Invisible Dog Booties


(I ran this post a year ago because I was so impressed with this product. I just used it again on my dog over the weekend and I have to say, the stuff is great. It made sense to me to run the post one more time.)

I’ve never been afraid of winter before. I actually used to love it — but the last six snowstorms have changed my views.

Even disliking winter as I do these days, I never thought I’d associate it with fear.

After all, I grew up where winters were long and cold and very, very snowy. I learned to drive on snow-covered roads and have fought my way along a highway through more than one blinding blizzard.

But winter never bothered me — until Maddie.

When you have a 65-pound very excitable dog yanking you right and left as you go for a walk, you learn to appreciate firm ground and traction.

Obviously, you don’t get either on the ice.

“Well then, don’t walk your dog, for God’s sake,” said one of my friends. “You don’t have to be out there at the crack of dawn every morning for two hours.”

Uh, yes I do.

Maddie without exercise is like … let’s see … me after drinking a cup of coffee? (I can’t even drink decaf, so you have some idea of the bouncing-off-the-walls effect I’m envisioning.)

The dog needs exercise at the start of every day, and if I am going to be totally honest, I’ve become addicted to our early-morning walks as well. I feel flat, dull and without energy if I don’t roll out bed and hike through one of the nearby parks for at least an hour.

So not walking isn’t an option. And this presents two problems:

1) How do I avoid having Maddie yank me down on the ice?

2) How do I prevent Maddie from stopping every 10 feet and pathetically holding up one of her paws because she’s bothered by an ice or snow clump that’s wedged its way in between the pads of her paws?

Problem #2 seemed easier to solve, so I sat down at my computer a few weeks ago and began researching … yes … dog booties.

You have to understand how difficult this was for me. I HATE putting a coat on Maddie, and I only do it when the temperature is in the single digits.

It’s not that it’s hard to get the coat on her — for some reason, she doesn’t seem to mind. But I don’t like the idea of walking a dog who’s wearing a coat. It’s just not very … dog-like. She might as well have bows tied to her ears or have her toenails painted pink. To me, it’s the same thing.

So you can imagine my feelings on booties.

But what were my options? Walking her on snow and ice is a living hell because she’s the classic Princess and the Pea. Every other step, something cold has invaded one of her pads and she refuses to move.

Makes the walk loads of fun, let me tell you.

But while I was searching for stupid booties, I found something called Invisible Booties — or Musher’s Secret.

Sled dogs use it, said the ad.

Really? Then it has to work, right? I mean, they’re in snow up to their knees (do dogs have knees?). If it’s good enough for huskies, it must be good enough for a labradoodle.

I bought a small tin and when it arrived, I sniffed it. It’s organic, so if she licks her paws, no problem (always a good thing with Maddie). It smells nice — kind of menthol-y — and it has the consistency of chap stick.

I smeared it on her paws, doing it slowly and giving her lots of praise as I’d run my hand down each leg to get her to shift her balance (if you’ve ever picked a horse’s hooves, it’s the same principle). Strangely for a dog who HATES having anyone touch her feet (she’s a groomer’s delight), she likes me putting on the Musher’s Secret.

Once her pads were covered, we headed outside. That day, we did a 2-hour walk. Maddie stopped once — and that was because she’d jumped into a huge snow bank and probably got some really cold clumps wedged in her pads.

I am thrilled with Musher’s Secret — and have since bought two more huge tubs of it. I’ve given their pamphlets out to my friends and recommended it to strangers when I see them stopping to pick ice or chunks of salt out of their dog’s feet.

Now onto the other problem — walking Maddie on the ice.

Today was pretty bad. We started out early and the side roads were your basic sheets of ice.

I took a deep breath and decided to try something. Cesar Millan is forever talking about being calm and assertive. If you watch The Dog Whisperer, you know it’s his mantra.

I have come to realize I’m doing pretty well with the assertive part, but I’m not calm. At all.

When I see another dog approaching us — Maddie’s Big Issue in life — I feel fear and anxiety from my head to my toes. Can she sense that? I’d bet money on it.

So I vowed this morning would be different — because it had to be. If she saw another dog coming and began pulling, growling and yanking the leash everywhere, I was going down.

But maybe if I could even just fake being calm, it would keep everyone calm at the other end of the leash.

“OK. So how do I make myself seem calm?” I mumbled out loud. (I’m sure my neighbors have long ago realized I’m on the less sane side of things.)

And it suddenly came to me. I can’t talk. At all. Once I talk, all the nervous tension comes spilling out in a torrent of high-pitched words.

So, I would shut up and communicate to her through body language and the occasional grunt, if necessary. Even a throat clearing has been known to get her to pay attention.

Clamping my jaws shut, we set out — and wouldn’t you know it, a dog suddenly comes bounding down from a snowy hillside a short distance ahead of us.

“Pluto!!!! Pluto!!! NO, no no no no no no no, PLUTO!!!!” The yellow lab’s owner is frantically calling him as Pluto merrily prances around the street.

He hasn’t seen us yet — but Maddie’s seen him. Her body tenses, she leans forward (Can dogs have beady eyes? Her eyes got beady) and she’s about to do the yanking-jerking-pulling thing which requires every ounce of strength in my not-so-tall body.

We’re on ice. Did I mention that?

I have nothing to lose, and I absolutely have to DO SOMETHING immediately.

So I exhale deeply, don’t say a word, just shift my body so I am leaning authoritatively toward Maddie — and I give her a very in-your-face kind of look.

If you don’t have a dog — or if you don’t have a difficult dog — this may sound ridiculous. You may be wondering how on Earth Maddie will have a clue what I want.  But body language speaks volumes louder than our voices in the animal world. My problem is, I’m always talking too much to make use of it.

So there we were: Pluto getting closer, Maddie ready to snap, and me leaning over her with my best  “Don’t mess with me” expression.

If you had asked me to guess what was going to happen next, I would’ve thought of a million things … except what actually did happen.

She sat.

Seriously. While Pluto remained romping in the road ahead of us, his owner charging toward him with his leash, Maddie sat looking at me.

Her body quivered — she wasn’t a happy camper. She wanted to go after that dog. But she just sat there.

Pluto eventually went into lab submission and was leashed and removed from our sight.

I took a deep breath, exhaled and we continued walking.

I still hadn’t spoken a word, but after a few minutes, I stole a glance at Maddie. She looked up at me. “Not bad, huh?” her eyes said.

Not bad at all.



There are a lot of dog training mantras — and I’ve mentioned some of them here — and here’s one I find myself repeating often to people:

Mental exercise will tire your dog out more quickly (and thoroughly) than physical exercise.

And as we all know, a tired dog is a good dog.

It’s an easy enough concept to grasp, but how do you mentally stimulate your dog?

I’ve talked loads of times about throwing away your dog’s food bowl and feeding him from a Kong. It may not seem like a ton of mental stimulation to you, but it’s a different story to your dog.

Another great “tool” I’ve discovered to wear Maddie out is a puzzle made by Nina Ottosson (see the photo above).

Several times a week Maddie is delighted to have the dry part of her dinner served to her in her Dog Brick puzzle.

If you look at the above photo, you can see how the black squares slide along the wooden grooves. When your dog moves a square, he discovers a few pieces of kibble hidden in the inset hole.

I love this particular puzzle because it’s so cool watching Maddie:

  • use her nose to track down the hidden pieces of kibble.
  • figure out that the squares will only slide vertically and not horizontally.
  • come up with a way to move the squares with her paws, since she seems to only want to slide them toward her and never away from her (her answer is to simply walk around to the other side of the puzzle and then slide the squares toward her as before).
  • flop down in the recliner after dinner because she’s pretty tired from working so hard for her food.

These puzzles aren’t cheap — in the $50 range. But someone has a birthday coming up next week … and I think we might just take a trip to the pet store to get another puzzle.  The Turbo perhaps?

She’s turning 6 and part of me wonders how I’ve managed to deal with all the “Maddie issues” I’ve had to put up with for so long.

