Leia with a strange object — part of socialization 🙂

Socializing puppies is one of my favorite things to do.

Not only am I exposing Leia to the world and the humans that inhabit it, it is an interesting exercise in reading people too.

I’ve often written about how our dogs mirror us, but they are also intuitive barometers in the way they relate to strangers.

“Awwwww, pupppppeeeee!” screams a teenager.  She comes running towards me and Leia. I ask her to stop, please wait, and to understand that I am training my puppy.  I explain that I want Leia to learn to greet strangers calmly and with all four paws on the ground. I ask Leia to sit, and then I allow the teen to say hello and pat her.  Leia is wriggling and trying hard to contain herself, but she does manage to stay sitting.

“Hey! Can I pet your puppy,” calls a young man just getting out of his car.  He’s grinning broadly but waits until I ask Leia to sit for the greeting.  Regardless of my attempts, she tries to jump all over the man who is now kneeling on her level.  I can tell right away that Leia is feeding into his high energy.  He tells me he has four dogs, and it’s obvious the way he interacts with Leia.

“How old is your puppy?” asks an elderly woman pushing a shopping cart inside the Tuesday Morning store. I tell her she is fourteen weeks old and her name is Leia. The woman calmly bends down and strokes Leia gently. Such good energy, and Leia responds by sitting quietly and licking her hand.

“Oh my, what a beautiful English Lab!” exclaims a tall woman who just walked out of the grocery store.  She is a true dog savvy person – she knows how to approach a puppy being socialized, and she doesn’t squeal in a high voice.  She talks to Leia quietly and caresses her gently.  Leia again responds by showing good manners and sitting calmly. 

“Look at the puppy!” says a father to his two children.  A prime socialization opportunity for Leia to interact with kids; their energy is so different from adults.  Again, I use it as an opportunity to teach the children how to greet a strange person with a dog. I encourage them to first ask, “May I pat your dog?” Then I show them the best way to touch a dog – gently and with soft strokes in the direction of hair growth.   

I’ve learned that when I socialize my puppies it is as much about training people as it is about training dogs.  I’ve discovered that many people do not understand canine behavior and respond to puppies and dogs as if they were human babies/children.

Proper socialization of puppies helps to create a confident, well-grounded canine that is a pleasure to live with.  WHOLE DOG JOURNAL has published a helpful checklist for puppy owners to use as a guide when socializing their puppy.

Although time-consuming, it doesn’t take much to shape a new puppy into a worldly and well-adjusted canine citizen. With the right supervision and judicious guidance, that unsocialized puppy can walk into a hardware store that has a pet aisle, and, after getting a few scratches behind the ear from strangers and a new chew to take home, will saunter right back out with tail wagging happily.


Leia very quickly discovered the bird bath in my rear shade garden and immediately claimed it as a place to bide awhile, chewing on a leaf or a twig. It was a very zen-like thing to observe – this tiny puppy contentedly curled up within the bowl like shape.  Ironically, when I first brought this bird bath home, the yin-yang symbol was carved into the base.  I’d won it at an Audubon fund-raiser with a silent auction bid.

Leia watches the birds as much as I do. There’s lots of bird activity because I keep 8 feeders filled in my yard. 

She dashed off into my neighbor’s yard to try to make friends with the robins. She watches the Canada geese flying overhead.  She holds conversations with the occasional crow that stops by. She studies the finches feeding on sunflower hearts. She is intrigued by the darting flight patterns of birds commuting through my property.

I can only begin to imagine how fascinated she will be by the hummingbirds when they arrive.

Last week there was an explosion of feathers left in my yard, probably from a mourning dove who fatefully encountered the local hawk.  Leia insisted in picking up the feathers and carrying them around. 

“She’s birdy,” remarked my friend Wendi. 

That she is, and the feathers just get added to Leia’s stash of souvenirs which are carried indoors every time she comes in. 


Leia at 14 weeks

Blocks of time to write have been scarce. I feel like I’ve been on a treadmill the last two weeks with interruption after interruption.

Things have been moving fast and furious, plus I hit a housebreaking snag about two weeks ago.

Leia is progressing with simple obedience commands and adding a few of her own. 

One of her newer ones is called “the leash flop.” She desperately wants to run and play with Heidi in the yard. But after she took off towards New Road last week, I’m not taking any chances until I get a fence installed.  So she is now going out into the yard on leash to toilet. We proceed outdoors, and she will take a few steps until she decides that she’d rather not be tethered, and she flops. While it is annoying, it’s also funny to watch.  It’s the Leia version of playing dead! A dead dog doesn’t need to be leashed! However, I think we’ve come to an understanding. Dead dogs also don’t get treats!  She doesn’t do “the leash flop” anywhere except in the yard. 

