Tag Archives: obedience training

Start Where You Are

Tennis great Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” That is a profound recommendation straight from the life-experience of someone who overcame a lot of difficulties, and accomplished things most people told him were impossible. As an African-American breaking into the world of professional tennis mid-20th century, I doubt he had dog training in mind, but it’s really applicable. Too often we can come up with so many excuses for not training, and the more we put things off the harder it is to know just where to start. We totally forget that there’s only one place we CAN start — like Mr. Ashe says: where you are!

No matter if you just got a puppy, recently adopted an adult dog, or have been living with Spot for years, there are bound to be behaviors you aren’t happy with!  Training with your dog is a wonderful bonding experience, whether the dog is an old companion or new recruit!  And don’t believe that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” line – dogs (and people) can learn at any age.  I think that saying came about as an excuse for folks who didn’t want to change their ways!  Don’t let the “if only syndrome” blind you to how easy it is to just jump in and DO something: here and now!

Start small. Pick one behavior to work on. If Spot doesn’t SIT on command, that’s an easy, basic behavior with a lot of real-life applications! If Spot also has greeting people with all four on the floor, asking him to SIT can help with that. However, Spot has to be really good at SIT and find it gets him lots of praise and attention so he’ll WANT to do it in a greeting situation!  Ask him to SIT to get his dinner; before getting on the couch/bed, to go outside/come inside, to get in the car, to get a treat, to get petted.  These are all things Spot LOVES and it’s amazing how quickly he’ll master that SIT command if it’s paired up with, “Good things, good things, good things – yeah!”  Once he’s mastered SIT, use all those same things to motivate Spot to lie DOWN!

You can pick any command or behavior problem. Don’t know how to teach Spot? Ask a friend with a well-trained dog, google it, get a book from the library, enroll in a class, or hire a professional  to teach one-on-one lessons in your own home. My recommendation is find instructions from a trainer who emphasizes POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT, because you and Spot will enjoy the training a lot more than if it’s punishment-based.  Bu the point is there are lots of opportunities that you can easily access TODAY right from your own computer and/or phone!

Lots of times I hear from clients how hard it is to find time to train.  They put it off day-to-day until suddenly the week is gone and they haven’t practiced the class lesson!  Oh, I understand  how impossibly busy our schedules can get!  It’s often very hard to re-arrange your day to add ANOTHER commitment!  The good news is you only need a few minutes at a time! Folks think they need to put aside at least a half hour, but both Spot and you will work all the better for keeping lessons short and snappy!

But that’s worse – you think – finding a lot of 3-5 minute bits of time.  Not if you’re crafty!  Look at all the times we’re WAITING during the day.  While the microwave is warming up our tea.  While the kids are looking for their shoes.  While the dishwasher/washer/dryer finishes up.  During TV commercials!  A half-hour TV program has at least 3 commercial breaks, each 2.5-4 minutes long. If you keep some treats on a shelf in the family room, those commercial breaks are a PERFECT length to work on one behavior.  You’re not giving up anything to make training time.  You’re not rescheduling your day.  You’re just starting where you are and using that time to bond with your dog instead of allowing some corporation to brainwash you into buying something you don’t need.

So, get started!  Treat training like a game, instead of boot-camp!  If you forget and sit through a commercial break or two, don’t beat yourself up!  Just laugh at how well the TV has US trained and try to catch the next one!  Start where you are physically, mentally and emotionally — and training will get easier as you learn to relax and have fun!

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Memories…

for some reason today, I’m remembering all the dogs from my extended family when I was growing up.  There weren’t that many of them.  Mine is not a large family and many of my relatives never owned a dog, but there was usually one or two at big family gatherings at the lake.  It’s kind of odd, looking  back over so many years and reviewing a child’s memories with the adult, trainer’s knowledge that I have today.

The first dog I knew really well was Sandy, my grandparent’s dog.  She was pretty small, a flop-eared, fawn-colored, short-coated dog that I remember Grandma saying was a Boxer/Cocker spaniel mix.  I remember the night the Grands got her.  They brought her over to our house to show her off — sleeping in a shoe box!  Sandy loved to chase chipmunks in the forest at our cottage.  She’d dash through the dry leaves making a terrible racket!  After many years, she finally caught up with one and grabbed it.  It died, of course, and Sandy didn’t understand why it didn’t get back up and run some more.  Funny thing, the chipmunks stayed away from the woods near the cottage after that, and Sandy never chased one again.

