See Spot Blog

Keeping an Eye on Spot

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

It's nights like these that I am reminded why I searched three years for a building where I could operate a kennel and also live on premises.

It's an old factory building, built in 1929 I believe. A little drafty upstairs, but I don't mind. The ground floor is all brick, insulating the overnight boarders from the bulk of the drama outside. The soft music helps, too. They're currently enjoying a selection of Bach on classical guitar.

I just did my night rounds, and the kennel is quiet. The kids are in bed, and the dogs all curled up asleep, including the handful of daycare dogs whose owners were stranded in various locations this evening.

Meanwhile, up in the loft, we are treated with an impressive lightening display, along with the thunder and howling wind. I'm glad none of my dogs suffers storm anxiety. Glad I don't, either.

I expect a quiet day tomorrow at See Spot Run, what with most of our clients taking the day off. But we'll be here holding fort, come hell or high water.

Gotta love the weather. It keeps you on your toes.

Babies & Dogs: Nurturing a Healthy Bond

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

Be By Baby presents a clinic for new and expectant parents

on Saturday, January 15th at 10:30AM

Instructed by dog trainer and mom Ruth Crisler, CPDT-KA
of See Spot Run

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Nurturing a healthy bond

Learn the best ways to introduce the family dog to a new baby, and forge a mutually respectful relationship between them as they grow.

Sign up online for this 2-hour class.

Pitfalls of Buying a Holiday Puppy

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

Puppies have long been a popular holiday indulgence.

Few images are more endearing than that of an adorable pup in a basket with a bow on top, or that same puppy licking the face of his proud new owner.

But before you trot out to the pet store to buy the "perfect" present, consider this:

  • The fact that your mom occasionally waxes nostalgic about the dog she owned several decades ago, does not mean she is game for raising a puppy beginning Christmas morning.
  • Designating your child as the owner of the new puppy in no way relieves you of the responsibility of ensuring it is properly cared for, exercised, housebroken, socialized, and trained.
  • Gifts that come with decade-long care-giving obligations attached may not be universally appreciated.
  • Holiday season impulse buying is really better suited to objects than to animals. You won't likely be able to exchange the growing puppy you bought on a whim for one in a different size or color within ninety days after purchase.
  • While puppies are indeed adorable, nothing more truly reflects the holiday spirit than giving a home to a dog in need of adoption.
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Stocking stuffer?

If you're still committed to getting that holiday puppy, please keep in mind the following.

Puppies need more than kisses and cuddling. Get things off to a smooth start by acquiring the essentials ahead of time. A crate, food, collar and leash, chew toys, and bowls will prove invaluable as the day wears on. And remember, a microchip and full round of booster shots could save your puppy's life, so plan ahead for one or more early visits to good Veterinarian.

Lastly, remember that puppies do come with batteries included, but no instruction manual, no tech support, and no OFF switch.

Do as much research as possible into puppy care and training in advance, and consider enrolling in a puppy class or arranging a private consultation with an experienced trainer.

Happy Holidays,


What Training Does My Puppy Need?

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

New puppies need a lot of care and attention. From day one they need appropriate nutrition, veterinary care, calm and confident handling all over their bodies, socialization, and house training.

Formal obedience training, by which is meant the business of attaching expectations of responsiveness to command words, must wait until the puppy reaches a stage of greater mental maturity, usually at least six months at minimum. That said, there are plenty of important and productive activities and exercises to be done ahead of time to lay a solid foundation of trust, respect, and communication.

Whether it is best to do the early training at home either on your own or under professional guidance, or to entrust your puppy to a professional trainer at an early age for housebreaking and foundation work, depends both on your life-style (schedule and time constraints) and your goals for your puppy.

If you have the freedom and inclination to guide your puppy through its early house-breaking and socialization period yourself (this may mean potty breaks every two to three hours for days or possibly weeks), there may be no reason to hire a trainer until your puppy is more mature.

However, there is certainly no harm (and in fact a number of benefits) to either attending puppy classes or a private puppy consultation with a trainer. Especially if you have very specific goals for your puppy, such as teaching him to get along with other pets or children, or preparing him for a specific job, like therapy work or retrieving, you might benefit enormously from consulting with a trainer early on.

Lastly, if you find yourself a teensy bit overwhelmed, a little bit confused, or just feel as if your puppy isn't succeeding the way you'd hoped, remember there's no shame in seeking out professional help. 

Every puppy is different, and some are more challenging to raise up right than others. A professional trainer with broad experience with different breeds and temperaments may be able to give you valuable insight into what exactly makes your puppy tick, and how best to set him up for both short and long term success in your household.

The Thing About a Trained Dog

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

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A Walk to the Park

The thing about a trained dog, is that he can go everywhere with you, or at least everywhere dogs are allowed.

