Arlington, VA

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about their dogs getting into trouble. Not little trouble like chewing up a shoe or stealing a sandwich. That’s easy stuff.  I’m talking about big trouble. Like biting the neighbor’s dog while on a walk or biting a friend who is over for a visit.

The thing that most of these incidents had in common is a very high level of anxiety and arousal that precipitated the bites. So how does anxiety and arousal affect our dogs and what can we do about it?

We all know what anxiety feels like. It can range from uncomfortable to debilitating. If you have an anxious dog, you probably already know it. Just like in people, there is a spectrum of doggie personalities. Some dog are more anxious than others and some dogs aren’t bothered by anything. Anxious dogs tend to hate thunder storms and fireworks. Perhaps they are wary of strangers or other dogs. But just like in people, anxiety can cause to dogs to react out of proportion to the threat or environmental change they are experiencing.

Arousal is similar. Arousal is simply a state of excitement. The excitement can be good or bad, but in either case it is usually accompanied by a spike in adrenalin. Dogs who are wrestling or running in a dog park are aroused. Dog who are riding in a crowded elevator might be aroused. Dog who are on leash and see each other across the street might become aroused. They might be happy to see each other and want to play or they might want to fight. In either case, the dogs are in a state of arousal.

What owners need to know is that anxiety and arousal both have the effect of shortening a dog’s fuse. A dog who is normally tolerant of being pet is more likely to bite when anxious or aroused.  Your normally easy going dog might be on edge if you have guests at the house for a week.

The first thing to do is to recognize that your dog is anxious or aroused. The second thing to do is to provide your dog with the ability to either get away from the things that are causing anxiety, or time to calm down from a state of arousal. 

One of the best tools is to teach your dog to take a break.  I am a big fan of crate training for this reason. Crate training is most often used to help house train very young pups and to keep them out of trouble.   But crating is often a left behind tool as dogs become adults. Properly maintained crate training can be extraordinarily helpful in these situations. . A marrow bone in a crate in an upstairs bedroom is often much appreciated by the over whelmed dog.  It provides a space to get away from whatever is stressing them out and time to calm down.  Older dogs who were crated as puppies can be introduced to crating again in a positive manner if needed, or perhaps they don’t even need a crate, just a quiet place to settle down.

On leash arousal control exercises are another great tool to add to your toolbox. These take time and commitment but can be well worth the effort in the long run. 

The bottom line is keep an eye on your pup. They can’t easily tell us when they need a break so it is up to us to be their advocate and make sure we are not placing them in situations that they can’t handle. Every dog is different and even man’s best friend needs some dogs some personal time.

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

As school comes to a close for the year it’s time for summer vacations. Where to go? What to do? And who is going to take care of the dog?

If you can’t take your dog with you, the next best option is to have a family member or friend stay at your house. A familiar environment will help your pup cope with the stress of you being away. But sometimes that isn’t possible and you need to find a boarding facility.

The best boarding option is a facility that your dog attends regularly. Facilities that offer daycare and boarding often work well. The daycare option allows your dog to become familiar with the staff and the other dogs that attend regularly. For them it’s like a home away from home. Dogs who attend daycare regularly at WOOFS! are happy and healthy during boarding as well.

If your dog is stressed in the presence of other dogs they might do better in a traditional boarding environment where they do not interact with other dogs all day. Every dog is different, and luckily there are many options available in the area. In-home petsitting is a great option for dogs who don’t board well.

But for many dogs, boarding is stressful no matter what you do. Some dogs become incredibly anxious or depressed. Prolonged stress often leads to associated illnesses including gastrointestinal problems, weight loss and upper respiratory infections. Be sure to talk to your boarding provider and find out how your dog copes while you are away. If your dog does experience excessive amount of distress it might be time to find an alternative form of care.

So how can you help your stressed out dog survive a week away from home? First, be sure to book your petsitter as far ahead as possible. This gives you time to set up meetings and test runs with the caregiver so that your dog can become comfortable with them and the environment. Or, take the time to get your dog used to staying at a particular facility. Obviously, this is going to require paying for services that you don’t necessarily need, but it will more than pay for itself when your dog has an easier time while you away. It might even avoid the cost of a post vacation vet visit.

If all of this preparation is still not enough, talk to your vet. Just like in people, there are anti-anxiety medications that might help.

If you are getting a new puppy this summer, start getting them used to being away from you right away. Send your puppy to a friends for an occasional weekend even if you don’t need to travel. This is an important part of their socialization experiences and should happen two or three times before your pup is 6 months old. This will certainly help get them used to being away from you and make your future vacations away less stressful for everyone.

