How to prepare your dog to pass the Advanced Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC-A)

two dogs in front of plush toys shaped like diplomas

There are a total of 3 Canine Good Citizen titles that asses your dog’s basic obedience. Any dog of any age can take the tests to get the titles – Some handlers choose to test their dogs as a way of checking in on progress, and the test may be taken again at a later date if the dog does not pass. The CGC tests are split up into three levels: CGC, CGC-U, CGC-A. The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) is the first step and evaluates basic obedience. The Canine Good Citizen Urban test (CGCU) evaluates obedience in an urban environment. In this post, we will be focusing on the Canine Good Citizen Advanced test also known as the AKC Community Canine Test (CGCA). If you are starting from the beginning, see our post about how to pass the CGC test first.

How is the CGC test different from the CGCA Test?

The CGC test is a pre-requisite to taking the CGCA test. The CGCA takes the basics from the CGC and applies them to more complex scenarios. The CGCA test is administered in a busy area with other dogs and many distractions.

Why would you test your dog?

Unless you are in a Therapy Dog program, there’s no legal requirement to take the CGC test. The only reason to test your dog is for your own enjoyment or to confirm training. We make all our dogs pass the CGC testing series to ensure that we are meeting some standard of training. There are a few reasons that we choose to test our dogs. Again, these are just our personal reasons and we are lucky to have easy access to evaluators:
1. Therapy dog organizations frequently require testing: Calvin & Samson are therapy dogs which means that they visits hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. The SPCA and many other Therapy Dog organizations require the dogs to pass the CGC and CGCA tests before being fully certified for visits (for liability reasons, therapy dogs do get formally certified and tested by organizations).
2. Task trained service dogs should and must be held to the highest standards: While our dogs are trained to help others by providing comfort, they are also formally task trained. We believe that any working dog should be held to just as high a standard as dogs who have been through formal programs and tested/evaluated for multiple years. Any working dog should have absolutely no issue passing the entire CGC, CGCU, and CGCA series of tests – at the core, these tests really just evaluate basic obedience. Note: the CGC titles are NOT required for working dogs and there are many legitimate reasons that a handler may not title their dogs (I.e access to evaluators); titling our dogs is just personal preference.
3. It’s hard to judge our own dogs: all dogs are great and so it’s very hard for us to conduct an unbiased assessment of our own dogs. Having someone else judge your dog’s obedience by following a set of objective standards is a great way to confirm a dog’s training. We wanted to make sure our dogs could pass the test items to confirm that they were trained. The CGCA is a great goal to work towards with your pup.

two dogs laying down wearing sunflower bandanas

Can I use training tools on the CGCA Test?

Even though they are great for learning, training tools (prongs, gentle leaders, e-collars) cannot be used during any of the CGC tests. The test evaluates how the dog listens to voice commands, not how well they behave with corrective tools. Although treat rewards are not allowed, praise is encouraged and the handler can speak to their dog as much as they would like while completing test items.

What is on the CGCA Test (Test Items)?

There are 10 test items on the CGCA test and the dog must successfully complete each one for the CGCA title.

Test Item 1: Dog stands, sits or lies down and waits under control. This situation may present itself in a few ways – While the handler is filling out paper work at the registration table, while the group of handlers are standing in a crowd, while the handler sits down and eats food ect.

Dog Cannot:
-Start begging for attention from passersby
-Bark or act uncomfortable while it waits
-Beg or become agitated

How to Prepare:
-Prepare at pet friendly stores. Have your dog sit quietly by your side while you check out
-Teach your dog the “under” command. If you are sitting down for this test item, the “under” command makes it easier to position them

Test Item 2: Left turn, right turn, slow, fast, stop at a heel through a distracting environment (generally outdoors) with a loose leash

Test Item 3: Walking through a crowd. Dog will walk at your side through a crowd on a busy sidewalk, through a bunch of people, or at a fair ect.

Test Item 4: Walking past multiple dogs. This can be done with Test Item 3 if dogs are included in the crowd.

Dog Cannot:
-Pull on the leash, walk ahead of you, the leash must be slack by your side
-Show any signs of reactivity to other dogs or humans
-Get distracted

How to Prepare:
-Train a strong “leave it” to ignore people, dogs, food, sounds, and other distractions while outside
-Don’t let your dog walk ahead of you while walking
-Don’t let your dog greet dogs while on leash or ensure they have a strong “leave it” while passing dogs

Test Item 5: Sit-Stay in a crowd with other dogs. All handlers taking the test with start to have a conversation while their dogs are in a sit-stay on their left sides. This is to ensure that dog can settle in a crowd with dogs around in close proximity.

Dog Cannot:
-Pull towards other dogs
-Show excitement or reactivity to the other dogs
-Excessively fidget or act uncomfortable

How to Prepare:
-Train an auto-sit on walks with your dog
-Practice having conversations with other handlers while their dogs are present and have the dogs ignore each other

Test Item 6: Stranger approaches dog while carrying something. Item is placed on the floor and stranger then asks to pet the dog.

Dog Cannot:
-Show any reactivity
-React to the item being placed on the ground
-Sniff the item
-Jump up on the stranger

How to Prepare:
-Train a command for your dog to sit at your heel. We use the command “finish” where the dogs position themselves in a sit on our left side
-Familiarize your dog with medical equipment, bags of different sizes, hates, canes ect
-Don’t let your dog automatically greet humans. Have a release command such as “ok” or “say hello”

Test Item 7: Walk by food and “leave it.” Evaluator places food in a dish for handler and dog to walk by. Dog must ignore the food.

Dog Cannot:
-Pull towards the food while walking by

How to Prepare:
-Practice walking by food on the street
-Solid leave it

Test Item 8: Handler leaves dog in a down or a sit stay and walks 20 feet away. Handler receives a bag or item from the evaluator and then walks back to the dog while still holding the item. Dog must remain in a stay.

Dog Cannot:
-Break the stay
-Jump on the item or try to take the item

How to Prepare:
-Practice “stay” with distance, duration, and distractions
-Practice “stay” while circling around your dog
-Practice “stay” while throwing a ball past your dog
-Practice “stay” for long periods of time
-Practice “stay” with dogs as a distraction

Test Item 9: Handler walks 20 feet from dog and recalls the dog while distractions are present.

Dog Cannot:
-Go to the distraction
-Fail to get to the handler

How to Prepare:
-Reward your dog for recall in various scenarios

Test Item 10: Controlled entry through a doorway by having the dog wait at the doorway while the handler goes through. We chose to have our dog wait but the test also recognizes walking through a doorway with the dog at a heel or sending the dog through the doorway first and having them wait at the other side. The evaluator is testing to make sure the dog follows directions at doorways but a handler may choose what method to use as long as the dog follows the verbal command for that method.

Dog Cannot:
-Forge ahead of handler
-Ignore handler’s command

How to Prepare:
-Practice at home and outside with every doorway

See the official CGCA evaluator checklist here

Happy Testing, 
Your Pal Cal

dogs wearing matching green sweaters


Flying with a Dog in Cabin: Airplane Travel With A Dog

service dog in cabin on airplane

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling on a Plane with Your Dog

So how do you bring your dog on the plane? Traveling on a plane with your dog doesn’t have to be painful. Bringing a dog in cabin is something that you can prepare for to have a successful flight. Review all the required paperwork for traveling with your dog on a plane and make sure you are fully ready. Hopefully this page will answer most of the frequently asked questions.

How do you travel with a dog?
Until late 2018, Calvin was an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) but his role eventually changed. After task training, public access testing (although not required), and doctor recommendation, Calvin became a fully trained Medical Response Service Dog. Over time, it became clearer that Calvin is better suited for other activities. He loves to work and continues to do so at home, but his energy levels have not been as well suited for public work. The standards for a service dog are exceptionally high and so we introduced Samson as a new potential helper. Samson has since taken over Calvin’s role and spent the first year of his life training with professionals to be a great helper. His training will continue but he has done an amazing job so far. Services dogs are covered by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) but ESAs are not. Unlike a service animal, an Emotional Support Animal is not granted access to places of public accommodation. Read about the difference between a Service Dog and ESA here.  Because many ESA handlers are unsure of their rights, this post is written to help ESA handlers. We believe that dogs have a wonderful healing effect and hope that our ESA friends can find this page useful and travel responsibly. It is assumed that trained service dogs have received some sort of more formal training so this page will not be as helpful for that use case.