You can heel a trained dog beside a stroller, put a trained dog in a sit or down stay whenever you need, and allow a trained dog off-leash privileges without worry that he won't come back when you call. For the record, Atlas was not off-lead in the below photo. I have only had him for a few months, and focused much of his training so far on improving his social skills with other dogs and integrating him into our household. His obedience is pretty sharp in not-too-distracting situations, but he is by no means off-leash reliable.

Of course, even if he were ready to go off-lead, as does my black Lab Olive, we would still be constrained by local leash laws. As for those, I have conflicting feelings.

On the one hand, having more than once been accosted by an out-of-control off-leash dog, I would like to see those laws better enforced. On the other, I think it essential to a dog's mental and physical health to enjoy being outdoors off-leash on occasion (although long walks on a nice slack leash are are a fair substitute in the case of city dwellers and their urban charges).

Bottom line, the problem is not really that one sometimes encounters dogs that are off-lead, but that those dogs are often untrained and only minimally responsive, if that, to their owners.

It would be nice if dogs trained to off-leash reliability could enjoy some off-leash privileges in areas outside Chicago's designated Dog Friendly Areas. At the very least, such license might encourage more people to train their dogs, improving their dogs' lives as well as their own.

I tell my own training clients that even if they never intend to let their dogs off-lead, they should still set a goal of off-leash reliability, just in case. That's my goal for Atlas, even if we have to leave the city limits to get there.

For more information of the making of a reliable dog, contact a certified professional dog trainer for a consultation.


Atlas at the Playground

Meet My New Pit Bull

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run


This is Atlas.

He was sent to See Spot Run from a shelter in North Carolina for a little basic training and assessment of his sociability with other dogs. He'd been with North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue for over a year, approximately half his life. A trainer who'd volunteered there told me about him, and asked if I thought I might be able to help find him a home.

Well, mission accomplished. He's a keeper.

Spoiled Rotten?

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

How much is too much when it comes to pet care?

What's loving and responsible versus over-indulgent?

It's a good question, and a timely one, too. With less money to burn, setting healthy priorities is key.

If you're a pet owner wondering whether you're walking the line or are in danger of going off the rails, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What is your dog getting out of your indulgence, and is it more or less than what you are getting out of it?  Trips to the beach, doggie daycare, agility lessons, all-natural nutrition, even the occasional massage, may all be right up your dog's alley. But that coordinated collar/leash/coat ensemble? The fancy coif? The vanity tags? Such extravagances are clearly more about satisfying people than satisfying pets.
  2. Are your indulgences making your dog healthier and happier or exactly the opposite?  I'm all for feeding a premium diet, but you've got to know when to stop refilling the bowl. Affection is great, but too much coddling can nurture anxiety. Toys are fun, but if you find your pet becoming possessive-aggressive, your generosity may be creating a monster.
  3. How is your pet pampering affecting your life style?  Did you take a second mortgage on your condo to keep Princess in the latest canine couture? Or skip meals to pay for Fido's spa treatments? If your dog eats or dresses better than you do, stays at fancier hotels when you travel, or has a richer social life, chances are you've taken pet care too far.

All things in moderation is never a bad motto, for ourselves as well for our pets.

Keep in mind, dogs are a lot like us in that they tend to value what they earn an awful lot higher than what they get for free. So if you really, really, really want to give your dog an extra-special treat, ask him to do a little something for it. He'll appreciate it more that way, and you'll be able to feel proud of him, as well as of yourself for making your indulgence truly meaningful.


7 Dogs Die After Flying from Tulsa to Chicago

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

According to a CNN report yesterday, 7 dogs died after arriving on a Tuesday morning flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Chicago O'Hare.

American Airline policy on flying dogs in cargo clearly states the following temperature restriction:

Pets cannot be accepted when the current or forecasted temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees C) at any location on the itinerary.

The Dallas Morning News reported the temperature in Tulsa at the time of departure to be 87 degrees.

I personally became familiar with American Airlines policy on flying dogs about two years ago, when I had the opportunity to attend a retrieving workshop at the Florida home of a renowned gun dog trainer. The workshop was in October, and I didn't want to go without a dog, so had to gauge the likelihood of my prospective traveling companion (a lovely young yellow Lab named Trixie, whom I'd trained in obedience for a client family) being barred at the gate due to the above temperature restrictions.

I chose the earliest possible flight (before dawn, I think), figuring that the chances of freezing temperatures in Chicago that time of year were less likely than blistering temperatures in Florida. We were lucky, temperatures turned out to be mild on both ends, and the trip went very smoothly all round. In fact, Trixie was a big hit at the airport, and quite enjoyed herself I think.

That said, not all dogs weather air travel well, no matter the temperature. I've personally seen dogs traumatized by it, and would not subject any dog to air travel that was not physically and mentally robust enough to handle it gracefully.

Overall, I was impressed by my experience flying a dog with American Airlines, and am disappointed by what appears to have been a case of disregarding sound policy.

Dogs & Babies: Nurturing A Healthy Bond

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

I'm excited to have the opportunity to teach a special clinic at Be By Baby next month.

Babies & Dogs: Nurturing A Healthy Bond will take place on Saturday, August 21st from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This 2-hour class will cover the basics of preparing the family dog for the arrival of an infant, orchestrating a safe and stress-free introduction, and building the right relationship between dog and child going forward.

Sign up online or call See Spot Run for further information.

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This Skill Could Save Your Dog's Life

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

When I was a kid growing up on the east coast in the 70's, our family dog Cinnamon had the run of the neighborhood. In fact, my dad tells a funny story about discovering, after the fact, that Cinnamon often accompanied one of our neighbors on his morning runs. Who knew?

We didn't have a fence, much less a gate to worry about latching. Yep, those were the days.

But in 2010 Chicago, dogs are routinely confined inside fenced yards, often unattended, and sadly, dogs routinely escape, putting themselves at risk of theft, injury, or death.

What can an urban owner do to help keep his pet safe?

Well, start by giving your dog a little credit. If you can imagine it, it's possible he or she can learn it.

Learning boundaries is a great example. Below is a very quick clip of a client dog, an adolescent yellow Lab named Powder, demonstrating respect for the boundary of his yard, even with the gate wide open.

Is Your Leash Getting Between You and Your Dog?

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

You Are Your Dog's Guide

Suppose you were in a foreign country with a tour guide. Your guide is leading you down streets crowded with other tourists, stopping now and then to point out the sights, turning corners and keeping up a brisk pace. He's speaking to you, but only sporadically, and his accent is kinda thick and there's a lot of street noise.

You don't want to get lost, so even though the sights and sounds of this exotic city are very compelling, even though your first instinct is to lose yourself in the newness of it all, you focus on controlling these impulses and remember to keep your eyes on your guide. You glance casually around, taking in a shop window here or a savory smell there, but you don't allow your gaze linger too long or stop to read any menus.

Your top priority is staying with your guide. You trust him to show you the best sights and keep you out of trouble; you can tell he knows his stuff by how confidently he navigates these strange streets. In fact, the longer you follow him, the more you find yourself admiring his skill and competence, and the happier you are to defer to his judgement at every step. Besides, without him you might never make it back to the hotel.

So you learn quickly to check in with him visually every second or two, begin to pick up on his body cues, small gestures that tell you what's happening next. And you listen carefully for his voice, amidst all the city sounds, in case he's offering some instruction.

What Your Leash Is Telling Your Dog Behind Your Back

Now suppose you were connected to your guide by a four-foot rope, connected to a belt around your waist or maybe a harness. He might still be giving you all the same cues, subtle changes in posture or direction, little hand signals, and verbal instructions; but the need to focus on those cues is entirely gone.

Thanks to the rope, you cannot lose your guide. You may allow yourself to get drawn in by the sights, sounds and smells around you. You may take a break from watching and listening, since the rope never fails to correct your course no matter how distracted you become. All you really need to do is listen to it; the rest you may safely tune out. Sure, the rope is a little uncomfortable at times, but it's so much easier to heed it's cues than to pay attention to all that other, subtler communication. Hey, did that guy just make a wisecrack about your hat?! Maybe you should say something.... Ow, there goes that rope. You know, that guide's a bit rough.

The more you think about it, the more you might like to see a little of this town without him nagging at you. Grrrrr.

How To Keep Your Leash from Getting In The Way

Do you worry that your leash is getting between you and your dog?

Teaching your dog to respect a slack leash will automatically encourage greater awareness of other cues. Every dog can learn to do this with a little training. That said, expecting your dog to walk on a slack leash means giving him one, and weaning yourself off using the leash as your primary mode of communication.

If you're serious about taking the leash out of the equation, don't settle for a no-pull harness or training collar that only cuts down on the pulling. No piece of equipment, no matter how clever or expensive, will train your dog for you (fortunately for us trainers). If there is continual tension on the leash, even light tension, it's entirely likely your dog is "listening" to your leash more than he's listening for or looking at you.

Training aids can be invaluable in many cases, but choosing the right tool for your dog can be perplexing. Dogs are individuals and therefor respond differently from one another to training aids and protocols.

Take Back the Conversation

Some things, however, are universal.

Take every opportunity to encourage and enforce attentiveness and responsiveness to body language and vocal cues. If you say your dog's name and he looks around, praise him up. If you're out for a walk and you want to change direction, try saying "Let's go" and leading the way (with that air of confidence that says you just expect him to follow), rather than steering him silently with the leash.

