Walking is one of the most enjoyable and relaxing things we can do as humans. It's flat-out good for us.
When you add the company of a dog it becomes a bonding experience. But the properties of the walk should be the same with your dog as they are when you walk alone. It should be good for you. It should be enjoyable. It should be relaxing.
Unfortunately, millions of dog owners walk out the door prepared for battle and effectively sabotage their walk before they even get out the door.
One such person lives in my neighborhood. For the sake of this blog post, we'll call her "Fanny".
When Fanny goes out to walk with her dog(s), she prepares by doing the following:
1) Strapping on a Fanny-Pack
2) Attaching a can of mace
3) Putting a pinch collar on her dog
#1 is just old skool and I give Fanny props for having the "I don't care" attitude that comes with donning a fanny-pack in the 21st Century. Mad props.
#2 However, sends a message to humans around you that you are ready for battle. "Relaxation is not an option, I'm alert, I'm not a victim, and I'm ready for battle, and my can of mace proves it!"
#3 Also sends a message to humans around you. The message is, "I am not the tool that controls or influences my dog - the pinch collar is. If anything gets out of hand I'll use brute force to try to control my dog."
On top of this, I've observed Fanny walking around the neighborhood and her dog(s) go bananas at the sight of other dogs. If another dog approaches - even one that Fanny and her pack (the Fanny Pack...get it?) are familiar with, Fanny tightens up the leash and leaves it tight. Fanny's pooches often show anxiety in these situations.
A few opinions I'll share:
1) Mace = fear. That human fear runs through the leash to your dog. Get rid of the mace.
2) Tight leash = tension/fear. The only time the leash should be tight is for the moment that you correct your dogs unwanted behavior. After the correction, return to relaxation. Remember, calm-assertive = leadership.
3) Pinch collar + tension = prolonged pain. If you tense up and stay tensed up when your dog has a pinch collar on, you are subjecting her to prolonged pain. If this prolonged pain is experienced every time you encounter another dog/pack, then your dog has learned from YOU that the sight of other dogs = pain.
Some quick Q & A:
Q: Does Fanny leave the house sending the message that she's going to experience one of life's greatest and most beneficial pleasures?
A: No. Fanny leaves the house ready for battle. She sends this message to humans as well as dogs.
Q: Why do Fanny's dogs experience anxiety at the sight of other dogs?
A: This is a learned behavior. Dogs are pack animals and are naturally curious about other dogs and evaluate their stability by sniffing the backside of members of other packs. Any anxiety that a dog displays is learned from humans.
Q: Wait - you said dogs experience anxiety because of humans?
A: That's right! Dogs that do not have stable pack leaders with calm-assertive demeanors will undoubtedly experience anxiety. If are an unstable pack leader and you go for 30 minute walks every day then you have essentially subjected your dog to 30 minutes of anxiety EVERY DAY! Prolonged anxiety can cause health problems. These are the kinds of health problems that can be treated - but often, the source or reason can't be traced. Be calm, be assertive, be a pack-leader - then you can eliminate the possibility of stress-related illnesses with your pet (and probably yourself too).
Q: OK - so how does a human make the dog experience anxiety?
A: By constantly walking with a tight leash. By avoiding other dogs. By tensing up when other dogs approach. By stopping a leashed dog in the middle of a pack of unleashed dogs. You see, dogs read our body language. If there is tension coming from the other end of the leash then the dog senses that you are afraid of something and that they need to protect. Humans pack leaders are supposed to be relaxed. Dogs are supposed to embrace the sight of other dogs.
Q: How can we stop this madness?
A1: When your dog misbehaves on a walk, correct the dog and immediately relax.
A2: When another dog approaches, stay relaxed - tensing up tells your dog that you feel the need for protection.
A3: YOU become the tool for influencing your dog! Leave the pinch collar at home and use calm-assertive energy to lead your friend through the neighborhood.