But we are truly a work in progress.

And I can say with absolute confidence she’s taught me as much as I’ve taught her. Maybe more.

Happy Birthday, my labradoodle!

We’ve been told we’re the pack leaders; we’ve been told dogs respect dominance.

We’ve been told not to let dogs go through a doorway in front of us, and we’ve been told never to let dogs on the bed or furniture without being invited.

This is nonsense, to put it plainly.

How do I know? The work I do at the shelter training 90-pound pit bulls, german shepherds, boxers, rotties and all kinds of powerful breed mixes has nothing to do with dominance. And what I do works.

I’ll give you a quick example that happened today on my morning walk with my own issue-laden and wonderful labradoodle, Maddie:

We ran into my friend Gavin and his amazingly intuitive border collie, Bud.

Maddie really likes Bud — he’s maybe the only dog she truly enjoys being around and doesn’t just tolerate — and it’s because he’s intuitive.

In short, he gets her. He picked up right away that Maddie doesn’t want to be sniffed, jumped on or focused on in any way. She just wants to amble along next to another dog and be left alone. That’s how she starts to feel secure and can trust the other dog won’t come at her and hurt her.

Bud got this right away and my dog now wags happily when she sees him.

As we walked together, Gavin and I talked about this and that. Let me tell you about Gavin:If not for our dogs, I doubt we’d ever spend 5 minutes in each other’s company.

He’s a strong-willed guy — what he says, goes. A real “my way or the highway” type. I can tell from our conversations that he’s like that with this family, and he’s like that with his dog. He’s also smart, powerful and clearly used to getting his own way. I think you get the picture.

As we were walking this morning, we heard barking from about 50 feet behind us. We all turned — people and dogs — and saw a portuguese wagging happily and pulling on the leash to get to us.

Maddie went into her usual “strange dog approaching” mode, which means lots of barking, yanking and seemingly aggressive behavior toward the new dog. (She really just wants it to go away and leave her alone.)

Bud, on the other hand, went into typical border collie mode: He flattened himself on the ground and began boring his eyes into the portuguese.

In the few seconds that these behaviors occurred, Gavin and I took very different approaches to keep our dogs moving forward instead of waiting to stalk/scare the other dog.

Gavin forcefully yanked Bud’s leash, physically uprooting him from the ground by his neck. I inwardly frowned (poor Bud’s neck!) but I can’t tell Gavin anything. I’ve tried. He’s always right, of course.

Another second passed, and Bud had tried again to flatten himself on the ground and wait for the new dog. Gavin yanked even harder on the leash and Bud was thrown into the air — and quickly decided it’s best to keep walking by his human’s side.

I on the other hand, reached into my pocket and pulled out a microscopic piece of cheddar cheese. “Quiet,” I said to Maddie. I pointed to my noise, which is our signal for her to look at me and pay attention to what I’m saying.

Not only did Maddie stop barking on the spot, but she sat and stared up at me. I popped the cheese into her mouth.

“Let’s walk,” I said to her, giving her my hand signal for walking (it’s like a “come on” wave with my hand at hip level). She trotted next to me, got another tiny piece of cheese — and never once looked back at the portuguese.

Gavin is a firm believer in dominance over dogs. He’s told me so. I’ve tried to put forth my argument, but Gavin is always rights.

But just look at today’s situation: 2 dogs, both interested in another dog to the point of halting the progress of our walk.

The real difference in how we handled it? I gave my dog something she wanted more than to bark at the dog behind us. Maddie wanted to do as I said and that made the whole process easy and uneventful — not to mention, painless.

Bud was simply being told the old “No, because I said so!” and was frustrated and clearly still interested in the dog.

It’s kind of funny, but Gavin wound up stopping so Bud could smell and play with the portuguese, while Maddie and I stood on the sidelines.

So Bud got what he wanted in the end but a) isn’t that confusing for him? and b) is his neck OK?

Forget dominance. Pit bulls become lap dogs if you give them a good reason to motivate them to sit, lie down or just stop pulling on the leash. The reason may be food, praise or a brief neck massage.

