A Tail Of Unconditional Love


The little computer screen had finally projected sunny after a solid straight run of rain—a happy sight just weeks after our move. The kids blasted out of bed, eager to head down to the lake as my husband collected his papers and promised to help when he came back.

As I pushed my three canines out the back door to enjoy their new enclosed backyard, I was happy to appease my inner dictator who was demanding another day of unpacking, weather regardless! Almost all of us were where we wanted to be on one of the most cloudless, outdoor-inviting days of the summer.

Obsession Toys! Teaching Your Dog To Behave In A Sarah Minute…

As a dog trainer, I’m blessed to work with both dogs and people—two of my favorite species!  I spend most days interpreting dog or puppy behavior, and coaching people to teach their dog English as a second language.  Dogs, like young kids, want desperately to be a part of things.  They excite, sometimes over-enthusiastically, to every day transitions, like people coming to the door or family members leaving.  When training is overlooked, a dog or puppy often responds by over-reacting.  This often brings a flush of excitement from the person involved, which is construed by dogs as play posturing or confrontational.  Therefore, the dog or puppy becomes more reactive—more jumpy more nippy more destructive, instead of less.

A Page From The Dog Trainer’s Diary

What happened on a recent visit to train a canine version of Bonnie and Clyde.

Next week, I will address getting a dog or puppy to match your lifestyle.  Pure breed or rescue?  Young puppy or older dog?  How much does the breed influence the temperament?  Male or female?  Please forward me your questions to help me shape my article! Meanwhile, here’s a page from my Dog Trainer’s Dairy.

Safety 101: Teaching Dogs To Be Good Neighbors

As a professional dog trainer, I see all kinds of dog behavior and I will be the first to tell you that most bad behavior is simply bad training. But I’m also a mom and sometimes my momma instincts override my trainer’s cool. This weekend, my son was threatened by a neighborhood dog and I felt heart-stopping fear followed by deep frustration. This didn’t have to happen.

Here’s a quick recap: My 4-year old son was riding his scooter in our cul-de-sac. I stood on the pavement as he pushed himself back and forth with much style and enthusiasm. He was about 50 yards away from me when it happened–as suddenly as a finger snap, a neighbor’s young German Shepherd Dog raced down her driveway and into the road, barking furiously and heading straight for my boy.

Walking Your Dog: Who Is Training Who? The Psychology Behind The Modern Day Leash Walk

Thanks to those readers who commented or emailed me on my article, “Winter’s Perils.” It was a great way to get to know some of you and a fitting introduction to my new bi-monthly column, “Ask the Trainer.” This new format will let me shape my column around your dog training questions and concerns.

Based on sheer volume, it seems the number one concern among my readers and clients is leash pulling. If you’ve ever walked a dog, chances are you’ve been pulled by a dog too. Many wondered why their dogs behaved worse on the leash than off. Is there a connection between leash pulling and heightened reactivity to people and other dogs?

Dog Trainer, Dog Trainer…Who Do I Choose?

Treat your dog like family, not just a member of the pack.

Recently, I was trying to finish up some last-minute work projects while my 7-year old daughter, Lindsay, studied the guest list for her imminent birthday party. Did I order the cake? Were the balloons definitely going to be purple? Should we call?

Frustrated and hoping a small project would distract her, I told her to look the numbers up in the phone book. And just like that, we had one of those generational moments. She had no idea what a phone book was. The times they are a-changing.

The Many Ways To Train A Dog

Choosing an approach that's right for your dog…

When my daughter Lindsay was 3, we made a sticker chart. Crafted out of poster board and bright magic markers, the sticker chart was supposed to encourage positive behavior. Every time Lindsay hung up her coat or brushed her teeth without a fight, we’d put a sticker on the chart. My friend Melanie swore by the sticker chart.

Apparently, her kids woke every morning, brushed, flossed, put the dishes in the dishwasher and lined up like the von Trapp children in an ongoing effort to accumulate stickers on the sticker chart.

When A Well-Trained Dog Ignores A Command

Exercise control or offer compassion?