By using your voice to get your dog's attention and cuing him with your body language (posture, direction) to follow along, you'll be taking steps to take back control of the conversation between you.

For personal instruction, or to speak with a trainer, please visit us at

Chihuahua Killed at Montrose Dog Beach

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

I received an email last night from a client whose smart little Chihuahua-terrier mix Annabel frequently accompanies her to the Montrose Dog (Mondog) Beach.

It seems a toy dog described as a chocolate Chihuahua had been killed a few days earlier by a much larger Northern breed dog, possibly Siberian husky or malamute.

I am a big fan of Chicago's commitment to Dog Friendly Areas. However, I believe there needs to be better education of dog owners with regard to using these park areas safely and responsibly.

Whether you are a dog park regular or are considering a first-time visit, I advise asking yourself the following questions:

  • How regularly has my dog enjoyed socialization over the past six months, and with how broad a range of different dogs (size, breed, temperament, and play style)?
  • How confident am I in my ability to read canine body language, to distinguish play from aggression, to recognize dominant behaviors, as well as stress and calming signals, not only in my own dog but in others?
  • How reliable has my dog been in group social situations since I've owned him, not only with other dogs but with strange people? Any worries if toys are introduced into the mix?
  • How attentive and responsive is my dog? Will he obey a Come command reliably off-leash? Is it relatively easy to redirect his focus even under heavy distraction? Am I confident in my ability to call my dog away from any interaction that makes me uncomfortable?
Bottom line, only highly social and extremely reliable dogs ought to visit public parks off-leash. If your dog has not had a lot of face time with other dogs, has had only spotty success in social situations, is a brand new puppy or newly adopted adult dog, or doesn't generally come when called, you should skip the dog beach this weekend.

Remember as well, that it is ultimately the responsibility of the human element to facilitate healthy dog-dog interactions and regulate play. Dogs know when no one is watching, just as kids do.

Sparta and Milla

For more information on dog-dog interaction, see last month's post Going Nose To Nose. If you have questions or concerns regarding your own dog's obedience or social skills, please feel free to leave a comment or visit my website in order to contact a me privately.

And just for the record, the pair of dogs shown at right were engaged in mutual and appropriate play at my kennel when that photo was taken. Dog play often looks a lot like fighting, because it frequently mimics fighting in a more controlled and stylized form. And unfortunately, in some cases, there may be a fine line between the two.

Bringing Home Baby: The Art of Introducing Your Dog to Your Infant

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

As the mother of a one-year old son and a four-year-old daughter, and a dog trainer of twelve years, I take a special interest in helping families nurture healthy and mutually respectful relationships between their pets and their children.

Most dogs are fully capable of adapting to life with a new baby, bonding with the child as he/she matures, and even providing valuable assistance to parents interested in teaching their children early on to be gentle, kind, respectful and empathetic.

How the family dog is introduced to baby is key in setting him up for success going forward. When planning the introduction, keep in mind that Spot should be relaxed and attentive to the parent whenever baby is present. 

If your dog is stir crazy after days of confinement or lack of exercise while mom and dad were at the hospital, postpone the introduction until later on, after your dog has settled down.

If your dog knows some basic obedience commands, and is capable of, say, holding a sit reliably in distracting situations, then by all means use it! Ask him to sit and reward him with treats, calm petting and/or praise for demonstrating restraint and responsiveness in baby's presence. Chicken and steak do wonders for nearly any dog's attitude, but in order to get the exact right message across, it's important that rewards be given for calm obedience, not frantic excited behavior.

If your dog has good leash manners (follows along nicely on a slack leash, and keeps to one side or the other), take him for a walk while the other parent carries the baby or pushes the stroller.

The idea is to show your dog from day one that it is simple, straightforward, and rewarding to succeed in the presence of the new baby.

Do not allow him to jump up or behave otherwise inappropriately, only to be corrected for doing the wrong thing. But do not ask the impossible of him. In other words, do not ask for any behavior he has not been well prepared to demonstrate under moderately stressful conditions.

You do not want your dog's first experience of your newborn to be frustration or, worse, punishment, because you have either left him too much to his own devices or, worse, set him up to fail.

Of course, a calm dog requires a calm owner, so if mom and dad is stressed out, or fearful regarding how the introduction might go, it should potentially be put off until a plan is in place that ensures smooth sailing.

Probably the most important point, and one that surprises many expectant parents, is that physical contact between dog and baby is not only unnecessary, but potentially harmful, to forging the right relationship.

Parents should not feel compelled to present their baby at nose level to their dog for his inspection, either on the day baby comes home, or ever.

