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The Walk

Kathleen Godfrey

           Fresh air, innumerable scents, encounters with new things, and the chance for adventure! For a dog, the walk is extremely special and important – it does not matter if it is the first walk of the day or the fifth – it is the highlight of their day and a cause for celebration. We humans need to have a better understanding and appreciation of this special time. It is a chance to get away from it all and bond with our canine counterparts. Yet, so many people find walking their dog cumbersome and unenjoyable.

            The walk should be an enjoyable and happy experience for all involved. The sight of the leash elicits wagging tails, happy dog smiles, and excitement. Perhaps we should take a cue from our dogs and take this sort of approach to the walk as well. After all, we are lucky to have such a willing accomplice on our little escape.

            Personally, I love walking my dogs – there is nothing better in the world than walking with Beast and Saxon. It is a chance to take a break and simply enjoy being with them while getting exercise and fresh air. It brings a smile to my face watching them explore and simply have a good time. Dogs are like children in the sense that if they do not get to expel energy, they are often a bit wild. A dog is not born knowing how to walk on a leash, it must be taught.

           Many people get frustrated on walks and actually dread them. I see people yanking, yelling, and doing other inappropriate things that make the walk a sad and stressful time for their furry friend. The walk is not about you, it is about your dog getting the exercise it needs and exposure to the world to help him or her be a well-adjusted, healthy and happy dog.

          It is not their fault if they have not been properly exercised or taught how to walk on a leash properly. They have basic needs and exercise is at the top of the list. So many people simply do not exercise their dogs enough yet wonder why they are out of control. A dog that is healthy and not properly exercised can be like a bottle of soda that’s been shook up - the energy keeps building and building but either never gets released or is absolute chaos when it finally does.

           Sure, we all have days where we are in a rush and patience is low, but instead of berating your dog to hurry up and pulling them around, why not take a kinder approach and talk to them in a voice that makes them want to hurry up while using appropriate body language and technique. It’s amazing what a difference our tone of voice, body stance, and frame of mind can do when working with a dog.

            There will be days when there is little time or we are not in the best of moods, but our dogs simply don’t understand that. How would you like it if you were reading the paper or a book and someone kept yanking on you? That is how it is for a dog – they are gathering information with their noses to the ground while listening and looking around.

            If you take the time and put in the effort to teach them how to walk with clear communication, it is a delightful experience. For instance, there is a difference between what I call a “leisure walk” and an “exercise walk” – one is for letting the dog sniff around at its own pace, the latter is focused and fast paced – but a dog cannot know the difference without proper communication.

            A change in attitude is essential for making the walk a positive experience to look forward to. Look at it from a dog’s perspective: they are (often) cooped up indoors or only have their yard to experience until we take them out for a walk, doesn’t it seem natural that they are thrilled by the chance to smell and experience new things? Now, go for a walk enjoy the gorgeous December weather with your dog!

featured in December 8, 2015 edition of The Ponte Vedra Recorder

Keeping Pets Healthy

Kathleen Godfrey

           Obesity in American pets is on the rise. It is estimated that more than half of all pet dogs and cats in America are overweight or obese. Excess weight in pets causes many of the same health problems as it does in humans.

            There are many health problems that stem from a pet being overweight or obese. Osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, and cancer are a few of the risks overweight pets face. Overweight pets also have shorter life expectancies and a decreased quality of life.

            There are some signs that your pet may be overweight or obese. Your pet should have a tapered (think hourglass) look at the waist if you are looking at them from above and an area that looks tucked up behind the ribs and before the hind legs. Their ribs should be easy to feel without applying too much pressure. Look at the area at the base of your pet’s tail, if there is extra padding and folds your pet could be overweight or obese.

A lack of appropriate exercise is a major culprit of obesity in pets. As our culture becomes more and more sedentary, so do our pets. Coupled with a lack of exercise, far too many treats and extra calories in general are to blame for excess weight. It may feel good to “treat” your pet, but it is simply not a treat if it happens all the time for no reason. Think of it this way: excess calories = excess weight, made worse without adequate exercise.

Some owners love their pets with food, but this is a slippery slope. Your pet simply does not need to sample everything that you eat.  There are some fruits vegetables that are healthy for pets, but in general people food is a major no-no. Green beans, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes are a few examples of safe veggies for dogs in small quantities. Always slowly transition new things into your pet’s diet, one at time. This will help determine if your pet’s stomach can handle it as well as help you determine if they are allergic.

            Of course, not all pets are the same in terms of dietary and exercise needs. Age, breed, spayed/neutered, and other factors should be taken into account when finding the right balance to keep your pet healthy and happy. A senior dog may not need to eat as much as a two-year old dog, much like a very active intact dog may need to eat more than a fixed dog.

Self-education is important but it is also important to have a candid talk with your veterinarian. Ask about how much and how often you should be feeding your pet. Be honest with your vet about what and how often you are feeding your pet, as well as how much exercise they really get. This will help your vet give you the best information and recommendations possible.

If your pet is overweight or obese there are things that can be done to help. Contact your vet to assess your pet’s health and determine what a safe plan of action would be. Begin cutting back on the amount of treats you give your pet, an ear or belly rub is just as good as a food reward. Create a safe exercise plan that gradually increases the amount of exercise your pet receives. Keep track of your pet’s weight loss and be patient. It took time for your pet to pack on the extra pounds, so it will take time for them to safely lose them.

featured in the Athletic issue/April 2016 of Unleash Jax

Dog Days of Summer

Kathleen Godfrey

Dog Days of Summer as featured in The First Coast Register: A First Coast Summer 2015 Edition

        The long, sun-drenched days of summer in Northeast Florida mean adventure and outdoor playtime for many dogs and their human counterparts. Northeast Florida has many state parks, trails, beaches and dog friendly restaurants to enjoy. It is important to keep your canine companion’s comfort and safety in mind when venturing outdoors during the hot summer months.

