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8 Steps to Enriching Your Senior Dog’s Life

8 steps senior dogs

I can hardly believe that my yellow Labrador, Sanchez, is now 13 years old. I count my blessings that he is in good health and still enjoys our twice daily walks. But, I’m also aware that he can’t keep up to his activity level from even a year ago, let alone in his prime. I’m always looking for ways to provide mental stimulation to his environment without physically taxing his body.

1. Alone Time Together
It’s not always easy having a multi-dog household. But, it’s important to make a priority of having time alone with your pets daily. Since Sanchez was an only dog for the first seven years of his life, he particularly appreciates this. Walks do take longer (walking Gina separately), but it’s well worth the time when I see Sanchez’s smile of contentment.

2. Keep Training
Dogs love to learn, no matter their age. I still spend time training every night with Sanchez. If it gets late, he starts whining and begging for his training time with me. The bonding time is precious and it stimulates him to keep learning and being challenged. He has no complaints about his yummy rewards either. Dog training should always be fun for both 4- and 2-leggeds. Get creative with your senior pup. Because you can teach an old dog new tricks.

3. Give Him Attention in Creative Ways
Gina is a high-drive dog. We spend a lot of time in agility training, along with retrieving and tugging at home.  While it helps alleviate her pent up energy, Sanchez used to look neglected when she was getting the extra attention. So, I started sneaking him small treats while tugging with her. At night time, I often play ball with her inside, having her run down and up the stairs, chasing and retrieving the ball. I include Sanchez in the game by discreetly tossing him small treats while she’s running back up to me to deliver the ball. It not only makes him feel included, but it also engages his senses as his nose has to search for the tossed treat.

4. Reward. Reward. Reward.
In the video above, I am training both of my dogs together. Even though Gina is doing all the physical activity, Sanchez is getting equally paid for staying calm and still while she jumps over and goes under him. Good boy, Sanchez!

5. Pay Attention to New Behaviors
It’s not unusual for senior dogs to develop anxiety issues later in life that seemingly come out of nowhere. They can include sound phobias, separation anxiety or resource guarding. There are some that I just accept, such as tearing tissue out of the bathroom waste basket. I call it his puppy behavior returned. I just make sure that I don’t put anything in the trash that could be harmful when chewed. Other behaviors will only get worse if ignored, such as separation anxiety or food resource guarding. Ignored, they will only escalate.Tips for Separation Anxiety are here.

6. Keep The Safe Physical Activity
Sanchez and I used to enjoy musical freestyle classes. He would weave between my legs, spin and jump on my arm on cue. While that would be too taxing on his body now, we have kept in what is safe for him. He still loves to “go back,” lift his left and right paw on cue, and show off his “downward dog.”  Of course, he is well paid for his behavior.

7. Engage The Senses
National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW™) is the official sanctioning and organizing body for the sport of K9 Nose Work. It is a growing popular sport, and it’s great for dogs of all ages. K9 Nose Work is built on scent work where dogs use their nose to search for their prize. Sanchez loved his K9 Nose Work class. Now, at home, I put pieces of liver into a mixed variety of cardboard boxes. He is told to “find” the liver. Boy, does his tail ever wag when he is searching!

Sanchez upside down iCalmDog

8. Canine Sound Therapy
Most senior dogs don’t have the same tolerance for noise they used to in their youth. The immune system of a senior dog is often heavily taxed. A natural reaction is to self-limit the amount of auditory or visual stimulation coming into the system. That is why senior dogs will often shut down in overstimulating sound environments. Music to Comfort Your Elderly Canine has also been helpful for pain management with senior dogs and night-time restlessness. As you can see Sanchez loves his iCalmDog. The Elderly Canine pet tunes playing on it provided great comfort for Sanchez (and me) when he was recovering from a slipped disc in his neck.

What enrichment activities have benefited your senior dogs? Thanks for adding your stories in a comment below.

And, if you missed Sanchez’s 13th birthday May 17, here is a short video clip I put together of wonderful memories together.

Sanchez’s 13th Birthday



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Was Your Dog Naughty or Nice This Year?


