676 – The Number You Need To Remember as a Dog Owner

 

It’s a beautiful day; don’t let it get away.
-U2

Orion and Sparta.  Brittany Graham Photography

Orion and Sparta. Brittany Graham Photography

This time of year can kinda suck if you have asthma.  Which I do.  I’ve got an upper respiratory infection on top of it.  I’m miserable. I feel like death warmed over.  In the history of sickness, I don’t think anyone has ever been as sick as I am right now.

giphy

Then I realized that I was being stupid.  The temperature is 53 degrees – warm for Cleveland (or the Arctic Tundra, but I repeat myself).  The sun is shining.  It’s an okay day for hiking, or at least going for a short walk with my best friend.  And here I was squandering it feeling sorry for myself, which is what I’ve been doing or the past 2 days.  Yes I’m legitimately sick.  But that doesn’t negate my dogs’ need for activity.  I’ve been cutting corners, using the treadmill for Orion, and a backpack plus some minor agility for Sparta, as outlined here and here, but nothing really beats a good walk.  Sunshine only adds to the benefit.  It was time for me to suck it up and go outside.  But I still don’t want to.

The lights...it hurts

The lights…it hurts

Then I saw an update in the mail from my dog’s vet, reminding me that Sparta was due for her rabies shot.  I looked through her medical records to verify, and stumbled across something that I’d forgotten: Sparta is almost 10 years old.

Now, that’s not such a big deal.  She’s not old (yet), but it did make me stop and reflect.  Most dogs live to be roughly 13 years old.  That equals only 676 weekends.   So far she’s far more than halfway through that allotment.  Technically speaking, she only has maybe 290 weekends left with me.  That means, at the very most, we are down to 77 weekends to drive that hour down to Bow Wow Beach, so I can watch her swim.  We only have so many hikes left together.  Only so many more times she can jump into the backseat of my car without help.  And there I was, squandering this time because I have a cold.

Sometimes we think of dogs in human terms, including how much time we’re given together.  At 42 years my young(ish) age, I still have a lot of time left.  We tend to include our dogs in that time because we assume that they’ll always be there.   But there is a set amount of time with them.  Perhaps 676 seems like a lot of weekends to romp with with your dogs.  Enough time to do do anything  you want.  But I’ve already used up half of those with Sparta.

It made me think.  It made me, well…

Damn, I hate when that happens

So I took my dogs for a walk.  Not far.  Just far enough to change my perspective. Which was far enough to make me want to hike even farther.  I’m not going to waste today anymore.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Leash Walking Without The Drama

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting.

I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, so as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

Number5

But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment, perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively engaged in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

3

 

When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio