On the first day before Christmas my true dog gave to me…
One adorabull holiday photo!
On the first day before Christmas my true dog gave to me…
One adorabull holiday photo!
I know, at this point you’re probably wondering how much really goes into teaching a dog to walk on a leash without pulling, right?
All I can say is some dogs are natural born walkers, and some need more help learning. Simon and Rosee fall into the latter category here, and even then they both respond to techniques differently. The most important thing is to find what works for your own dog. However, sometimes you have to go through what doesn’t work to find what does, which is how I have come to know of so many tips.
Again, my disclaimer: The tips I will present, explain, and discuss throughout this series of posts are ones that I’ve gathered from training books I’ve read, training classes I’ve attended with Simon and Rosee, and from trainers I’ve talked to. I want to be clear that I am not a dog trainer in any way, shape or form, and my knowledge of dog training comes from the aforementioned sources while training my own dogs. I can assure you however, that all these tips have been tried and tested by everyone here at Play Hard, Bark Often.
Tip #7: Try a shorter leash. The length of a dog’s leash may not seem all that significant. However, if the goal is to have your dog walk next to you without pulling then trying a shortened leash may be a good idea. To be honest, I had never considered trying a shorter leash. Of course, while walking with either Rosee or Simon I would try and shorten the leash they were on by looping some of the excess. Yet, it never seemed to work as I would get frustrated with their pulling or holding so much of the leash and eventually let it go and just hold on to the leash handle. It was only when me and Monica had ordered Rosee her Ilusion collar that realization hit. You see, when you order an Ilusion collar it also comes with an accompanying leash.
The leash length varies depending on what size of collar is ordered. For instance, Rosee has a large and the leash is about a foot long.
Simon has a medium size collar and the leash is a little longer than Rosee’s and not quite as wide. (Personally, I don’t like the leash that came with Simon’s Ilusion collar and do not use it because it’s not wide enough and difficult for me to hold on to.)
Really, it was a “Eureka” moment because the first time I put Rosee’s Ilusion collar on with the shorter leash it all became clear. I found that with a shorter leash not only could I keep her next to me, but I was much more consistent in my efforts. I couldn’t backslide and let go of the excess leash as I had before when things became too much. In turn, I was much less stressed and could focus more on Rosee instead of on keeping the leash a certain length. Now, practically, I know it may not be so easy to find a short leash at a regular pet store. Still, it can be worth looking for one on the internet if you’re working on your dog walking next to you without pulling and not just loosely on a leash.
Tip #8: Try a longer leash. For some dogs a shorter leash might be all that’s needed to get them to walk beside you without pulling. For other dogs, such as those similar to Simon, more work and a whole lotta patience might be required. Simon, you see, is a “horse of a different color” (figuratively, of course). He can pick up tricks like shake, roll over, high five, etc. in a day, but learning to walk without pulling has not come as easily. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to do it either. It’s just that he’s not usually consistently successful at it. Now, I’ve done my best to keep myself consistent in feeling and technique when I walk him, which has helped a lot. (Think Cesar here) Unlike Rosee though, using a shorter leash has never worked well for Simon. He’s a dog that has needed to learn to walk next to me by himself. I mentioned in the beginning of Part 2 that I’m not necessarily too strict about leash length with Simon. I use a standard length leash to walk him and for most of the walk I give him the whole length of it. Originally, I decided to change my tactics with Simon because I was getting nowhere otherwise. Then I visited positively.com and read that dogs typically walk faster than us slow humans and for them to learn to walk next to you can be very difficult. It’s certainly not impossible, but sometimes their walking ahead of us isn’t about dominance or over excitement. Sometimes it’s just because we walk too slow. The suggested training technique I found was to give your dog the full length of the leash and any time they walk next to you you give them a treat. This teaches them that good things happen when they stay beside you and eventually they’ll learn not to pull while staying closer. I like to also use the turnaround method if Simon starts to pull too much. Overall, I love this method for Simon because I don’t get frustrated and he has actually learned to walk calmly beside me. Also I like to use this method when I put Simon on a really long (10-15 ft.) leash. He can go out and roam (safely), but then when he comes next to me and watches me for direction he gets a treat.