A4: If you approach a pack of dogs that are playing (nicely) in an open area and one or more approach to greet, remain calm, keep the leash loose, and keep walking. Tension is the enemy as is stopping. If this happens on a regular basis with the same group of dogs without incident - you can be assured that the pack thinks of you AND your dog as members of the pack.
Get out there, relax, and walk proudly and confidently with your dog and things should go just fine! You are a pack leader when calm-assertive energy is the only
aka "The Mutt Mentor"
Last night a neighbor and good friend approached me about working with their dog, Oscar. I've got a long history with Oscar that dates back to 2006 when I first moved to downtown SJ. I'd been assertive with him in the past when he'd snapped at other dogs. The caveat is that my assertiveness stemmed from anger and frustration. Fast forward to today where my assertiveness is fueled by calmness, confidence, and visualization of desired outcomes.
So, a date was set to do something more formal with Oscar. My plan was to use the power of the pack to overwhelm him - Dog park it is! Oscar's mom had some reservations. All of which seemed perfectly justified in her mind. They were objections that I did not really want to challenge, so I just asked questions to probe deeper. (Back to that later if there's time.)
So after a bit of coercion, mom surrendered to my suggestion and we hopped in my car to go to the dog park. When we got there it was, "oh my God - there's a lot of big dogs and they're running around fast and playing hard". She almost had me convinced that it was a bad idea. But my plan wasn't to bring him into that environment unless I thought he was ready, I was ready, and the other dogs were ready. I also wouldn't bring him in there if any one of us had that fear. So, I went ahead as planned.
First I brought Ginger in to the park - methodically - and let her go about her business with the other dogs. Mom wanted to take Oscar to the small dog park, but instead I encouraged her to give me a minute to come back out and walk him along the fence where the big dogs were at. Oscar and I did this for a bit. When the opportunity presented itself, I forced - yes forced - Oscar to turn his back and allow dogs on the other side of the fence to sniff his backside. Mom has some objections to this. I don't know that I have a full understanding of the objections, but my hunch so far is twofold:
- she appears to not want to make him do anything that he doesn't want to do
- she appears to apply human/child psychology to dogs
I could be wrong, or not have covered everything - so I'm open to other people's hunches here if anyone wants to comment. Either way, I wanted mom and Oscar to both be out of their comfort zones so that fears could be faced. :-)
With that, I was confident that my logic was sound and that any anxiety that Oscar felt would be VERY short lived. I wasn't going to subject him to another dog's nose forever -they were on the other side of the fence - so there was no danger. I also needed him to trust me - to trust that I wasn't going to allow anything bad to happen to him.
So, up and down the fence we went. Then came the point where I asked mom to, "go for a walk". Oscar was WAY focused on where mom was and I needed him to be out of his element, out of his comfort zone, and 100% focused on me. She reluctantly parted and Oscar was soon 100% reliant on my energy and on my whereabouts and where I was going to lead him next.
We opened the gate, went into the corral area, and hung out in there for a few seconds. Oscar seemed ok. There weren't any dogs crowding around the gate either. I asked some people nearby if their dogs were friendly and if anyone had a problem if I left the gate open so that I could scoot back in. No issues. We marched in, on leash, and walked about 15 or 20 feet into the park, then did a 180 and went back into the corral. Success! Next was a full perimeter walk inside the park. Ginger came to greet us and walked around next to us. It was perfect. Oscar was great. A few dogs came up, but none spent too much time or took too many liberties, so things went great. I could see mom across the street so I yelled and waved to her to come back. En route, one of the small dogs in there - who appeared to be the dominant one, came by and harassed Oscar a bit - Oscar handled it well, I gestured for the dog to give us space. But Ginger actually INSISTED that the dog give us space. She threw herself in between Oscar and the other dog and when the little guy advanced, she hugged him! It was awesome. Neither one of them did anything aggressive. They just waited it out. I gently grabbed Ginger's collar, then all parties involved were walking alongside one another like nothing had happened and went back to playing.
