Challenge 1: Sunny versus Stairs

I had started writing daily updates on Sunny, but realized I just didn’t have the energy to work full time, provide Sunny with the attention he needed, and blog daily as well. If you follow me on Facebook (personally or through Dream Big, Bark Loudly’s official page) or on Instagram, then you’ve been getting daily updates anyway! Adoptable Retriever, SunnyI will, however, still share the big accomplishments, the funny stories, and the incredible changes as they happen. First: the ‘huge’ accomplishment that is going up and down stairs.

Last Saturday when I brought Sunny home, he was what we rescue folks call ‘terrified’. He had to be carried from the back seat of my car, up stairs, and over to my front door. If I hadn’t had to unlock the door and open it, I would have carried him straight into the living room.

Adoptable Sunny's First Day in FosterSunny had a few hours to settle in and sniff around before Michael got home from the football game. At that point, we decided it was time to take the dogs out and feed them. Sunny wore a martingale collar so he could get used to the feeling of something around his neck, and I hooked the leash to his harness.

As always, Lana ran out the door first with Michael, and Sunny and I brought up the rear. About 5 feet from the stairs, our little foster boy dropped to the ground and refused to move. I didn’t think too much about it, just picked him up and carried him down stairs. However, after several more walks where that 48 pound little mess had to be carried up and down stairs, my thighs and back were killing me. No more!

Adoptable Retriever, Sunny, is looking for a forever home in Florida.

But I cannot say enough good things about Sunny and his desire to please. We spent about 15-20 minutes, treats in hand, going up one stair at a time. And, by Sunday night, Sunny could slowly traverse the stairwell on his own. A week later, he can keep up with the rest of the family! With him, the most important part of training is the praise.

Adoptable Retriever, Sunny, is looking for a forever home in Florida.

If you had asked me then, I would have said it would take Sunny a good week to figure out the stairs. I am beyond thrilled that with just one training session he picked it up. Sunny is treat motivated and smart. And like so many retrievers, he lives to please his handler. With lots of praise and positive training, Sunny is a joy to train. This little boy is amazing and will be ready for a home in no time. Even if his future family lives upstairs.

Adoptable Retriever, Sunny, is looking for a forever home in Florida.

We need to focus on confidence building before we tackle tricks, but this experience has me convinced he’ll be ready for a home in no time. Sunny came to us with so much to learn, and in just one week he has already come so far. I cannot wait to see this boy reach his potential.

10 Easy “Tricks” EVERY Dog Should Know

Generally speaking, tricks are fun for dogs and their owners. It’s a way to mentally stimulate your dog and show off to your cat-people friends. But there’s more to it. Some “tricks” serve a greater purpose than others. Just think about it; “come” is far more useful than “roll over”. (And I’m not just saying that because Lana hates/refuses to learn roll over.)

I’ve compiled a list of 10 tricks I believe every dog should know. They should be the first things your dog learns when you adopt him/her, and the behaviors you practice most so they’re never forgotten.

10 Easy Tricks Every Dog Should Know1. Come – I think it’s pretty obvious why this trick is necessary. Say you’re on a walk with Lottie (roll with it, I think it’s an adorable name) and she wanders off a little way. At first it’s no big deal. She’s a good girl and she won’t approach a strange person or dog without permission. She knows to come when called, and usually does, but not 100% of the time. No big deal, if she hesitates, you’ll just call again! Your random train of thought is interrupted with a strange rattling sound. Or a hissing. Or a growling. The sound of whatever animal that lives near you that either caries venom, diseases, or a serious grudge against dogs and a big set of chompers. If you call Lottie and she hesitates, that’s a few seconds longer she is standing next to a dangerous enemy. Or worse, walking closer to it. Or maybe her hesitating means she’s standing in the middle of the road longer. Or even just standing in the rain getting stinky. (This is a choose your own adventure.) So yes, ”come” is obviously important, but a consistent “come” is equally so.