Happy Summer!

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

Nine weeks ago, on April 1st, our foster dog Harlie gave birth to 11 tiny puppies. WOOFS! has fostered many pregnant moms and their puppies over the past 13 years, but this time we decided to do something different. We assigned each puppy a WOOFS! trainer. Each trainer was responsible for their pups early socialization and training. The results of these efforts were displayed at the Puppy Olympics on June 3rd.

We did this for one reason only: the importance of early socialization. The most important time in a dog’s life is between 3 and 16 weeks of age. This is known as a puppy’s critical socialization period. During this time a puppy’s brain is very plastic and is programmed to be open and accepting of new experiences. After this period a puppy’s brain changes and is programmed to be much more wary of new things. This means that it is critical to expose a young puppy to as many positive experiences as possible before the age of 3 to 4 months. Since most of this time passes before the puppy gets into their new home, it is critical that the caretaker of young puppies has a robust socialization plan.

So what did we do? We wanted to show what puppies under 10 weeks of age were capable of learning. These puppies were taught many things. We taught them basic sits and downs and we started them on crate training. We exposed them to new places, people, animals and experiences. Some of them went to softball games. Some went to different vet offices. Some were exposed to puppy agility equipment and some have played with children.

WHAT they did does not matter. The fact that they did THINGS is what was important. A puppy that has many interesting experiences during this critical time will be more likely to adapt to new experiences throughout their lives. Perhaps this reduces anxiety? A puppy that learns that training is fun and rewarding is likely to be a lifetime learner. Perhaps becoming very well trained? A puppy who thinks new people are awesome might be less likely to ever bite someone. The bottom line is that early socialization gives the puppy the best possible chance at a long and happy life.

When you get a new puppy, ask you breeder or foster what their early socialization plan was. Create your own socialization plan for when your new pup arrives home. You can download a plan and get more information about early socialization from Operation Socialization.

You can also view what we did with puppies on our Puppy Olympics Facebook group.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

So you have a cute new puppy? Congratulations! But now what?

Puppies naturally bite, cry, poop and pee. Then we get them in the house and immediately want them NOT to bite, cry, poop or pee. It’s a pretty tall order for an 8 week old.

So here are a few tips on how to gently mold your tiny new best friend into the awesome dog you know she can be.

House Training: You need to immediately start to teach your puppy that you would seriously prefer that they eliminate outside and not in the house. This is actually pretty straight forward (most of the time) but it is super labor intensive, and that is where most people have trouble.

They just aren’t taking the puppy out often enough.

So how often, is enough? If you are crate training, your 8 to 10 week old puppy needs to be let out of their crate every 2 hours. If you work outside the home you will need a cadre of neighbors, friends and dog walkers to meet these needs. If the crate is the right size and they aren’t expected to hold it longer than they are physically capable, the pup will naturally try not to soil their sleeping area.

At night, your puppy should be sleeping in his crate, but you should expect to be woken up once or twice each night for the fist week or so. 2 and 4 am trips to the yard are going to be the norm for a while.

When you are home and the puppy is out of the crate that’s where the real commitment comes into play. To start, you need to take your puppy out for a bathroom break at least once an hour. If the puppy is still having accidents go to every half hour. In addition to every hour, add on after they wake from a nap and after they are done playing. So, like I said, labor intensive. But, if you do it, you can have a fully house trained puppy in three weeks or less.

The reason this works is because young puppies are very impressionable and will develop a substrate preference for where they eliminate. If you take them out often enough and they are constantly eliminating outside, then that will be where they prefer to go. Add in copious opportunities to do the right thing and a few treats for a job well done and it’s easy to convince the pup that it’s better to go outside than inside.

Inevitably, the pup will have an accident. Don’t stress about it. Doing the right thing 90% of the time will make an accident here or there irrelevant. There is no need to reprimand the puppy. The practice of rubbing their noses in their urine is outdated, cruel and ineffective. Simply clean up the mess, provide more opportunities to eliminate outside and move forward.

Next up? Puppy mouthing.

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

A reactive dog is a dog that reacts to specific things in their environment by becoming highly aroused and in most cases, barking and lunging. These dogs can appear to be aggressive, dangerous and “out of control.”

It is a scary situation for both passers-by and owners. Some reactive dogs are also aggressive, and some are not. Since it is impossible to know on the spot, it is best to give reactive dogs a wide berth. Reactivity is a serious issue and a major challenge, but there are a lot of techniques we can use to help reactive dogs.