Interruption: transfer dog laundry to dryer and start my own laundry

The surveyor was here last week to mark my property lines, and the Invisible Fence guy came out to flag the underground wire lines.  The township authority and Verizon have painted an abstract in my yard with orange, blue, and green paints. Everything is now completed, and I’m waiting to hear from the fence people when they’ll be out to install it. I was hoping it would be done by the end of February, but now it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen due to the weather.  There’s so much rain predicted in the next week.

Interruption: Verizon arrived to mark underground cables prior to fence installation

Leia has graduated to riding in the back seat of the Honda CRV which has been designated as the “dog car” OR Canine Riding Vehicle (CRV).  She outgrew the crate I borrowed, so I decided to give her a chance to succeed in the back seat, and she’s done very well. I had a crazy Deb inspiration and installed a baby gate behind the front seats to keep Leia from venturing into the front of the car.  It works! 

Interruption: take Leia out to toilet

Along with riding in the back seat of the car, Leia has progressed to off leash walks in a few of my favorite safe places where I know we won’t run into other dogs. I believe Heidi is enjoying Leia’s company, and they take off romping and playing in spurts.  Because Leia is so young, I am mindful to limit the time we are out and the distance we walk.  Normally Heidi and I walk 2 or more miles when we go alone, but that’s too hard on young puppy joints at this time. 

Interruption: delivery from Amazon

On one of our walks after a heavy rain, Leia discovered the joy of water.  She crashed into a huge belly-deep puddle and took off running and leaping and splashing. She reminded me of how Hannah went nuts when water was involved.  Heidi just dipped her toes in the water; she’s not as much of a water dog as Hannah was or Leia appears to be. 

Interruption:  Leia gets lunch. . . and so do I!

However, the biggest challenge has been the housebreaking snag I hit a few weeks ago. Suddenly Leia started soiling in her crate. Naturally I blamed myself at first – I’d increased the size of the crate too soon? – I wasn’t paying close enough attention? – I wasn’t getting her out enough? You name it. I was berating myself to no end.  Then I started trying to get a sensible perspective on the problem.  I had a vet appointment in two days, and I was now suspecting there was a medical reason.  Sure enough, diagnostics showed a severe E coli UTI, and Dr. Jackie prescribed antibiotics for a month. 

Obviously a UTI affects frequency of urination, so that forced me go back to square one and treat Leia’s toileting like an 8 week old puppy.  Out and in repeatedly, including getting up once in the middle of the night.  The challenge was not only to keep her from soiling her crate, but to try and break the bad habit as well.  Dr. Jackie urged me to toilet her frequently in an attempt to help flush the infection from her urinary tract. 

Interruption: Leia out to toilet

So that’s where we’re at folks. Leia is now a beautiful 14 week old puppy. She’s smart, loves people, and holds court in the local hardware store.  I know once we get through treatment for the UTI and re-establish the ground-work for keeping a clean crate, things will get lots easier. 

When I have my moments of frustration, I repeat my current mantra, “This, too, shall pass.”


Chimken is a high value treat!!

If you’ve ever watched any Tucker Budzyn videos, this phrase will be familiar to you.

So far, Leia’s training treats have been her kibble; kibble is generally considered a low value treat. This morning I decided to cook some chimken breasts to use as high value training treats. Leia has made some great progress with WAIT, but I knew a higher value treat would help me confirm what I was asking of her.

I can’t train if Heidi is present, so I either take Leia into the yard or onto my covered porch to work with her alone. 

Leia is such an eager pup that WAIT is challenging for her.  But I’m seeing the little aha moments. I knew chimken would give me that little extra advantage in confirming the desired response.

I keep my training sessions short, and try to make them fun – hey, isn’t that what we do with kids in school? Leia is in kindergarten. So, learning the commands is a little like learning to read and starting to understand the words.

It’s rainy and raw today, so I did three short training sessions on my porch throughout the day. 

We run through SIT and LIE DOWN, and then move to WAIT. 

Her WAIT has improved so much that I can walk about 10 feet away and delay the command COME for about 5-10 seconds.  She’s usually eager to COME, and she gets some CHIMKEN!!

Great way to build a foundation. 

Then I went into my “push the envelope” mode, and started teaching her LEAVE IT. This is a totally new command for Leia. Here’s where SIT and WAIT gave me an edge. 