How often do you travel?
We fly about twice a month, sometimes more. Our dogs have flown on short flights, cross country flights, and international flights. Our flight counter is up to over 75 planes…

What does ESA cover? Can Emotional Support Animals fly in the plane cabin?
ESA covers housing accommodations even in “no pets” buildings.  Emotional Support Animals are also generally accepted to fly in cabin with their handler as long as they do not take more than the footprint of the seat. You are also permitted to buy an extra seat for your ESA but the ESA is not allowed on the seat (only the floor). It is important to check the regulations for each particular airline.  Different airlines have different policies. ESA status does NOT grant public access rights and cannot “go everywhere”. Emotional Support Animals can fly in cabin with their handler.

Does an ESA (Emotional Support Animals) need special training?
The short answer is no – however, we feel strongly that it is important for ESAs to be well trained especially if they will be traveling. A poorly trained dog is more stressful than therapeutic.

If your dog can’t walk at a polite heel, stay in place, listen to commands….it has no place being in an airport. People who bring untrained dogs into the airport just make it more difficult for those who take the time to train their dogs – having a particular illness also does not automatically excuse a dog from behaving poorly. Even if you do have a diagnosed illness that would benefit from a dog, your dog does not (and should not) get automatic rights to come with you when you travel. We recommend getting the Canine Good Citizen title as a way to gauge whether they can listen to commands and handle distractions. If your ESA misbehaves or causes destruction, airlines can ask you to leave. It is up to the handlers discretion whether their dog can handle flying.

What ESA documentation needs to be provided? Do Emotional Support Dogs require doctor’s notes?
A formal letter from a physician or mental health professional must be provided.  Always check with the airlines before hand to understand their regulations – each airline has a different process. The letter must:

  • Not be over a year old
  • Be from a physician or mental health professional who is currently treating you
  • Must be on the doctor’s official letterhead (include doctor’s license numbers)
  • State the reason for prescribing an Emotional Support Animal and why it is necessary

Almost all airlines have updated their requirements to include proof of training, a filled in form from a physician who must state they are currently treating the traveler, and a letter of health from the vet. These forms must be submitted at least 48 hours before the flight. We respect this and think it would be a great idea for more airlines to require additional documentation to ensure legitimate ESAs! These additional requirements help ensure the legitimacy of ESA animals and the function they perform.

Where does the dog sit in the plane?
The dog sits between your legs or under the seat in front of you. We recommend extra leg room for a better fit. Your dog must be able to remain in a down stay for the duration of the flight.

Where does the dog relieve itself? Can a dog go to the bathroom in the airport?
Most airports have signs to a pet relief area but they can be hard to find.  Ask a staff member or look up the map in advance. For a cross country flight, your pet will be expected to hold it for about 9-12 hours. We did not find pet relief areas in international airports so we gave Calvin the option of relieving himself on a potty pad in the human bathroom.

Taking a dog through the airport? What is the airport process?
Check with the airline you are flying to learn their ESA rules – each airline is different. Most airlines require documentation 48 hours before. Others require a fax from the doctor. Always call the airline beforehand so they know to put the animal on the ticket and make arrangements – you can sometimes get upgraded to extra leg room or bulkhead if it is available.

Once you get to the airport, bring the dog to the ticket counter to have your documentation verified by an agent.  Then, you head to security and pass through as usual. Security may ask you to remove all collars and harnesses. It is important for the sake of not making a fool of yourself that your dog has a very solid stay, come, and heel. With the dog, you will be able to pre-board and get settled before other passengers.  This gives you some time to get the dog settled and down between your legs on the flight.

Best airlines for dogs: Favorite airlines with dogs?
Our favorites are Delta, United, JetBlue, Alaska, Virgin, Air France, and Southwest. We’ve never had any issues. Always check the airline pet policies before flying.  It is also a good idea to call ahead to see what the airline dog requirements are.

What are some good things to teach an ESA (or an SD)?
When you fly, we make sure that your dog is on their best behavior.  The commands we use most often when flying are “park,” “scoot,” “leave it,” “under,” “sit/down,” “wait/go” or “heel, “go potty.”  Obviously, the dog must be also be friendly and not aggressive.  We have Calvin “park” himself between our legs when we are waiting on lines.  When the lines move forwards, he is able to “scoot” forward so that he remains between our legs and sits back down when we stop.  “Leave it” is an important one because there are many new smells (and other dogs) at airports.  It is important to be able to command your dog to look away from any distractions. We use “wait/go” when passing through security..  Generally, the handler walks through first and leaves the dog in a “wait” or “stay” on the other side of the metal detectors.  You also have the option to walk through with your dog – in which case you need to keep it at a “heel.”  Once through, the dog is commanded to pass through the metal detectors and patted down by TSA.   We use “under” when sitting in front of the gate waiting to board.  “Under” means the dog must put itself in a down under your legs (under the seats).  This keeps him away from foot traffic and out of the way.  There are designated areas where your dog can relieve him/herself, so make sure they know what “go potty” means so they can do it on command.

Flying with a Dog in Cabin: Airplane Travel With A Dog
Tips & Tricks for taking a dog on a plane?

We no longer need any training tools during flights but here is what helped us during training:

  • Bring A LOT of long lasting treats and chews.  This means bully sticks, marrow bones, tracheas ect. Also, be sure to bring many high value treats in case you are having trouble keeping your dog’s attention.  Eventually, your pup will get used to flying and treats won’t be necessary during flights.
  • Make sure the dog is fully tired out before boarding.  A tired dog will be well behaved on a flight.
  • Refrain from feeding or watering your dog for about 5 hours before the flight.

Does an ESA wear a vest? Does a Service Dog have to wear a vest?
ESAs do not have to wear a vest (neither do service dogs) but many choose to.

Landing & Takeoff with a dog?
Treats are your friend.  Reward good behavior while on the plane, on escalators (we opt for elevators to protect the toes), in the security line.

Any Notable Experiences?

  • Reactive Dogs:  We had one experience where someone had a smaller but reactive dog with them in the security line.  The dog immediately lost its mind when it saw Calvin, and began barking and growling.  Its handler was clearly embarrassed and part of me felt very bad for him.  The man was asked to leave the line until his dog was under control. Make sure that your dog does not react back.  Work on the “leave it” command – When dogs bark at Calvin, he will look at them and then we say “leave it” so that he turns his attention back to us.
  • Dog Haters: Some people hate dogs – it happens.  We were once sitting in our seat with Calvin sleeping (not even moving) under the seat.  A woman walked by and SCREAMED at the top of her lungs.  Calvin stirred, looked at her blankly, and went back to bed.  It is important to be aware that situations like this will happen and that many people at the airport do not want a dog coming to sniff them (or even look at them).  Try to keep your dog fully attentive to you while in the airport.
  • Children:  Children are great but they do not know how to approach dogs.  We do not see this as an issue because we know that Calvin will someday have to learn to adapt with our children.  We will obviously try to teach them to behave appropriately but we know that mistakes will be made and we want Calvin to be reliable and patient around them.  We were once approached by a family with 4 very young children – they were mesmerized by Calvin.  The situation ended with one of the girls sticking a lollipop up Calvin’s nose, pulling his ears, and trying to ride him like a horse.  We quickly rectified the situation and luckily Calvin did not seem to care (not even a little bit).
  • Human Bathroom:  When traveling alone, the bathroom situation is tricky. The stalls are small and take time for pups to get used to, don’t expect them to be ok walking right in.
  • Full Body Pat Downs: If you get stopped at security for a full pat down and investigation of your bags, don’t panic but this does make it more difficult to control your dog.  It is helpful to get out of the way of foot traffic and try to find a quiet spot. This will make it more likely that the dog will not get distracted.  When this happens, we put Calvin in a down stay and talk to him with cooing noises so that he does not lose focus.  Make sure to reward after a success!
  • Escalators: Most dogs are not naturally inclined towards escalators or moving walkways.  Acclimate your dog to these before heading to the airport. You do not want them holding up other passengers because they don’t want to get on the escalator. Alternatively, you can opt for the elevator. We choose to use the elevators because we do not want Calvin’s paws getting stuck in the escalators.
  • Bad Days: Everyone has a bad day – especially puppies and teenage dogs. Here are a few lessons learned…

Lessons Learned?