But I really remember Sandy because of something we did that now, in hind-trainer’s-sight, I realize was not too safe.  My Mom and Grandma always laughed and said how Sandy was “talking” to us “imitating” what we were saying.  I don’t think so.  You see, when someone would hug Sandy, and say “Awwwww….” she’d stiffen up and growl.  Not only adults, but they allowed us kids to do that, too.  Remembering, my skin crawls!  I think poor Sandy was trying her best to tell us how uncomfortable she was with that  sort of “attention!”  Looking back, I think we were really lucky she was too polite to bite!

Then there was my Uncle’s dog, Czar.  He was a huge, black-and-white, thick-silky-haired beast with ginormous paws and a massive head.  Uncle Jim said he was part water spaniel because he liked the water.  I don’t know if this was an adult joke aimed over the heads of us kids, or if he really didn’t know.  I’m reasonably certain Czar was a Landseer Newfoundland.  He was such a good-natured dog; gentle despite his enormous size, especially with us kids, that and my memories of his build, say “Newfy” to me.

And that dog did love the water!  I remember one day when Uncle Jim and Grandma rowed out on the lake to fish.  For some reason it was just us kids left up at the cottage with Czar, and  Uncle Jim told us to keep him inside.  Yeah right!  Home-made screen door that didn’t stay shut and a dog stronger than any two of us kids.  Well, Czar got out and headed straight for the lake.  It wasn’t big, but it was no pond, either!  That dog saw the boat at the opposite shoreline and swam across to get to Uncle Jim and Grandma.  Uncle Jim made him swim all the way back beside the boat, too, dragged the soaking wet dog back up to the cottage and told us to KEEP HIM INSIDE.  You can guess what happened!  This time, Grandma insisted Czar be allowed in the boat for the return trip.  Fortunately, it was a flat-bottomed boat, but Grandma had to bail plenty because of all the water carried on board in Czar’s coat.

My immediate family didn’t get our own dog until I was finishing grade school. She was a GSD, no papers, black with tan markings. My sister named her Val. Quite small, she never topped 50 pounds, but she was one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever known. It made her easy to train — good thing, too, because from what I recall we were pretty bad at it. I remember Mom doing the then-classic, rub-the-puppy’s-nose-in-the-accident style of house-training. (Called house-BREAKING then!) We never got her to accept a collar or walk on a leash — she was too smart for us and threw a drama queen fit at each attempt. But she was a true “velcro” dog and could be trusted to stay no more than a few feet away no matter where we took her. She mostly came when called, too, and I have NO idea how we managed that one! I distinctly remember doing the number one no-no of calling her over for punishment on more than one occasion. I think that dog just loved us so much that she wasn’t happy wandering away!

By that time, Czar had been succeeded in my Uncle’s household by a GSD, with papers, named Lady.  She was very big for a bitch, almost twice the size of Val, but the two were BFFs from day one.  Like a lot of Shepherds do, they wrestled and ran and played hard accompanied by much growling and snarling.  At times, the neighbors would be concerned that a dog fight was going on in the back yard, but they really were just playing!  When the two families were together, the dogs were inseparable, except when we went swimming.  It’s kind of ironic that Uncle Jim went from Czar (who couldn’t be kept out of the water) to Lady (who couldn’t be coaxed INTO it!)  Val, loved water and would take off the end of the dock like dogs do in diving competitions now!

Now that I think of it, Val wasn’t always the perfect poster child of recall — she did do some running once we got on the farm. Not alone, though, it wasn’t until we got her a “sister” — Tana, a GSD/Husky mix.  The two of them would go off chasing things for hours. (Again, I can’t believe that the parents were rather OK with that – at least I don’t remember them trying to stop it from happening!)  It was a rude surprise, too, because Val had always been so good. Just goes to show how instinctive that pack and chase behavior is in dogs!  Because now that I think of it, there was another time Val refused to “recall” – when a black bear invaded our campsite in Alaska, and she chased him off.  Good thing it wasn’t a grizzly, or the ending might not have been happy!

Tana was a very different kettle of dog from Val.  She could be very sweet, but was  much more independent,  stubborn, and often defiant.  Now, I know enough to call her a dominant animal.  When she was still quite a small puppy, she would react to disciplining by squaring off and growling at us!  It’s no wonder she got Val to “play hooky” with her – she was the top dog!  She had a habit of grabbing a visitor’s hand in her mouth (stranger or family, it was all the same) and walking off, so the person was kind of forced to walk along until she let go. I’m astonished that we didn’t see that as not-really-playful behavior.