Tip #9: Strap on a backpack. Lastly, a useful tool can be a doggie backpack. Backpacks are typically available at almost any pet store and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Although, the basic principle of a backpack remains the same. It goes over a dog’s back, clips around their neck and underneath their stomach, and has a pocket on each side. Originally, Simon got a backpack when he was a puppy, but still old enough to venture outside, because we had hoped it would help slow him down. Personally, to weigh the backpack down I like to use bags of rice because rice conforms better to Simon and isn’t as oddly shaped as bottles of water. Unfortunately, the backpack never quite worked out for Simon. It did help him slow down, but it never really taught him to walk without pulling as he would still pull if he wasn’t wearing it. Also, we overestimated his size when he was a puppy and now the backpack is a little too big for him. (He didn’t grow into it like we thought.) For this reason it never seems to sit quite right on him. Still, it’s a nice tool to have around when we go down the street to a nearby park and we work on training because I can pack his extra-long leash, treats, and (for hot, hot days) bottles of water and collapsible bowls.
You can probably guess what he wanted to do this past weekend.
When my family adopted Pit Bull mixes I guess I was a little naïve. I expected to feed, train, and care for two great dogs. I expected to be happy, frustrated, hurt, cuddled, kissed, splashed, stepped on, and so many other wonderful things. I expected to love and be loved so unconditionally that little else could ever compare. I was and still am right, of course. Owning a dog is an extra-ordinary experience that is full of ups and downs, leaving little to the imagination. Seriously, having to sort through dog doo-doo and not hyperventilating does wonders to your self-confidence. However, as great as having dogs has been, I have to admit having Pit Bulls has been an eye-opening experience; one that my naivety (lessened over the years by mean girls and meaner teachers) could not have adequately prepared me for.
You see, owning a dog is one thing, but owning a Pit Bull lives in a whole other dog park. You get stares and scared faces and even nasty comments. Veterinarians refuse to do exams and regular people cower as you walk by, on the other side of the street.
One incident, many months ago, was one of the nastiest I have ever encountered. While out at a local park one morning Theresa and I had stepped into a small grove of trees because Simon wanted to poop there. As Theresa made Rosee sit and wait, and I had Simon and his leash wrapped around my legs while I attempted to pick up his waste we were suddenly bombarded by a woman. Without warning this woman walked through the small grove we were in, loudly exclaiming that she just loved to walk in the shade! Um. . . except that the little shade was currently occupied by two people and two dogs that took up said space, leaving no room for her. To make matters worse this woman just pushed herself in between Theresa and myself, waving her elbows around. To say she scared not only the dogs, but us humans is to put it lightly. Rosee immediately jumped up in hopes of jumping back to put space between herself and this woman, but in such a small space to begin with there was nothing Theresa (who was holding her) could do other than to lean into the bushes with Rosee. Simon, thankfully, had wrapped his entire leash around my legs and so was forced to stand right next to me, as I with a bag full of poop in my hands scrambled to step back and out of this woman’s way. The entire episode lasted maybe twenty seconds, but is something that I will always remember with the utmost clarity, and unfortunately it did not end there.
Theresa was pretty traumatized by this woman’s actions and having to quickly shield Rosee from getting upset, so we switched dogs (I was now walking Rosee with Theresa leading Simon) and headed towards our car. However, I needed a minute to go through the many stages of anger, so we decided to sit on the grass next to our car. Next thing you know this woman starts walking towards us yelling at us that we needed to put a muzzle on our dog, spewing nothing but hatred and misconceptions at us. Rosee for her part sat on the grass with me and simply barked at the crazy woman yelling at us. Theresa, over her trauma, took Simon and walked after the woman telling her that she should be more considerate and not just ambush strangers’ dogs. This woman quickly proceeded to walk away. Needless to say, we have not been back to this particular park, not because our dogs did anything wrong, but because neither of us knows how to just let go of the bad taste this experience left in our mouths.
But parks are not the only places full of intolerance and misguided fear. A veterinarian we took Rosee to last year took one look at her, became frightened and refused to perform her physical exam, even after I put a muzzle on her. I called their bluff when they tried to make me pay for the exam, they protested that without it they couldn’t prescribe her any heartworm medication. I reminded them that it was the veterinarian that refused to touch Rosee, not Rosee’s own refusal to be touched. I got the heartworm medication.