I asked her to SIT and WAIT; then I put down a bit of chimken on the floor and said, LEAVE IT.

If she broke, I quickly picked up the chimken, waited a bit, got her attention, and started over.  After about 5 minutes of repetition, she began to understand.

I finally ended up the session with her sitting and waiting after I said LEAVE IT until I released her with OKAY!

Then she bounced and pounced on the chimken with delight!



First ride in an elevator – 12 weeks old

I needed to make a quick trip to Bensalem to drop off some paperwork, so I decided to take Leia along.  She has figured out that car rides usually bring good things. When I open the door, she puts her paws up on the ledge. She can’t jump in yet, but when I pick her up, she crawls into the crate willingly.

However, our trip took a circuitous route.

The business complex is located on Street Road, a horrendous main artery which feeds into the Pennsylvania Turnpike as well as Route 95. I missed my turn-off and was hemmed in by traffic on all sides when I heard Leia whine.  Pulling over was impossible – there was nothing but concrete and a narrow shoulder.  Too dangerous anyway, so I kept driving. 

Then, suddenly, I smelled it . . .  Uh Oh, I thought.  As soon as I saw a shopping mall with a grassy area, I pulled over. Sure enough, Leia had an accident in her crate.

I put on the leash and got her out of the car. Then I proceeded to clean up the mess in the crate. Because the Honda CRV (Canine Riding Vehicle) is the dog car, I’m well prepared for emergencies.  I had handi-wipes to wash off the crate and a fresh towel.

Leia was taking in the strange sights and sounds while I worked when a man on a broken down bicycle stopped to talk to her.  He admired her and asked me how old she was.  We chatted a bit, and then he asked me if I could spare some money. He was homeless and trying to meet expenses for a cheap hotel room. I’m fully cognizant of “stories” that many homeless people concoct, but who am I to make that judgment? If he was being honest and truly needed the money, then hopefully the $10 I gave him would help. 

He thanked me profusely and rode off.

Leia and I got in the car and proceeded to our intended destination, this time with the help of Google Maps. 

I delivered my paperwork and realized that this was a prime training opportunity. So, I got Leia out of the car again and focused on her leash work as we walked to the building.  She’s getting the feel for the heel position and not pulling on the leash.  A+ Leia!

The entrance to the building is non-stop glass, and Leia tried to walk through the glass instead of the door.  The lobby was spacious and full of new smells and sights; it was also void of people.  Leia was curious but relaxed.  She’s such a confident and bold puppy. 

The elevator was straight ahead.

I pressed the button, and the door opened. Leia examined the crack between the lobby floor and the elevator floor but stepped right over it into the empty enclosure.

Fourth floor please.  

The gears engaged, there was a small jerk, and off we went.  Leia rode confidently, got out at the fourth floor, inspected the carpeted hallway, and re-entered the elevator. We rode back down to the main floor. Another A+ Leia!

I am so proud of this puppy.


I finally decided how I would register Leia with the American Kennel Club. The paperwork from the breeder had been lying on my counter for a month. I also needed to complete the microchip registration.

So, I took a half hour this morning to complete the forms and write the check.

Not only did I choose the name Leia because I am an old Star Wars fan, I also loved the origin of the name. It is Hawaiian and means child of heaven.

But when I am given the opportunity to let my creative juices flow, I have fun playing with what will ultimately be the dog’s AKC registered name. 

Hannah’s was Ridgeway Moonshadow Hannah.

Heidi’s registered name is Ridgeway InLak’ech Zenith Heidi. I’d just returned from Belize where I’d experienced the beautiful Mayan culture. In Lak’ech Ala K’in is a Mayan phrase which loosely translates into “the light in me honors the light in you.”

Leia’s official name will now be Luminous Leia.

“Luminous?” you ask?

Yes, for those of you who are the original Star Wars fans, you will recall one of Yoda’s famous teachings. “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that part of Heidi’s name also references light.

Leia has already shown herself to emit light and radiance, two qualities that will surely enhance her presence as a therapy dog when the time comes.


Leia: “Me? I’m not guilty.”

Some days it just all adds up. . .

Rain, wind, and snow – neighbor’s yard furniture and trash cans blowing into my yard – getting soaked in a sudden cloudburst – trying desperately to keep up with work for an organization, and cracking the bridge of my nose on a heavy metal bird feeder while trying to keep Leia from venturing out of the yard.

No matter how much I advocate positive training, there are times when circumstances like these cause me to lose my patience.