While it’s entertaining to think about for humans, very few, if any, dogs want to be naughty. I know it may appear he is misbehaving when you chase him around the house to get the santa stocking out of his mouth. But, to a dog, it’s just a fun game, and the santa hat is no different than a favorite soft toy. In reality, Buster isn’t being naughty. He’s just being a dog.

Gina Santa Hat in bed

Canadian dog trainer Pat Spence shares that dogs misbehave for one of three reasons:

Lack of Understanding

We speak English. Dogs speak Dog. It’s our job to communicate what we want consistently and in a manner they understand. You may think Buster is being naughty for not sitting when you ask.  But, yesterday it was fine when he sat the 10th time you said it. Dogs learn quickly by repetition. He may be thinking that after you say ‘SIT’ 10 times, that’s when you want him to sit. Praise and reward him the first time he sits fast, be consistent every time, and he’ll start sitting when you ask the first time. As Spence shares,

“The more you reinforce his good behavior, the more of it you will see.”


Boredom and Lack of Exercise and Stimulation

Similar to people, dogs need exercise along with mental stimulation. The two together tire a dog out more than either alone. Personally, it’s one of the things I love about agility.

After walking Buster before work, spend a few minutes with some positive reinforcement dog training and teach him a new trick. If he’s ready for higher distraction dog training, teach him the new trick while you are out walking him. It will put a smile on your face too, because you are building relationship with your dog. And you won’t be coming home to a torn up sofa created by a dog needing more stimulation. Adding some Through a Dog’s Ear music will also greatly help his environmental stimulation when you are gone.

Rewarded for Misbehaving

While we don’t mean to, we often reward dogs for misbehaving. That doesn’t mean we give him a treat when he performs an unwanted behavior. It means that rewards come in other forms. We might be so happy to see Buster when we get home that we praise and pet him when he is jumping on us at the front door. But, when Uncle Charlie comes to visit and he does the same, he gets scolded. That can be very confusing to a dog. Again, reward the behavior you want consistently and you’ll see more of it.

Training Tip: A dog can’t jump and sit at the same time (not even Border Collies). Ask him to sit the next time you come in, mark the behavior with a click or “yes”, and reward. You’ll see more of that behavior. (Note: If you have a very excited dog, try that first by just opening the door, leaving and immediately coming back in. If you wait until you’ve been gone 4 hours, he might already be over the threshold of excitement. Gradually build up to that.)

Gina Sanchez Xmas Chanukah

Were Your Dogs Nice?

I hope all of your dogs are rewarded for being nice this holiday season. If you are looking for additional rewards, our holiday discounts are still available until Dec. 26th, including iCalmDog specials.

Enjoy! Wishing you, your human and canine household a peaceful, calm holiday season!

Editors’ Note:
Gina was framed for the photo above with the santa hat in her bed. Her eye has been on that Santa hat, wanting to tug with it since I brought it home. It’s the day before Christmas and now that I’ve used it for all the photo opps I could find, I finally just converted it to a tug toy for her and asked her to go to her bed with it. No naughty dogs in my home 😉

Delivering Calm, Four Paws at a Time!

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Concerts for Dogs? Seriously?

Has my performing life gone to the dogs? You bet! I’m loving it, and dogs are barking for more! Combining my love of dogs with my music talent inspired the creation of Through a Dog’s Ear, music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Now, I’m combining my love of performing to a cross-species audience.

As a concert pianist with a music degree from Juilliard, why am I playing concerts for people and their dogs when I could be filling concert halls with more traditional classical music? Because I REALLY love dogs! And I have chosen to dedicate my career to improving their lives by creating music that improves the quality of their life and provides them with sound therapy for improved health and behavior.

We love our dogs. We bring them into our human world and we expect them to adjust. But the truth is the human world can be very confusing for dogs. And our human soundscape is filled with chaotic sounds that they can’t orient. They are always on alert, wondering if any new sound is safe or not. Part of Through a Dog’s Ear mission is to provide dogs and their people with beautiful psychoacoustically-designed music that creates a healthy sound environment for dogs and their people. The concerts do that, and also offers a bonding experience between the two- and four-leggeds.

