Friday, January 29, 2010

Leash Work

We all have cabin fever. Either it's been too cold to be outside because of the windchill, snowy, rainy. Quite frankly, when there is sun or gray days with temperatures in the mid-20s, I lack the motivation to bundle up and get out there.

This is not good.

It is not good for them. They are bored. Bored dogs whine and chew and bark, three activities on the rise in this house. It is not good for me. I'm spiritually stagnant, unconnected.

I throw the ball around for Ollie in the back yard. It is cold, really cold. I'm going to need gloves. Ollie and Marshall get excited and start wrestling. This is a good time for me to get ready. Gloves, earmuffs, scarf, walking shoes, yoga pants, tank top, long-sleeved t-shirt, and winter jacket. Ollie and Marshall sprint to the house and bolt through the dog door the minute they hear the leashes. They know they have to sit to have their leashes put on and Ollie plants his hindquarters on the ground. Poor Marshall's tail is so excited that he can't sit properly, so he slouches in a sloppy puppy-sit. I'll take it.

Leashes clipped and door locked, and we are ready to go. I give them the cue 'let's go' to tell them they are released from their sit. We walk down our street and cross the main road into the neighborhood with the park and plowed streets. This is when it all goes down hill.

Marshall is the poster pup for perfect leash behavior. Part of that is because he hates pressure around his neck. Ollie is too excited and his long legs make him walk fast. I imagine walking next to me for him is like me walking next to someone with a cane or walker. You understand why the other person needs more time, but your steps become unnaturally shortened to keep in step with them.

No walking meditation today. It's leash work time.

I started out with the right things.

Let the dog burn off excitement energy. This is especially important if the dog has been home alone all day and you've just gotten in for the evening. They are glad to see you.

I was able to get Ollie in the right 'following rules' mindset by doing a few drills with him. Sit for leashes, lay down and wait to go outside, sit and wait while I shut the door.

Ollie was just too excited for this walk. This means reinforcing the rules, the biggest of which is You Follow Me.

When training this, I use two methods: Crazy Lady and Treat In Hand

Training the Crazy Lady way means turning on your heel the second your dog starts to get a head of you. This doesn't mean wait until the dog is pulling and whip around, jerking the leash and yanking on the dog's neck. The purpose of this is to not let the dog think it knows where you are going and to always defer to you for directions.

Training with the Treat In Hand method is basically as simple as it sounds. Walk with a loose lead holding kibble in your hand. The dog will walk next to you, sniffing your hand. Treat him occasionally, saying 'good dog' or other verbal praise (keep it consistent). Do this for short walks at first, then slowly lengthen the walks and the time in between alternating praise and treats.

The important thing is to stay calm and patient. If you feel angry at any time, pack it in. Yanking, pulling, whipping, jerking, is not only painful to your dog, but also hurtful to your relationship. Punishment, if not timed correctly, becomes arbitrary and unpredictable to a dog. You look less like a mentor and more like a dictator.

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