As I said, it’s interesting to walk down memory lane with old canine friends, knowing what I know now.  Somehow, I think we were saved from dire consequences simply because the dogs were part of the family and loved us very much.  They forgave us some really incredible blunders and our assurance of their love gave us the confidence to forge on as true leaders would, even if we were oblivious to the undercurrents and possible problems.  It worked, but I think it all worked because the DOGS made allowances for us.

 

 

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It Is Easier…Honest!

As a trainer, I’m often contacted by exasperated owners who want me to “fix” behavior issues they’re having with the family dog. They give me a long list of Buddy’s bad habits, and the frustration just pours out of them. I can tell they are really torn because they love the dog but he’s driving them to consider drastic measures on a daily basis.

I actually LOVE working on behavior problems because they’re mostly easy to fix. I’m happy when a call is about owner frustration rather than owner fear because Buddy has bitten someone. I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping dogs understand their humans and humans understand their dogs, knowing their lives will be better after we’re done. However, I always mentally cringe a bit during these calls because my quickest, most fool-proof solutions won’t be what the owner expected.

Everyone wants fast answers and quick results! Oh my, yes! But when I tell them what action is going to do it first-time, every time, they are often a bit taken-aback. That’s because MANAGEMENT is far easier than TRAINING. It is MUCH easier to take a good look at the situation and change a couple of things in the dog’s environment and/or daily schedule than it would be to teach Buddy to ignore his inborn instincts.

In many homes, there is a tray just beside the door where family members put shoes and boots. This is meant to keep everyone from tracking dirt and strewing footwear about the house.  Extremely efficient, as far as humans are concerned!  As far as your dog is concerned, it’s a smorgasbord!  Dogs LOVE to chew; it calms them.  Puppies NEED to chew when they’re teething.  ALL dogs prefer to chew on our shoes, socks, underwear because those things smell and taste like us and so help even more with stress-relief.  It’s really a compliment, but one we can do without, thank you very much!  The easiest way to keep Buddy from illicit chewing is to put the shoes, socks and underwear in closets, cupboards and hampers.

This is where a lot of owners get upset.  They hired me to train the dog, not to train them, and I can understand their frustration.  Think of it this way — much of MANAGEMENT is nothing more than Child-proofing.  Dogs are perpetual “puppified” wolves and remain at the mental age of a two- to three-year-old child for their entire lives.  So, it makes sense that a home without children or dogs can be more “relaxed” in many ways than a home with either or both!  Besides the obvious, like hiding electrical cords and covering outlets, putting gates at stairways, etc. there are a couple of classic examples of dog-proofing that just don’t seem to occur to folks!

Several couples I know habitually ate sitting on the sofa, plates on knee or coffee table, until their children arrived.  Then they moved to the table to help choreograph meal-times and also to set an example so their kids would learn good manners.  It’s the same when we get a dog, but I’m still called in to stop Buddy from stealing food left on the coffee table when owners get up for that drink they left in the kitchen.  Sure, it’s POSSIBLE to train Buddy to stop – notice I didn’t say it was EASY – but it will take a LONG time and a LOT of consistent, daily practice for weeks if not months.  No, the easy solution is either eating at the table (like my friends did with their kids) or taking your plate with you back into the kitchen.  Is it a bit of a pain?  Yes!  Is it something we’re going to forget to do occasionally?  Yes!  But is it easier, faster and more fool-proof than trying to train Buddy in this situation?  You betcha!

Especially in this example, we’re really working against the basic fabric of doggie instinct and pack behavior.  In the wild, canines eat in a strict order – leaders first.  When the leader is finished, and the other canines are permitted to eat – the LEADER WALKS AWAY FROM THE FOOD.  To Buddy, you’ve just told him you’re finished and your plate is up for grabs, so he really doesn’t understand why you get so upset to find him scarfing the food as fast as he can.  I don’t think he’s eating fast because he “knows” he’s being bad, either.  I think it’s just how dogs eat really good stuff that somebody else might try to grab before he can eat it all.  Even if Buddy does understand that YOU think it’s bad, HE’s never going to think it is, so we’re fighting a losing battle here!