It was blustery and cold at 11:30pm.  I’d taken Leia out on leash to toilet, but she wouldn’t.  According to her routine, I expected her to pee and poop, but all she wanted to do was grab the leash and play.  I walked and walked, hoping she would toilet so we could go back into the warm house.  She got tangled in the leash because she was tugging and leaping around. 

And I lost my patience. . . I just didn’t feel like coping with shenanigans.

I always feel terrible afterwards – like I somehow failed to deal appropriately with puppy nonsense. But I remember that I’m human and sometimes subject to roller coaster emotions.

The last two nights have departed from her familiar routine, so it made me pause. Routine is one way I set my comfort level in dealing with the labor intensive days of puppy raising.

She’s growing up, I thought. The routine is bound to change.

It’s time to be flexible and go with the flow.  Adapt to and accept the changes. Take a deep breath and laugh.

Easier said than done some days, especially when one thing after another seems to go wrong. 

I finally gave up giving Leia the opportunity to toilet and headed to bed.

I slept soundly and deeply, only awaking when my alarm went off at 7a.m.

The sun was shining.

It’s a new day, I thought. Yesterday is old news.

And I went downstairs to greet Heidi and Leia with a smile on my face.


Video: Basic commands at 10 weeks of age

I’m an opportunist when it comes to training.

So often a puppy will offer a response, and I grab the opportunity to add the command to match it.

I believe in setting a foundation right off the bat and taking advantage of the prime learning period while puppies are like little sponges. 

I gave Leia the first few days to acclimate to her new home, and then I started training.  I guess it is the teacher in me, but I absolutely LOVE training. It gives me so much joy to see a young puppy try to figure out what’s being asked and watching the switch turn on. Every dog owner has a system that works for them. I will share what works for me and how I go about teaching.

I started with SIT which she learned in two short sessions. Sit is so easy to teach. Using a treat, I move my hand upwards and rearwards over the puppy’s head. When they follow the motion it automatically unbalances them into a sitting position. Once the puppy starts to offer the sit from a verbal command, I then start adding the corresponding hand signal.  

The next command I taught Leia was LIE DOWN. Heidi had been very difficult to teach LIE DOWN, so I was expecting the same challenge. But I had nothing to worry about; Leia mastered LIE DOWN as quickly as she learned SIT.  I first put her into a sit position, and then lead her into a lie down position with a treat in my hand.  Leia got the lie down quickly in the front but would often raise her butt as she went down in front.  The secret was encouraging her to keep her butt in the sit position while she went down.  She figured it out after a few tries. She’s very eager and seems to love “working.”

My next target was to work on RECALL, reinforcing name recognition and the command COME. 

The first challenge was to teach her that Leia is her name!  Lots of repetition and praise! Then the next hurdle was to get her attention and a reaction to LEIA! Not easy with puppy ADHD. There are a multitude of ways to get a puppy’s attention; the key is variety. Puppies very quickly figure out which attention-getting methods are worth responding to. 

It was difficult in the beginning, but gradually I could see her start to hesitate when I called her name, and from there I built on creating excitement and enthusiasm to the command COME. 

This is a great time to be the opportunist!

Anytime she offered to acknowledge me and come to me, I took advantage of her initiative and called, “Leia, COME!” in a happy, excited voice as she was making a beeline for me. She got a treat and lots of praise as soon as she arrived and sat in front of me. 

Then I started to push the envelope a bit.  I waited until she got about 25-30 feet away and engrossed in something. I called her name and asked her to come. 

She responds positively about 40% of the time, and when she does, she runs to me as fast as she can.  I actually turn my body slightly so she won’t leap up and slam into me; she’s learning to regulate her approach.  It’s such a thrill to see a young puppy respond so joyfully to being called, and I want to build on that. Reliable recall takes time and lots of consistency. Sometimes people make the mistake of calling over and over again. You will see puppies tune out constant chatter and repetition.

In addition, commands should be succinct and follow the puppy’s name. “Leia, sit!”  NOT, “Leia, you’re a such a cute little girl. Will you sit for me?”  This excessive jargon is totally confusing to a puppy (and adult dogs too!). Commands should be given ONLY after the dog’s attention is directed to the trainer.  When the dog is focused then the command is given ONCE.  The dog must be given the chance to succeed.  There have been times when I’ve given my command once, and Leia doesn’t respond immediately. But I still have her attention, so I wait. I can see the little wheels turning in that puppy brain, and then she offers the response. 

I always subscribe to the philosophy that less chatter is better.  I like my dog to associate my voice with good things. 