But the dog who wants to be trained is so much easier on both of you.

Of the many challenges I’ve faced with Maddie, getting her to be quiet has been one of the toughest.

She’s an anxious, insecure dog, so barking is her go-to outlet for anything that concerns her — which is most things.

I know barking comes naturally to dogs and I’d be the last person to try to stifle any of her instincts. But every now and then … you just want your dog to be quiet, right?

After spending weeks working on “Quiet!” with her, I stumbled upon the quickest and easiest method of getting through to her what I wanted.

Every night, Maddie gets a Kong stuffed with her dinner. I’ve mentioned here before that I think everyone should toss their dog’s food bowl and only use the Kong.

Why? It mentally stimulates your dog to work for his/her food — and that’s what Mother Nature intended.

Not only does it give your dog pleasure to work to eat, but it makes for a tired dog at night — and at least in my case, that’s a good thing.

I was filling Maddie’s Kong one night with her dry food (I recently switched to Innova and it’s been working out great. Check out the top three ingredients — all protein) brown rice, and organic low-fat plain yogurt.

I realized she always barks with joy while she waits for me to fill the Kong. We both sit on the floor, and I have her Kong and a bowl with her dinner in it. She carefully watches as I scoop handful after handful into the toy.

Every so often, she’ll throw back her head and bark (or howl) in a wolf-like manner. I know this is pure joy. It’s her version of Snoopy’s suppertime dance.

But the light bulb went off in my head one evening, and as soon as she began happily barking (even though I didn’t mind it), I said, “Quiet!”

She didn’t get it at first, so I stopped scooping her food and curled up into a ball, refusing to make eye contact with her. In other words: “Unless you’re quiet, there’s no Kong action.”

She picked up on this … fast.

Since that night, I let her bark her happy bark — and then I’ll interrupt with, “Quiet!” She stops immediately, and gets rewarded by having a few pieces of the yogurt and rice-covered kibble fed to her by hand.

I didn’t realize how firmly this lesson had sunk in until we were outside the other day. It was just a quick bathroom walk — so I didn’t go outside with my pockets laden with treats, as they normally are.

Suddenly, Maddie noticed a tiny Yorkie off in the distance and she launched into serious barking.

“Quiet!” I said, not really expecting anything to happen. After all, I didn’t have any chicken or cheese in pockets. Where was the motivation for her to stop barking?

But she did stop — right then, right there.

I praised her to the skies and then we ran into the house to get a piece of cheese.

Since then, I’ve noticed her “Quiet” is as consistent as her “Sit” — which is pretty consistent.

Moral of the story: Take a look at your dog’s everyday activities and routines, and see if you can make it a learning time as well.

For a solid year, I’ve been begging the animal shelter where I volunteer to let me come in and walk the dogs on the holidays.

Not just Christmas and Easter, but any of the holidays when the shelter is officially closed: 4th of July, Memorial Day, etc.

And I have continually been told “No.”

The reasoning has never been quite clear. Something about the uncertain hours of when the kennel techs are going to show up to take care of the animals’ basic needs, the difficulty in arranging when the volunteers should show up, yada, yada, yada.

I am guessing the translation is: Too much bother.

So the dogs (and the cats — but come on, it’s harder on the dogs) just sit in their cages for the entire day and night. No exercise, no socialization, no way to relieve the stress and the sheer boredom of the constant confinement. And for dogs who are more often than not housebroken, they have to go where they sleep and eat.

But this year I got lucky. Or I pushed a little harder (insert a smiley face here, if you want).

This year I got the OK, and with 3 other volunteers, we arrived at the shelter Christmas morning and went to work for more than 4 hours.

Our shelter has been under construction for months but is now beginning to expand into its newer, roomier facility. This means more dogs to walk.

We have about 20 dogs right now and they’re all fantastic.