There are so many other examples like that.  Buddy drinks out of the toilet? – keep the lid shut and/or bathroom door closed.  Buddy gets into the garbage? – get a can with a lid or put the wastebasket in a cupboard/closet.  Buddy pulls papers out of the purse/book-bags sitting on the floor? – zip them up, put them on a table or hang from hooks on a wall.  Buddy chews on the mini-blinds when you’re not home? – pull them up out of his reach and/or restrict his access to those rooms.

In my experience, folks who aren’t happy with management solutions usually aren’t up for long, hard, fairly complicated, consistent training, either.  I’m a practical kind of gal.  I’m also rather lazy when you get right down to it.  If I can make a small change in my daily habits and thereby avoid destruction in my home and stress on my nerves — then that is where I’m going to put my effort.  Because it’s far less trouble than the alternative!

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Walking the Dog, part four

So tomorrow I’ll pick up another theme — I promise — but I just can’t leave this subject without discussing a “variation” on the basic dog walk that seems to be getting all too popular. I’m talking about folks letting their dogs run free, off-leash.  I mostly see this at the nearby county parks.  I understand how it is awfully tempting to give Rex that extra freedom.  First off, most dogs obviously LOVE to romp around a large space with grass and bushes and scent trails from all sorts of wild-life to explore!  Plus, Rex gets MORE exercise running about off-leash than he possibly could on-leash, right?  (And, of course, un-clipping his lead neatly side-steps any problems with poor leash manners!)

There are OTHER problems with letting Rex roam off-leash, though.  1) First off, it’s against the law!   It violates the leash laws current in most communities. In addition, all the parks around here POST at the entrance “The Rules” and always include dogs are to remain on trails and on leash!  If we ignore that, then why should folks obey the “no firearms” or “no alcohol” rules?  2)  It puts your dog in danger from following a scent or chasing an animal until he’s lost, runs across a road, or encounters an animal that will fight back.  3) It puts your dog and others in potential danger when they meet off leash.

Leash laws have been passed to make sure that handlers have control of their dogs at all times.  Unless Rex has a rock-solid, bomb-proof RECALL he is OUT of your control the second you un-clip the lead from his collar.  Most of our dogs will come when called inside, in their own yard, probably around the neighborhood – all familiar, rather hum-drum spaces.  When Rex goes to the PARK! – it’s a whole new ballgame!  Unless you’ve frequently trained in new spaces– practicing the Recall where Rex will have 20 million scents and sights and sounds that (I’m sorry) are far more interesting than you are — and unless he’s been 100% consistent in coming when called in those new places, then you cannot be sure he will obey at the PARK!

Certain breeds of dogs – mostly the hounds, sight or scent, should NEVER be off-leash except in a fenced-in area.  Their instincts are far too strong to CHASE!  Shelters get loads of Beagles, Harriers, and other Hound-mixes because the dog was off following some little critter and couldn’t find his way home before being picked up by animal control.  Other breeds like Huskies are also poor risks for the same reason – their prey drive just takes over!  And you can’t play down the danger cars pose to dogs running free. Even if you’re on a trail that seems far away from the roads – what about the parking lot?  If a dog scares up a bunny or deer it could take off in a straight line that might encounter a car far more quickly than you’d think.  I’m not willing to take that risk!

But, to me, the main reason to keep Rex on a leash at the park is that there are sure to be lots of other owners and dogs around, and you don’t know them (the person OR dog) or how they will react.   Nor do you know, with certainty, how Rex will react to those other dogs and people!   Most folks I encounter with off-leash dogs shout out, “Oh, my dog’s friendly!” as if this covers all possible contingencies!  Think about it, folks!  Just because YOUR dog is friendly doesn’t mean that all other dogs and people will be friendly towards your dog!

And allow me to take such “friendly” claims with a grain of salt!  To be on the safe side, I’ve taken to responding, “Oh?  Mine isn’t!” when they say that. This is not really true – Kita gets along very well with other dogs if I introduce her slowly — but that response is the only one I’ve found that will make other owners call their dogs back and put them on leash with no discussion.  Unfortunately, this might be giving Kita an underserved reputation.  Still, Kita, being big, black and a GSD is going to be the bad guy no matter what happens, so I’d rather nip possible problems in the bud.

