Tuesday, September 29, 2015

One simple trick has transformed my dog walking experience

Don't these two dogs look exhausted? They should. I snapped this photo just a few minutes after we'd completed our nightly walk. Now they're ready for some snacks and snuggles (not necessarily in that order). And while I love to spend time with them in a post-walk state, I'll admit that I haven't always enjoyed the act of walking them.

These two dogs have very different walking challenges. Pug Liam is in love with every person and creature he meets, so walking with him meant enduring pulls and pulls and pulls anytime he saw something he wanted to investigate. And sometimes, walking him became a dangerous proposition, as his pulling looked a little like lunging. Some dogs thought that was a show-time maneuver, and they were ready to rumble.

Sinead the Boston terrier, on the other hand, is terrified of many people and pets she meets. She's been picked up, cuddled, accosted and generally harassed on far too many walks, and that's meant that she's gone on the defensive. Walking with her often meant dealing with her growling and snarling and snapping, and sometimes, she simply tried to run away from people she saw.

So walking with them meant dealing with one dog trying to run back and one dog trying to run forward. Far from zen.

Pug comments about his dog walking experience
"I regret nothing."
This summer, I invested in a little training for both of these dogs. Liam went through a class called "Check In and Chill Out," while Sinead took a class just for shy dogs. Both were held at Willamette Humane Society.

Obviously, the lessons taught in these classes are very different, as the problems are very different. But there's one ingredient that showed up in both places, and it was used in the same way.

We call it "I Spy."

In class, the dogs learned to signal me when they saw something that was potentially frightening and/or stimulating. They could do that by changing body language (which is typically what happened at the beginning of class), or they could do that by bumping me or looking at me. When they looked at me, it was treat time.

Sounds simple, right? But it's made a huge difference.

Now, when I walk, I have two relatively behaved dogs that have very different ways of signaling the need for a treat. Liam will look out at the issue of concern, bump me with his head, run ahead of me and walk while trying to sit down. He will hold that sit until I give him the treat. No pulling, no jerking.

Sinead will signal with a head bump and then try to get behind my ankles with her whole body. She's looking to me for protection. When I stop walking, she runs in front of me (typically, I am between her and the thing she's afraid of at this point), and she sits for a treat. She'll also hold the sit until I give it, which allows the other thing to move away.

Walks like this take longer to complete, as there's a lot of sitting and waiting involved. But there's also a lot of thinking going on here, too. These dogs are pondering and considering and wondering. And that wears them out just as well as does physical exercise.

So was the class worth it? You bet. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Anyone else do something similar with their dogs? Love to hear about it in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have dogs, but I's sure walking well behaved dogs is a much more pleasant experience :)