2. Leave it – This command might have worked in the last scenario as well. If it was Lottie checking out the other animal and not vice versa. This trick is amazing in multi-dog households. Lana is a bit toy aggressive, so teaching her and my fosters to ‘leave it’ makes my life easier (and keeps our home harmonious) on a daily basis. If you want to teach ‘leave it’, put your dog on leash and leave treats on the floor. Holding some treats of your own, walk by the treats on the floor. Try to distract your dog with a cheery voice and the scent of the treats you’re holding. Whenever your pooch heads towards the floor treats, gently tug the leash and remind them to leave it. When they ignore the treats on the ground, reward them with a better treat from your hand! (It’s so helpful to carry a bag of treats at all times when training.)

3. Drop it – This is an absolutely wonderful trick. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to drop this order (awkward wording, not a pun) mid-walk because Lana found a random slice of pizza or chicken bone on the ground. “Drop it” can prevent your dog from swallowing choking hazards, toxins, etc. Additionally, if I need to take away a toy she’s in the process of mutilating or grab a ball she wants me to throw, this is the easiest way to do it without fear of accidentally being bitten. Like “come”, this trick requires lots of practice. Probably even more, but it is so worth the time and effort.

4. Wait – Your dog can “wait” for just about anything. Wait before eating dinner, wait before going through a doorway, or wait before jumping into or out of a car. To me, the most important is waiting to enter or exit a car. If they jump out of the car before you have time to grab the leash and they see a squirrel, they’re off! (Mine, at least, would be.) It’s just a safety measure to avoid being hit by cars or running off. It’s not hard to teach and very handy. (Bonus, your dog can ‘wait’ on the scale at the vet’s office to ensure an accurate reading!)

5. Easy/Gentle – This is more of a manner than a trick. If you notice your dog grabs treats or toys out of your hand with a little too much enthusiasm, it may be time to teach them this trick. It took me many aching fingers to realize this. If your pup uses too much teeth, simply close your hand over the treat and don’t give it to them until they approach more gently. It may take a while for your dog to connect the cause and effect, but they’ll figure it out. You may get scratched up at first, but in the end you’ll save yourself a bloody finger or two.

6. Heel – I’m just awful about taking my dog on structured walks. Or walks period. But when I do, she is miserable on leash (except on those occasions we use a prong collar). My boyfriend hates taking her running. She zigs and she zags and she has to check out every darn thing she (thinks she) sees. That’s because we did not practice heel like we should have. Once upon a time she knew to walk by my ankles until I gave her the okay to explore. I think she still associates the prong collar with the command, but I try not to use it often. I think of it as a training aid, not a daily accessory. However, seeing as we really ought to start training again, I should probably give in and use it a little more often.  Heel not only makes walks more pleasant for you and your dog, but anyone walking by definitely appreciates a dog walking well than one pulling to go see them – even if they like dogs. It’s just about being polite.

7. Play – It sounds weird, I know. Teaching your dog to play, as a trick? Yes! Dogs learn to play ‘correctly’ from each other in a pack environment. If you don’t have other dogs to help teach your little one, then it’s up to you! What you need to keep in mind is that play should be fun and good exercise, but it shouldn’t be too rough. If your dog is ever around smaller dogs, much younger or older dogs, cats, older people, or children (which almost every dog will be at some point), they need to learn to play gently. I was fortunate that Lana was raised with other dogs so she understands to be gentle with puppies and let loose with dogs her size. But when she was young, I did discourage rough play, and I’m glad I did.

8. Off – Off should refer to people and to furniture (and other dogs!). Dogs should never habitually jump on you or guests (or other dogs). This is especially important if he or she meets an older person, a child, someone with a handicap, or even someone with a normal injury like a sore back or sunburn. (Take it from a Floridian, dog nails on sunburned skin is unpleasant.) I love that my dog is happy to see me when I get home, but jumping on me is unnecessary. I think it’s just as cute that she always brings me a toy and a shows off her wiggle butt. I feel no love lost. (Also, Lana knows not to jump on her elderly sister, thanks to the command ‘off’. Desi’s arthritic back couldn’t handle that, so it was super important that Lana knew her stuff.)