To be frank, I’ve considered carrying mace or pepper spray to keep dogs at a distance just in case they don’t obey their owner – or if they run up with no owner in sight!  That happens a lot!  Not just in the park, but also when I’m walking in the new, fashionable neighborhoods that prohibit fencing!  Walking Kita and a boarding Spaniel and having a Rottie and a Pittie rush out to defend their territory – with only an 11-year-old boy to try and restrain them — is not an experience I’m eager to have repeated.

I’d much rather see folks “bending” the 6-foot limit part of the leash law and put Rex on a long-line.  Of course, you can buy a 30-foot lead at the pet-supply store, but you can make one much cheaper with a package of clothesline and a clip from the hardware store.  This would give Rex a lot more freedom, but allow you a “back-up plan” if he fails the Recall Review at an awkward moment!

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Walking the Dog, part three

The first question most trainers ask when called in to eliminate Rex’s behavior problems is, “How much exercise does he get?” The vast majority of the time, Rex isn’t getting enough to even take the edge off his “joie de vivre!” It’s much more difficult for a dog to “behave” if he’s jumping out of his skin with vim-and-vigor and mentally bored to boot!  A tired dog is a good dog, but few dogs will tire themselves out. Even if Rex has the “run” of a huge fenced-in back yard, he won’t do much running around in it all by himself. Just like us, dogs need motivation; a partner to make him move.

At a minimum, most dogs need two half-hour walks daily — and that’s for the “couch potatoes!”  The really active breeds like herders and hunting dogs have been bred to WORK, literally be able to RUN for hours every day, so a walk around the block really won’t do it for them. Individual dogs within the same breed have varying needs.  Young dogs will need more exercise than they will when they’re senior citizens.  Smart dogs require a lot of stimulation so they don’t have the energy to think of things to do for their own (and never your) amusement.  Nervous or anxious dogs require the feel-good hormones that flood the body after a good workout.

In the city-and-subdivision jungles we inhabit, really the only safe way to exercise a dog — unless you have a fenced-in back yard and Rex is a fetching fiend — is to walk him on a leash.  (You could send Rex to Doggie Daycare two or three days a week, or invite a different puppy pal to come over for a play-date every day.) Unfortunately, dogs living in the same household gradually play less and less and will still need walking, especially if one is an older dog!

The good news is that walking is really good for us, too — both as exercise and for those feel-good-after-a-workout-stress-relieving hormones!  We all know that!  The trouble is there are SO many demands on our time and the weather is not often perfect, not to mention that Rex’s leash manners leave a lot to be desired.  Just like with anything else, we have to make time to walk the dog.  Weather usually looks worse from inside the house – bundle up warmly with good boots and anything other than a thunderstorm really isn’t too bad once you get started. Most DOGS don’t mind bad weather a bit!  Some even enjoy it! But the only way for you to truly enjoy the walk with Rex is to teach him good leash manners.

The best time to teach Rex to walk nicely on leash is when he’s a puppy.  Puppies have an instinct to FOLLOW the leader (you!) and will quickly adapt to wearing a collar and having that crazy leash attached if we remain positive, and don’t scold him when he’s scared.  At first, YOU let the puppy wander about and don’t pull him after you – instead call him in a chirpy, happy voice and pretend to run away.  Most puppies will think it’s a game and gambol right after you!  Begin early enough (at 8 weeks when most puppies are adopted) and your puppy will grow up knowing that when the leash is on, he’s supposed to follow you.  HEEL and other refinements are easy to train after that.

Unfortunately, a lot of us adopt adult dogs from shelters, or have put off walking our puppy until he was in the “independent exploration” stage of development — so we now have dogs that have been practicing BAD leash manners.  Pulling, biting on the leash, running around you tangling the leash, fighting the leash like a fish hooked on a line, or sitting/lying down and refusing to move are the most common problems.  Also unfortunately, it’s not an easy matter to replace BAD habits with GOOD ones, or we’d all stick to our diets!

Sometimes a change of equipment can change the circumstances enough to give Rex a fresh start on the walking biz.  Changing over to a harness sometimes makes a dog feel his front feet are leaving the ground when he pulls, which is enough to give him pause.  For some dogs a Gentle Leader works wonders – however I caution anyone wanting to use one of these to introduce the dog to it SLOWLY with lots of praise and treats — and NEVER pull the dog around by the leash (like we do with a regular collar) when he’s wearing the head-collar!  I don’t agree with using shock collars or Slip (choke) collars or Pinch (pronged) collars because they are designed to HURT the dog and I want my dog to enjoy the walk!

