Monthly Archives: August 2009

The importance of walking nicely on a leash

This is one of those skills that Penny and I bomb out on, and I have been reluctant to address it, even though I’ve taught a dozen dogs to walk nicely on leash before. I don’t know what my hesitation has been caused by. I think it stems from the fact that her on-leash behavior has been so variable. She’s generally respectful of the leash, in that she never tries to buck it, even if she’s aroused or frightened. Sometimes she walks at a loose leash, often she is taut behind or before me, depending on her state of mind. Sometimes when agitated she dithers, catching herself and me up even a limited amount of slack.

I don’t really care for retractable leashes, but walks with her on a static lead were so frustrating that I stopped taking her for walks. I finally broke down and got a retractable leash about a month ago and it has been the gateway to many good walks since. While it offers her more leeway to decide how close she wants to get to a threat–which keeps her from being so fearful–it also gives her a sensation of pull, and if she changes direction quickly, there can be a snap or sudden extra line that she gets caught up in when trying to get away from something she finds intimidating. It’s a crutch that allows us to go for walks, and no more. Even if she had no fear problems, the problem with retractable leashes is that there is almost always a sensation of ‘pull’ for the dog so unless you’re working with it locked, it is difficult to train a better way of walking when using one.

I am being bombarded by clues from the universe about just how important loose leash walking really is. Is it the only thing on the Introduction to Obedience class curriculum that she does not know. Each training book I read lists it as a skill that helps keep dogs calm on a walk. Even the two new books I got detail in great length the reasons why it is an important skill and one even argues that it is the most important skill for founding a good relationship with your dog.

The last point sounds a little silly. Really, we’ve been getting along just fine staying at home. Other skills like not biting or not peeing in the house seem to be pretty important. However when I compare the evidence presented with what I know about dogs, I am quite convinced that I cannot afford to wait any longer, and that me and my dog will benefit greatly from the awareness and connection that loose leash walking implies.

In fact, I was so shaken by the discussion of awareness and quality of experience, that I had to go downstairs, rouse my husband off the computer, and snuggle in his lap for a half hour in order to reconnect with him.

The whole thing just reminds me that no matter how content we may be, there is always room for improvement.

Better with Friends

Thursday evening I met up with Josh and Noot at the lake. It was very drizzly, and the trail was extremely muddy in a few parts. It was funny to see Noot–a big husky–fastidiously avoid getting his feet more than a little damp, and Penny (who was off-leash) gaily wade through the largest of mud-puddles with nary a second thought. I have to say, for being very badly bred, she’s got this whole earthdog rodent killing terrier thing down pat. Thankfully she doesn’t excavate our yard, but I hear she would dig up the vole tunnels without a second thought.

I only know Noot as this big love sponge, and it was strange to see him so keyed up. He was straining at the end of his leash, obviously enjoying pulling his six-foot human behind him. Josh had to be careful not to have tension on the leash when other dogs came at us, because Noot would react pretty aggressively if he was tugging. I’ve never really seen leash-aggression at work before. It was pretty interesting. And scary.

I have noticed that Penny is more confident off-leash, where she has room to choose her own distance from oncoming dogs. She was morbidly curious about every dog we met, skulking out of reach of the more aggressive ones and then sneaking up behind them for sniffs. This was more pronounced with people, as usual, but even though she was nervous, she was still curious and willing to check them out.

I have been reinforcing the come command with Penny with some extra-smelly treats at appropriate opportunities. I bungled it once,though, when a large pack of dogs came charging around the corner when I was pulling the treat bag out of my pocket. I wasn’t about to dole out treats, so it took some doing for Penny and I to get moving and un-swarmed by the eager (yet polite) mob and get past their three owners, who encouraged them onward.

It was a very fun walk. We had another husky (and by proxy, her owner, who was a ways back) join up with us and walk in our little pack for the last part of the loop. This dog was pretty happy about walking next to Noot as if in harness, trotting around with Penny as she went off to sniff things, casually and conversationally heeling with one of us, or just being off exploring at whatever caught her fancy. It was neat to see how laid-backĀ  and pack happy this dog was.

Fortunately Penny had shed most of the mud she had picked up by the time we got back to the car, but there were still muddy paw prints everywhere. I just took time to admire what they signified and went home happy.

Another park

I was dead tired when I got home tonight. I’ve been coughing all day, and I really wonder if I am coming down with something. I didn’t do anything with Penny last night, and she really wanted to go out again. I almost didn’t, but I am so glad that we did!

This time we went to the University Lake Park, and it was worlds better than the scrubby, marshy place I went on Monday. Beautiful trails about a mile long around a lake. And teeming with dogs, which is what I wanted. Penny needs that exposure to other dogs. She did very well. She only bothered a few other dogs, only a few made her nervous, she was generally curious about people, she listened really well, she stuck fairly close to me and checked in often, and was really well-behaved. I was so happy.

The setup is rather nice, with about a half-mile of trail through woods next to the lake and then it opens up to a field for a time before winding back through around the lake. Bell-ringing was going on at a nearby church. I hadn’t heard such a thing since we lived across from the church in England. I had forgotten how much I had missed it. I hope we catch more of it. There were also copious signs of beavers, including a hilarious tree that was 7/8 of the way gnawed through with all the sawdust scattered around.

And wow was it ever pretty. Near the end of the walk, I came around a bend and just stood and admired the view. The mountains behind the forest were reflected in the lake, and all of it was bounded by a huge, complete rainbow.

I’m going back again tomorrow with my friend and one of his dogs. I’m looking forward to it.

On being a better dog owner

I’ve been motivated to be a better dog owner lately. Penny has been mostly a stay at home, stay inside dog in the year since we got her. She loves to go on car rides, but she’s nervous and keyed up whenever she sees other people or dogs, so we have mostly stayed in. The decision was not just laziness, but also a strategy that involved her becoming more confident and less worried and more trusting with us.

I am happy to say it has done her wonders. No longer does she slink about when we’re in the stores, trying to hide behind my legs and peeing submissively at the mere sight of other people. She doesn’t cower in fear from the tiniest puppy. She’s now overeager at the end of her leash, digging hard in order to meet other dogs. She will tiptoe up to people in order to sniff their feet. She has begun to mark on walks, where previously she would hold everything until she got back to her comfortable spaces. I laughed myself silly today when she found a pile of poo, spent some time sniffing it over, and then peed all over it before prancing off. It’s a sign of confidence I thought I’d never see.

I’ve been taking her on daily walks around the neighborhood. This is scary for me, because we do live in a rough area, but we’re in a small pocket of families with children, so it’s pretty quiet. Well, reasonably. I get to say hi to the policemen impounding a car, walk around the block where Penny says hi to the drug dealers hanging out on their front porch, and then we both jog past the screaming hordes of children who want to pet my sweet, harmless, not-rottie-or-pit-or-chihuahua. And everywhere we go, it’s “What kind of dog is that?” Everyone loves her and thinks she’s the bees knees. And she’s learning to like it.

I’m preparing her for her first obedience class, well, at least the first since she was very young. We work pretty well together, and she knows most of the curriculum already, but I’m brushing up on the rest so that she’s not trying to learn something new in an environment that will push all her buttons. Mostly I need to get her around the confusion of other dogs and people in a (somewhat) controlled setting. The place that teaches the classes calls it proofing, and I think it’s going to be a very good thing for her.

My motivation is to get her prepped so that we can start beginning agility together. She’s in good shape for a 12 year old dog, she loves to train with me, and I’ve been interested for some time. I’ve finally achieved a physical health level that will allow me to be active again, and I am eager to be moving after so much time at rest.

We went to our first off-leash area today, and it was nerve-wracking to me. It was mostly foot trails through forest and field. I have just heard so many horror stories of dogs just taking off into the underbrush with people calling for hours. I made sure to bring some extra-smelly treats with us, and doled them out liberally whenever she came when I called.

I shouldn’t have worried so much. She was wonderful. She had a blast. She trotted. She ran. She sniffed everything. She came when I called every time, without fail. She got to tree a squirrel. There was even tons of sunshine, and an actual rainbow, huge and bold. I… sniff… I was so proud.

I can’t wait to explore more with her.