Relax Rover. Erika is here to help.
If you haven’t yet noticed, Bay Meadows is a dog friendly spot, perhaps one of the most community-centric canine neighborhoods we’ve seen. Between those pet parades and costume contests to the days of Twilight Tails, a specialty weekly meetup group in Landing Green Park with vendors that cater to pooches and their people, Bay Meadows has had a place in their hearts for canines from the start.
A fresh bowl of water in the shade is always on hand in Town Square and Blue Bottle knows your pups are eager for the walk to accompany you to the Cafe. They even have specialty dog treats on hand. As for our neighborhood Fieldwork Brewing Beer Garden, it is THE SPOT for socializing and meeting your next best friend. Even our very own Farmers market Bay Meadows hosts a Pooch Pit Stop, a place for pups to wait in the shade with water and toys watched by local dog walkers, while guests shop.
This all leads us to a recent trend that a tipster pointed out. SIP adoptions are on the rise so much so that some shelters have even been cleared out! While it may seem all fun and games, sometimes your shelter pup comes with some special needs and being cooped up without proper self care and social engagements can create some problems for both you and your new friend. Enter Erika from Relax Rover, a dog walker and behavioral specialist in reactive issues who’s even worked with several sweet faces around Bay Meadows. Read her story below and the success story of Jessie too!
“Being cooped up at home and masked, this past year has had to cause some confusion for pets and now more than ever before they need to burn off some energy (much the way we all do)…there is an uptick in separation anxiety because so many people are now home all the time. So many people have adopted new dogs, which is so wonderful, but we need to help our dogs learn to be alone. It’s difficult, I know, especially when people are working long hours from home, have kids and have to homeschool them. Plus, just the stress of living through this pandemic is a lot to deal with. If anyone is having this issue, I recommend talking to a positive reinforcement trainer who is specifically certified in helping dogs with separation anxiety and their humans, because it can be complex, different for each dog, can be a long road in some cases, and really needs a trainer who specializes in this issue. There’s no quick fix,” said Erika.
A Study Of One
Bay Meadows resident, Jesse and her family had an amazing experience with Erika!
“I met Jesse, her mom Stephanie, and “brother” Jake, when I was attending DTIA. We needed hands-on experience training a range of dogs, of course, and I needed them to be close by. I actually posted in my local Buy Nothing group (that I LOVE!) and Stephanie responded. Jesse is a very sweet adolescent Golden Doodle. Training her was a really good challenge for me, as anyone who has an adolescent dog will understand. All dogs (and all animals, including humans!) are “a study of one,” as Dr. Susan Friedman (psychologist and Applied Behavior Analysis expert) says. I love this because it’s so important that we look at each dog individually to figure out how they learn and what motivates them. Not only was Jesse an adolescent, but she had some specific issues that I needed to keep in mind while training her. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with her and I was very fortunate that they had a big garage space for us to train. And, Stephanie was awesome! She was so flexible and gave me the space and time I needed to train. Plus, she’s just a genuinely lovely person.”
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” — Roger Caras
You may also recognize Ellie, a small Shepherd mix, who needed help with on-leash dog-reactivity, and is a wonderful, energetic, super fun pup.
Pretzel, a Cattle Dog mix, who was in a small, off-leash hiking group (which stopped when the pandemic hit).
“Pretzel needed a good amount of time to warm up to new people, so it was incredibly special that she came to trust me before moving out of the area.”
And, Zorro, a lovely senior Husky, was also attended a small, off-leash group
Erika notes, socializing puppies can also pose a challenge. “The socialization window is short and critical. Life can be exhausting even without a pandemic, and trying to get a puppy out in the world in a safe, fun way right now can prove difficult.”
What led you to make the jump from a path in English Lit to a life dedicated to canines and their humans?
“I credit all the dogs with whom I’ve shared my life as the best teachers I’ve ever had. But one dog in particular showed me that this is where I needed to be. My love of this work actually started many years ago. In 2002, I adopted two littermate puppies (Yes, at the same time!). The shelter gave me two books about positive reinforcement training and I was hooked. I had planned to become a trainer then, but life has a way of intervening. I had my daughter, got a divorce, and went back to school and earned my English lit degree in 2011.
Fast forward to 2016. My partner and I adopted a Formosan Dog from Taiwan. We had lost our senior dog, Cooper, in December 2015, and our family, including our little dog Mochi, was still healing from that. But I knew that I really wanted to give another dog a home. We adopted Buster in February 2016. Unfortunately, he ended up having severe behavioral issues – both human and dog aggression, plus generalized anxiety. He was pretty much afraid of the world. It is incredibly stressful to manage your entire life around a dog with these issues, even though we loved him so much. I started to realize that there were quite a few people out there with dogs that had behavioral issues. Not all as severe as Buster’s, thankfully, but still issues that need a lot of extra attention. It’s a big deal to take a dog like Buster out for a walk. You must be 100% present and always aware of your surroundings. I would walk him very early in the morning and very late at night. He had to wear a muzzle. I did a tremendous amount of training and behavior modification with him.
Buster was the dog that put me back on this path. I became a certified professional dog walker and started my own dog walking company, Relax, Rover. I decided to specialize in walking dogs with behavioral issues, such as dog-dog reactivity. I wanted them to be able to get out for walks safely and I intimately understood just how difficult this could be. Unfortunately, because his behavioral issues were so severe, we ended up euthanizing Buster. I know this may be a difficult decision for some to understand. It was difficult for me to understand until we loved and lived with Buster. Not only was his quality of life poor because of his extreme fear and anxiety, but we knew, after working with a vet behaviorist, fear-free trainer, and our own vet, and had him on anti-anxiety meds, that he was not going to get better. In fact, he got worse and worse. Management can fail and we could not risk him hurting someone. It was the most devastating decision we have ever had to make.
I knew that I would eventually become a trainer as well as a behavior consultant (which is a further course of study). And, I knew that I would work with dogs who have behavioral issues because this work is very, very close to my heart. (Countless people have become trainers because of “that one dog.”) Buster’s memory colors all of my interactions with dogs and their humans. They both need support. That’s why I became a positive reinforcement trainer. Kindness always comes first. I graduated from the Dog Training Internship Academy (DTIA) in San Francisco. It is a wonderful and rigorous program. And, I am a mentor for the current DTIA class.”
If you have a new addition to your family or or in need of some specialty trainings, Erika is here to help! Adding the precautions of not entering clients’ homes, using company leashes and harnesses, and, of course, wearing a mask and social distancing at all times, Erika is able to continue servicing our community and the greater SF Peninsula. Make life with your dog easier, explore Relax Rover for a list of current services,
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