If you’re sufficiently well-muscled, you can hold the dog at your side by force, but that doesn’t TEACH him to do it on his own.  Instead, try coaxing Rex to stay by your side by praising whenever he does and giving him a treat!  If he pulls or forges ahead, TURN AROUND AND GO THE OTHER WAY!  Though it may look a bit silly walking back and forth in front of your house (or in the driveway) you’re both still WALKING – it’s all exercise!  Combine this with praise and treats when Rex stays by you and eventually he’ll get the idea.

The key word here is EVENTUALLY and you need to be consistent.  If you give in and let Rex pull you along, that only reinforces the wrong behavior and undercuts the good-manners training you started.  There’re a lot of other techniques, and hiring a professional can certainly help you and Rex!  But the only way the two of you will learn to make beautiful walks together is to practice, practice, practice!

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Walking the Dog, part two

Most cities, housing communities, and government-run parks currently have leash laws. They require any dogs (and sometimes, cats, too!) in a public space to be on a leash, in their handler’s control at all times. Most ordinances specify that the leash be no more than 6 feet long. I have seen some that allow 10 feet, but those aren’t common.

Just as there are many collar and harness choices for your dog, there are also many different types of leashes. Most are variations on the standard leash which has a buckle at one end and a loop for your hand at the other. These are made in many lengths, from 3 feet on up, and come in a variety of materials from nylon or cotton to leather, woven to be flat or round like a rope. Some have an extra loop several feet above the buckle to hold when keeping the dog at your side. But they all work the same way. You buckle the one end to the dog’s collar or harness and can give him more or less freedom depending on how much length you play out.

The second most common leash has become very popular because it makes “playing out” more or less leash automatic. Usually called a Retractable Leash, the rope is coiled up in a plastic holder with a grip for your hand and a “locking” button on top within easy reach of your thumb. A heavy spring makes the leash — usually 16 feet long — recoil back into the handle when the dog comes closer to you eliminating loops of tangling cord.  In theory, the locking button allows the Retractable Leash to do the job of a standard leash by putting the brakes on the spring and fixing the leash at any length desired.

If the Retractable Leash sounds too good to be true – well I think it is! There have been many cases of dogs being hit by cars because of the locking button failed to engage — either equipment and/or operator error.  Despite manufacturer claims, locking the leash off at 6 feet doesn’t give the flexibility and training opportunities of a standard leash.  That big ole plastic grip really gets in the way, so the leash can’t be used to reinforce commands using only one hand – necessary to deal with treats and/or a clicker with the other!  The necessarily thin rope used in them can quickly wrap around the dog’s leg or neck, other dogs’ legs/necks, (or yours or another handler’s) and do damage from rope burns to lacerations before you can untangle everybody.  In addition, the springs inside (especially in those designed for the larger breeds) are of necessity very heavy-duty and if the buckle or collar loop should fail, the recoiling leash whipping back into the holder could also do damage!

Unfortunately, this means Retractable leashes despite their automatic leash-handling function aren’t ideal for “auto-pilot” walking.  The handler really needs to focus on the dog and the leash and be aware of what’s going on, ready to engage the locking mechanism or avoid a tangling situation.  In the Animal Planet documentary, GLORY HOUNDS, I noticed them being used in for Military Working Dogs on patrol overseas.  This would be a great application, as the soldier-handler’s job is to be aware of what’s going on and anticipate problems.  The recoil spring would take up slack in the leash allowing the soldier-handler to keep his other hand free, because the MWD is well-trained and the leash isn’t being used to reinforce commands.

Yes, a Retractable Leash works for military dogs because they’re already well-trained, but I don’t recommend them to my clients.  The main reason is because it’s not a training leash and can’t be used as one — because it can only be used one way.  And that brings up another BIG problem.  The number one complaint clients make is that their dog pulls on the leash.  With a Retractable Leash, the dog is REWARDED (by getting more line) whenever he pulls against the pressure of the heavy spring.  So, those leashes actually TEACH a dog to PULL!  In addition, if you attach one to a Gentle Leader or other head-collar, it creates constant pressure on the dog’s nose – totally sabotaging what the head-collar is designed to do — encourage a dog to stop pulling to RELIEVE pressure on his nose!