  • Tire Out Your Puppy: A tired (exhausted!) puppy, is a well behaved puppy.  Make sure your dog is tired before you attempt flying.  Try daycare leading up to the flight or a long hike.
  • Chews: Bring lots of your pup’s favorite chews.  This means the most delicious bully sticks, tracheas, pig ears ect.
  • Prevent Accidents: Limit water and food intake before the flight.  This will minimize the chances of an accident especially after a long flight.  Thanks to this advice from friends we have prevented accidents at the airport! One of our travel days was 16 hours without a potty break (we do not recommend this)
  • Lots of treats: Use high value treats to keep his/her attention on you and not the surroundings.
  • Stay Calm: Everyone who has raised a puppy or dog knows that some days are better than others.  Stay consistent – Keep trying and don’t give up.
  • Be Honest: If your dog is anxious at the airport, unable to keep its cool in new situations, or reactive/loud (potentially disruptive to trained service dogs) skip the plane and leave them with the puppy sitter!
  • Apologize: If something goes wrong, apologize and take responsibility for it.  If it becomes a trend, you may need to reevaluate your decision to bring your pet along.

Happy flying!

-Your Pal Cal

What to Expect at the Airport with your Dog

service dog on airplane

Taking a dog on an Airplane: What to Expect at the Airport

Every wonder what you need to know to bring your dog on a plane? Wonder how to succeed at airplane dog travel? What kind of paperwork do you need to bring your dog in cabin? As we sit on yet another cross country flight, we figured we would take the time to discuss all the challenges, processes, and people that you may face when traveling with your Service Dog or ESA. We would also like to include some tips for training your dog to succeed in such a busy and hectic place.  For more information about flying with a dog please see our post about it here. Enjoy this full list of things to prepare for at the airport. But first….

Emotional Support Dog vs. Service Animal

We would like to make clear that there is an important distinction between a Service Animal and an ESA (Emotional Support Animal). A Service Animal is defined by the ADA here. This means that the dog is individually trained to perform certain tasks that directly mitigate its handler’s disability.  A disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Having a particular diagnosis does not make you automatically “qualified” to have a Service Dog or defined as disabled.  You can be suffering from a similar diagnosis (Panic Disorder, Anxiety, PTSD) as someone with a Service Dog and it can have some impact on your life, BUT this does not mean that you are disabled. These diagnoses impact people in different ways and have different implications in daily life. Only a trained psychiatrist or physician who knows you diagnoses well can determine if you are disabled and require a Service Dog .A well trained ESA is NOT a Service Dog. It is our personal opinion that it is important for ESAs to be trained – worrying that your animal is going to misbehave on a plane or bark all day in your no-pets allowed apartment, lunge at other dogs ect, is definitely not comforting and very disrespectful to those around you.

What is Calvin? What is Samson?

Until late 2018, Calvin was an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) but his role eventually changed. After task training, public access testing (although not required), and doctor recommendation, Calvin became a fully trained Medical Response Service Dog. Over time, it became clearer that Calvin is better suited for other activities. He loves to work and continues to do so at home, but his energy levels have not been as well suited for public work. Samson has since taken over Calvin’s role and spent the first year of his life training with professionals to be a great helper. His training will continue but he has done an amazing job so far.

We keep our private life private and do not center our social media presence on the boys working. We included a little bit more information about the dog’s roles in our other airport guide and will therefore not go into detail here.

Airport processes with a dog:

  • Check In Line
  • Security Line
  • Waiting at the gate
  • Boarding
  • Exiting Plane

service dog in airplane cabin under seat

Sounds and Stimuli to Expect: If your dog comfortable around loud sounds? 

The best way to prepare for flights is to find similar stimuli outside of the airport and then work your way up to practicing in the airport without a flight booked (before security).  Stand in lines, sit at baggage claim, ect.

Moving walkways and escalators
Dogs are not naturally inclined to walk on escalators and moving walkways. Watch out for their toes! Practice at dog friendly outdoor places (if you have an ESA).  Try over and over until your dog gets used to the moving platform. When Calvin is afraid of something, we walk by it over and over until he can do so without darting away.

Nothing much to say here – business as usual.

Large trolleys
Trolleys carrying baggage, people, garbage ect are all things to expect.  They have big wheels and make a lot of noise.

 Hand dryer in bathrooms
If your dog is afraid of blow dryers, the bathroom is going to be a challenge. Practice at home when you dry your hair by keeping your dog in the bathroom with you.  Do this every morning until they seem comfortable with the sound.

Rolling suitcases
Just another thing to get used to. No biggie here.

Metal detectors/Security Equipment
Be prepared for a lot of commotion at the security line – it’s a good idea to place the dog into a down-stay while you are unloading your bag, taking off shoes, ect.  Down-stay is also useful when going through the metal detectors.  Some TSA agents make the dog go through fully naked while others allow them to keep on their vest (I think Service Dogs are allowed to keep their vests on but do not quote me on that).

Dealing with Reactive dogs
We do not believe that a legitimate ESA or Service Dog should be reactive on leash.  Airlines have clearly defined rules that reactive dogs cannot be allowed on planes, but there has not been any crack down on it. We have had reactive dog situations more times than we can count.  One woman’s small dog freaked out at a sleeping Calvin at the gate, looked us straight in the eye and said “sorry, she doesn’t like big dogs.” We weren’t sure what to make of this other than….wtf?! (excuse the language).  Part of us felt badly for her, but then we realized that dog training is entirely up to the owner and leash reactivity is not appropriate for working dogs. We have many more stories including a miniature pinscher “service dog” fighting with a Chihuahua “service dog” at the gate.  We like to think that Calvin (while watching and holding his down-stay) was silently laughing. Don’t even get us started on the Frenchie that we watched wiggle its way through security while its owner chased it. Establish a reliable “leave it” when walking by other dogs and use treats if needed to reinforce the command. Please note, that we believe ANY breed CAN be a Service Dog or ESA, we are just describing these particular experiences which have nothing to do with the dog’s breed, just their training.

service dog on airplane cabin

Types of people you will meet while traveling with your dog:

The REALLY Rude People
If you are an introvert (like me) having everyone watching your every move is already really intimidating.  Now, add in the rude people who think they have the right to hoot at you, throw things (yes this happened), make mean comments really loudly, squeak things in your dogs face while laughing (this literally just happened).  The list goes on and on. Most people are already in a bad mood because they hate flying, and you have to be ready for them. When situations arise, we have found it is best to keep our cool and just let Calvin sit politely while they are being rude so that they look like FOOLs. Some people are rude for no reason – let’s hope they’re just having a bad day.

The Curious People
These people mean no harm, they are just unfamiliar with the process and are understandably curious at how a 60 pound dog fits under a seat (he does!). They will ask questions, and it is up to you if you want to answer.

The Children
Children love dogs. They’ll want to say hi. Calvin also loves children…and wants to say hi. Sticky fingers, nose boops, ear pulling….his kryptonite.  For this reason, we tend to keep him under our seat at the gate so that he is seen by as few people as possible.  It is up to you whether or not you want to engage with the children.  We used to let children pet Calvin more when we were still socializing him but now we keep him tucked under our seats wherever we are.

The Dog Haters
Some people have had bad experiences with dogs, which is unfortunate.  They have also seen the news of untrained dogs causing havoc at airports or people trying to get their peacocks onto flights.  All of these things make them cringe when they see a dog, even well trained, walking through the terminal.  Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do but ignore them. If your dog isn’t bothering them and is tucked away under your seat, there really isn’t anything they should be upset about.

The Allergic to Dogs
This happened to us on a flight once and it was important for us to respect the woman’s allergy. She did pet Calvin at the gate (while sitting next to us) and was sitting three rows behind us (but let’s not talk about that).  Some people ARE severely allergic to dogs which leads to a more tricky situation that should be respected.  When this happened, the attendant came to let us know and we told her we were open to relocating to the very back of the plane to accommodate the woman’s request.  I am unsure what the protocol is if this happens with a trained Service Dog team and how they weigh the two requests so I cannot say what would happen in that situation.