Certainly, I make no excuses for my dogs’ behavior. I have explanations. I can tell you why Rosee gets nervous around people and dogs, and that we are diligently working on it and she is getting better. I can explain that Simon loves people, but hasn’t learned all his manners yet (he still jumps) and again, we work on it as much as possible. I can tell people that my sister Theresa and I always make sure to have complete control of our dogs when we take them out into the world, and our evidence is the fact that they have never hurt anyone or anything. They are good dogs, just like the million other good dogs (Pit Bulls or not) that exist in the world. They are not perfect. They are not terrible. They are good. Simon and Rosee don’t deserve for misguided people to heap upon their shoulders stereotypes and singular stories about dog attacks and dog fights. Simon and Rosee and all the other good Pit Bulls in the world don’t deserve to be labeled for offenses they did not commit.
I was naïve in thinking that my dogs were just dogs. They are Pit Bulls. Rosee’s face gives her away quite easily, and most people look at Simon and call him a Staffordshire Terrier, which is just a more eloquent name for Pit Bull. They get treated like Pit Bulls, sometimes for the better, most times for the worse. You know something’s wrong with the world when your dog (Pit Bull) gets attacked by another dog, yet that dog’s owners are afraid of you and yours.
In fact just two mornings ago the four of us were out on our daily walk. We stopped at a crosswalk, looked both ways, crossed the street, and were promptly greeted with a mean, snarling, barking little black dog that had just escaped from its backyard’s broken fence. This dog went for the face, biting and lunging. I pulled Rosee (who had frozen in shock) back, grabbed her collar, and pulled her through the opening between two parked cars to the other side of the street. Theresa, who had Simon, pulled him back, but with the attacking dog still pushing forward into Simon’s face space she too had to drag him across the street. Finally, did the owner come out and grab his dog. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Simon and Rosee did not get bit and a car didn’t hit us on our haste to get away. Unfortunately, we didn’t even get a sorry. No admission that his dog did something wrong. Nope. Nada. Zilch. Goose egg. Nothing. All we were left with was upheaval, fear, and anger.
Now, as you may know (whether from personal experience or other stories from me) these experiences and their following feelings are nothing new. I didn’t scream at the world. I didn’t cry at the injustice. I didn’t stomp my foot. I gathered my wits, my dogs, my sister, and moved on. But I have to tell you, I’m tired. I’m tired of dealing with other people’s stereotypical beliefs, of not being told “sorry” after attacks, of simply not having my dogs treated like dogs. Let’s face it, I’m tired of writing stories headlined “Guess who attacked us this month?”! The world can be a wonderful place, full of happy people and nice dogs. I’d rather write stories about that, but I have Pit Bulls. I bring my Pit Bulls out into the world. I walk them, I take them to parks, and I bring them around people. Doing such activities brings the stereotypes, misconceptions, scared stares, and nasty words.
Bright side? When the dog attacked us that morning Rosee and Simon did nothing. They just stood there. They let Theresa and I pull them away. They continued with their walk. In that one moment of time they were perfect. That moment, whether anyone else saw it or not, is enough to let me know that every mean word, every bad rap about Pit Bulls simply isn’t true.
Rosee has a best friend. No, it’s not Simon. He’s more her partner in crime, her devoted little follower, her antagonist at times even. Rosee’s best friend, on the other hand, is our neighbor’s dog, a Pit Bull that shall henceforth be known as Sunny. Now, Sunny is sort of an enigma of a dog. She’s been around for about the past eight years, adopted when she was just a puppy. She’s also had the run of the backyard for that same number of years, being the only dog in the neighborhood of backyards that includes four landlocked together. However, it was just over three years ago that Simon launched an invasion on the backyards when he became a part of my family. Simon’s entrance was soon followed by other neighboring dogs, a Pit Bull and an older Great Dane . It was around this same time that Rosee became a permanent fixture in my backyard as well, firmly taking control of guarding her fence (for better or worse). All of a sudden, Sunny was bombarded on all sides with dogs, dogs, and more dogs. No longer was she alone to wallow in her backyard, but she was surrounded with new best friends.