         It is no great secret that the Florida summer sun is intense for humans, but it can be even more so for dogs. Think about wearing a sweatshirt on a hot midsummer day to get an idea of what it must be like for a dog. Dogs can suffer from heat stroke just like humans. It is important to take precautions to keep them safe and healthy by avoiding the hot midday hours, providing them with shade and fresh water, not leaving them in a hot car, and avoiding intense exercise in direct sunlight during peak hours (10 a.m. – 3 p.m.).

Dogs can become overheated quite quickly in the Florida sun, so educate yourself about what’s safe for them. Darker dogs, overweight dogs, senior dogs, and dogs with heavier coats may overheat more quickly than other dogs. Carry fresh water, know your dog’s limits, and know the signs of heat stroke.

If the pavement or sand it too hot for your feet, it is too hot for your dog’s paws! Think about the discomfort of walking barefoot over hot sand or asphalt… our four legged friends are not immune to this pain. Use your best judgement about when and where to walk or exercise your dog.

I once saw a man yelling at his puppy to sit down and stay still on blistering hot pavement while he attempted to clean up after it. The young pup’s feet were clearly being burned by the hot pavement. I politely said, “Sir, the pavement is extremely hot and is burning your puppy’s feet - making him squirm.” The man became angry and yelled at me, then carried on fussing at his puppy. I’ve always felt sorry for that puppy and all the other animals that suffer due to humans not being more attuned to their needs. The bottom line is that as a dog owner, you are responsible for their safety and comfort!

The hot summer months are also a breeding ground for pests. Fleas, ticks, and mosquitos can bring about many problems for pets. Fleas and ticks can cause discomfort, excessive itching or biting that can lead to hot spots and skin infections among other things. Mosquitos put them at risk for heartworms, so it is important to find a method of prevention that works for your dog. There are many options on the market to choose from.

Aside from preventatives, I personally love a concoction of apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, witch hazel, and lavender or rosemary oil to help keep the pests at bay. I use this for my dogs year round as well as for myself. It is eco-friendly and contains no questionable ingredients and costs less than traditional repellants.

Many trails in Northeast Florida provide shade that helps to keep dogs cooler, but trails have their own caveats as well. Aside from ticks and mosquitos, many other creatures call Northeast Florida home. Northeast Florida is full of potentially dangerous wildlife from poisonous snakes, bears, raccoons, and hogs as well as other critters.


Do a little research before hitting the trails; call ahead and ask a park ranger if the area is known for potentially dangerous wildlife. For example, they should be able to tell you if the area is known for pygmy rattlesnakes or black bears. It is important to be aware and take proper precautions to keep your dog(s) safe.

Humane Training

Kathleen Godfrey

Humane Training

       As a dog walker, trainer and pet sitter, I see a lot of owners having issues with their beloved canine companions. I will first state that I have never met a “bad dog”, only misinformed owners who usually have the best of intentions and a dog that has taken full advantage of humans who have not implemented necessary rules and boundaries. Dogs do get wild hairs and can be naughty, but never innately bad. The problem lies in communication- like many problems in our human world.

            People expect a dog to know what they want it to do by communicating as a human would. Therein lies part of the problem. Dogs are not humans, they do not think or socialize in the exact ways that we do, although there are some cross species commonalities. Like humans, they have their own personalities with likes and dislikes that should be taken into account when working with them.

            It is crucial to communicate as a pack leader and establish your role as an Alpha from the start. This does not require any force or violence towards the dog. The use of choke collars, pinch collars, or shock collars is unnecessary in my opinion. The training that I put forth does not involve fear, domination, or cruelty of any sort but helps to foster a relationship of mutual respect. It does however require patience, dedication, consistency and time. The benefits far outweigh the initial work!

            No two dogs are alike, so training them is often a matter of figuring out what works best with that particular dog. Dogs, like humans, have good and bad days; they may not be feeling well or haven’t had enough exercise that day making it difficult for them to focus on training. All of these things should be taken into account when working with your dog. When working with a rescue dog, it is extremely helpful to know as much of their history as possible. Some dogs have been mistreated by humans so it is necessary to learn what they are and are not comfortable with, and always keep calm and patient.

            We all have moments of frustration, but this should not be taken out on the dog. We have all seen the dog owner yelling at and berating their dog. This does nothing productive whatsoever. Dogs have a psyche just like us – constantly berating a dog can damage them as well as your relationship with them. A firm and meaningful “NO” or “AhAh” is often very useful. When a dog gets loose or runs off, why would it want to return to an angry owner who is shouting at them? It is so important to take into consideration tone of voice and body language while working with a dog. Talk nicely to them, but be firm when needed. Praise and affection go much further with a dog than anger and negativity.

            Use treats and toys to your advantage. With clear communication, dogs learn what is expected of them and what will not be tolerated. Dogs know when we mean what we say and when we don’t because they have learned to gauge our tone of voice and body language. Hand signals are just as important as tone of voice and body language. If commands a clear and consistent, dogs can pick up on what it is we want from them rather quickly. Be sure you are giving them incentive to learn to learn and behave as well.

            Having a well behaved dog is a lifetime of work, but it is absolutely worthwhile. We are responsible for their health and overall well-being. Learn your dog’s limits and do not put them in situations where they are at risk or set to fail. Patience, consistency, boundaries, exercise and incentives are you best allies in training. Training should not be dreaded by the human or the dog, it should be a fun and positive experience. If you or your dog are having an off day, postpone training until moods have improved. The goal is to enjoy having a dog in your life and a dog that enjoys life with you as well!

Article as seen in July 2015 Issue of the Ponte Vedra Recorder