is to be clear–I acknowledge that they came back and verbally send them off again. Dogs love this game, and it helps them feel secure and confident about coming back.

Happy 10th Birthday to YBD

Well, ten years in, I’m still having fun playing with (and training) all of your dogs. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I would still be doing daily dog walking, I’d have said “no way!” Turns out, it’s still one of my favorite things, and I look forward to all of my “regulars” that I get to see every week. To celebrate this anniversary, we have a shiny new logo.2017Logo

Thanks for supporting this adventure…if I can do it, just think what y’all can do! Now, go play with your dogs ❤


7 Ways to Improve your Dog’s Walk

1. Let your Dog Sniff

We all know that our dogs have incredible noses. These noses are, shall we say, infinitely more powerful than our own. I’ve heard anywhere from 10,000 up to 1,000,000 times as strong… think about that for a moment. Why not let them use it to explore their environment? The walk is for your dog, is it not? If you get frustrated about stopping at every vertical surface, I hear you and I see you (all the time, dragging your dog away from mailboxes). Try taking a jog or walk by yourself at your own pace before you go out with your pup, and then treat your dog’s sniffapalooza as your cool down. Additionally, just think: if your dog is busy sniffing, he’s not barking, lunging, jumping on anyone, chasing cars, etc. Win, I’d like you to meet win. All that said, I use a well-trained, positively-reinforced “leave it” for things such as trash, poison ivy, and well-manicured flower beds. 

2. Go Off-Grid

Put your cell phone in airplane mode.  The walk is for your dog, no? Focus your attention in his direction.

3. Change the Scenery

A neighborhood walk is fine. Especially if that walk involves plenty of sniffing and time to read all the neighborhood dogs’ pee-mail. Buuuuuut, getting your dog out to new places is a darn good idea. As you may have heard me mention before, dogs learn contextually, so when you go somewhere new, they may seem to forget their skills. The more places your practice, the better your dog will learn to generalize their cues and behaviors. Not only that, but your dog gets new sights and smells, stuff to climb on, and things to jump over. Be creative! You don’t have to drive an hour outside of town to find a new walking spot. Try out a different neighborhood, a park you’ve never explored, or even meander around shopping centers or business parks (be mindful of signage, please). 

4. Keep your Distance

The walk is for your dog. Not someone else’s. If you encounter people or other dogs on your walk, keep your distance. Socialization is a big deal, and honestly, it goes sideways a lot of the time. This blog isn’t about that, so I won’t go too in depth on it. We should be exposing our dogs to dogs and people we know and trust, and I’m afraid random people and dogs just don’t meet that criteria. If you see any hints of reactivity or aggression, this is especially true. You have your dog out for your own reasons–don’t feel pressure to make your dog “say hi” to anyone. Obviously, if your dog loves new people, and is already responding appropriately and politely to them when out on walks, go for it. Just be mindful about it. A lot of dogs that LOVE to say hi to new people can quickly turn into dogs that bark and lunge at new people out of frustration during those instances when they don’t get to say hi. It’s all about balance. I want my dogs to know that just because there’s a person/dog/goat/chicken there, that doesn’t mean it’s there for you.

5. Loosen Up

When it’s safe, I walk my dogs on long lines that are 20-30 feet long. By safe I mean:

  • Not near a road (this is not generally a good idea for neighborhood walks)
  • Wide, open trails, with good line of sight
  • Open fields
  • Quiet times at places that don’t meet the above criteria (aka that usually busy park, but it’s snowing/raining/5am)

Walking multiple dogs on long lines is a bit of an exercise in patience (and detangling), so if you do have more than one dog, I recommend either walking them separately while you build up your line-handling skills. Alternatively, you can put just one dog on a long line while the other dog is on a 5-6ft leash. Then, you can switch who is on the long line during the walk, so that everyone gets a turn having more room to roam. Many people find their dogs don’t pull as much, and generally seem happier and more relaxed, on a long line. All dogs are different, and long line walks take a bit of adjustment for everyone, but it’s worth exploring if you haven’t.

Side note: I only ever use long lines with well fitting, non-restrictive, back-attach harnesses. One of my favorites is the BrilliantK9 (full disclosure, I am an affiliate, but it’s a darn good company! E-mail me for more info or help with sizing!). Pretty please, don’t use a long line with a regular collar, head collar, slip collar, or really any sort of “training collar.” When I say “long line” I mean just that, it’s a long leash or a rope, not a retractable Flexi-leash.

6. Use Food

I always take good, high value (tasty!) food on walks with my dogs. Now, I don’t always use it, but I’m always glad I have it. You can use food to reward behavior, of course, but it’s also a good emergency tool. Loose dog coming your way, throw a handful of cookies at him, and then feed your own dogs as you get some distance. Big Scary Thing happen? Fire engine, dumpster day, car alarm? Boom, drop a scatter of cookies for your pup to eat. Eating is a calming behavior, and pairing scary things with the act of eating is a gooooood thing.

Sometimes, if we’re in our neighborhood, and I know we’re doing an out & back route, I’ll drop cookies here and there *behind* us as we’re walking. The dogs get to find them on the way back. They don’t always find them (sniffing pee-mail and potential squirrel trails>food) but it’s the thought that counts.  

Another fun way to use food? Our neighborhood is pretty busy, and there are no cross walks, so while waiting to cross the street, I will scatter cookies in the grass for the dogs to find. Much more fun than just sitting!