There’s really no substitute for a standard leash in training.  They make a good taking-out-for-a-potty-break leash if you don’t have a fenced-in yard.  After a dog has learned to walk nicely on leash, it usually doesn’t hurt to use a Retractable Leash on walks – though still not attached to a Gentle Leader or other head-collar!  However, be aware that they also violate the letter of leash laws which restrict dogs to only 6 feet or so of freedom – not 16!

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Walking the Dog, part one

A lot of dogs have less-than-perfect leash manners.  It’s not a behavior that happens naturally – there’s nothing in a dog’s DNA to prepare him for having a collar put around his neck and be tied to a human when Rex would rather be running around exploring and sniffing.  Good leash manners require training and training takes time.  With some dogs a LOT of time.  Being human, we want the “fast food” version – the quick fix!  So we look to equipment to help us out.

A lot of folks use a chain Slip Collar to walk their dog. I grew up calling this a “choke” collar; not sure if that’s what they used to be called, or if we just tagged it with a description of what it usually does. When a dog is allowed to pull against the leash, the slip collar becomes a noose cutting off the airway. It can cause permanent damage, and yet doesn’t truly provide a deterrent if your dog pulls as you walk him.  A dog’s instinctive reaction when feeling pressure (even around his neck) is to LEAN INTO the pressure.  Rex just doesn’t make the association (unless we teach him) that the pressure he’s causing by pulling against the leash is what’s making it hard to breathe.

When the Slip Collar doesn’t work, some pull out a Pinch collar.  It has pronged links that are supposed to “pinch” into his neck if Rex pulls. Most people assume that the dog will stop pulling because it will hurt, but just like with the Slip collar the dog simply becomes used to the discomfort – even of having what amounts to linked barbed wire around his neck — and forges on ahead.

Dogs don’t feel the same degree of pain that we would if those collars were used on us. Many dogs have thick fur and/or skin around their neck, and others have lots of neck muscle that they tense-up to absorb the pressure of either type collar. Most dogs that really need some help learning leash manners have a high tolerance for pain – what used to be called “hard” dogs. In addition, a dog with poor leash manners doesn’t get walked very often. So when Rex does get out, he’s so over-excited that huge quantities of adrenaline pump into his system further deadening pain reactions.  It doesn’t mean there isn’t pain, just that the dog can handle it.  In addition, any being’s tolerance for pain becomes greater and greater the more they experience.  Allow Rex to pull against one of these collars and he’ll gradually pull more and more as his nerves build up how much they can take.

If the handler decides to use one of these collars — and in my mind it’s a big “if” —  they have been designed to be use in active correction, not as a passive deterrent.  The FIRST time Rex has a Slip or Pinch collar on, and the FIRST time he forges ahead, BEFORE he can pull against it, the handler is supposed to jerk up on the leash in a forceful manner AND INFLICT PAIN.  How much pain depends on if you have a “hard” or a “soft” dog, but in either case, to use it correctly, the handler must HURT THE DOG badly enough for it to remember and not want to feel that pain again.  Supposedly, the next time the dog tried to forge ahead, the sound of the chain slipping against the links as you pull up should be enough to remind Rex of the pain and make him stay at your side.  There’s a little more to it than that, but the point I’m trying to make is that those collars are designed so the handler can actively punish the dog with pain to keep him in line.

I don’t like to use punishment- and pain-based training.  I think it destroys the bond between you and your dog.  Also, why should a dog look forward to training when it’s going to hurt – even if only sometimes?  And I really don’t like using a collar in a way that will still harm the dog and not prevent him from pulling anyway!

If you use a Slip Collar out of fear that Rex will slip out of his collar, there are other products that work better, like a Martingale Collar.  If fitted properly, a Martingale tightens right down to the skin, but doesn’t become a noose to strangle the dog.  Or use a harness.  Most dogs pull less on a harness for various reasons and it also gives the handler a lot more control than something just around the neck.  Gentle Leader head-collars are great and work very well.  However be warned they not magic – you really have to spend time teaching the dog to accept the collar and training yourself in a whole new way of walking your dog.

When it comes right down to it, there is no “quick fix” except early, frequent and consistent leash-training.  Different types of collars, head collars and harnesses have different applications and all require an active effort at training from the handler.  I prefer to those that don’t hurt the dog.  Both Slip Collars and Pinch Collars are designed to hurt Rex and if used incorrectly will STILL hurt him, perhaps worse.

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