9. Watch me – Watch me can be useful if you need to distract your dog from something. It could be a squirrel or dog on the other side of the road, something they’re frightened of, or the vet standing next to them getting ready to give them a shot or take their temperature. To teach this, hold a treat near your face and reward them when they look at you.

10. Stand – Admittedly a trick more helpful at the vet’s office than most real life situations. But, it’s one I actually spent today practicing with Miss Lana. All I ask of Lana is that she goes from a sit or down position to standing on all fours. She still doesn’t stand up with only the word “stand”, but the vet probably wouldn’t think to try that anyway. She does stand with the slightest pressure under her tummy from my hand. And, since her recent surgery wound was on her tummy, this turned out to be more useful than I anticipated. (Fun fact, the vet actually commented about how well she behaved the whole time she stayed for supervision. I have no idea, but I like to think she showed off this trick.)

BONUS 11. Check – this is probably more helpful for someone like me, with a fearful dog, than the average dog owner. If Lana sees something scary, I encourage her to ‘check’ it out (by walking over to it and pointing), and then reward her with enthusiastic praise and treats if she comes even a little bit closer. I also do this with my male friends and family, since she’s not the biggest fan of men. I’m not a professional trainer and can’t guarantee it works for everyone (or that it’s even done anything for us), it seems worth a try. At the very least, it doesn’t hurt anything.

*I don’t think clickers are by any means necessary for training. I use one for complicated tricks, but usually I just praise vocally (high pitched and happy sounding tones!) and with food. However, there’s nothing wrong with using the clicker if you want to.


Lana shows off how she gently plays with young puppies.

What other tricks you would recommend to any and every dog owner? Comment and share your wisdom. And don’t forget to add us on Facebook if you haven’t yet!

Food For Thought

I was raised by people who did not give their dog table scraps. They didn’t let dogs on the couch, and until I was in middle school all our dogs were outside dogs. (Yet even after allowing Miss Desi inside, mom still manages to make our house, excluding my room, look like it fell out of Better Homes and Gardens. She’s a talented woman.)

When I went to college and started working with dogs, I was influenced by different types of owners. Granted, I always wanted an indoor dog, and a couch dog, but feeding ‘table scraps’/ people-food was an unexpected habit to pick up.


I would like to qualify, I am not an extreme people-food feeder. Please excuse that awkward wording. I consider my habit pretty mild. I generally do treat the dogs with people-food away from the table, if that means anything.

I’ve certainly seen more extreme cases. I remember when I was a kid, my grandparents would scrape the food off everyone’s plates and give it to their dog, on top of her kibble. And believe it or not she was not a heavy dog! But that’s not what I do at all.

I make it a point to only give my dog scraps that are good for her, like various fruits, or people-food to cure tummy aches or other maladies (chicken and rice for upset tummy, fiber filled foods if they need to go but they just won’t, etc.). Of course whatever falls on the floor is fair game – I hate to waste food.


I’m not sure why it took me by surprise when my parents chastised me for giving our dogs a bite of apple. I had been viewing people-food as good or bad based on the actual food I was giving my dog, but my parents saw it as a bad habit that would encourage begging, and thus considered it always negative.

I’m still going to give my dog bites of apple and banana when I eat some, but I will make an effort to not do it after she pesters me. I tell Lana begging isn’t lady-like (as though Lana is a lady), and hopefully I can catch myself before I reward her begging. (Trainer/author’s note: begging is generally a habit the owner unwittingly encourages. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad owner, but if you want it to stop, it’s on you, not your dog. You’ve gotta learn to say “no”!)

To me, giving people-food is different than giving table scraps. Or is that only in my head? Do you ever pamper your dog with one of these?

The Benefits of Daycare for the Destructive Dog

As far as I know, the beautiful girl from my last post is still in need of a foster or adopter.

Why do her current owners want to re-home her? They are working long hours and fear she doesn’t get the attention she needs. She has regressed in her training and become destructive.