7. Who is the Tour Guide?

The walk is for your dog. Lose the pack leader mentality. Really, it’s going to be okay, I promise! And if it’s not going okay, e-mail me, and let’s chat about it. Let your dog be your tour guide. Look at things from their perspective! Try to imagine where they would want to go, with no pesky human restrictions. One of my favorite things is coming up to a fork in the trail and letting my dogs decide which way we go. I often wonder why the heck they choose a given path, but unfortunately, my nose hasn’t caught up to theirs.

Wednesday Walkies!

IMG_8595Since a good part of my job is walking and exercising dogs, I’ve trained a LOT of dogs to walk politely on leash. Here are a few of my favorite walking tips:

  1. Walking multiple dogs? Use different colored leashes for each dog, that way, if things get tangled, you can quickly and easily tell who is who, and make sure you hang on to everyone. Personally, I don’t walk more than three dogs at a time, fewer if they are large and/or untrained. I can’t control the outside world and if an unexpected deer or horse (it’s happened!) shows up, I don’t want to fall on my face.


    Color coordinated leashes! These dogs are also all wearing Easy Walk harnesses.

  2. For dogs that aren’t trained to walking on a loose leash, yet, please use some sort of harness or, if necessary, a head halter. This is simple management. If your dog keeps practicing pulling, he will learn that it works! While you are working on your leash skills, using something to prevent most (if not all) pulling is hugely helpful. My favorites are EasyWalk harnesses (these connect in the front), Freedom harnesses, Gentle Leader headcollars, and Halti headcollars. These tools are not something I, personally, would be okay with using forever, but they are great ways of preventing pulling during initial training. And you can give it to someone else who needs it when you’re done with it, or donate it to a shelter. Once your dog is reliable on leash, I suggest switching to a simple, non-restrictive back-attach harness, such as the one Galley is wearing in the top photo. There are many great brands out there, but my favorites are the EzDog Quick Fit, Petsafe Surefit, and the Freedom harness (which has both a front & back attachment).


    The Easy Walk harness is a front attachment harness that works by turning your dog toward you if he/she meets the end of the leash.

  3. Use HIGH value rewards when you are first working with your dog on loose leash walking. For most dogs, particularly high energy, easily excitable, busy dogs kibble or dry cookies are not going to cut it. Even treats they would normally eat happily at home may get spit out! When your environment gets more interesting, we have be more interesting. Baked chicken, cut up turkey dogs, string cheese, even cheese in a can or cream cheese in a tube are all super high value treats. When your dog gets a little more experienced, you can start to phase in lower value goodies like commercial treats, cookies, and kibble.  stringcheese

If you are struggling with your dog on walks, it doesn’t have to be that way! Reach out for help, and we’ll get your dog on the road to recovery from pulling, even if he/she’s been practicing for years. There is always room for improvement, and your shoulders will appreciate it!


Foster Friday: 5 Tips for helping your foster dog feel more comfortable.

I have a new foster pup, Devon, and she is adorable:


While she is adorable(!), she also came with some baggage, just like all dogs, rescued or not. She’s only my third foster, if we’re not including foster fail Pinot…and I hope to do a lot more fostering in the future.

Here are some tips for helping your new foster dog feel comfortable in their new (temporary) home:

  1. Give them a cozy spot: Some dogs aren’t used to being in a house, so crating may be necessary to save your house. Make that spot fun and safe by feeding your foster in their crate, and playing crate games so that they WANT to be in their crate. Covering the crate, always offering a treat for getting in the crate, and not leaving the dog for long periods of time are all good ways to make the crate a happy place.

  2. Feed out of puzzle toys: Maybe not every meal right away, but learning to work on a food puzzle is great mental stimulation for all dogs. Kongs and Busy Buddy toys are just some of the great ones available.kong
  3. Handfeeding: This is a great way of building a bond SUPER fast. Simply prepare your foster dog’s meal, and then take the dog to a nice, low distraction room. Offer them handfuls of food until it’s all gone. You can combine this with training, or you can simply feed them! This reinforces to the dog that you are a wonderful person who makes good things happen. With dogs of unknown origin, this is very important.

  4. Teach them their name: Play the name game! Say the dog’s name one time in an upbeat voice, and feed! Wait for eye contact/ attention before feeding, and try using distractions–for example, handful of food held out to the side. Even if your foster dog is destined for a name change (most are), having a dog that responds to *something* is better than a dog who doesn’t know their name. When your foster gets adopted, tell the new owners about the name game and they can teach their new dog a new name.

  5. Exercise: Walks, playing with toys, and running in the yard are good for the soul, and are some of the reasons fostering is great. Instead of sitting in a kennel all day, your foster dog gets to be…a dog! See below:IMG_2274

If you’ve never fostered before, I definitely recommend it. You get the fun and excitement of a new (short term) dog, but also the benefit of helping out a rescue in need–and seeing the adopters with their new family member is pretty darn amazing!

Dog Walking Tips & More from Professional Dog Trainer Lulu Clarke

Looks like we have a storm coming! Stay tuned for tips on keeping your dogs busy when the weather is miserable (and potentially dangerous!) outside. In the meantime, I recently had the fun opportunity to do an interview with one of my favorite dog supply vendors, Best Bully Sticks. They’re a local Richmond, Va company, just like me, and they are the best! All natural treats & chews, and they do good work for rescue? Can’t beat that. Pinot would like to add that the Bully Bites are his favorite thing ever.

Click here to read the interview!

[I was not compensated for this blog in any way…I am just a huge Best Bully Sticks fan!]