Spot does not need to lick baby or go nose-to-nose with her. In fact, such an introduction might give Spot the wrong impression of baby's status compared to his own. Parents should focus on making it clear that baby, while not obviously deserving of respect on her own merits, nonetheless shares equal status to her parents, and that Spot's continued inclusion in the goings-on of the household is entirely contingent on his demonstrating relaxed and obedient behavior is her presence.


Couture with baby Liam

In the best of worlds, Spot would be prepared ahead of time to meet this expectation. He would be taught the basic skills (sit, down, stay, go to place, heel, come, and leave-it) that make guiding good behavior around an infant quite literally a walk in the park.

It is immensely helpful to put new rules (not allowed on the bed), boundaries (no entrance into the nursery without invitation), or routines (shorter walks in the morning, longer walks after dad comes home), in place well ahead of baby's arrival. this will cut down on confusion, resentment, and anxiety for all.

If you're planning to walk or jog your dog beside a stroller, don't forget to try a few pre-baby excursions. Many dogs are made by unfamiliar wheeled vehicles. Make certain your dog isn't frightened of the stroller, and that his leash skills are up to par, before it comes time for baby's maiden voyage.

Now, if all that didn't happen ahead of baby's arrival, don't despair. It's not too late to make positive changes in your dog's behavior or in the dynamic between dog and baby. If you're not sure just what steps to take first, consider consulting with an experienced professional trainer. We are ready to help you achieve your goal.

How To Choose A Dog Trainer

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

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Like most dog trainers, I field a lot of inquiries. The majority come from committed owners who've already done a good amount of leg work. A handful come across more like well-meaning stabs in the dark. What they all have in common is the goal of finding the right person for the job.

Dog training is a unique and interesting trade, and good trainers come from diverse backgrounds and every walk of life. It is also unregulated, meaning levels of skill and experience, as well as overall standards of what constitutes a trained dog can vary radically.

Scanning websites, reading testimonials, and asking owners of well-trained dogs for referrals are all viable first steps, but will only get you so far. Before long, you'll need to start asking questions.

Keeping in mind that every dog and situation is unique, here are some of the questions I recommend asking, the most important of which are in bold type.

  • How long have you been training professionally and how did you learn?
  • Do you hold any certifications or belong to any professional organizations?
  • Have you earned any titles on any dogs?
  • What format (group classes, private lessons, board & train) of training do you do most?
  • What format do you find most effective and why?
  • How would you describe your approach?
  • What equipment do you prefer and why?
  • What other tools and/or methods do you draw upon?
  • Can you refer me to a client whom you helped with a similar dog/situation/issue to mine?
  • May I monitor a class or view a training demonstration before signing up?

The above questions are intentionally general, partly because I don't believe in litmus tests, but also in order to encourage open responses.

In terms of answers, you should expect a patient and respectful tone to start. Good communication between trainer and client is pretty key to the success of any program. If it doesn't feel right over the phone, it's unlikely to feel any better in person.

It should probably go without saying that experience is important, but I'll go ahead and say it anyhow. Experience is how a trainer develops the timing and awareness (of what they themselves are communicating and what is being communicated back) that enables them to teach fluidly and efficiently. Experience also lends a trainer perspective, and the ability to both recognize the dog in front of them and intuit the best approach, with a minimum of trial and error.

Certification is never a bad thing, but all certifications are not equal, and there are fine trainers without any. Same goes for titles on dogs. Of course, if you're looking to earn a title yourself, you should stick to trainers with proven track records in your event or sport of choice. The key thing is to be aware of what a given certification or title indicates. For example, CPDT-KA indicates a trainer has passed a multiple choice test based on knowledge of learning theory, ethology, and instruction skills. It is a good indicator of basic comprehension of certain principles, but does not guarantee skill. The letters CDT indicate membership in the International Association of Canine Professionals, and also that the trainer has passed an exam based on submitting a series of detailed case studies including client corroboration, written training materials, and letters of reference, for peer review.

With regard to different formats (group class, private lessons, board & train), each has its pros and cons. Carpe K-9 offers an excellent discussion of the relative merits of the most commonly offered programs. In the simplest terms, it often comes down to your money versus your time, but other factors also play a role and may argue for one program over another.

As for training approaches, they cover a wide spectrum, from trainers that put all their stock into positive reinforcement, to those that point to dominance as the root of every bad behavior. As with most things, it's usually wisest to steer clear of the extremes, and to pass on hiring a one-trick pony.

Dog training is a balancing act in many respects, between stimulation and restraint, between engaging and withdrawing, between taking responsibility and teaching it, between saying "yes" and saying "no". A good trainer will help you strike the right balance with your dog, and help build a productive collaborative relationship based on sound principles of communication, leadership, and mutual respect.