Yesterday I saw Red the cardinal, our unimaginatively named but nevertheless reliable harbinger of spring, sitting expectantly in our leafless dogwood tree. Red’s feathers looked a little tattered, but he bounced excitedly on his perch. No snow! Longer days! Yippee!

Following Red’s lead, I bounced excitedly, too. Today, I, Sarah Hodgson, well-known dog trainer, would bring her perfectly-trained dogs to the park for the first mad romp of the season. No worries about ice cuts or hidden dangers, just good old terra firma. I left my two-legged family at home, loaded Balderdash and Whoopsie into the van and headed off, filled with optimism.

Training A Dog To Love Their Bath

Hint: Use whatever makes their tails wag..

The kitchen door slammed and there they were: my two children. Soaking wet and covered with mud. In April. I was wearing a fleece vest and Ugg boots, they were half-dressed, squirting each other with the hose. I’m so mid-life.

Setting my coffee cup aside, I hoisted my wet, wriggly toddler in one arm and took my daughter’s hand. It was time for an early afternoon bath.

The Dog Trainer’€™S Dark Side

The hardest thing to control in life, is not a dog…it’s your temper. 

I’m proud to admit that I have a reputation for patience. Whether presiding over the first chaotic moments of a new group dog training class, sitting in a client’s kitchen listening to a long list of canine misbehaviors or guiding my daughter through the complex and sometimes volatile social strata of first grade, I manage to keep my cool. Often, clients call me for a quick “talk through” when dog training frustrations crop up. I help them see the world from the dog’s perspective so their dog’s behavior makes sense. “Don’t yell at your dog,” I counsel. “Understand your dog.”

Housebreaking A Dog…Potty Training A Toddler

We spent the holiday break doing all the things that many families do in late December: we wrapped and unwrapped, shipped and received, pulled out and put away. We ate, drank, rejoiced, laughed and—just a few times—cried. But of all the 2010 holiday events, one stands out above the rest. Bohdie started toilet training.

OK, it’s not your standard holiday celebration. There are no cards or special ornaments to commemorate it, but as a professional dog trainer well-versed in the techniques used to housebreak puppies and dogs, I’m finding many similarities worth noting. Regular readers of my column know that I often learn worthwhile life lessons from my four-footed clients, and today I’d like to thank all the dogs who have inadvertently contributed to the toilet training of my kids.

What Dog Training And Preschool Have In Common

For starters, they should both be required.

Bohdie and I just crossed a bridge: we went to pre-school. I say “we” because although it is two-year old Bohdie that attended the class, it was 40-something Mama that learned the lesson.

Pre-schooler in action

Filling out the enrollment forms, I worried. How would he handle the separation? How would he act? Would he make friends? Respect the teacher? Remember the potty rules? Driving to the school, I was nervous—as if his first few minutes in pre-school would determine his future as a man and validate my success as a mother. I can be a little dramatic sometimes.

Shar Pei Meets Vizsla: A Page From The “Dog Training Diary”

One of my favorite things to do in my private dog training practice is untangle knots. Not the knots in leashes or long lines, but in the complex relationships between clients and their pets.

Sometimes the knots are simple…the “I just got a puppy, now what do I do?” type of call. Others are more complex: hair-raising tales of furniture destruction, car chasing, non-stop barking and seemingly incurable housebreaking problems. 

This week, I'd like to share a story about the multi-dog household—another common dog training issue—and invite you, the reader, to send me your questions, insights or photos on this or any other dog training topic.

The First Time

I had had enough. I tweeted, I posted, I answered emails and phone calls and then…I had enough. The weather icon on the bottom of my computer screen was showing nothing but happy little sun faces for the next several days so I made an executive decision: this family was taking a day off—midweek—and going to the beach. We were all playing hooky–from camp, from work, from Facebook.

Preparing for a beach day with family took the usual planning—bathing suits, coolers and beach toys had to be organized and packed—but by 9, we were off, our trusty minivan loaded with food, towels, sunscreens of various powers, leashes of various lengths, sweatshirts, diapers and trashy novels.