It’s an opportunity to share a deeply satisfying musical experience with your dog! Has your dog ever heard Chopin performed live? Have you and your dog ever listened to Bach together in a concert setting?

If you reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, I hope you can make it to one of my upcoming Canine Classical Concerts on October 6th and 7th. And you can meet my own dogs, Sanchez and Gina. As you can see from the photo above, Sanchez is practicing to be the page turner.

Have you ever bonded with your dog by sharing music together? Thanks for sharing your experiences in a comment below.

Have you tried Sound Therapy for your dogs? Through a Dog’s Ear is the only music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system.

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Calm your Canine Companion Music Series

Simply click here, enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy!


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The Dogs of Sounds True, publisher for Through a Dog’s Ear


It’s Take your Dog to Work Day and I am in Boulder, Colorado celebrating the 25th anniversary of our Through a Dog’s Ear  publisher,  Sounds True. Before the party begins tonight, I stopped by the Sounds True office in Louisville and met all the dogs that come to work with their people. Check out the pics above of some of the adorable Sounds True dogs.

Sounds True exists to inspire, support, and serve continuous spiritual awakening and its expression in the world. So it should be of no surprise that they also are an exemplary, dog-friendly office. I’m not sure I’ve ever walked into a more loving, nurturing, heart-felt office environment. Do the dogs love it here because of the heart space, or do the dogs help inspire that? I was touched to hear what Tami Simon, president of Sounds True, had to say about Sounds True dogs contributing to the nurturing community feel of Sounds True. Click here to see my interview with her.

Pics above in order:

Agnes and Lisa

Boscoe and Karen

Malachi and Agnes

Jasmine and Tami

Oliver and Jamie

Asia and Kristen



Fioana and Kristy



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Our Dog is Like American Express. We Don’t Leave Home Without Her!

Lisa Apple with Dogs
I chuckled when I heard the above response about American Express when I asked my cousin, Josh Glick, about his adorable Golden Retriever, Chloe. It was funny because it’s also so true in my life with Sanchez. He goes almost everywhere with me, much more so than I’ve done with any dog in the past. I’m not sure if it’s because so many public places near me are dog friendly, or because he grew up as a Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy in training and he was bred and raised to be calm in social settgings. In his Guide Dog puppy training days, he even went to indoor restaurants and San Francisco Symphony concerts.
Honestly, it’s pretty rare that he’s left at home alone, probably about once a week. Sanchez prefers an active social life of going to work with me and greeting students at my music school, going on errands with me (I think half of the town knows him by now), and just riding in the car to go anywhere. A variety of local venues (in Half Moon Bay, CA) have treats for him – my bank, the UPS store, and the local hardware store. I’ve been taking classes at my Apple Store lately and dogs are invited into all Apple Stores. If I had known that sooner, I probably would have bought a Mac years ago. (Not to mention how much I love the computer and the service.)
When I posted this on Facebook recently, an entire conversation started regarding what big chain stores in local communities welcome their well behaved dogs on leash.The list included Home Depot, Nordstrom‘s, Macy’s, Lowe’s, Walgreens, The UPS Store, and Crate & Barrel. Also mentioned were many locally owned stores in many dog friendly towns such as Carmel, CA and Myrlte Beach, SC.
When I asked Nordstrom’s on Twitter what their dog policy is, they tweeted this: “We don’t have a dog policy for our stores. Service dogs are always welcome. For pet dogs, we try to use our best judgment.” It may be different in every community, but I love it that more stores are welcoming friendly well-behaved dogs on leash. Are there any stores in your community that you’d like to share? Please click “comment” below and let others know. Also, please share your stories of your experiences bringing your dogs into stores.
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Why Do Dogs Howl? Interview with Joshua Leeds

Dogs everywhere have been howling to the theme song from Law and Order. It was so viral, that Dogster blogger, Maria Goodavage provided a link to 28 of them with just one click. While people think it is very entertaining, it appears that these dogs are very stressed by the sounds they are hearing. I asked sound researcher Joshua Leeds, co-author of the book Through a Dog’s Ear, for his input on this not so laughing matter.