One size does not fit all, so I recommend avoiding any trainer who aggressively promotes a single type of equipment or strict methodology to the exclusion of all else or to the point of vilifying alternate approaches, as well any trainer whose approach sounds more mystical than sensible. Such people may tend toward zealotry more than enlightenment.

Do expect a straightforward discussion of both methods and results, if not over the phone, at least in person. I don't mean hard promises or guarantees, but an estimation of what it may or may not be fair to expect after x amount of time working together, or at least a concrete discussion of training goals and the means of achieving them.

Remember, you want a trainer with the skill and experience to recognize and accommodate your dog's individual needs, one committed to serving those needs ahead of promoting   himself or some pet methodology or gadget. You want good communication, and ultimately, you want good results.

In the case of a serious, long-standing, more breed-specific, or aggressive behavior, you should confirm that the trainer has real experience successfully addressing the specific issue you are dealing with. That said, don't expect a quick fix even then. Most often, the solution to such problems involves rebuilding a shaky foundation of basic skill and communication before anything else. Not nearly as sexy as they make it look on TV, but a lot more effective in the long term. The bottom line is that a good trainer will be honest with you and more focused on pointing you toward the best option for your dog than on telling you what you want to hear.

Most trainers offer free or inexpensive consultations, and many will invite you to monitor a class or watch a training demonstration prior to enrolling your dog. Be sure to ask, and take them up on it if they do. A trainer's own dog, or any dog a trainer points to as trained, should be capable of prompt and reliable responses to basic commands, without obvious reliance on treats or corrections to get it done. Most importantly, the dog should appear generally relaxed and confident, focused and happy in his work, just as you want your own to be.

Now get on that phone and call a trainer. Don't be afraid. We don't bite.

Pinups For Pitbulls To Perform Saturday at Cobra Lounge

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run


Two of my favorite things about Chicago are its respect for pit bulls and its respect for burlesque. It's almost too much to wrap my brain around anyone combining them, but hey, I'm game.

And really, who better to reestablish the reputation of the American pit bull terrier as the premier companion, war hero, and therapy dog, than a pack of 50s-esque pinups sporting pin curls on a mission?

Pinups for Pitbulls raised over $20,000 nationally in 2009, through locally hosted events and, of course, their annual calendar featuring a whole year's worth of pit bull-loving pinups. You probably saw that one coming, right?

So, if you're into pinups, or pit bulls, or hanging at The Cobra Lounge, check out the Pinups for Pitbulls fundraiser at The Cobra Lounge this Saturday night. Local acts House that Gloria Vanderbilt, American Draft, The Wanderers, Blind Staggers and more will supply the rock. Local bully rescues and pinups will be on hand, and raffle prizes, including See Spot Run gift certificates for training that wannabe wayward dog in your life.

And as if that isn't enough, Pinups for Pitbulls' founder Little Darling will be performing a burlesque number with fellow pinup Miss Pussykatt.

Suggested donation is $10 at the door and the event is 21 and over.

               WHEN       Saturday @ 7PM
                WHERE     The Cobra Lounge
        Pinups for Pitbulls Fundraiser

Pit Bull Fundraiser and Jazz Performance at The Local Option Thursday

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

The Jeff Morrison Quartet will be playing for pit bulls tomorrow evening at The Local Option.

I know Jeff from See Spot Run, where his pit bulls Cocoa and Melvyn have been regular visitors. This will be his jazz band's fourth fund raising event at The Local Option, a Lincoln Park neighborhood spot with great food and, of course, better beverages, including 25 unique rotating drafts.

So far, Jeff and his band have raised close to a thousand dollars to promote pit bull awareness and help animals in need. The last event I attended was coordinated with a display of stunning pit bull photographs provided by KMorgan Photography, whose photo essay project "Not My Pit Bull" has benefited from Jeff's efforts.

Did I mention the jazz is really swell, too? The Quartet features Dr. Odies Williams on trumpet, Brian Ritter on drums, Pete Benson on Hammond B3 organ, and Jeff Morrison on saxophones. Think Cannonball Adderley Group from the late 50's/early 60's.

Is there anything cooler than supporting pit bull awareness by listening to good music at a local tavern? I thought not.

Jeff Morrison Quartet playing at The Local Option, 1102 W. Webster (Webster & Seminary) on Thursday, April 29 at 8:30 pm.

Be there or be square!

Supreme Court Rules Law Criminalizing Depictions of Animal Cruelty Unconstitutional

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

For anyone that hasn't been following the saga, author and documentary producer Robert Stevens was convicted a while back to three years in prison under the 1999 Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, for selling three videos featuring pit fighting and boar hunting to undercover agents. He was in fact one of the first people prosecuted under the law.

