Monday, October 20, 2008

A New Leash On Life


It may come as no surprise to those of you that read this blog on a regular basis (thanks mom and husband!) that I spend a lot of time with humans and their dogs. It also may come as no surprise that I hear about some challenges people face in the relationships they have with their dogs. One of the biggest issues dog owners seem to face is the leash.

I try to figure ways out to help people relax with their dogs, I mean this is my thing with the doga and all right? I try to help when I can and if you're unable to relax on a walk with your canine companion, that sucks.


So here are the two biggest issues I've heard:

Pulling and leash aggression. Now aggression is nothing to take lightly in human or canine. But it seems most of the aggression I've experienced with my friend's dogs or even my own has been mild and mostly a reaction to our stress as well as not enough proper socialization with other dogs.


If your dog has major aggression get thee to a behaviour expert tout de suite. However, if your puzzled by your otherwise gentle and friendly canine here's what you can try:


First of all...relax. I'm willing to bet every time you come in contact with another dog your hand and body tense up and you pull up on the leash. Right? I knew it. So this is going to help you with the double whammy of pulling and leash aggression.


1. Before you leave the house put Fido in a sit while you put on the leash. If your dog does not know how to sit, stop reading this immediately and go teach him to sit or enroll in a positive training obedience course. After the sit, praise in a sing songy voice, higher pitched than your command voice, which should be lower pitched (wow, this is a whole other ball 'o wax, we'll have to get to later).


The sit will help calm down Fido and give him a point of focus.


2. Now we go outside. If you are having training problems and use a retractable leash, stop reading this immediately and go purchase a sturdy nylon or leather leash. You can use the retractable leash after your dog child learns to mind his manners. I walk my dogs on the left, so decide which side works best for you, and stick to it. Keep Fido on a short leash without, of course choking him by taking up the slack a bit. Even though you have short leash keep a relaxed hand and demeanor. If Fido pulls, gently but firmly correct him by saying "no" (low-pitched) and put him in a sit. When he sits calmly "good boy" (high-pitched). Continue walking, if he pulls, sit again, wash, rinse repeat.


With the sit you aren't rewarding the action of pulling on the leash by allowing Fido to move forward, but you are praising good behaviour when he sits calmly.


3. Praise Fido when Fido walks calmly next to you. My dogs will respond to a firm flick of my leash hand wrist, not snapping the leash to choke them but a gentle correction along with a firm"na, ah" if they begin to pull. If you have more than one dog I suggest walking them on the same side together. I've noticed when I dog-sit or help friends with leash stuff that if I have two or three dogs in one hand it's almost easier because they get in what I call a "pack rhythm" or "the three-headed beast", walking together in a cute little dog wad.


Keep your energy calm. Keep your leash hand calm and breathe. Oh, did I already mention that? Of course I did! It's important!


Approaching other dogs:


1. Here's where everything from above comes in handy with a few modifications. You should probably notice an approaching dog before Fido does. Stay Calm and even loosen the leash a little. Put Fido in his sit and give him some treats. ( oh yeah, I forgot to mention to have some treats available for positive behaviour rewards) Keep him focused on you and the treats until the dog passes. Again, don't tighten your grip on the leash, it sends a signal to our sensitive Fido that something is wrong thus the lunge toward the approaching dog.


This will do a couple of things. It will give Fido a point of focus and it will associate an approaching dog with something positive. After a while you may not need the treats and you may not need the sit. But every dog is unique and has a different learning curve for differnt things.


2. After the dog passes with no incident. Praise, praise and praise. Continue your relaxing walk.


Be consistent. If you only take your dog for a walk once or twice a week, of course he's gonna go crazy, get out there and get him and you some exercise, fresh air and time together.


Let me know how it goes!


P.S. Do I need a disclaimer here? O.K. just in case; this is my own opinion, take my advice at your own risk. There.

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