The pilot and staff
They are generally friendly if you fly on the more “dog friendly” airlines.  We have noticed that airlines are inconsistent with how friendly their staff are so it’s just depends on who is checking you in. Many times, the pilots will want to say hi.  Of course, this is entirely up to you and they always ask for permission and understand your preferences. We generally let Calvin give them a BOOP for good luck.

Your dog can generally keep its gear on when going through security.  You will put him in a down stay and then walk through the metal detector with your back to him.  Then you call him to you.  TSA will test your hands and often will pat down your dog (Calvin’s favorite part).  They are generally very friendly but you should expect more scrutiny in terms of bag checking and pat downs. Also, if you bring canned food, they’ll let you by but it will set off the alarm. We set it off every time and they like to play a “what set off the alarm game?” – someone always wins with the dog food guess.

What does the dog do on the plane? How to prepare your dog for plane travel:

Jet bridge sound
You know when you get onto the jet bridge and walk down that long hallway to the plane entrance?  The air is stuffy, and it sounds like you are heading straight for a big vacuum. It took Calvin about 4 flights to finally get used to this sound. We had a great crew on one flight that let us practice Calvin (since we pre-board).

Treats and comfort are your friend. If your dog is used to being in the car, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Limited leg room
There is going to be a leg room shortage if your dog weighs anything more than 30lbs.  To pre-empt this, it always helps to ask at check in if there are any available seats on the plane.  If so, they can move you to a row with an empty seat or bulkhead.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a very common situation.  To prepare for less leg room, travel light and get your dog situated before other passengers get on the plane.  The best way to fit them is to push their behind all the way under the seat in front of you.  This fits a 60lb lab even though it is uncomfortable. If you are traveling with another person, the leg room is not an issue.  We have found that the comfortable amount of leg space for a big dog is 1.5 seats.  We rarely travel solo so Calvin’s head will often invade a bit of his dad’s legroom.

We do not want to sugar coat – the first flight will be stressful! especially if you are dealing with anxieties. It is totally normal for the handler AND dog to feel a little bit nervous on their first flight.  One thing that we used to settle Calvin immediately is one of our sweatshirts.  We always place a sweatshirt that smells like our home on the ground before we set him into a down-stay.  He feels more at home and immediately snuggles into it

Take off and landing
A Boeing weighs about 970,000 lbs. As a human, even I am shocked when they catapult into the air carrying 200 passengers and a full cargo of luggage. Because your dog will be at your feet, they will get the brunt of the engine rumbling.  Have your treats ready and you may need to hold them down for the split second that the plane takes off (again this will likely only be for your first flight).  They’ll likely settle down once you reach 10,000 feet.

Narrow aisles
Aisles are not large enough to fit a dog and human side by side.  Either have your dog follow in a heel, or walk between your legs (we call this “scoot”).  We aren’t really sure why but have noticed that we tend to use the heel when getting on the plane and scoot when exiting.

A reliable “back” command is useful if you are dealing with the narrow aisles and leg space.  If your dog ends up facing the windows, it will need to back out of the row to exit the plane.

Happy Flying (LOL),
Your Pal Cal

Easy Dog Training: 5 ways to incorporate training into your daily life

Dog training doesn’t have to take extra time out of your day. In fact, your puppy can learn the obedience basics of “sit, stay, come, leave it” right at home as part of your daily routine. It still is always good  to supplement basic dog training with additional time – we recommend at least 25 minutes of dedicated training per day. The routine on this post is not enough to fully train a dog so finding a professional dog trainer near your is still important. The ideas below are good for the extra busy days where there aren’t 25 minutes to spare. On those days, there are numerous ways you can make even simple dog training more complicated right at home.  Here are some ways to make basic commands even more challenging for your dog:

two cream retrievers wearing flower collars

golden retriever puppy wearing a flower collar

1. Train Your Dog to Wait Before Meals

Training your dog to wait before eating is one way to develop impulse control from the day you bring your puppy home. Training wait can be done at every meal so the “wait” command does not need to take any additional time from your busy day. Over time, teach your dog to wait longer before allowing them start eating.


  • Before your dog starts eating their meal, tell them to “wait.” Do not let them start their meal until you say “ok.” If your dog immediately tries to eat from the bowl, cover it with your hands. Wait a few seconds, then uncover the bowl and say “ok”
  • Have your dog “wait” before taking a treat so they do not grab the treat from your hand

Make It More Challenging:

  • Have your dog “wait” for 30 seconds before eating
  • Have your dog “wait” for 2 minutes before eating
  • Call your dog to come to you, requiring them to walk past their bowl and not eat their food yet.
  • Instead of saying “ok” as the first word, trick your dog by saying words such as “cat,” “dog,” “anything” to make sure that your dog knows that they can only eat when they hear “OK” not when they hear other words.  You cant your dog to be able to verbally discriminate the word “ok” from the other words so that they don’t begin eating as soon as they hear a human voice.

golden retriever puppy wearing a dr seuss bandana

retriever dogs wearing matching bandanas

2. Train Your Dog to Wait at Doorways, Gates, and Entryways

Teaching your dog to wait at doorways, gates, entryways, ect can start at home and then be applied to many situations. This is an important skill to learn for impulse control but also for safety.  If your dog waits at doors, it won’t bolt outside (and potentially into the street).  The same applies for having your dog wait before jumping out of the car.


  • Start at a closed door. Open the door, but make sure your dog doesn’t walk through (you may have to use your leg to keep him back). Once you step through ahead of your dog, turn around and release him with “ok.”
  • Always use a release word for your dog such as “ok,” “free,” or “release”

Make It More Challenging:

  • Tell your dog to wait and walk through an entry way (no door).
  • Tell your dog to wait before jumping out of the car
  • Add distance by walking further away before turning around and releasing your dog
  • Tell your dog to wait and walk through the doorway with your back to the dog instead of keeping your eyes on him the entire time

3. Train Your Dog to Leave Things Around the House

Teaching your dog to “leave it” is another potentially life saving skill that you can teach right at home. It is still imperative that you train “leave it” in different contexts outside but indoors is a good start.  There are plenty of ways to make “leave it” challenging indoors.


  • If your dog is new to the “leave it” command you can hold him on a leash to make sure that your dog doesn’t get to the item you are teaching “leave it” with.
  • Start with a low value item like a boring toy or kibble.  Drop the item next to your dog and say “leave it.” Do NOT let your dog get the item even after they have successfully left it.  Your dog has to learn that “leave it” means they don’t ever get the item. See here for the difference between “wait” and “leave it.”
  • Your dog will likely spend time looking at the item even after you say “leave it.” As soon as your dog looks back towards you, reward them with a treat and praise. Repeat the process and treat your dog each time they look back to you after the “leave it” command.

Make It More Challenging:

  • Train your dog to “leave it” without a leash attached
  • Train your dog to “leave it” with high value food thrown towards them
  • Add distance by telling your dog to leave it while they are stranding further away from you
  • Spread treats out around your floor. Recall your dog from across the room but have them “leave it” by avoiding the treats.  Do not let your dog get the treats after they get to you (pick them up and use them later)
  • Tell your dog to “leave it” with a plate of human food on the floor
  • Walk around the room with your dog while walking by treats on the floor. Do not let your dog get the treats
  • Throw around your dog’s favorite toy and tell them to “leave it.” Do not play with it after they leave it (put it away for later)

labrador retriever wearing a pink gingham bandana

puppy wearing a pink bowtie

4. Train Your Dog to Hold Longer Stays While You Eat Dinner or Watch TV


  • Command your dog to “stay” on a mat or towel about 5 feet from where you are eating. Tether them to a leash if they can’t hold their stay for an entire meal
  • Always use a release word for your dog such as “ok,” “free,” or “release”

Make It More Challenging:

  • Train your dog to stay on their bed for the entirety of your human meal including cleanup and washing dishes
  • Train your dog to stay during a meal without a bed or mat
  • Train your dog to stay on their bed while you brush your teeth
  • Train your dog to stay on their bed while you cook dinner
  • Train your dog to stay and then walk out of the room for a few minutes

5. Practice Calling Your Dog From Other Rooms

Recalling your dog is always more difficult outdoors with distractions so recall while at home is not enough to develop good recall in your dog. However, mastering recall at home is a good start. Recalling your dog while at home and then rewarding him with lots of treats and attention is also a great way to strengthen your bond. See the “how to teach your dog to come when called” post for more information on recall training.


