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Photograph: Jason Little
The Chicago Pet Lover's Guide >

Secrets of a Professional Dog Walker

A chat with Suzanne Ballout

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Photograph: Jason Little

A few years ago, I walked a puppy with a terrible habit of eating disgusting things off the ground. One afternoon, he managed to get half a dead rat into his mouth before I realized what was happening. It was horrifying. I screamed, I threw up, I tried to pry open his jaws — to no avail. In a last-ditch effort, I grabbed ahold of the rat’s tiny leg and pulled. It popped off in my hand, and the dog gulped the rest of it down. There was nothing else I could do.

I often took my two favorite dogs to a park near their house. I’d leave the leashes on the ground in a corner of the park until it was time to go, but one afternoon the leashes disappeared. I walked around the entire park looking for them before coming to the conclusion that they’d been stolen. I had two poop bags in my pocket, so I fashioned them into a leash for one dog and created a ridiculous harness out of my sweatshirt for the other. I always wonder if the person who took them was laughing at me from the bushes.

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Have a water spray bottle with you. If dogs get aggressive, spraying cold water on their heads helps separate them.

I’m going to say this one for the people in the back, since it’s the most important rule: Always bring poop bags! I’ve used a Starbucks napkin before — not fun.

Once, I was entering a dog park and had the leash looped around my finger. As soon as I opened the gate, a dog ran at the dog I was walking. My dog pulled on the leash, almost breaking my finger. Bottom line: Make sure you’re holding the leash right.

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