To begin with, the earlier you start behavior modification, the better the success in changing the behavior. Reactive behaviors usually crop up in adolescence around 6 to 18 months of age and tend to get worse as the dog reaches social maturity around 2 or 3 years of age. Your pup will not “grow out of” this behavior. Seek help as soon as you notice an issue.

Second, never punish your dog when they start to growl, bark or lunge. This can be really hard, because a crazy dog at the end of the leash can be very embarrassing and we generally want to get the dog to stop the behavior as soon as possible. Unfortunately, even if punishment seems to get the dog under control in the moment, it does nothing to teach the dog an alternate behavior and can often cause the reactions to become worse.

Most reactivity is caused by fear or anxiety and the solution is to teach the dog to feel less anxious in the presence of the triggers. We use a program of systematic desensitization and counter conditioning to help the dog feel more comfortable. This involves exposing the dog to the trigger (people, dogs, cars) in very small amounts that do not trigger a response and then teaching the dog that good things (food, play, attention) happen when the trigger is present.

This can be a slow process, but the results are definitely worth it.

The final piece of the puzzle is teaching the owner what to do. Having a reactive dog is very stressful. It is important to make sure that the dog is wearing the appropriate equipment so that the hander feels confident in physically controlling the dog. Then we need to make sure that the owner can stay as calm as possible. A deep breath and a calm tone of voice can go a long way in keeping a reactive dog calm. Just like the dog’s training, this can take a lot of practice.

The good news is that with practice and a good training plan, reactive dogs can get much better.

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

A few weeks ago, Clarendon Animal Care wrote a great article with tips for a great vet visit. You can read it here.

Having been to the vet several times in the past weeks, their article got me thinking about the training and behavioral aspects of a successful vet visit. There are lots of things you can do to teach your dog that GOOD things happen at the vets office.

First, like the Healthy Paws article said, be on time. Going to the vet is stressful for most dogs. If you are stressed because you are running late, two things happen. First, your dog will feed off of your stress and it will make them feel worse. Second, if you are rushing, you will not be able to keep your focus on your dog. The best thing you can do is to be calm and reassuring. The calmer and more attentive you are, the better your dog will feel.

Bring GREAT treats. Sitting in the lobby is a great opportunity to reinforce good manners such as voluntary attention, sit, down and touch. If your dog knows tricks, start showing off. Not only will you get some great practice in, it will give your dog something to do and be rewarded for. You always want your dog looking at you. Staring at, or being stared at, by other pets increases stress and arousal and can result in altercations or an unmanageable dog. Keep your dog busy and focused on you.

NEVER allow your dog to wander into another animal’s space. Most waiting areas are very small so this is going to require you to keep a very short leash. Be prepared for this. Your dog should always be right at your side.

Remember, not all dogs are friendly with other dogs. And dogs might be sick or injured, making them feel less social than they normally would be. With smaller animals, the last thing a crated cat needs is a large predator coming up to their crate when they can’t get away. Remember, it DOES NOT MATTER how friendly your dog is. This is about respecting the personal space of the other animals. Always always ask before you allow your dog to meet other animals in the lobby.

You can absolutely train your dog to be an active and willing participant in their health care. If zoo keepers can train a giraffe to participate in blood draws and x-rays, we can certainly teach our dogs to voluntarily stand still when the vet listens to their heart, checks their ears and takes blood. Talk to you trainer about how to teach your dog to choose to participate. Dogs that participate do not need to be restrained or sedated as often.

Regular vet visits are an important part of your dogs health care and the more you do to make them comfortable for your dog, the easier it will be to take good care of them. Let your trainer help make vet visits as positive as possible for you and your dog.

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

How much do you rely on your sense of smell?

For humans smell is an important part of taste. It can also bring back memories from childhood or special events. It can even warn us of danger when we smell smoke or food that has gone bad. But our sense of smell is mostly a background sense, something that we notice once in a while.

It is estimated that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than that of a human. What does that mean for your dog? It may be that their sense of smell is actually more important than their ability to see.  Smell may be the main sense that your dog uses to make sense of the world. Check out this article for more information.

It makes sense then that it is a deep part of doggy nature to smell every gate post and telephone pole. It is highly recommended to let your dog sniff to his heart’s content on a walk. It’s good for him and uses an enormous amount of brain power. The area of a dog’s brain that is devoted to decoding smell is huge.

So how can we use this information to help our dogs? One way is to teach them to use their sense of smell. So many dogs need a way to get good mental and physical exercise and nose work may be the answer. Do you have a dog who “needs a job?” Teach him scent work.

Nose work class is a fun activity inspired by the scent detection tasks of police and military dogs. Classes can help shy dogs come out of their shell and help excitable dogs learn how to settle down to work. As your dog’s handler, you learn to read your dog’s signals and gain a new perspective into how they experience the world.

Any dog can benefit from nose work games. Dogs participating in scent games can be any age from puppy through senior, and any breed from working dog to lap dog. Dogs do not even need any obedience skills or previous training! The only requirement for class is that dogs are able to crate quietly (with owner present) while they wait their turn.

Ready to let your dog exercise his or her sniffing talent? Our next classes begin on Friday, February 19.

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

Happy Train Your Dog Month!

January is National Train Your Dog Month. So if you have any room left on your resolutions list, perhaps you can add one more: train your dog for five minutes a day. Believe it or not, give minutes a day can actually make a difference.

How is this possible? Well the cool thing about positive reinforcement training is that it does a lot more than simply teach the dog a behavior. When you work positively with your dog, you do two other really important things.

First, you strengthen your relationship and second you improve your communication. In fact, relationship and communication are the keys to effective, long-lasting dog training. It’s easy enough to teach your dog to sit, but to get them to sit every time in every situation requires a solid relationship and clear communication. Second, short daily training sessions keep these skills sharp and are like exercise. They keep the behaviors strong.

So how can five minutes help? Well to start with, if you are not doing any daily training, five minutes is already MORE than you were doing! And five minutes is easy to commit to.

When you feed your dog, take one handful of food out of your dogs bowl. Ask for a few sits and downs or tricks that your dog already knows, and when the handful is done, your training session is done. Voila! It’s that simple. Now of course, once you get into the habit of training for five minutes, you might be inspired to train a little more.The bottom line is that the more you practice, the better you and your dog get at working together.

Another easy way to sneak some training into your busy life is to use real life rewards. Every day you do things for your dog. You let them out, you let them in. You take them for walks, you feed them and you give them treats. It only takes one minute to ask for a sit before you let your dog in or out of the house.

In this situation, you don’t need a treat reward. The thing that the dog wants — going outside, coming inside, being let out of the crate — is the built in reward. Using real-life rewards is really helpful. During the course of the day, you can end up asking your dog to “practice” behaviors 10 or 15 times and the result is a really polite dog.

So this January, steal a little bit of time from your day to train your dog. You can read more about National Train Your Dog Month, sponsored by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, here.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

Editor’s Note: With Christmas just a few days away, the staff of Woofs! is very busy with holiday boardings. To help them serve their clients, we’re republishing the following column from earlier this summer.

Urban living can be tough on our dogs, and one of the toughest situations our dogs encounter is meeting other dogs on leash.

Dogs meeting on leash is a completely artificial situation for them. The leash and the resulting close quarters means that dogs can not greet each other in a natural way. Compare the way unleashed dogs greet each other at a dog park with how they meet when on leash.

At a dog park, friendly dogs will approach each other in an arc. After a brief sniff near the shoulders, they will lower their heads and arrange themselves in the nose-to-butt-to-nose-to-butt circle. This is how friendly dogs great each other. Head down, in a circle. It’s the dog world’s equivalent of a friendly handshake. A straight line, head up greeting is generally considered rude and confrontational.

When dogs greet on leash, they are forced into the straight line, head up position. The taut leash prevents them from being able to circle each other, and the pulling on the collar raises their heads into the air. Despite the inability to arrange themselves in a natural greeting posture, most friendly dogs learn to greet each other on leash without incident.

However, sometimes there are problems. Shy or cautious dogs are particularly put off by the straight line, close quarters greeting. Dogs who find urban living particularly arousing can also encounter problems. Here are some things you can do to help.

First, please ASK before you allow your friendly dog to rush up and greet another dog. Owners of friendly dogs have the greatest gift, an easy-going dog. For those of us with unfriendly or fearful dogs, every uncontrolled greeting is a potential disaster. Please remember that it does not matter that your dog is friendly if the other dog is not.

Second, if possible loosen up on the leash so that the dogs can lower their heads and assume the nose-butt circle. This may require a little bit of a dance while the owners untangle the leashes, but it is totally worth it to give your dogs the chance to communicate naturally.

Third, pay attention to your dog’s body language. If your dog does not look like they want to meet another dog, do not force them! Most humans do not want to stop and greet every person they pass on the street, and neither do our dogs. If either dog looks uncomfortable, simply keep moving.