Two days ago, I decided to add a new command into the mix – WAIT!

Many people use STAY, but over the years I’ve developed a preference for WAIT.  Wait is such an important command.  I use it at the doorway when I need to go out without the dog and also when I want the dog to stay in the car while I open the car door.  I also use it when the dog is exiting the crate.

I am still feeding Leia in her crate. Before I open the crate door, I ask Leia to sit, then WAIT as I open the door to put her food down. I do not like dogs that dive into their food bowl as I am in the process of putting it down.  All my dogs learn they must wait until the bowl is down and I say OK, which is my release word. 

To me, STAY is a very definite command which means the dog must not move from the spot where the command was given.  WAIT gives the dog a teeny bit more latitude. I believe that it is valuable to a trainer to have both commands in one’s arsenal.

I will also be training the commands for leave it, drop it, give & take it, and watch me. I build gradually, and currently we are working on what I feel is a good training foundation for me and Leia.  I will continue to share the process of training as we proceed, including leash training. 


in a quiet moment

Dynamics are always fascinating.

Leia and Heidi are establishing the dynamics of their relationship, and it’s up to me to understand them.

Heidi is generally laid back (a wonderful therapy dog), but she has a very intense side to her when it comes to obedience or play. Her prey drive is high, and she thinks nothing of busting through the Invisible Fence, while wearing her collar, to chase a cat or some other desirable prey.  Heidi will not aggressively attack, but she thrills in the chase.

Leia, of course, is all puppy. She’s exploring her boundaries, physical, human, and canine.  She’s exuberant and loves the challenge of getting Heidi to play. 

Heidi is a ball hog and has been known to grab three tennis balls into her mouth at one time. She has two orange Chuckit balls that are specifically HERS and hers alone. Leia may NOT touch those balls!

ball hog in action

Leia has a pile of outdoor toys, and she drifts from one toy to the other. They only hold her attention for a few seconds before she moves to a leaf or decides to torment Heidi and try to steal one of her Chuckit balls.

This is when I need to be vigilant and terminate play if it gets too rough. 

Heidi does resource guarding when it comes to Leia and her Chuckit balls.  Leia treads carefully and goes into stalk mode, slowly advancing like a cat, and then trying to pounce on the two balls.  Heidi is a master of the quick grab, stuffs the balls into her mouth and takes off with Leia in pursuit. 

Heidi and Leia do much better when there are no toys in the yard.  They interact more comfortably. This is when I see Heidi going into what we humans would call “big sister” mode.  She is teaching Leia some of the games that she used to play with Hannah. 

This morning Heidi grabbed a long twig and snapped it in half.  She chewed on one and allowed Leia to take the other half.  They lay beside each other chewing happily.

I’ve learned that I cannot train Leia if Heidi is present.  Heidi is so eager and biddable that she is obeying my commands and getting in the way; naturally this pulls Leia’s focus away from me and makes it impossible to train.  I need to separate them, so I have Leia’s full attention for our mini training sessions which are so much fun. She’s so eager to work for the praise/reward. 

Indoors Heidi accepts Leia’s shenanigans if she doesn’t get too wild; if that happens, Leia gets a quick reminder that it is unacceptable behavior. 

One of the most intriguing things I’ve observed is when Heidi intercedes if I’m having difficulty getting Leia to respond.  The first time, Leia had grabbed hold of my jacket sleeve and would not release. My efforts to apply pressure on the side of her jaws was non-productive. Suddenly Heidi appeared and growled, displaying a dominant movement which caused Leia to immediately let go of my sleeve.  This happened again when I was trying to get Leia to give me a toy.  A substitute toy or treat were not working.  Again, Heidi quickly interceded, and Leia released. 

I have always been so fascinated by canine behavior and dynamics.  We humans err too often in attributing human responses and emotions to our pets. It’s time to realize that our dogs and cats are NOT our fur babies.  As responsible owners, we need to commit to understanding our animals and being the best custodian we can be of their well-being. 

That said, I love to read well-researched articles and authentic books about canine behavior.  I get WHOLE DOG JOURNAL and YOUR DOG (Tufts veterinary college). Both are wonderful and very informative periodicals, addressing a wide range of health, behavior, and training topics. I also have a few favorite books written by animal behaviorists. Two are THE POWER OF POSITIVE DOG TRAINING BY Pat Miller and THE CULTURE CLASH by Jean Donaldson.  Another wonderful author who writes about dogs is Stanley Coren. 

Now I ask you dog owners – what do YOU read that helps you better understand canine behavior and guides you in training your dogs?