  • Recall your dog with “come and make sure to reward with lots of treats and love when it gets to you

Make It More Challenging:

  • Call your dog from another room or another part of your home. Give them a lot of attention and treats when your dog comes to you
  • Call your dog over while they are busy chewing on a delicious chew or bone

Keep on Training,
Your Pal Cal

Dog Leash Training: On Leash Greetings

The big question: Should I let my dog greet other dogs while on leash?

Whether you want your dog to greet other dogs while on leash is your decision.  If you want to learn how to walk your dog without pulling, it may be good to avoid leash greetings. Similarly to human parenting, there are many ways to raise a dog and most decisions come down to personal preference. We choose not to allow our dogs to greet others on leash, ever. Our choice is strictly for training purposes but there are many reasons that a handler may not want on-leash greetings. If you like on-leash greetings, consider these reasons next time a handler brushes past you and your dog (don’t take it personally!). If you don’t allow on leash greetings, you can hopefully refer to these reasons when explaining why you prefer to keep your dog away from others on leash.

What is an “on-leash greeting”?

An on-leash greeting is when two dogs come up to each other to sniff and say hi while still attached to the leash. This will generally happen when the dogs are out for a walk. On the other hand, off-leash greetings are when dogs are running around off leash and say hi to each other. In off-leash environments, it’s *generally* expected that dogs will greet each other so the following reasons do not apply to off-leash situations.

Puppy Socialization: How can a dog socialize without on-leash greetings?

Socialization is very important for dogs, but greeting every dog on the street is not necessary for proper socializing and can actually backfire. See here for our  puppy socialization checklist. Socialization includes proper play etiquette and friendliness to other dogs but ALSO covers proper behavior in a various circumstances.  Ignoring dogs while on leash is part of proper socialization – this skill teaches dogs to remain calm when other pups walk by.  It teaches dogs that not every second of the day is for playtime. Dogs can socialize with others at the park, at the beach, at home, on hikes….the list goes on.  A well socialized dog remains calm around other dogs while on-leash.

How can you teach your dog to ignore other dogs while on leash? How can you prevent your dog from pulling? 

Solution 1: Never let your dog greet other dogs while on leash.
Solution 2: When you walk by another dog, say “leave it.” As soon as your dog looks back at you, praise them and treat them.  Continue saying “leave it” each time you walk by other dogs and treating as soon as your dog looks up to you.
Solution 3: Train your dog to only say hi to other dogs when they are given the “ok” to do so.

Dog Leash Training: Here are 7 reasons why someone may not want on-leash greetings….

1. Training: Dogs are bad at contextualizing. They won’t understand why they are allowed to say hi sometimes but not other times. Even when we are with friends, we don’t let the dogs play until they are off leash. If a dog is trained to never greet other dogs off leash, it will never want to greet other dogs. If the dog is allowed to sometimes greet dogs on leash, then it will need a constant reminder not to get distracted when walking by other dogs.  Dogs who are allowed to greet other dogs on leash will actually be conditioned to think that it is ok to pull towards random dogs. This is our primary reason for avoiding on-leash greetings.
2. Bad on leash experiences: Bad on-leash experiences are the secondary reason that we don’t let our dogs greet others while on leash – we have had too many close calls of our dogs being bit by other dogs on leash who turned out to not be so “friendly” after all. The dogs may be “friendly” sometimes, but if they have any chance of snapping while on leash they shouldn’t be greeting other dogs. There is no reason to trust someone you don’t know who tells you that their dog is friendly while on-leash. Keep your dogs safe!
3. Working dogs: This is self explanatory. Task trained service dogs need to entirely ignore other dogs and should not be distracted.
4. Gotta keep moving: Can you imagine how long it would take if your dog stopped to say hi to every dog on a busy city street?
5. Don’t want to talk: Some people don’t want to stop and talk, that’s totally fine and ought to be respected. Humans don’t stop to say hi to all the strangers they pass on the street – dogs don’t need to either.
6. Dog is leash aggressive: Some handlers avoid on leash greetings because they know that their dog is not good at on-leash greetings. These responsible handlers avoid on-leash greetings to keep their dog and other dogs safe.
7. Dog is unpredictable: Some handlers avoid on-leash greetings because their dog is unpredictable with new dogs. Chances are, their dog will be fine but they don’t want to risk their dog being triggered by the interaction. An unpredictable dog may bite out of fear or aggression. Avoiding an on-leash greeting is the only way for them to responsibly retain 100% control of the situation.

Dos and Donts of Dog Leash Greetings:

DO: Ignore a dog that is waiting patiently outside a store for its human.

DONT: Come up to a tied dog and rile him up with a leash greeting or kissy noises. If that dog snaps or breaks its stay, it’ll be your fault that the dog got in trouble.

DO: continue walking down the street with your dog as if the other dog isn’t there.

DONT: Do acrobatics to force your dog onto an incoming dog. This mainly happens with a Flexi leash – handlers will go out of their way to let their dogs walk across the entire sidewalk to say hi. This is a blatant disrespect of space – We just step over the leash and keep walking.

DONT: Stare down an approaching team as they walk towards you and your dog. We notice that a lot of dog handlers will stop in their tracks and stare us down as we walk towards them while their dog pulls towards our pups at the end of its leash.

DONT: Stop in your tracks waiting for the approaching dog to get closer and then let your dog rush it (see above).

DONT: Assume that just because you stop at the crosswalk at the same time as another dog that its ok for the dogs to greet.

DONT: Come up behind a dog you don’t know with your dog. What if the dog doesn’t like being taken by surprise? What if the human doesn’t want to talk? What if the dog is reactive? What if the dog doesn’t like having it’s butt sniffed while on leash?

DO: Respect people’s space while they are walking their dog. Understand that the dogs have other times to socialize when not on-leash.

DO: Allow dogs to meet off-leash in an appropriate setting.

DO: Teach your dog to stay calm while walking by other dogs.

DONT: Allow your dogs to invade another dog’s space uninvited while on leash.

DONT: Assume that a dog is leash-friendly just because it is a particular breed that is “generally” friendly.

DONT: Be afraid to tell another handler that you are uncomfortable with their actions. You can say something like “sorry, we are training” or “sorry, I do not let my dog greet others while on leash”

*If you must……*

DO: If you are stopped somewhere and a dog/handler walks up to you, politely ask if it ok for the dogs to greet (we don’t recommend this but if you really feel a need to, make sure to ask first).

Remember R-E-S-P-E-C-T,
-Your Pal Cal

Take Your Dog to Work: Getting Your Dog Office Ready

golden retriever puppy on a couch at the pet friendly lyft office
Pet friendly offices are becoming a trend and we are lucky enough to work at one. Pet friendly offices contribute to higher morale and a less stressful workday. Having dogs around the office help you connect with your colleagues and develop lasting friendships. Here are some doggie tips and tricks for your office dog!

First, ask yourself some important questions…Is your dog ready for work?

Is your dog comfortable in new environments? 
Not all dogs are comfortable in a busy environment full of strangers – Offices are full of loud noises and new people.  Even if your dog is great at home, an office environment may be too stimulating and cause undesirable behaviors to emerge. Some dogs will not be able to adapt comfortably to office life, and it is important for us to respect their wishes.
Is your dog comfortable with new people and new dogs?
This is an extremely touchy subject since we all want our dogs to be friendly to others – Unfortunately, this is an issue that we have heard of in all pet friendly offices. First and foremost, your dog must be friendly with strangers and other dogs if they are going to spend the day with you at work. It is hard to come to terms with aggression related behavior issues in our dogs but pet friendly offices mean that the dogs have to be friendly to other dogs as well.  A dog that is trying to hurt others or has ever tried to hurt others, is not an appropriate office dog.  Be sure to ask yourself whether your dog will be comfortable with the interactive environment of an office. For the sake of professionalism, this is an extremely important matter –  A dog with recurrent aggressive tendencies is not good news to anyone in the office but also an unfair environment for the dog.
Can your dog settle down for extended periods of time?
 If your dog has trouble settling, let’s work on it! They will need to settle at your desk and in busy meetings. It took Calvin about a month to learn how to settle in the office. Start small and then build up duration.
Does your dog bark at unexpected sounds?
If your dog barks at unexpected sounds, you will need to be hyper-vigilant to his triggers until the dog learns to stay calm. This includes reactions to rolling carts, moving boxes, other dogs walking by, crowds of people, and sudden noises.  Have your high value treats or correction methods ready, and be sure to use them as you sense the sounds approaching. Another alternative is training “leave it” so that your dog redirects their attention to you when an unexpected sound comes by.  This is something that we still do at times if Calvin seems too fixated on incoming sounds – look for ears pulled back, face alert, and eyes fixated.

