A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk – O.A. Battista
As Porter and I were taking a walk last week, I couldn’t understand why I was having to correct so much more than normal. Yes, it’s been cold out and there’s a ton of pent up energy, but the amount of corrections I was making did not seem proportional to the usual walks that get out the winter kinks.
Then, I realized…. the birds were back and so were those pesky squirrels.
Over the winter, there’s less of a chance that you’re having to correct due to your dog’s prey drive. The squirrels stay to themselves and the birds, well, they’re smart and go south. So, all of a sudden your walks are pretty much critter free. Which is great! However, then spring hits and the squirrels are frantically running about and the birds are back in full song. And now, you’ve just spent 5 months walking your dog without having reiterate the fact that “no Fido, you cannot go see what squirrel meat tastes like” and “no, you cannot try and try and see if you can catch a Robin mid-flight”.
So, what to do? Well, let’s go back to the basics of dealing with prey drive during the walk.
1. Don’t Get Frustrated: I know your dog hasn’t had this bad of a walk in a long time. And you are getting nowhere near the normal distance that you’re used to. But, it’s okay. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’ve just been handed a new set of distractions, so the walks are going to feel a little bit harder for a while. Deep breaths. And if you can’t go the same distance, that’s okay. Make sure you’re staying calm throughout the walk. Yelling and getting frustrated are not going to help your dog get to the walking state that you’re used to.
2. Pay Attention to the Questions: Look for the furrowed brow or you dog’s body stiffening. Make sure you’re answering your dog’s question of “I can have a squirrel appetizer today?” before he’s full on ordering it rare. Quick corrections are key. Pay attention to your dog’s body language so you can answer the question when they are first asking. Not after they’ve decided that squirrel is the correct choice for a snack.
3. Keep Moving: When it comes to little critters that are fidgety and exude a lot of energy it’s best not to stop and try and reboot in front of them. There’s so much energy there your dog won’t be able to focus on you. Keep moving. Don’t stop. Once you get them a bit past that huge amount of distraction (say, the squirrel appetizer) then, you can start answering your dog’s questions. If you like, you can move past the situation that’s causing tension and once you have gotten enough distance between you and the squirrel, you can take a break and regroup. But it’s best to just keep moving forward. Remember, control the situation; sometimes it’s just not feasible directly in front of an angry squirrel.
4. Don’t Compare Your Walks: You can’t compare your walks in the coming days to the ones that you were going on a month or two ago. It won’t be the same. With the weather changing it’s as if you’re going on a completely new route to your pups. There’s more smells, more things that are moving, more people and more creatures out there. It won’t do you any good to compare your walks to when the area looked desolate and you’d be lucky to see one other person as crazy as you were out there.
Just stick with it, you’ll get back to your calm walking state soon enough. It’ll just take a little work to get there. But, nothing that you can’t handle. Get out there and start enjoying that nice weather! You and your pup will be much happier for it!
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH