To celebrate National Walk your Dog Week, October 1-7, we talked with a professional dog trainer in our city of Richmond, VA. Lulu Clarke, KPA-CTP, owns Yellow Brick Dogs, a dog training and walking program.
1. What inspired you to become a dog trainer?
I grew up on a small farm surrounded by all kinds of animals! Horseback riding and horse training were my first passions, but when my family’s German Shepherd developed aggression toward other dogs as well as strangers, I became deeply fascinated with canine behavior. Helping her feel more comfortable and confident was all I could think about. After much studying, and then working with other trainers, I was on the path of becoming a professional dog trainer. My business name, Yellow Brick Dogs, was inspired by how I see dog training: it’s a journey, not a destination, and how you travel the road is important!
2. What is one of the most common complaints or concerns you have from clients?
Pulling on leash is easily the number one issue my clients have with their dogs. While it’s a complicated issue, a big part of the problem is our expectations. We want to be able to take our dogs out for a stroll in straight lines on concrete, with no pauses for sniffing, barking, or playing. To be perfectly blunt, that’s boring for dogs! When we walk outside, we look around to take in visual stimuli–our dogs do that, too, but they are also receiving a lot more information via their incredible sense of smell! We can’t expect them to just ignore all of that.
3. What steps can dog owners take to create a better walking experience for both dog and human?
Practice! However, if you practice by taking your dog for a walk, you may be practicing pulling, lunging, and uncontrollable sniffing! Set your dog up for success, and start by teaching your dog to walk next to you in the house. Rewarding is key! Use small pieces of food to let your dog know when he is in the right spot. When your dog can walk next to you in the house, move to the back yard or the front sidewalk, but increase the difficulty gradually or else your dog may revert to prior habits.
Take treats on your walk in a training pouch so you’ll be ready to reward good walking behavior! If you’re really struggling on walks, a front-attach harness or a head halter may be a good idea to keep your dog from practicing pulling. However, equipment is NOT a substitute for training. Also, give your dog opportunities to sniff– the mental stimulation is worth the pause.
4. What is the best success story you’ve seen in your time as a dog trainer?
Years ago, I was just starting out, and I received an e-mail from a man with a Pit mix named Ruby. Ruby was an athletic, spry, and energetic dog, but she was also highly dog aggressive. Her owner was absolutely terrified to walk her, and she never got out of the house. He had tried methods from TV shows and used a prong collar when it was necessary to take her out (to the vets). I was his last resort, and after working together, Ruby was able to walk around other dogs happily and without special collars. She eventually even learned to swim and play off leash with other dogs. Helping Ruby gain confidence was rewarding, but watching her owner walk her successfully after years of being afraid to so…that was amazing. Ruby recently passed away, at the age of 16, but the last years of her life were full of fun walks at the river.
5. Tell us about your dogs and foster dog!
I have two rescue dogs, Galley and Pinot, both around 3 years old. I adopted Gal, my Border Collie mix, as a puppy; she was practically feral when I brought her home! It’s hard to believe she’s come so far, but she still has more to learn. Pinot, my terrier mix, was a street-wise stray, and is now a Karen Pryor Academy graduate and future agility dog. Simone is my ever so sweet foster dog through Eastern Herding Dog Rescue. She’s a 3 year-old Border Collie mix and is available for adoption! (as of 10/1/15)
Many thanks to Lulu for sharing her story and tips with us!
Lulu Clarke is the owner of Yellow Brick Dogs, a dog training company in Richmond, VA. Yellow Brick Dogs offers private lessons, group workshops, and daytime exercise and training for your dog while you’re at work. Lulu is a Karen Pryor Academy graduate, and all training is based on solid science, positive reinforcement, communication, and fun for both dogs and their owners. To find out more about Lulu, visit YellowBrickDogs.com and follow Yellow Brick Dogs on social media for free training tips and advice.