To be clear, the conviction was not for animal cruelty itself, but for its exploitation in the form of video depictions. Later, a federal appeals court overturned the conviction, declaring the law unconstitutional. But the story did not end there.

The Office of the Solicitor General took the question of the law's constitutionality to the Supreme Court, where the government's argument suffered an 8 to 1 smack down. Seems there was a small problem to do with the First Amendment.

The near-unanimous decision has upset a lot of people who are either confused about the ruling's implications or simply more appalled by the depiction of animal abuse than at the trampling of constitutional rights.

Dog fighting and animal abuse generally is every bit as illegal in America today as it was a week ago.

What was at issue in US v. Stevens? The essential question seemed to be whether depictions of animal cruelty rise to the same level of societal concern as child pornography and the small handful of other speech categories deemed unprotected by the First Amendment.

In defending free speech, the Court has not in any way endorsed animal cruelty or even depictions of such. They have dealt a blow to sloppy legislation, political grandstanding, and the radical animal rights agenda of the Humane Society of the United States, whose somewhat dubious investigation into "crush films", along with some measure of lobbying, fueled both the original statute as well as the recent high court appeal.

I can live with that. 

Going Nose to Nose: Reading Canine Body Language

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

This slow motion clip is a wonderful illustration of an on-leash meeting gone wrong. Don't worry, no one gets hurt.

The Northern breed dog displays stiff, unfriendly body language throughout the encounter, while the brown dog displays numerous calming signals.

That little turn of the head toward the end is a tell on the part of the Northern. My instinct is that the Northern's handler sensed what was coming and pulled him away in response. But it's possible the sudden leash tension itself provoked the snark.

I wonder what would have happened had both handlers been a little more active, cuing the Northern to refocus on his owner rather than locking his gaze and leaning in, or moving in parallel for a while until both dogs relaxed a bit.

What do you think?

One thing is for sure, I don't recommend allowing your dog to go nose to nose with any dog displaying the signals this Northern does.

Going Nose to Nose: The Trouble with On-Leash Greetings

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

I did a training session this morning in which the topic on on-leash greetings arose. Like most trainers, I am personally reluctant to subject my own dog, or any client dog in training with me, to an on-leash greeting with I dog I do not know. Of course, I have the 'luxury' of living above a kennel with a large play yard and plenty of social dogs at my disposal to provide safe and controlled off-leash socialization. But not everyone has their own private dog park. And I do appreciate the desire many folks have to allow their dogs to meet and greet while out and about, particularly on a sunny day like today.

While I stop short in most cases of dictating to my clients whether they should or should not allow their dogs to go nose to nose, I do my best to educate them as to the possible pitfalls, as well teaching them ways to set their dog up for successful greetings if that is their choice.

In considering the question of whether to stop and say hello, or to pick up the pace and go, I recommend considering the following:

  • Many otherwise social dogs will behave aggressively toward other dogs while on leash.
  • Many dogs are less social than your own.
  • Many owners are less responsible and/or knowledgeable than yourself.
  • A negative experience may negatively affect your dog's attitude toward approaching dogs going forward.
  • Allowing unwelcome or uncontrolled introductions may subtly undermine your leadership with your dog, who may trust your judgment less having once or more been subjected to a greeting that goes badly.
In some cases, the leashes themselves are the biggest obstacle to a successful greeting. Why?

  • If either dog is straining at the leash as he approaches, the other dog may perceive his body language as confrontational or intimidating.
  • A tight leash may telegraph stress to a dog, making him feel more on guard.
  • Leashes may constrain a dog from natural communication through body language, or prevent an uncomfortable dog from moving away.
So what is a dog owner to do?

Keep in mind that safe and successful introductions between adult dogs are most likely when the following conditions are met:

  • Both dogs socialize regularly and have no history of aggression.
  • Both owners have voice control over their dogs in distracting or stimulating situations.
  • Both owners know their dogs well and are familiar with canine body language and stress signals.
  • Both dogs are able to approach on slack leashes with relaxed body language.
  • Neither dog is wearing any training equipment that might cause unintended corrections or cause the two dogs to get caught up, or owners are sufficiently conscious of such risks and skilled at using the equipment intelligently.
  • Both dogs have the freedom to walk away.
  • Owners are relaxed and have good communication with one another.
What if you really want the dogs to meet, but are unsure how it might go?

If you are not confident that your dog (or the other dog) is really ready for prime time, try walking in parallel with the other dog and owner at a safe distance, to see if the dogs relax a bit, to give them each an opportunity to take in the other dog's scent and body language, and o gauge your control over your dog (and the other owner's control over his) in each other's presence.

And remember, there will always be another opportunity, so if it doesn't feel right, don't push it.