It became clear when Simon was a puppy that poor Sunny did not get much socialization with other dogs. When she found Simon outside Sunny would immediately rush the fence and start huffing and running. While never outwardly mean, her behavior was slightly aggressive, though to be fair Simon thought it was all in good fun and would run back and forth along the fence practically smiling as he did it. Overall, Sunny’s reaction to Simon was never that worrisome because Simon didn’t know any better and Sunny’s owners always made sure to call her back to them when she became too much. However, it became clear as more dogs joined the “Backyard Crew” that Sunny’s reaction to other dogs had the potential to be quite dangerous. It turns out that most dogs do not react to slightly aggressive dogs like Simon does. In fact other dogs, including Rosee, and the two other neighbor dogs, get rather upset when another dog acts the way Sunny does, thereby reciprocating with similar gestures. It all starts with some huffing and running to catch glimpses of each other through the fence. Then a staring contest to see who will break first. An ear-piercing war cry is launched (seriously I never knew Pit Bulls could be so high-pitched until getting one of my own and getting to know the neighbors’) and finally comes the jumping at the fence and barking. The fence shakes and the whole episode sounds vicious. The first time it happened I actually thought that Rosee and Sunny had gotten a hold of each other, but fortunately the decade-old fence held up. Simply put, Sunny was not a fan of the new dogs encroaching on her territory. Also clear, as much as Sunny liked to tussle with all four neighbor dogs, Rosee was her favorite. In the beginning Sunny and Rosee would fight at the fence up to three times a day. It was summer and both dogs would go inside and outside as they pleased, which meant more often than not they ended up outside in their respective backyards at the same time, spelling loud, loud trouble for the rest of us. Rosee and Sunny were perfectly matched. The same size, same height, same build, both females, and both terribly territorial. It was this sameness though, this commonality that ended up sparking the fights at the fence between Rosee and Sunny because, come to find out, they were (and still are in some ways) both anxious and nervous dogs that had no real socialization with other dogs during that crucial time growing up. That’s it. They weren’t inherently aggressive dogs. They weren’t stereotypical Pit Bulls. They were just un-socialized.
Such a simple concept really, socialization. The process of learning how to behave with others by participating in social situations. The shaping of behavior to fit social norms. Socialization. Easy, not so much.
Dogs usually get practice at socializing as puppies, interacting with their mothers and siblings. After that, socialization can come in many forms, including meeting other dogs, people, animals, being trained, and just basically being introduced to the world in interactive ways. Now, Simon’s socialization was easier to help because we adopted him as a puppy. Unfortunately, before we adopted Rosee she basically spent the first nine months of her life in a kennel and the few times she was around other dogs she ended up getting bit. It wasn’t until my family brought Rosee home that we saw exactly what the lack of socialization early on in life meant for a dog. Rosee hated dogs walking past the front door and window. She couldn’t stand anyone making any sort of eye contact with her. She would bark incessantly if she heard the neighbors’ voices when she was out in the backyard. Any time she saw a dog while out on a walk she would just go nuts by barking, whining, and jumping up. It wasn’t until consulting a trainer that my family realized she wasn’t doing these behaviors because she’s aggressive. She’s doing it because she’s scared, anxious, and nervous. Talk about mind blown. Even more out of this world was recognizing these nervous and anxious behaviors in Sunny. So, how did recognizing Rosee and Sunny’s actual problems come to be useful to diffusing the numerous fence fights? Well, by knowing the reasons behind Rosee’s actions Theresa and I were able to tailor training so that Rosee began associating good thoughts with the fence. For the past year and a half Rosee has been subjected to an obscene amount of treats for any good behavior she displayed while at the fence. When she didn’t bark just because she heard the neighbors’ voices she got a treat. When Sunny was in the backyard, but Rosee didn’t notice she got a treat. When Rosee wandered to the fence, but then turned away she got a treat. Basically, anytime Rosee did not concern herself with what the neighbors (the human and the canine variety) were doing she got treats. Lo and behold, it actually worked!