  • Meg, a slender and very energetic brindle pit, who just wants to run.
  • Niko, a stunning white husky and a mellow boy.
  • Hutch, a young German Shepherd who retreats to the back of his cage if you enter, but once he’s sure of you, he wants loads of hugs and love.
  • Mac, a heavyset yellow lab mix who ducks his head whenever you reach toward him with your hand and makes me wonder: What has some poor excuse of a human done to make you so hand shy?
  • And then there’s Willy, a tiny black pit puppy, who at 10 weeks of age is an irresistible sweetie, and I worry that he’s locked in a cage when this is the crucial time for him to get socialized.

We walked all these dogs and many more on Christmas Day and everyone got out at least 3 times. My goal was to exercise them enough that they wouldn’t be totally miserable when they’re left all afternoon and through the night until the following morning.

Meg ran until her tongue was hanging out, happily chasing a squeaky red football I found for her.

Niko sniffed through the woods and ambled along contentedly as he did lap after lap of the grassy area outside the shelter.

Hutch was my own personal triumph because — I will admit this — I am scared of German Shepherds. It is the only breed that makes me anxious when I see it. I guess it’s because every bad experience I (or one of my dogs) has ever had with another dog has been with a German Shepherd. So when I saw Hutch, I just took a breath, told myself to stop the nonsense and slowly went into his cage. When I saw how he backed up and was nervous about me, I could have laughed. “We’re going to get along fine, Hutch,” I told him. And when we’d both relaxed enough where I felt I could comfortably collar him, I found myself stroking his head and ears as he jumped up on me, wagging his tail. “We’re kindred spirits,” I told him. Our walk was pure fun.

Poor Mac, who is so hand shy, required me to go even more slowly. Entering his cage, I let him smell me and get used to me before I reached for the collar. It was a martingale (I like them best and keep a few sizes stuffed in my pocket whenever I’m at the shelter) and so it forced me to not only reach over Mac’s head, but wriggle a collar over it and pull it down over his ears. It took a few minutes — he was not happy. So I spent some time just petting him with the collar, rubbing it soothingly down his back and using the collar as a source of comfort and relaxation. Finally, Mac looked at me and said, “OK, you can go ahead and squeeze that thing over my head.” And boy did he get praised when the collar was on! Once outside, Mac was a happy camper, sniffing away and jogging here and there. A good, happy boy with a fear of hands I hope some wonderful family can eradicate. Best news: He was fine when I needed to remove the collar by squeezing it back off his head.

And finally, I spent loads of time with tiny Willy, taking him (carrying him) outside to experience life in the Big World. He wasn’t wild about it. He was much happier flinging himself onto one of my sneakers and tugging at the laces. But I kept him out long enough to breathe the air and find a few choice rocks to sniff and then went inside, where one of our wonderful volunteers had scrubbed down his cage and given him loads of fresh, soft blankets and a wonderful nest of a bed. I sat in his cage playing with him for at least a half hour and when I left him, he was curled up in his bed, sound asleep.

So maybe our shelter dogs were a little less miserable, cramped and lonely this Christmas than they’ve been in the past. It was quiet when we all left — and that’s always a good sign.

We’ll be back again New Year’s Day.

Happy Holidays to you and the special animals in your life!

If you’ve ever lived with a dog, you are familiar with this scenario:

You come home after being away for several hours and you find … mass destruction.

Maybe paper towels have been pulled off the kitchen counter and shredded all over the house.

Or maybe the remote — which had been carefully wedged between the sofa cushions — has been discovered and  chewed beyond recognition.

Or — always my favorite — underpants were dragged from beneath the bed? Behind the dresser? From the top of the toilet tank? And are now wet and mangled and … minus the crotch.

My dogs have done all this and far, far more. You can only imagine the sheer horror of coming home from a long day at work to discover your dog has not only figured out how to unlock the door to her crate, but managed to unravel a not insignificant patch of brand new berber carpeting.

Like any normal human, your reaction to any of these events will be: “Oh my God! What have you done?! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!! Look at this!! Did YOU do this?? Did you???!!!”

And on and on.

While I’ll be the first to say there’s tremendous value in venting, I will also be the first to tell you: You’re wasting your time.

Your dog has NO conception of what you’re yelling about.