Aesop The New Dog

Meet Aesop, the dog trainer’s dog. Eighteen months old, unreliably housebroken and occasionally a bit clingy, Aesop needs a little work. But he’s got something that can’t be taught: a gentle, devoted heart.

Oh—and us. Aesop’s definitely got us. Big time. Here is his story and how we all decided to let our hearts be buried in the fur of yet another dog.

Born Dog #58225 in a breeding kennel in the Czech Republic, this beautiful dog was repeatedly passed over by buyers because of a miniscule imperfection: an ear divot, a small nick in the upper corner of his ear. Buyers of champion German Shepherds demand perfection and that tiny flaw made Dog #58225— kennel-named Ezopp—hard to place. Ezopp passed his days in the company of other dogs, undergoing basic training and agility work as he waited for a permanent home. Not so bad, but not so great, either.

Holiday Tips For Dog Lovers

My daughter is very imaginative. One minute she’s a leopard, the next a frog and a 30 seconds later, she’s a dragonfly. And woe is me if  my day is on overload and I fall behind on the transformations. “Moooooom,” she’ll say somewhat impatiently, “I’m a SEAGULL now. You’re not paying attention.”

Dogs, too, enjoy our undivided attention and predictable routines. When the holiday season interrupts the regularly scheduled household programming, dogs can become unsettled and anxious. Here’s how to keep your pooch—and your family—on an even keel during the hubbub.

Wordless Wonders

My son is going for the gold. He’s determined to break the world record for the oldest toddler never to utter a word. Einstein didn’t talk until he was 5, so I’m okay with his wordlessness, but still… no “mama,” no “dada,” just a complex combination of bellows and hand signals that convey his immediate desires with startling specificity. He’s only 2 1/2 feet tall, but he’s figured it out: why use up valuable brain cells learning to talk when you can bring an entire household to its knees with one perfectly timed, glass-shattering ARGHHHH! And maybe he’s fine-tuning the theory of relativity, who knows.

When clients tell me they have the dumbest dog in America, I smile inwardly, waiting for the second half of their “dopey dog” theory. It’s always—always–followed by a list of the many ways these wordless creatures have skillfully and utterly trained their families. Barking, jumping, nudging and stealing, these dogs are getting exactly what they want.

Presidential Pets

Sure, everybody knows Bo, the current four-legged White House occupant, but did you know that the White House is also home to 70,000 well-tended bees and has welcomed silkworms, raccoons, cows, an eagle, an elephant, a possum and a tiger? Not to mention dozens of dogs, cats, birds and farm animals? If the White House carpets could talk, they’d have quite a story to tell.

Critter Candidates For The Family Pet…

Every fall, my house becomes campaign central. Speeches are given; promises made. The lobbyists scramble to show their candidate in the best light. But this year, it’s a tough sell. The candidate is a rat. Literally. Because in my house, the campaign season is all about holiday pets.

Like their taller and more seasoned counterparts in the political world, my kids paint a very rosy picture for me: Clean water bowls and spotless cages for all. Generous, allowance-based subsidies for food. Absolutely fair and equitable division of care and feeding. Experience tells me that my kids, like all good politicians, will fulfill some of these promises, compromise on others and shamelessly wiggle out of one or two. But all in all, my children are capable pet caretakers and I’m thinking of voting for the rat.

Tails Of The City

For dog owners living in New York, it’s hard to choose a favorite from the long list of personal services. Is it the gourmet meals and custom beverages? Maybe the abundance of personal grooming salons, fitness studios, daycare services, private tutoring and excellent public schools? Perhaps you’re a fan of the poop pickup and takeaway services or live in a building that offers round-the-clock pet concierge services. As with so many other things, New York leads the way in dog-centric activities and all-around dog love.

While the New York tri-state area is famous for restaurants, shopping and entertainment, home will always be where the heart is. And many hearts – from the city to the country and all points in between – are comforted by the pets that live along side. Meet the needs of your pet and the love returned will be unconditional and complete. And how New Yorkers love to meet those needs!