Don’t let that description scare you, she can easily be trained again.

Do people not watch The Dog Whisperer?! That is totally a fixable problem! Even if you don’t have time to wake up at sunrise and take your dog on a run, there is another option. Let me take this opportunity to hop aboard my soapbox. This time, I’m actually somewhat qualified to speak.

I may or may not have mentioned on this site, but I spent nearly three years working for a dog daycare and training facility. First off, best first job ever. Secondly, I got to learn a lot and help socialize, train, and tucker out tons of dogs. My boss was an expert, and I was lucky to receive the guidance I did under her wing.


You see, when a dog is ignored or neglected, he or she often becomes destructive. Like children, they seem to be seeking attention; and negative attention is better than none. Doggie daycare does a couple of things to combat the destructive drive that forms in dogs whose owners are overworked and struggling to find the proper time to care for their dog.


Daycares most obviously help by getting the dog out of the house! If you feel guilty crating your dog while you’re gone, but fear for walls, carpet, furniture, and basically everything you own when you leave, daycare is your best solution. After all, your dog can’t destroy your home if he or she isn’t at home. So far so good, right?


It’s also not such a stretch of the imagination to realize dog daycare is a great way to tire out your dog. At least at Doggie Dayz, dogs were given toys and tons of room to run around, as well as a couple of structured walks per day. The dogs would usually play until they were exhausted, nap, and then play some more. It’s way more fun than being in a crate, and instead of a burst of pent up energy greeting you when you get home, you get a dog who is content to eat dinner and then sleep until morning.


There is another little trick that helps the average daycare dog stay out of trouble at home. Remember when I specified dogs went on “structured” walks? That means the walkers (people like me) are making the dogs show off their good manners. This actually serves to mentally stimulate the dogs by giving them a job to do. (If you watch The Dog Whisperer, you know this is a pretty big deal.)


Being told to “sit” during their walk emphasizes to Maddie and Ralphie that their walk is working time, not playing time

Daycare is also extremely helpful for socializing dogs of all ages. While there is a “window of socialization” when it is best to introduce a puppy to new stimuli, no dog is “too old” to be socialized. (Please note, full-out aggressive dogs will not be allowed in daycares, for the safety of the other dogs and employees.) Dogs are pack animals, whether their packs consist of people or other dogs. Dog daycare allows dogs to meet other dogs and new people as well, from other customers to the daycare employees.


Dogs have the opportunity to play with each other as well as the employees.

Dog daycare is more expensive than just going to the dog park, but it is nice to know there are trained employees on the property who understand body language, know CPR, and genuinely care about all of the dogs present. The fact that all dogs are required to be up to date on shots and fixed is a huge plus to me, too. I actually took Lana to the dog park this past weekend and I witnessed a doggie brawl. I’m not saying dog parks are terrible places, but they have their good points and their bad, just like anything else.


Despite Hannah’s bared teeth, Lana and I knew this was all play. Tail curled up, Lana is displaying her normal, playful body language.


Here we see Lana’s body language changing as she observes some more dominant dogs. Luckily, Lana learned from daycare to keep a distance from dogs that don’t play very well with others.

Naturally, as a former employee of a doggie daycare, I’m biased, but I am also more educated on this matter than the average person. I was fortunate that Lana was able to be raised in a daycare, and between her and the fosters I’ve taken to daycare (who have made huge improvements since they were first rescued), I’m convinced. Dog daycare is a great solution if you’re “too busy” to give your dog the attention they need. Rather than give your dog to the shelter or an already full rescue (like poor Molly), try something creative. Maybe it feels selfish to have someone else take care of your dog all day while you’re at work, but I can attest that the dogs who go to daycare love it. They don’t hate their owners for being busy and they don’t love them any less just because they love the daycare employees, too. They are given all of the affection, attention, and exercise they need, and they still get to keep their home.

Two of the most tuckered out (and cutest!) dogs I've ever seen.

Two of the most tuckered out (and cutest!) dogs I’ve ever seen.