We spent quite a bit more time just breezing past other dogs and moving around in the park. The presence of Oscar's owner sometimes seemed to provide comfort and at other times seemed to cause anxiety. My net take away is that he is eager to be led and willing to follow. I also feel like many of the barriers that surround him are of human creation based on past experiences rather than the environment that is here/there right now - in this moment. His long term success is going to be dependent on his owners adopting a "live-in'the-now" mindset and a leadership mindset. If they're reading this - I'll remind them about how much Oscar loves swimming in the lake! Would he have found that out if he wasn't lead (forced) into the lake by a human that he could trust? :-)
This past weekend I worked with a dog named Jeremy. Jeremy is a herding dog whose instincts sometime overwhelm him. Particularly when a bicycle, skateboard, or scooter whizzes by.
I decided to help Jeremy by using a 4-pronged approach.
1. Discipline - correct unwanted gestures toward bikes, scooters, skateboards
2. Affection - change is association with the object so that he sees it as a source of affection
3. Exercise - change his association with the object so that he sees it as a source of exercise
4. Reward - change his association with the object so that he sees it as a source of reward/praise
The video above shows how things went. My apologies for the initial skateboard exercise as I didn't have the camera angle just right.
I was at the dog park the other day and observed a gentleman who was there with his 4 herding dogs. His approach to the park gates with the dogs (or rather their approach to the park without him) is less than desirable - but that's a whole different issue. Anyway, one of his dogs was being a bit dominant - not horrible - but it looked like he was maybe trying to stir something up.
The owner, with good intentions, sat the dog down, cradled his head in his hands, and his puppy-wuppy-lovey-dovey voice said, "nyooo thyat's not good....byaad dog". I nearly vomited in my mouth. If that's a "correction" then these dogs can obviously get away with murder.
With that, dogs understand tone and body language. Our hero's tone said, "I love you and you're a wonderful dog". The body language was gentle and nurturing. In essence, this dog owner was rewarding bad behavior.
You must understand that dogs do not understand consequences - so taking something away, or putting them on time out is nearly as useless as the nurturing speech and body language.
To correct your dog effectively. Remain calm. Speak assertively. Use meaningful touch (not hitting). Your dog is looking for a stable leader to clearly lay out the rules for him. A nurturing tone, an angry tone, or a frustrated tone are ineffective ways to attract followers.
Have you ever seen a CEO who talked baby talk, went berserk on employees or the media, or stomped her feet when something didn't go her way?
No more cutesy talk with your dog, no more picking her up off the ground when she's being anti-social, and no more time-outs!
From now on it's immediate, deliberate, clearly communicated, and meaningful corrections presented in the inter-species language of "NO"!
Took G to the dog park again today. Shortly after arrival the enormous dude with 3 herding dogs showed up and let his dogs run crazy right after opening the car door. Of course, being that they're a "pack" of dogs, they immediately made a point of chasing down and nipping some small dogs on the way into the small dog park and creating quite a scene.
Now, I'd warned this gentleman on Monday after his dogs came in to the park in an excited state, barking, growling, etc and immediately nipped Porter on their way in the park. To see them do the same thing today before they even got in the park was infuriating.
I don't blame the dogs...I blame the owner. INTRODUCE YOUR DOG(S) TO ANOTHER PACK ***ONLY*** WHEN THEY ARE CALM AND SUBMISSIVE!!!!
Now that this guy has had 2 warnings from me in 3 days, I'm tempted to let Ginger be the one to greet his dogs at the door and send the message that aggression/dominant behavior won't be tolerated.