The tussles at the fence have gone down dramatically, and not just in number, but also in intensity. Now, Sunny and Rosee spend more time staring at each other rather than jumping at the fence. Instead of seconds lasting between the staring and the war cry, there are minutes stretching between the two. When I do hear Rosee at the fence with Sunny I can just walk outside and call her away, and she responds! The fact is Rosee has learned, and still is learning, that she doesn’t need to guard the backyard fence, that the neighbors’ dogs don’t need to be barked at (same goes with their humans), and that she can actually be friends with Sunny. This everlasting experience of dealing with non-socialized dogs, both directly and indirectly, made me realize that barking dogs do not always equal aggressive. Jumping dogs do not always equal aggressive. Howling dogs do not always equal aggressive. Yes, if teeth are being bared, jaws snapped, legs running up and attacking, those are pretty clear signs of aggression. However, barking at the fence, jumping up and down, and war cries may have deeper meanings. Both Rosee and Sunny were simply dogs that did not get enough socialization as youngsters, and it had big implications for their behavior towards each other. And this isn’t just a call for ensuring people socialize their dogs, but also a spotlight on why it’s important to listen to dogs when they talk. Sometimes they are just saying hello, other times to stay away, and once in a while they are letting other people and animals know that they just don’t know how to interact with them. In Sunny and Rosee’s case they had to learn to be okay around each other, which also meant learning to be okay with others as well. It may have been a long, frustrating year and a half, but I have to say I am definitely looking forward to summer this year. Want to know why?
I came home this past Friday afternoon only to have my mother tell me that earlier when she was out in the backyard with Simon and Rosee, the two found each other at the fence, stared, sniffed, and moved on. Rosee walked away to go lay in the sun on the grass and Sunny did the same in her own backyard as well. Now, that is a delightful best friend moment.
It’s finally here. The second part of my compilation of tips on loose leash walking.So, here is Part 2, which focuses on three main methods I’ve learned and used with Simon and Rosee.
In general, I know that the command “heel” is the common way to teach a dog to not pull and walk beside their person on a leash. However, I am not exactly a fan of “heel” because I feel that it’s not a permanent solution. (That didn’t make much sense did it?) What I mean by this is that with any command there must be a release from said command at some point, and when walking my dog I want their behavior to be more natural and to not have to rely on a command. Don’t get me wrong, I did use “heel” at first with Simon when he was a puppy, but frankly it was frustrating to have to continually tell him to “heel” when we went on a walk. We have since tried other methods.
Before I start though, I have a confession to make: I am not strict when it comes to making my dog walk right beside me, at least when it comes to Simon. Let me qualify that. With Rosee I have come to learn that it’s important to keep her close to me and not let her walk ahead due to her anxiety and fear issues. By keeping her close I’m more aware of when she starts to become upset and stop it before it happens. However, with Simon I don’t always make him walk right beside me. Of course, when we cross a street, or walk by a person, or if we go in a store or something similar I make him stay next to me. Otherwise, I don’t. I give him the full length of his leash. I do this with him because his issue is impulse control. I’ve found that the shorter I keep his leash and the closer I keep him to me when we begin our walks then the more agitated he becomes, and therefore, the more likely he is to pull. This doesn’t mean that he can’t and hasn’t learned to walk beside me because he definitely has, but it has caused me to take a different training approach with him as well as a lot of patience. My point here is that every dog is different and sometimes it takes the use of a different technique to teach your dog what you want them to do.
Once again I give you my disclaimer: The tips I will present, explain, and discuss throughout this series of posts are ones that I’ve gathered from training books I’ve read, training classes I’ve attended with Simon and Rosee, and from trainers I’ve talked to. I want to be clear that I am not a dog trainer in any way, shape or form, and my knowledge of dog training comes from the aforementioned sources while training my own dogs. I can assure you however, that all these tips have been tried and tested by everyone here at Play Hard, Bark Often.