Second, set your pup up for success

Start Small
If possible, bring your dog to the office for half days or a few times per week to slowly ease into office life. Don’t push your pup too hard – When we noticed that Calvin was beginning to become restless, we brought him home or to daycare. If you do not have this option, try to find a colleague to take your pup on a walk when he starts to get restless.
Get a Mat
A reliable “go to bed,” “go to place” command is very useful in an office environment.  A thin mat like this one from P.L.A.Y fits perfectly under an office desk (our is size Large and code CALVIN will get you 20% off).  Teach your dog to go to his mat on command and stay there. Place your mat in the same place everyday – we have the mat under the desk.  You can also bring this mat to meetings if you want to reinforce that your dog needs to stay in one place.
Work on a Reliable Stay
See our post about proofing a reliable stay here.  At the office, your dog will have to hold a stay for hours. Eventually, he will understand that work time means quiet time…but at first, you will need to use the “stay” command to tell him what you want.
Use Long Lasting Chews
In case of emergency: pull out the meat sticks. Bully sticks, tracheas, pig ears, long lasting bones – These are GREAT tools when your dog is getting distracted, restless, or uncomfortable.  These chews will keep him busy and help your dog understand that he is rewarded for staying in place.
Tire Out Your Dog
If possible, exercise your dog for up to an hour before heading into the office. When Calvin was a puppy, we would spend an hour at the park before heading to the office.  As he got older and used to the rhythm of the office, we no longer needed to wear him out beforehand. Additionally, a long walk in the middle of the day is a great opportunity to reset.  If you have a lot of dog loving colleagues, you’ll be able to find help to walk fido midday.
Frequent Potty Breaks at First
Set up a consistent schedule to teach your pup to wait until walks to relieve him/herself. Set your dog up for success by having multiple potty breaks throughout the day until they become more comfortable with office life.
What if the dog still won’t settle? 
It is normal to have an adjustment period when bringing your pup into the office. Have patience and your pup will eventually become a well adapted office dog!
If any of the adjustments challenges are red flags – i.e constant barking, reactivity to other office dogs you may need to work with a professional trainer or reconsider whether it is appropriate to bring your dog to the office.
Will work for treats, 
Your Pal Cal

Socializing your Puppy? New Puppy Exposure & Socialization Checklist

8 week old golden retriever puppy in a box. Puppy announcement photo

Download the puppy exposure checklist below to be ready for your new dog! Early Puppy Exposure and Socialization is important for a well adjusted dog. Bringing home a new puppy home is a big deal – you suddenly become entirely responsible for a ball of fur that relies entirely on you for guidance. Now what? Puppy Socialization is our number one priority. Whether you are buying a puppy or adopting from a shelter, enjoy this checklist of what to socialize your new puppy to during those first few months. Please note; the word exposure refers to things like sounds and sights while socialization refers to interactions with people and dogs – we may accidentally use the words interchangeably in the case of this post as both are very important but there is a difference in the dog training world. We aren’t professional trainers so please always remember to check with professionals if you have any issues.

Download our full list of sounds & sights your puppy should be exposed to in the crucial socialization window
DOWNLOAD: Puppy Exposure Checklist

Socialization & Exposure with your new Puppy: New Puppy Checklist

There are varying puppy socialization and exposure methods, but we always raise our puppies to maximize exposure and desensitization. A sheltered puppy is more likely to turn into a poorly adapted adult. The risk of a poorly socialized dog has led us to expose our puppies to the outdoors from day one. Here are the guidelines that we choose to follow by the guidance of our vet and trainers:

  • We always speak to our vet prior to exposing our undervaccinated dogs to the city streets to make sure there haven’t been any recent parvo or disease outbreaks.
  • We keep the walks to clean streets and carry the dog in a bag for the remainder of the time.
  • We introduce our puppies to hundreds of humans and friendly vaccinated dogs as soon as we bring them home. Vaccinated dogs are least likely to be carriers of the diseases that are most dangerous to puppies.
  • We send our puppy to puppy day school and attend puppy playgroups in our area to allow our puppy to play with other dogs.
  • We introduce our puppy to all types of sounds, sights & surfaces

download the puppy socialization checklist. 8 week old golden retriever puppy in a box. Puppy announcement photo. Puppy wearing a crown and looking at the camera.

Why Socialize Your Puppy?

Luckily, animal behaviorists have already done extensive research on the benefits of early socialization. It is undeniable that puppies benefit from early exposure & socialization but the extent of exposure depends on how comfortable the handler is with the risks of the outside world. It is up to the handler to determine whether the low risk of disease is worth the unlimited benefits of socialization. Puppies with extensive early socialization become better adapted adults – they are more comfortable around new and unexpected things, and have a better grasp of social cues.

During the first few months of life, our dogs are eager to experience new things. Their brains are taking in and learning from every new experience. Scientists have determined that this socialization window closes by the time they reach around 16 weeks of age. Until then, they are shaped into their future selves with every interaction. Not convinced? read more on the benefits of early socialization in the links below.

Where to socialize your puppy in San Francisco: Puppy Playgroups and Puppy Training Classes in San Francisco

San Francisco has a lot of great options for socializing young puppies. A quick Google search will allow you to determine if these options are available near you. Check out new puppy training classes as well! Here are our favorite San Francisco puppy socials:

SF Puppy Prep
Bravo! Pup
Here, Doggy

golden retriever puppy in basket with a pink throw blanket. english cream golden

Off Leash Dog Training: How we taught our dog to walk nicely in the city

labrador retriever is standing off leash in the middle of a pathway of trees
Training your dog not to pull at the leash is a basic requirement for a harmonious relationship with your dog.  Leash training is a great way to work on your dog’s manners and the results are so worth it.  Off leash dog training is the next steps to take your training to the next level. If your dog is walking nicely next to you, you will feel AMAZING.
Picture this: you’re walking down the city streets surrounded by chaos, honking horns, barking dogs, lots of people. You look down to your left, and your dog is right there – not one step in front or one step behind you. It’s as if there was an invisible string connecting you. You feel his presence and warmth. He’s stopping with you, starting with you – he is part of your every move. It feels like you are in a movie scene where all the focus is on you and the rest of the sounds just fade away. 

Succeeding at off leash K9 training

If this is one of your training goals, then read on for what worked for us and how we trained this with professionals. For our family, training was our top goal – we live a busy, sometimes hectic life in a big city so our dogs need to be disciplined to stay in sync with us. Additionally, our dogs have certain service dog tasks that require them to be off leash at times. Achieving “off leash freedom” has no impact on whether or not you are a worthy dog owner. We like to add this disclaimer because we do not want people to feel guilty for not teaching their dogs certain behaviors, that is not our intention.  Every dog fits into its family in a different way and we each have different priorities for the relationship we have with our dog. Some dogs are meant to pull forward with momentum to help their handler. Drug dogs are supposed to be constantly looking for a new sniff. Some breeds excel at agility and others love to work.  Hunting dogs need to be able to go after a bird to bring it back. The list of potential things our dogs may do goes on and on, so the most important thing is setting up your individual goals.
We did work with professionals and are NOT trainers so please consult with professionals first. Additionally, unless your dog has a specific job that requires it to be off leash please check with leash laws in your area.
dog standing off leash in front of red trees

Off leash dog training: What we mean by “off leash”

 Off leash in this post means something different than a dog running around in a grassy field without a leash on- It doesn’t mean allowing the dog to do its own thing on the sidewalk. A wandering off leash dog may be under control but it is not under the same level of control as a dog that is stuck to your heel.  In this post, “off leash” is more of a concept that means that the dog is so in tune with its handler that it’s not clear that there is nothing physically connecting the two. Calvin ALWAYS wears a 9-12 inch traffic handle on his collar that is at arm’s length in case it needs to be held. Even with a long leash he stays at the heel so we prefer the 9-12 inch handle so we don’t have extra leash dangling at our side. We hold it most of the time, but not to keep him controlled.

Setting yourself up for success with OFF leash training – first make sure your dog is trained to walk perfectly while ON leash

This post assumes that the dog is already well trained and walking perfectly while ON leash. See our posts about cracking the walk and training with the gentle leader before this. Hopefully you can find some useful resources on our site about training your puppy.
  • 100% consistency and commitment: This type of goal isn’t like going to the gym after New Years because the truth is that it cannot be achieved without 100% consistency. The dog can’t ‘sometimes’ ignore other dogs on the street or ‘sometimes’ not chase birds.
  • Boundaries: This type of training goal isn’t for dogs that do not have boundaries with their handlers. In other words, dogs who run their home won’t be able to do this since they have no real reason to listen to their handler if they run the house (totally cool if that is the nature of your relationship with your dog but it won’t work for achieving this particular goal).
  • There are no shortcuts: A dog who doesn’t already heel perfectly while connected to a leash on a flat collar, wait at doorways, stop at crosswalks won’t be any better when there is no leash connecting you….In fact, they’ll walk right into the street. There’s no going from 0 to 60 overnight.
  • Patience: We NEVER thought this day would come. It wasn’t even our goal until we realized how we had already been setting Calvin up for success for months. At the end of the summer 2018 we noticed that he spent his leash time with his eyes glued to us and that’s when we realized all the things that had led us to that point. Here’s how….

dog wearing a red striped polo in the fall time

How we taught our dog to walk nicely

Again, this is how we were able to succeed with the help of professionals, but every dog is different and has different needs.

  1. A rock solid “leave it” with your dog – Ultimate success comes down to a solid, no treat “leave it” where the dog immediately redirects with eye contact after one command. We realized that this had been proofed when Calvin  began immediately looking to us when he saw interesting items on the street.
  2. Getting the dog to listen without treats – We used treats for things like sidewalk boundaries but weaned off of them once taught. Treats won’t keep your dog from bolting if they see something more awesome – Treats won’t work as bribery when something better comes along.  The training school we worked with abided by the policy that “leave it” and “heel” were non-negotiable proper behaviors, and therefore no treats.  This is what worked for us even though we respect that many people do it differently.
  3. Removing prey drive from the dog – Labs are hunting dogs. They LOVE birds. Can your dog walk through a flock of pigeons and keep their eyes focused on you without treats? That’s what will need to happen for this goal. As a puppy, Calvin once chased a bird at the beach almost to the parking lot. That was when we realized we had to train him to ignore his potential prey. There are birds all over the city….mice, rats, and squirrels are also not uncommon. Calvin’s purpose is not as a hunting dog, so there was no need for him to care about chasing potential prey.
  4. No on leash dog greetings – EVER. Literally Never. I’d like to keep it at that but I’ll elaborate. There are many, many reasons why someone would want to avoid having their dog greet other dogs while on leash – Reactivity, working service dog, needing to get somewhere….ect. Calvin is great with on-leash greetings when they are unwillingly forced upon us so our decision has nothing to do with behavior.  If your dog gets enough socialization time when at the park or in a play environment, it doesn’t need to stop and sniff everyone on the street. Dogs are not great generalizers (Calvin definitely isn’t) – they won’t understand why they need to ignore some dogs but not others. We made it our rule very early on to never allow on leash greetings so that Calvin would learn to absolutely ignore other dogs outside of playtime. If you are someone who gets offended when dog owners walk right past you and ignore your cute pup, don’t be offended. There are many personal reasons that people do not allow on leash greetings and a great pet peeve of ours is when we see strangers going out of their way to force the dogs to meet. A plus side of having a dog that ignores others when outside is that you can have lots of great walks with other Service Dog and Guide Dog handlers since both dogs can walk side by side entirely ignoring each other! We’ve had a great time getting to know members of our neighborhood this way. Your dog can’t be off leash if it runs up and rushes to other dogs….there are more reasons than we can count for why this but the biggest is common sense and decency. Your dog can’t be successful off leash if it thinks that walk time is socialization time.
  5. Human Greetings need an “OK” – The other day we were walking on the street and someone called out to Calvin. He looked at me first and the woman said “thats so cute your dog is asking for permission.” I gave Calvin the “OK” and he got some head scratches. We love sharing Calvin with ALL humans and as part of his therapy dog training we worked on only allowing him to say hi if given permission. We always give him permission for this but first he must wait for the “OK”. There are a few reasons this rule is so important. First, some people don’t like dogs coming up to them and that must be respected. Second, if your dog is off leash, its focus is on you, not others.  Imagine walking down the street and having your dog run off to bother a passerby. Nope. Not ok for this training goal.
  6. Off leash training the dog means no stepping ahead – If your dog walks ahead of you or ever tugs at the leash you aren’t ready to work on “off-leash”. First, the dog needs to be able to walk as if off leash while attached to the leash. That’s all I’m going to say about this.
  7. Sidewalk Boundaries – This is a necessary part of all training for Guide Dogs for the Blind but something that can be taught to others dogs as well. The dog must know where the sidewalk ends so they do not ever overstep into the street.
  8. Immediate stay, stop, go – Abrupt stops are very common: Driveways, crosswalks, crowds. There isn’t time for delay with these commands. If the dog is in tune with how you are walking, you won’t even need to say anything.  If necessary, they need to be able to immediately stop on command without walking ahead of you.
  9. The dog becomes your shadow, literally – He’s glued to my heel to the point where I can almost feel his warmth and that’s right where I like him. We know that many people have different leash expectations but for our big city purposes, a perfect heel is necessary.
  10. Teach the dog to go to the bathroom on command – Potty training a puppy already seems hard enough but teaching potty on command is super useful. If your dog can stop for potty whenever they want, this will disrupt the harmony you have while walking off leash. We have designated sniff and potty time when we go on walks but the rest of the time is back to the heel.
Our commitment to our “off leash” goal has been one of the most rewarding parts of our relationship with our dogs. We move together, make constant eye contact, and feel the rest of the world fade away while we are out on our walks. We get stopped at crosswalks at least once a day by people who have been watching us walk down the street. They’ll ask “HOW?” Hopefully some of our “rules to live by” will help you achieve your goals.
I only listen to mom though. Cheers!
Your Pal Cal
dog holding a red leash while wearing an orange and red bandana
labrador sitting while off leash in a striped red and white polo at stanford university

Come, Sit, Stay: Train Your Dog to “Stay”

dog doing the stay command while wearing a blue plaid dog bandana

Teach a Dog to Stay: Training Your Dog to Stay

Training your dog to stay reliably is a great way to enhance their training. You can start teaching a puppy to “stay” as soon as it comes home. Once your dog masters the “stay” command, it will be able to stay through distractions and for as long as you want. The “stay” command isn’t too glamorous but is one of our most frequently used commands. Today, we’re going to look into the “Stay” command and how we proofed it to teach our dogs to stay with distractions.  This post assumes that the dog already knows a basic sit, stay, come. We found that the hardest part about teaching stay is using it in the real world and extending it to long periods of time. We can practice “stay” at home but out in the real world it is important to proof the command around distractions and not have to be concerned that the dog may get up once we’ve told them to stay.

When To Use Stay

Stay is a versatile command – when mastered, it is useful everywhere and the dog knows not to move until released. Stay can be taught to mean different things, so we will only be sharing how we use it. We use stay to indicate to Calvin that we don’t want him to move until he has an “ok.”  Stay is generally taught with the handler walking away from the dog – but in reality, we only use that example when we fly at the airport. Our most common use for stay is for Calvin to plant himself wherever we ask, even if we are remaining next to him.
Here are some of the ways that we use “stay”: At pet friendly stores, Calvin will “stay” at my feet as I sift through racks of clothing without sniffing around or exploring. At the office, Calvin will “stay” under the desk until released.  At home or restaurants, Calvin will “stay” on his bed during human meals. At crosswalks, Calvin will “stay” in place until it’s time to move. Of course, we can’t forget that Calvin holds a “stay” for every photo we take. We weren’t as concerned with Calvin doing a “Down Stay” vs. a “Sit Stay” – we don’t really care if he’s sitting or lying down as long as he isn’t moving. The actual position is up to him, and we are ok with that. Everyone’s needs are different, so for some people this distinction is important.
photo of san francisco from the top of bernal heights off leash dog park
dog running with human down the hill

Teaching your dog to stay for a long time

Once you can walk away from your pup while they are holding a stay, it’s time to take the command to the next level.  The next level means your pup will only need to be told one time and you will be able to go about your activities (including leaving the room) without them moving.

