I Can’t Keep Him Anymore

You and I will meet again, When we’re least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won’t say goodbye my friend, For you and I will meet again.

Tom Petty
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An open letter to my dog’s new caretaker.  Not every relationship is forever.

I’d like to introduce you to my dog Darwin.  He’s a great dog.  I just can’t keep him here.  I know you’ll do a better job of caring for him, and I know he’ll be happy with you. I really don’t want to say goodbye to him, but I guess I must.  As I said, I can’t keep him here.

Before you take him, there are a few things I’d like you to know about my best friend.  I’ll never meet you before you take him, so I thought I’d write them out for you.  Please pay attention, these are important:

1) Never, ever, EVER leave him unleashed near any amount of water.  That goes for anything from the size of Lake Erie to that rut in the middle of your lawn that sometimes fills with water when it rains.  He will wallow in it like a pig.

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Actually, scratch what I just wrote.  Some of my favorites memories of Darwin are of him wallowing in the mud, with a silly smile on his face, tail wagging.  Enjoy those times, too.  If you can’t find the humor in those moments, you don’t deserve my dog.

2) Darwin’s not as fast as he used to be.  He doesn’t get up to greet me anymore when I come home from work.  He still wags his tail when he sees me, but he has an embarrassed look on his face.  One that says, “I love you, Lady, but I’m afraid I might need some help getting up to greet you properly”.  Don’t make him get up…if he’s comfortable, and you make him get up to greet you, you don’t deserve him.  I’d ask for him back, but as I said, I can’t keep him here.

3)  Darwin has a sneaky sense of smell (it’s one of the few senses that haven’t failed him).  He can’t hear me unless I’m close to him, but damn!  That dog can smell a pill in an entire jar of peanut butter.  Mercifully, you won’t have the same problems with needing to give him pills.  But I’m sure he’d still love the peanut butter.

4) Affection.  Darwin is part Lab, part Care Bear.  Make sure you let him know you love him.  His favorite spot is behind his left ear, but recently he loves having his sides scratched.  He’s too old to get at them himself – his legs are so arthritic now, he can only give those areas a perfunctory swipe before he gives up.  Help the old guy out won’t you?

Darwin and Pirate

5) Let him know I love him.  Tell him every day that I didn’t want to give him up.  That I fought tooth and nail for him.  That I fought long after I should have stopped.  Because he’s ready to go with you now.  I can see that.  Like I said, I can’t keep him here.  It isn’t right for me to keep him here.  I know he’ll be fine with you, but it’s so scary for me to watch him cross that bridge, knowing it only goes in one direction.  Just let him know that I’ll be there for him, and that he’s still my boy.

Take care of him.  Tell him I love him.  But most importantly, tell him I’ll be coming for him when I can’t stay here anymore either.  You may have to care for him until I join him, but he’s always going to be my dog.

Darwin's last pic.

I lost my best friend, Darwin, in 2007, after ten years with him.  He was a rescue, roughly 1.5 years old when I adopted him, and I cherished every moment with him, even when marriage, babies and work made those moments not quite as frequent as they used to be.  It’s been almost ten years since I lost him, and I still am amazed at how training a client’s Lab, who happens to look a bit like Darwin, will make me teary-eyed, or how hearing the song “Atomic Dog”, which all my friends dubbed “his” song, will make me long for a hike with D-Dog.  But above all, I’m grateful to have had him in my life.  

darwin

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.

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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.

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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