Tip #3: Walk around a more neutral space. If your dog pulls a lot and you are a person that gets easily frustrated, it can be best to begin your walking journey by walking around a more neutral space. What I mean here by “neutral space” is a space that is comfortable for you and one where you are less likely to become frustrated while working with your dog. Personally, when I started out teaching Simon and Rosee how to walk loosely on a leash my neutral space was my immediate neighborhood, and a nearby park where we could walk the perimeter over and over. My immediate neighborhood was neutral because I was still close to home and didn’t have to walk Simon or Rosee very far while they were still learning not to pull, and for some reason it gave me peace of mind to know that if I wanted the training session to end we were only minutes away from home. A park was also neutral for me because it was repetitive, not too far away from home, and giving Simon and Rosee something to sniff helped to slow them down some. I always felt overwhelmed when I tried taking either Simon or Rosee out on a longer walking route when I was first trying to train them to walk beside me and not pull. Just the idea that I had several blocks until we finally got home or had twenty minutes left of a forty-five minute walk was excruciating to me when they were still working on not pulling. Frankly, my patience levels were not that high, and so I decided that to avoid becoming frustrated (because that didn’t help anyone) I needed to change my approach. Walking your dog should be an enjoyable experience. In my opinion, it’s a good way for both humans and animals to receive their daily exercise. However, in order to achieve a good walking partner some training must be done. So, if you’re trying to teach your dog how to walk loosely on a leash and beside you it helps to think of it as a training exercise in the beginning. Start out with small, but concentrated efforts and work your way up from there. Remember it’s a (learning) process, not a race.
Tips #4: Whenever your dog pulls turn around and walk the other way. The “turnaround method” is one of my favorite methods to employ when dealing with leash pullers, and it’s actually one of the most recent ones I’ve learned as well. I learned this method about a year ago when Monica and me took Rosee to a refresher training class. It’s pretty simple, and I like it because it makes me feel like I’m able to address the problem of leash pulling right when it occurs. The “turnaround method” goes as follows: as you’re walking and your dog starts to pull, stop, say “No, your dog’s name,” and walk a few steps backward while your dog turns around and follows you, then start to walk forward again and give your dog a treat/praise when they walk next to you. Some dogs might not need a treat when you begin to walk forward again, and instead be like Simon in which his treat is walking forward again. Now, if your dog pulls a lot it’s probably going to take quite a few turnarounds before they start to walk next to you for a more extended period of time. But don’t give up because this method can work if you’re consistent in using it. I found that this method has really helped Simon learn not to pull on the leash and walk beside me, and he is a dog that I thought nothing would ever help him learn to do that. Using this method with him also helps me not get so frustrated with him too since, like I said, I feel that I can correct his behavior right when it happens.
Tip #5: Take a break. Sometimes there are times when your dog decides to pull non-stop or they might see another dog, garbage truck, or whatever excites them and pull. It’s during these moments that having them focus on you is difficult and it can feel that no matter what you do they just won’t listen. At times like this the best thing I’ve found to do is to stop and take a break. I stop and make my dog sit next to me and simply wait for them to calm down. This can take some time, especially if whatever your dog saw really excites them. For instance, if I’m walking Simon and we pass by a park where a dog is off leash (even though all our parks have signs that say dogs must be on a leash, but I digress) and running around, Simon can, at times, become extremely excited, and pull on the leash. In instances like this it can be hard to get him to pay attention to me, which is necessary if I want him to walk next to me without pulling. Instead of fighting with him, it’s much easier to stop make him sit down and wait for him to relax. I also have treats so that when he makes eye contact with me I give him one, which helps encourage him to learn to pay attention to me more so than anything else. It’s not that I don’t want him to look at anything else going on, but I want to be the main source of his attention. Mostly I like this method as it allows me to remain calm and not become frustrated, while it teaches Simon that he should remain calm in times when he would normally become excited. Think of it as a way to desensitize your dog to exciting or agitating situations. Now, I have to admit that I actually picked this tip up from Leslie McDevitt’s book Control Unleashed in her chapter on how to deal with reactive dogs. This was a method I first began using with Rosee to help her get used to seeing other dogs while we were at parks and such, and not become so anxious. Honestly, I have to say this is one of the best methods I learned and has worked wonderfully for Rosee. As I came to work with Simon though, I found it to be very helpful in those few moments he became overly excited and wouldn’t pay attention to me whatsoever. Not only does he pay attention to me more, he also doesn’t become as excited anymore.