Form Over Function: The Future of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

Some believe heart mitral valve diseaes (HMVD) and syringomeilia to be so widespread among Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, that the breed is likely doomed. Yet many Cavalier breeders still do not perform basic health and screening tests.

For more information about the health issues affecting the Cavalier, as well advice on locating a responsible breeder, visit Cavalier Health.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed Part 6 of 6
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Form Over Function: What Makes a Crufts Champion?

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

In 2003 a Pekingese won Best of Show at Crufts in the UK. By 2006 he had already fathered eighteen litters. Should the fact that he may have required surgery to correct a genetic defect that made it difficult to breathe, even prior to becoming Champion, be a concern?

Pedigree Dogs Exposed Part 5 of 6
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Form Over Function: Pugs and Pandas

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

What do UK pugs and giant pandas have in common?

Pedigree Dogs Exposed Part 4 of 6
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Form Over Function: The Perils of Inbreeding

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

Did you know that the ridge on a Rhodesian Ridgeback is a genetic indicator for spinal disease?

Pedigree Dogs Exposed Part 3 of 6
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Form Over Function: Dog Breeding, the Victorians, and Eugenics

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

Ever wondered where the idea of a "purebred" dog came from?

Pedigree Dogs Exposed Part 2 of 6
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Form Over Function: Are We Breeding Dogs to Death?

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

For anyone who missed the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which aired last night on WTTW Channel 11, here is part one of six.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed Part 1 of 6
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Pedigree Dogs Exposed Airs on WTTW 11 at 8PM Tonight

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

If you own a purebred dog, have ever considered acquiring a purebred dog, or simply take an interest in animal health, welfare, or politics, you will want to watch this BBC documentary on the health and welfare issues facing pedigreed dogs in the United Kingdom.

Tune in tonight at 8 o'clock.

Rainy Day Activities for Dogs

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run


It's a rainy day in Chicago, but needless to say, the dogs still need to go out.

Now, I've more than once been guilty of the "ten steps out the door to the nearest tree and back" walk. Hey, it happens. But the fact is dogs need exercise come rain or come shine.

Ideally, at least for Spot, we'd all be the intrepid type, willing to don our Wellies and rain poncho at the drop of a hat, in order to take our best friend to the park even in seriously inclement weather. But, one doesn't need such a high "outdoorsy" quotient as that to be a responsible dog owner.

One trick is to recognize that exercise is not an exclusively outdoor activity.  Nor is it even exclusively a physical one. I've met plenty of dogs that could outrun a marathoner without being down for the count, while a mere thirty minutes or so of obedience work truly tires them out.

Here are some options for exercising body and mind indoors:

  • Problem Solving: Got a treat or a toy your dog wants? Make them work for it. Something as simple as putting a treat underneath an upside down food dish or cardboard box might keep them busy for a bit. Too easy? Hold out for a behavior you'd like to see more of, like sitting. Don't command it, just wait until your dog offers it on his own and spontaneously reward. See how fast your dog figures out what the "magic" treat and/or praise generating behavior is.
  • Leash Work: In the house?!? Sure. Despite the fact that leashes are generally marketed for outdoor use, it is in fact perfectly legal to use them indoors. And for some dogs, doing leash work in your home may help to blur the line between indoor and outdoor manners.
  • Teach Something New: Does your dog have a Go To Place command for when you have cat people over? Does he know how to take treats gently? You may have taught him to Sit and then to Down, but how about the reverse? And don't forget that old obedience trial standard, the Stand For Examination. It may not sound terribly practical outside the show ring, but it sure comes in handy when wiping off muddy paws....
And remember, you can get a lot more bang for your buck on those occasional "shorter than we'd both like" walks, by mixing in a little training along the way.

In the end, exercising body and mind simultaneously is a winning equation for everyone.

See Spot Blog at Chicago Now

See Spot Run

Owner and Head Trainer of See Spot Run

Hello, Chicago!

Spot here.

Okay, not exactly. It's really dog trainer and founder of
See Spot  Run, Ruth Crisler. And this is my maiden post.

Yesterday I enjoyed a little time away from the kennel with my daughter June and our black Lab Olive Oyl. There is a small park down the block from June's Montessori school, so we headed over to it after I picked her up. June built sand castles while Olive and I practiced a little obedience (that formal heel really comes in handy, by the way--nothing better than hands-free dog handling when you have to cross a street carrying a hot cup of coffee and holding the hand of a three-and-a-half-year-old). Afterward, Olive and I sat in the shade watching all the kid action.

I am very pleased to join Chicago Now as the newest member of its pet blog section, and am looking forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences as a dog trainer, small business owner, and parent. I'll be commenting on local canine news and legislation, reviewing dogcentric products and media, talking animal training and behavior, and occasionally examining what we think we know about dogs.

So stay tuned for future posts, and I welcome your comments. 

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