LS: Why do you think so many dogs are reacting so strongly to the theme song from Law and Order?

JL: It is not the actual tune that is causing the canine reaction, but the sound of the music. The sounds we hear on this recording fall comfortably within a dog’s range of hearing (15-50k Hz). When watching the YouTube videos, I observe that these animals are not howling in comfort. It appears to be an auditory response to something that is either hurting or stimulating their listening system somewhere between the ear and auditory centers in the brain.

LS: What could be the possible causes for this?

JL:  All instrumentation of this soundtrack is electronically-based. There are frequencies in the electronic instruments that we can or can’t hear. Also, somewhere in the recording or mixing process, frequencies were tweaked in a way that is not natural to a dog’s hearing. As a music producer, when I listen to the soundtrack mix (albeit on YouTube and computer speakers), I perceive mid-range frequencies that have been rolled-off while mid-high frequencies have been boosted.

LS: What could be the reasons that dogs howl in general?

JL:  Maybe the reason that dog’s howl is to match the offending frequency. It’s possible that they have an inherent noise cancellation knowledge. People were watching the dogs howl to Law and Order on YouTube and thought it was entertaining. But, if you watch the videos carefully, the dogs either are in stress or trying to deal with the source with a solution of masking the sound with their own. This is a wonderful opportunity for sound aware dog lovers to help other people become aware of how our human soundscape is affecting our animals.

LS: Why is it that more dogs don’t just leave the room when they hear the theme song from Law and Order?

JL: It appears that many dogs are trying to figure out what to do with irritating sensory stimulus or they are trying to match the tone.

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How Changing from PC to Mac made my Dog a Better Retriever


A PC computer crash (again) inspired me to unexpectedly buy my first Mac. Well, that and enormous influence from my business partners and friends that are Mac fans. It’s been a very welcome change and much more significant in my life than just buying a new computer. I’m noticing that it’s also inspiring me to let go of much of my past that no longer serves me, including some old ways of dog training.

Having always been a PC user, I thought things were complicated because I was an artist and didn’t have a “technical” mind. But, if that were true, how is it that I’m blogging, tweeting, and posting status updates with downloads, pictures, and videos, on Facebook? I’ve only had my Mac for five days and I’m already noticing that I’m changing how my mind works when I’m at the computer. I’ve been trained to actually look for complication and extra places to click. The number one reason I’ve stayed away from a previous Mac purchase is the number one reason I love it the most now. I thought it was going to be too complicated. After all, everything on a Mac looks so fancy. In reality, the only thing that is making it hard is that I’m looking for complication and it’s just not there.

How in the world does this possibly relate to a dog? My six year old (soon to be seven) Yellow Lab, Sanchez, has never been interested in retrieving. He was bred by Guide Dogs for the Blind and raised by me when I was a volunteer puppy raiser. He came very close to graduation, but he was “career changed” at 18 months of age. Retrieving was not encouraged when he was a puppy, as it would be very dangerous for a seeing impaired person to have a dog that gets distracted by a desire to retrieve. I have tried to teach him to retrieve for five years. Although he’s very good at tugging, and would sometimes retrieve a tug toy in the middle of a tug game, retrieving a tennis ball was an entirely different matter. Tennis balls were for chewing and destroying.

So, as I was playing with my Mac today, I started to realize how much less clicking I was doing (compared to the PC), and it inspired me to think about the way I was teaching Sanchez to retrieve. It was much too complicated. Since I was clicking less on the computer, I took out my dog training clicker and decided to do more of my clicking with the clicker (instead of the computer). After five years of doing everything I could think of to get Sanchez to retrieve a tennis ball, I taught him to retrieve it in merely minutes with a clicker. I simply clicked at exactly the perfect time. I did some shaping first, and then in moments worked up to “drop it”. And I gradually increased my distance from him. Clicks and treats were given when the ball was brought back to me and went directly into my hand. He already knew “get it” and “leave it”, so that helped. But, previously he would “get it” and only bring it back a couple of steps and drop it well before he got to me. Now, he’s so excited to bring it all the way back to me, that he’s actually crying for me to play ball with him. If Apple only knew that their MacBook actually helped a dog retrieve! As long as he doesn’t retrieve my Mac, it’s all good!