What you need

  1. Understanding of the basic stay command with a release word
  2. A Mat or towel
  3. High value treats
  4. A leash

Get Started & Practice

You will start small but eventually build up endurance so that your pup can hold an indefinite stay.
Find a way to fit practice into your daily activities and use a mat or towel to indicate where your pup needs to stay. Some good times to practice are when you are getting ready in the morning, preparing food, or during human meals. Weave the practice into your daily life – If you have a consistent practice schedule, your pup will soon master the command.


When your dog breaks a stay, bring them back to their mat and repeat the command “stay.” Do not reward them if they have broken the stay. If you find that you need too many corrections, go back to holding the stay for a short period of time (1 minute). Another option is to use a leash to restrict the dog to a certain area so they cannot break the stay.
dog using the command stay in front of a city landscape

Build up training your dog to stay for a longer

You won’t be able to go from a basic stay to 30 minutes overnight. Practice in increments until the command is mastered. Start with holding a stay for 1 minute….then 5……10…..15 ect.

Master the “Stay” Command

Check off all these scenarios to proof your prolonged stay:
  1. Hold a stay in a pet friendly store around distractions, loud noises, and passersby
  2. Hold a stay for 45 minutes at home while the humans go about with their daily life
  3. Hold a stay at a restaurant (pet friendly patio)
  4. Hold a stay during human meals at home
  5. Hold a stay outside a coffee shop (make sure you can always keep an eye on your pet)
  6. Hold a stay for 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour
  7. Throw a toy or food around your dog while they are holding their stay
  8. Hold a stay on the street while other dogs walk by

Enjoy your stay
-Your Pal Cal

training a dog to stay with a city landscape behind him

FAQ: Gentle Leader Dog Training

the gentler leader and dog leash connected under the chin

Training Your Dog to Use the Gentle Leader Head Collar

The gentle leader head collar (GL) can be best described as a training collar used to reinforce proper leash walking and distraction training. The dog is able to fully open their mouth and therefore the gentle leader does not stop biting or barking. Even though it can be used for dogs with mild behavioral issues that is not its main purpose and will not help for major behavior issues. The gentle leader can be purchased on Amazon or any Pet Store (our dogs wear a size Medium). We have tried the gentle leader vs. the easy walk harness and decided we prefer the gentle leader for our dogs. Here are the most frequently asked questions about the Gentle Leader for dogs…

Does the gentle leader work for barking? Does he bite?
Nope! and Nope! The GL will not control an aggressive dog or a dog with major behavior issues.

How do you put a gentle leader on a dog?
The GL strap attach behind the ears. The loop goes over the snout. The leash attaches at the loop under the snout. Pulling on the leash tightens the snout strap and deters unwanted behavior.

Is the gentle leader a good tool for my dog? 
Dogs will respond differently to training tools so there’s no right answer to this question. The GL worked for us but we know that some people prefer other tools for training.

Why did you choose the gentle leader?
A few Reasons….but we would first like to preface that not all training methods work for every dog and that we respect different training choices.

Skin Irritation: the skin under Calvin’s armpits is the most sensitive part of his body. He has very little hair there and it is constantly getting infected even without his harness on. We have tried countless harnesses….hundreds of dollars later, only the GL keeps his skin from getting irritated.
Best Results: for US the GL had the best results out of all training tools we have tried. We were introduced to it by a professional trainer and have found that in San Francisco it is often the tool of choice because it does not hurt the dog but can be extremely effective. Within 4 weeks Calvin was able to pass the CGC test WITHOUT the GL.
Reinforce Boundaries: The GL allows us as handlers to reinforce boundaries. It is a reminder that he needs to look to us for guidance and cannot focus on the distractions around him.
Pressure off the Neck: We wanted to minimize any pressure on the neck and potential trachea issues. When a lab gets stubborn…they don’t care how much pressure is applied.

Which gentle leader do you use?
We use the PetSafe quick release in size Medium and the Comfort Trainer in size 3 . You can also search for a “Halti” or “Head Collar” these use loops instead of a plastic clips and are more heavy duty.

What are the top use cases for the gentle leader?
When used correctly, the gentle leader is great for teaching proper leash etiquette and perfecting the leave it command. As a result, the dog is more focused while waiting for its handlers next directions.

How do you train with the gentle leader?
Like all training tools, the gentle leader does not automatically fix behavior. Rather, it is a tool that should be used to enforce proper behavior. The gentle leader is used with a leash correction – when the dog walks ahead or is fixated on a distraction, quickly pop the leash towards you with your correction word. The leash pop in your direction refocuses the dog’s attention towards you (the handler). This reinforces that the dog does not have the autonomy to pull at the leash or stay focused on a distraction – rather they should always be checking in with their handler. Focusing on thei handler is now a non-negotiable behavior!
Our walking etiquette command is “heel” + leash pop as soon as Calvin takes more than 2 steps ahead of us. Our distraction command is “leave it” + leash pop. Give the dog a chance to correct themselves before popping the leash. With time you will find that you no longer need the correction, just the command. Without using a correction and word, the dog will be confused as to why they are being corrected.

How long do you need to use it for good results?
We saw significant results after one month, and then continue to see better behavior everytime we use it. Now, we use the GL for 50% of outings, at the airport, and the office. During evaluations, like the Canine Good Citizen Test, dogs are not allowed to use any training tools.  After one month, Calvin was able to pass without using the GL.

How do you get your dog comfortable with the gentle  leader? Does he like it?
The answer is no….your dog won’t like the GL. He may become indifferent to it but if asked to choose, no dog would choose the GL! The truth is, dogs don’t like giving up control and that is precisely what the GL does. It took a few weeks for Calvin to stop pawing at his face but he eventually did. Sometimes, he will still rub his snout on things. People who use the GL will agree that it’s not always about what the dog wants, but what is best for structure, training and good behavior. A dog that is allowed to do whatever it wants and pull at the leash is still a great dog but it’s a dog who runs its household.

How do you size the gentle leader?
Like a harness, the GL is fully adjustable. Our dogs wear a Gentle Leader size Medium. Ideally, you should be able to fit two fingers behind the head strap and the snout loop should be lose enough to slide to the tip of the nose without being able to fully slide off.

Can he still open his mouth?
If your GL is sized correctly, the dog should be able to entirely open their mouth, hold balls, and pant.

Do you get weird looks outside?
Everyday…but the GL has been getting more popular. We like to joke that you can tell how dog friendly a town is by how many people are familiar with the gentle leader. Lucky for you, it’s no one’s business what training tool you use or how much you choose to train your dog. As our social media account has grown, we get a lot of comments about how we should do things. Dog raising, kid raising, and life in general is no one’s business so just do whatever works best for you. We choose the GL and dog training is important to our lifestyle but entirely understand that some people do not prioritize the same things. You do you!

Do people stop you less on the street?
Yep! Calvin socializes with humans and other dogs all day long. He meets up with friends at the park and beach – on the street, we actually prefer being able to go about with our life without constant stoping. We do not let Calvin have on leash greetings, and he has learned to ignore when strangers call out to him if we tell him to leave it. All of these learned behaviors are thanks to the GL! The added benefit is that that GL does make people less likely to approach your dog, so it becomes easier to teach the dog how to ignore crowds and other dogs!

How do you explain the gentle leader to strangers?
We tell strangers that GL is a training tool best used for leash etiquette and pulling. It does not have to do with barking or biting and he is as friendly as they come.

How do you educate people when they ask “Does he bite”?
“Nope, never….but he could if he wanted!” Is our go to joke and then we will show them how Calvin’s mouth can open all the way with the GL on. If the stranger is being particularly rude, we do not entertain them with our time and just say “no” and walk away. Don’t put up with rudeness about how you choose to train your dog!
the gentle leader is great for dog training. the gentle leader is different from the easy walk harness.
Good Luck with the GL
-Your Pal Cal