Questions? Please ask! This is just a the basics about dog-dog greetings. To continue this conversation please visit our website.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. 

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Editor’s Note: The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

So here it is. The holiday season is upon us, and while the holidays can be full of joy and wonder, they can also be full of stress and anxiety. This is as true for your dog as it is for you.

A lot of things are different in the month of December. Furniture gets moved to make room for a tree. An indoor tree! What must our dogs be thinking? People spend a lot more time away from home both socializing and shopping. Perhaps you have more visitors than normal and perhaps you are just plain stressed out.

If you are like me, most of the month is spent doing a frenzied cleanup before the guests arrive. I think by now my dogs have figured out that December is “deep clean the house month.” Our furry friends pick up on all of this and sometimes it stresses them out too.

Here are some things to keep in mind during the holiday craziness that can help your pup tolerate the added stress.

1. Don’t forget them.

It’s easy to get caught up in our to-do lists. Try to make time every single day to do something with your dog. Playing with them is one of the best things you can do. Not only does it burn off some energy, it’s a time to bond and to reassure the dog that the changes are superficial. Things are still alright. Make time for your normally scheduled walk or playtime to help keep them anchored amidst the chaos.

2. Think hard before you travel with your dog.

Unless you are heading to a location that the dog has been to many times before, this may not be the right time to take Fido on a road trip. Having guests can be tough enough, but guests with a dog can be much harder. You may find that you spend so much time making sure your dog is a good guest that you are unable to relax and enjoy your visit. Finally, would it be better for your dog to be home with a trusted pet sitter or at the dog daycare they attend regularly? Sometimes leaving your dog out of the chaos is actually the kinder thing to do.

3. Similar rules apply if you are staying home and having guests visit you.

Make extra time to get your dogs exercised early in the morning or late in the evening so that if you need to put them away in their crate for some time during the day, you can. Dogs who are properly crate-trained should have no problem hanging out in the back room with a nice marrow bone during the chaos. A long walk in the middle of the day is the perfect “excuse” for both you and your dog to take a break from the festivities and have some downtime together. Most importantly, do not force your dog to interact with people if he/she doesn’t want to. Forcing dogs to deal with  uncomfortable situations often leads to growling and snapping, and no one wants a dog bite to ruin their holidays.

So make sure to take into consideration what the dog thinks about your holiday plans. Having a dog in our lives all year round is one the best gifts we have.

Happy Holidays!

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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Editor’s Note: The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

Walking the dog is an integral part of the dog owners day, especially for those of us who don’t have a yard. And for many of us it has become a rote behavior, but walking your dog is an opportunity. It is quality one-on-one time that should not be wasted. Here are some ways to make the most of your daily dog walks:

1. Forget about the distance.

It doesn’t matter how far you walk. Unless you are jogging, walking is not good exercise for your dog. Your time is better spent exploring. Instead of a forced march, allow your dog to sniff to their hearts content. Your dog experiences their world primarily through scent, and a large portion of their brain is dedicated to deciphering scent. That means that sniffing is a full brain workout and can tire your dog out very effectively.

2. Train your dog.

Instead of giving your dog breakfast for free in a bowl, make them work for it. Carry their breakfast with you on the morning walk and ask for some simple behaviors like sits, downs and hand touches. As they get better and better, start asking for more advanced behaviors. Practice good manners with a neighborhood dog (sit before greeting). Whatever they don’t eat on the walk, they get afterwards.

3. Let the dog choose the route.

Ask them which way they want to go and be willing to follow their lead once in awhile. They will almost certainly be following their nose.

4. Pay attention to your dog’s body language.

What do they notice? Pay special attention to their ears and tail. Are they nervous? Scared? Excited? Do they want to keep walking or do they want to go home? Would they prefer a game of fetch in the field? Take the time to ask the dog what they want to do.

5. Maintain their socialization, aka introduce them to new things.

Socialization is the ability to adapt to new things, so taking your dog to new places and meeting new people can help them to maintain their socialization status. Are there opportunities to meet other dogs (with permission of course)? Can your dog jump on a big rock? Walk along a bench?

6. Hide some treats along the path.

It only takes a few minutes to place some milk bones under a bush for a simple game of nose work. As you dog gets better and better at finding them, increase the difficulty of the hide.

Have something else you have fun with on a walk? Let us know! The bottom line is to make your one-on-one time fun. As Thanksgiving approaches, show your pup how thankful you are to have them in your life by taking them on a super walk. The more time you spend having fun the better your relationship will be, and relationship is the foundation to better training.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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