Do you love your Mac? How about your PC? Have you been able to teach a dog to retrieve that didn’t do it naturally? Thanks for sharing your story by clicking “comment” below.

As co-founder of Through a Dog’s Ear, I am offering my readers a free download from our latest release, Music to Calm your Canine Companion, Vol. 3. Simply click here and enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy.

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How a Bomb Dog in Afghanistan Stole My Heart


Before retiring to bed last night, I read a blog on Dogster written by Maria Goodavage. She wrote about a heart wrenching dog story she had read in the Wall Street Journal.

The article was about Gunner, a war dog in Afghanistan who is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He apparently passed bomb school in Virginia with flying colors, but has been too traumatized to work in Afghanistan. In training school, the Yellow Labrador could hunt, sniff out explosives, and tolerated gun fire without any signs of anxiety. But the combat zone in Afghanistan has caused great stress to his nervous system and he hides and seeks cover when exposed to loud sounds. Even the sounds of a closing cage door or a camera shutter can cause him to run to his handler’s side. The article ended by saying that Gunner would be considered a success if he could live a happy life as a pet.

My heart broke for this dog whose nervous system is on extreme overload. Without even thinking, I wrote to Maria and asked who I could get in touch with about adopting him. She suggested that I write to Michael Phillips, the journalist who wrote the Wall Street Journal article. I sent him an email and asked how I could help Gunner. My thoughts ranged from the extreme – adopting him – to donating Through a Dog’s Ear music to help calm his nervous system.

Mr. Phillips passed on my email to the Marine Camp in Afghanistan where they are trying to figure out what to do with Gunner. I really have no idea whether I have the skills to handle a dog with PTSD. But, I do know that I have the resources and desire to learn. And I am a very sound aware dog lover who lives in a very quiet household and neighborhood. (My neighbors are mostly wildlife). I am very protective of my sonic environment and I would provide Gunner with beautiful sound therapy (both live and recorded) that would be a welcome change from the loud sounds he has been immersed in. I have learned from experience that if I follow my heart, the pieces that I have no control over will fall into place as they are meant to.

This story doesn’t have an end yet. It is now morning in Afghanistan and I am hopeful that I will hear back and at least learn more about Gunner’s future.

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Freedom Dogs: War Heroes



When Joshua Leeds and I presented at the annual Association of Pet Dog Trainers conference in October, we met so many inspirational trainers, behaviorists, and dog lovers, amongst a huge variety of dog professionals. One woman in particular, Beth Russell, caught our attention because of a very unique service dog organization that she started called Freedom Dogs. This remarkable organization offers custom-trained specialty service dogs to wounded members of the military returning from armed conflict.

Freedom Dogs’ mission is to create a way to speed the recovery and enhance the lives of wounded military heroes through the use of specialty-trained service dogs. Joshua and I asked Beth how we could help. She told us that Freedom Dogs’ trainers are always interested in methods that enhance their training of these very special dogs as well as assist them in helping the young persons reintegrate back into society so they can lead fulfilling lives. We donated music for their training classes and we were so pleased to hear recently that Through a Dog’s Ear music is one of the tools that is helping Freedom Dogs accomplish their mission.

As training sessions begin, Music to Calm your Canine Companion is played. Beth said “This music has had a significant impact on the dogs, the marines, and the trainers. Dogs settle more quickly and seem to be more focused on the tasks at hand. The Marines calm and body tensions ease. And the trainers comment on how they feel relaxed and better prepared to handle the stress of the work with the dogs and Marines. This is especially helpful when we hold our training clinics where there are many dogs (of varying ages and levels of training) and trainers and Marines in one room working together.”

I was very moved when I learned how much Through a Dog’s Ear was helping these dogs and Marines. In asking her more about Freedom Dogs, I learned that their programs consist of two distinct entities:

The Partner Program pairs a Specialty Service Dog with a wounded warrior on a part time basis, as an adjunct to his/her rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Dogs often work with a wounded warrior for a specific time frame and then have that warrior pass the leash to another wounded warrior who has VERY different needs. The dogs need to adjust on the spot, and they do!

