Gilly likes to take the lead on walks.

Gilly likes to take the lead on walks. (Lisa Smith Molinari)

Our family’s third Labrador retriever, a goofy guy named Gilligan, turned 1 year old last week. Suddenly, everyone’s a dog expert, hell-bent on enriching me with their wealth of canine knowledge. People must see me struggling with rambunctious Gilly, and want to assert dominance, nipping, bossing and taking control.

Thankfully, no one has humped my leg yet.

Just last week, Gilly and I joined a new walking group outside the local recreation center. The congregating women noticed Gilly sniffing the bushes and raised their voices to an excited pitch. Gilly strained at his harness, wanting to flop his big paws onto the women’s expensive coats, deposit yellow hairs all over their Lululemon pants and lick them right in the mouth.

“Gilly! Back!” I repeatedly tried to make him sit.

“Isn’t he sweet!” they squealed, while Gilly wriggled to break free.

“He’s turning 1, and he’s a handful,” I said, apologetically.

“Oh, but he’s a puppy! You just need to be consistent,” they advised.

I smiled and nodded my head with brows raised as if to say, “You’re so wise,” when my inner voice retorted, “Thanks for the expert advice, Captain Obvious.”

“He’ll go to Island Canine Academy for behavior training in a couple months,” I explained. “Gilly’s off to college!” I joked. “We’ve promised him a tiny lava lamp and a ‘Lassie’ poster for his crate at the Academy, isn’t that right, buddy?”

No one laughed.

A short lady with a red hat that made her look like a gnome told me about her Westie named Charlie. “I trained him using treats. You should try that,” Gnome said. My inner voice dripped sarcasm, “Eureka, Einstein! Treats to train dogs? Who knew! Thank you from the bottom of my ignoramus heart!”

Our walking group leader arrived, and we began the planned four-mile trek. The gaggle of women naturally settled into packs of two or three, while Gilly tugged, stopped, sniffed and yanked along with me.

I was between two packs when I heard, “Hey!” A thin woman wearing a hat with a humongous mauve pom-pom trotted to catch up with me, blurting breathlessly, “Get a gentle leader. It’s the only thing that works for pulling dogs.” I’ve been told by countless people that this or that collar/leash/harness is the only one that works. Prong, electric, slip, martingale, harness — everyone and their brother’s cousin’s mother-in-law seemed to have an opinion for me. I tried to tell Pom-pom about my experiences with gentle leaders, but she just kept yammering.

POM-POM: “The gentle leader goes around the dog’s—“

ME: “Yes, I know how it—“

POM-POM: “—snout, and it keeps them from—”

ME: “—works, because I used gentle leaders for our first—“

POM-POM: “—pulling. You need to get one, seriously.”

ME: “—dog to stop his pulling.”

Mercifully, Gilly dragged me toward a fat squirrel ahead, leaving Pom-pom behind. Another woman in an ice-blue beanie saw Gilly tugging me and chirped, “My sister has Goldens, and she swears, ‘If you can teach dogs to retrieve balls, you can teach them anything.’” My inner voice couldn’t stay silent any longer.

“Your sister says that teaching a RETRIEVER to RETRIEVE is the key to dog training? She’s a real genius, that one,” I sassed Beanie.

Gilly stopped to sniff grass, and I heard Gnome call out, “Do you brush Gilligan’s teeth?”

“Well, yes, but he’s afraid of the —“ I began, but like Pom-pom, Gnome’s questions were merely rhetorical.

GNOME: “We brush Charlie’s teeth every night, before he—”

ME: “—brush, but he likes the Peanut Butter dog toothpaste, so I—”

GNOME: “—goes to bed and says his prayers, and—”

ME: “—have to use a cloth next time.”

GNOME: “—the vet says Charlie’s teeth are perfect.”

My inner voice quipped, “Who died and made you Cesar Millan?”

As we approached the rec center at the end of our trek, Gilly stopped abruptly, circled three times, then crouched to make “a deposit” on the grass in front of the bank. The women walked on, without noticing that I’d fallen behind the pack.

“Forget behavior school; I’ll train you myself,” I announced to Gilly while he concentrated. “Don’t worry,” I assured him, “we’ll still get you that lava lamp.”

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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