If you yell at your dog even seconds after an incident has occurred, THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE YELLING ABOUT.

This is not theory. This is fact.

If, on the other hand, you catch your dog in the act of chewing/destroying/ripping/shredding/eating something you don’t want chewed, destroyed, ripped, shredded or eaten, by all means, say to your dog, “LEAVE IT.”

If you have been working with your dog on the “leave it” cue, they will — believe it or not — leave the object of their desire.

Just this morning, Maddie found the most delectable filthy, food encrusted napkin lying in the grass as we went for our one-hour walk through the park. If I see her eyeing these treasures ahead of time, I can snap out, “Leave it!” and she won’t go near it.

But this morning, I was [foolishly] gazing at the geese on the pond and the rising sun behind them, and Maddie … well, she had her eye on that napkin.

So when I saw her duck her head and snatch the napkin into her mouth, I knew I had my work cut out.

I resisted the urge to pry open her jaws and yank out the filthy napkin. I have truly trained myself to regard every “negative” experience with Maddie as a Training Challenge.

“Leave it!” I said firmly and in a low voice (Tip: If you’re a woman, lower your voice when you give cues. Dogs respond to it more quickly than a higher pitched voice.)

To my amazement, Maddie dropped it and looked at me. I instantly popped a piece of cheese in her mouth.

Because that’s the other side of “timing” — which is what this post is trying to stress:

Not only do you need to time your corrections so the dog actually knows what you’re talking about, but you need to reward the dog instantly when you get the behavior you like.

I have a friend who wears legging when she walks her dog. OK, so do I — but I also wear a camping skirt that has a zillion pockets (I’ve found it’s far more comfortable and efficient than pants). I keep treats, a water bottle, bags for cleaning up after Maddie, my keys … you name it … it all goes in my pockets.

For some reason, she won’t put treats in her jacket pockets (assuming it’s even cold enough for a jacket). So when she praises her dog for not pulling on the leash or not barking at someone, it’s a 10-minute process for her to remove a plastic bag, which is tucked in her waistband, open the bag and remove the treat. Then, she says, “Good dog!”

Her dog has no idea why she’s being given a treat. She’s experienced 50 things between her “good behavior” and the treat being given to her.

It has to be immediate. I’ve read you have about a 3 second window and that sounds right to me.

You’ll know you’ve got your timing down when you give your dog a verbal cue/correction and your dog immediately looks at you to get a treat.

This is a good thing. Your dog has figured out “Hmmm … it’s much better to get a piece of cheddar cheese than to randomly bark at some dog.”

Your dog has put it together — what you’re asking for makes sense and is the more rewarding behavior.

So if you want to believe the old camera commericial that “Image is everything,” go ahead. There’s definitely an unfortunate truth to that.

But when it comes to dog training, TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

Clint was big and tough looking, and I didn’t want to take him out for a walk.

He was alternately barking, lunging and pacing around his cage at the shelter like a lion waiting to be fed a slab of raw meat. I didn’t want to be that meat.

But this is always my dilemma at the animal shelter: The dogs who need the exercise and training most, are usually the ones who intimidate me.

I looked at Clint, slipping him a piece of freeze-dried chicken. He sniffed at it and looked at me. “What else have you got?” his hard eyes said.

Oh, boy. My hands shook as I unlatched his cage and — being careful not to make eye contact — went inside with this black lion of a dog.

He began jumping on me instantly, his mouth nipping at various parts of my body — nips which would later leave black and blue marks on my arms and stomach.

Exhaling with elaborate slowness, I managed to slip a collar around his neck, hook up the leash and get him outside.

Walking Clint was like hanging onto a Mack truck as it heads downhill. After several minutes of letting him rip my arms out of their sockets, I thought to myself: If this is going to work, we need to lay down some rules.

The words may sound brave, but I am not a fool. I didn’t want to get into an argument with Clint. So the next time he tugged with the full force of his 85 pounds of muscle, I hung on with both hands, bent my knees slightly (think “water skiing”) and refused to budge.