The Partner for Life Program places a Specialty Service Dog with a wounded warrior on a permanent basis. These dogs do not fit neatly into any service dog category as they are trained to work with more than one disability in one person, or with varying disabilities in multiple people. There are very few training facilities willing to train these special dogs, as it is quite time consuming and tedious. The cost is nearly double that of training other service dogs.

The Freedom Dogs’ trainers volunteer approximately 10-12 hours a week and travel an average of 70 miles one way. In addition to Music to Calm your Canine Companion being played during classes, Driving Edition: Music to Calm your Dog in the Caris played as the dogs go to and from the sessions. Beth says, “The dogs become totally relaxed while riding in the car. This seems to help them work through the many different needs some of the young men and women have.”

There are over 40,000 injured service members returning from combat. The signature injuries of this war are TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Of all returning service persons, over 40% suffer from PTSD. Currently, suicide deaths have taken a greater toll on the troops than combat injuries. These very special dogs are working to curb these alarming statistics one hero at a time. Through a Dog’s Ear is honored and humbled to be helping the dogs, trainers, and Marines. 



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HELP! My Dog Needs His Space!

I just returned from a glorious overnight in Carmel, CA and enjoyed a very lovely stay at the Cypress Inn. Carmel is known to be the dog capital of the U.S. Dogs are welcome everywhere, it seems – shops, galleries, many restaurants, hotels and inns, the beach, etc. Dog water bowls are plentiful in front of many shops, and it’s raining dog treats everywhere. If you are a dog lover, it’s VERY fun! To top it off, the weather was glorious with abundant sunshine. It was a welcome break from the rain we’ve been having. And the Cypress Inn has a lovely lounge with a Steinway grand piano. Readers here know that pianos and dogs are a heavenly combination for me.

The benefits to such a dog-inviting town are obvious to dog lovers. What isn’t so evident to many are the potential challenges that could arise when dogs aren’t given enough space.

I loved dining with my dog. And where else can you have high tea with your dog by your side? However, when it came to choosing restaurants, I tended to gravitate to ones with less dogs, not more dogs. Why? Because many people are unaware of the space that dogs need around them to feel comfortable. I am not a dog trainer, but I would think this would be one of the few topics that every dog trainer would agree with. You put dogs too close to each other, and you are going to run into territorial problems.

A year ago, I was aware of the concept, but my dog Sanchez seemed comfortable in almost any social environment. He was raised to be a working Guide Dog and was socialized in a huge variety of environments as a puppy. And even though he was “career changed” five years ago, I have purposely exposed him to a large amount of social surroundings since then. He’s just a little different now. Maybe partly because he’s older, but more so because a dog very surprisingly attacked him a few months ago. The changes are subtle, but he’s not as trusting of all dogs as he used to be, and he’s not as comfortable when another dog is in the area he considers to be “his space”.

When walking down the stairs at the charming Cypress Inn, if a dog was lying at the foot of the steps in his path, Sanchez just didn’t want to go. If a dog was inching too close to him at a restaurant, Sanchez would crawl under the table. Often, when I would politely ask people to move their dog over, they would say “It’s OK, he’s friendly.” I found it challenging to express to people that it’s not about their dog’s friendliness. I didn’t want to subject my dog to a situation that I knew he wasn’t comfortable with.

Locally, in the parking lot of our hiking trail, I’ve even had dogs run up to my car waiting for Sanchez to come out, and crowding the space in which he exits. I just wait patiently for the dog’s person to get their dog to leave Sanchez’s space before I open his kennel door, even if they say “It’s OK, he’s friendly.”

My question to readers is how to communicate this awareness of dogs and space to others in a very tactful way so that people understand that it’s not about how friendly their dog is. All dogs need space. Sanchez seems to need a lot lately, and I’d like to be able to give him that. I’d love to hear your comments on how you handle this. Thank you for clicking on “comment” below to post your feedback.