We stood locked in that position for several minutes. My arms and back were screaming, but I refused to move until, at the very least, Clint would deign to turn around and look at me.

And finally, he did. The instant he made eye contact with me, I sang out, “Good boy! Oh, what a good boy!” and held out some chicken.

Clint sniffed at it. “What else have you go?” he asked again.

I tossed the chicken on the ground and as I took a step, Clint pulled me forward. Again, I held my ground and wouldn’t move.

This time, he made eye contact with me a little quicker. “Oh, what a good boy!” I said happily, meaning it. He trotted over to me and knowing he wasn’t interested in treats, I did the only thing I could think of: I reached over and rubbed his neck while praising him in a high-pitched happy voice.

“Yes!” said Clint, gazing up at me with eyes of love. “Now that’s a reward!”

I watched as this powerful guy simply melted at the touch of my fingers digging into his neck, pulling at the loose skin there the way a mother would pick up one of her puppies. He shivered in delight.

We spent the next half hour working on not-pulling-on-the-leash, and I have to say, I was pretty impressed with both of us. Each time Clint tugged, I stopped and waited for him to give me eye contact. Then I’d call  him over and give him a quick neck massage.

Feeling full of myself, I finally took Clint back inside the shelter. We entered his cage — I didn’t think twice about it — and unclipped his collar.

As soon as the collar and leash hit the floor, Clint lunged at me. This was full force, 85 pounds of power and strength, lunging — and he was using his mouth in a way that was making the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

I tried to get away from him and reach for the latch of the cage door. But Clint went at my hands. He went at my legs, my shoulders, my stomach and I could feel the sweat breaking out on my forehead. I remember only one other occasion of feeling frightened at the shelter, but now I was definitely frightened.

I could hear a staff worker nearby. “I need to get out of this cage,” I said calmly but loudly.

Between the two of us, we managed to pull me out through a small opening without letting Clint escape.

“You OK?” she asked.

“Uh huh,” I said, shaking.

“Clint can get kinda weird,” she said, “but he’ll be better once he’s neutered.”

Oh. Well, lesson learned. I will always check the card on each male dog’s kennel before entering. If he’s not yet neutered, I will enter with caution — if I enter at all.

Clint was waiting for me the following week. He’d been neutered and I was curious if there was a change in him.

I’ll give you the short version: There was.

Clint will still occasionally pull me with all his power and we have to go back to square one, where I stop and wait for him to look at me. The reward is always a neck massage and Clint loves it.

He’s been at the shelter now for more than a month. He is not going to be an easy adoption: he’s black (unlike cars, black dogs are not as adoptable), he has short cropped-looking ears (the photo above is a stock photograph; we’re not allowed to take pictures of our shelter dogs), and his behavior in his cage appears very aggressive.

But now I know differently. Our routine is the same each weekend: He remains fairly calm in his cage while I collar and leash him (he knows if he lunges around, I won’t move. The sooner he stands still, the sooner he gets outside). We head outside and do one big lap, where we work on walking with a loose leash.

Then … I sit down on a bench under a tree and Clint hops up and into my lap. He curls up as much as an 85-pound pit bull can curl up, and he hangs out there while I massage his neck, his shoulders, his legs and his sleek back.

We stay outside sometimes for more than an hour. Every now and then, Clint will look up at me and give me a big slurp on my cheek. I know he’s saying “thank you.”

Because here’s the secret behind Clint: He just loves being outside, out of his confining cage and having human hands on him. He’s starved for touch, for love, and I am happy to comply. Sometimes I lean forward, trying to spill him out of my lap so I can take him on another lap of the woods and he can stretch his legs.

But nothing doing … Clint likes it just where he is. Being a lap dog.

I sincerely love spending time with this big guy who scared the hell out of me. I love that I was able to figure out what he wants, and what it takes to keep him not just calm but content.

But I worry every day that Clint won’t find a Forever Family who can unlock the lap dog within this big scary looking body.

(Note: We are still waiting for someone to adopt Clint. In the meanwhile, he enjoys being a lap dog on the weekends and I spoil him rotten!)