With that, there was a pretty sweet yellow lab type of dog that came into the park and tried to get up/on a few other dogs in the park. The other dogs were tolerant - but obviously, not entirely thrilled about the gesture of this lab. This pooch started to get the impression that he could get away with pretty much whatever he wanted because he was not corrected assertively. Things started to escalate and I picked up on it just in time. I did my best Dog Whisperer impression and demanded the attention of the offending pooch. He immediately went down on his side, rolled over on his back, and submitted to me - with just verbal commands. It was really really something. I felt fantastic, the owner of the offending pooch thanked me, as did the one who was being violated. When I verbally released him, he went off to play. His owner was worried as he approached other dogs right away. I walked up to her and said that I thought she wouldn't need to worry for the rest of the day. He appeared to be quite happy to know that he was equal to the other dogs and didn't have to prove anything - and that he respected the notion that there was a human in the park who was the pack leader. Sure enough, not another attempt at dominating other dogs during the rest of the visit! Happy Days!
To finish off the day, I was walking back from the Old Wagon Saloon with Ginger when we passed a lady and her dog (whom I'd never met). The lady was on the phone and seemed to almost immediately panic as Ginger and I walked up. She got off the phone, I turned Ginger so her back was to the other dog. I invited them to approach. Her dog did the proper thing and sniffed. We forced the situation and allowed Ginger to return the gesture, then walked together for a city block. I was told that they'd been going to classes for quite some time and had not made the kind of progress that had just happened in the last 3 minutes. I was asked if I was the "Dog Whisperer"...I said, "Kinda", in my best "yeah, I wish" kind of voice, gave her a card, and headed back home on top of the world.
I'm so passionate about this endeavor and can't wait to help others achieve the "a-ha" moment that this person had after just 3 minutes. What a night!
Here's an example of 2 dogs NOT fighting at the dog park. The one with the harness is 5-month old Porter. The boxer is 3 year old Ginger. Notice the following:
* Heads bowed low
* Ears Back
* Lack of determined dominance/aggression
* Curled bodies
* They're just playin!
On Sunday, my neighbors and I planned a trip to SF to take the dogs to Ft Funston. Ft Funston is a 200+ acre beach front off-leash dog heaven!
When we arrived the lot(s) were filled with cars and the walk down to the beach was full of dogs! Each one happier than the next to greet passersby. Suffice to say, the pups all had a great time!
Today I went to the dog park in Santa Clara located at Reed & Lafayette. Prior to entering the park with Ginger I set a goal of being perceived as the pack leader, not just by Ginger, but by all of the dogs in the park.
A lofty goal, but I figured I could start with Ginger and work my way up - I decided to start my mission while I was still in the car. My plan was as follows:
1) Get Ginger into a calm-submissive state before moving on the next step in our quest to ultimately grant her freedom
2) Establish Ginger as a member of the pack by walking through the park on-leash with others following and investigating
3) Release Ginger when she has submitted to the environment
4) Correct any unwanted behavior from any dog anywhere in the park
Here's how it went!
Got out of the car, went to the door to let Ginger out, and commanded her to stay in the car even though the door was open. She did, so I invited her out of the car.
We approached the gate to the park. We made forward progress on my terms. She was excited, but I made her sit and calm down about 3 times during the short walk to the gate. Other dogs were coming out of the park, so I made Ginger wait patiently - even though the door was open - for the other dogs to exit.
I made sure to pass through the gate first and made sure that Ginger passed through when I said it was ok (only after she'd displayed a calm-submissive behavior).
When we went in, I kept her on leash and immediately started walking. She was anxious and pulling. I maintained my status as the leader and reeled her in quickly, corrected the pulling, and kept making forward progress by walking around the perimeter of the park. Other dogs followed, naturally, and expressed curiosity by smelling as we walked. Ginger and I just kept walking...no stopping...until Ginger lost interest in the other dogs and the park itself and focused only on walking with me.
We walked, as a pack, with another dog who was skiddish about other dogs after we facilitated the nose-to-butt safe greeting ritual. This put that dog at ease and put Ginger at ease - knowing that they had pack-mates. The other owners were SUPER pleased about how quickly their pooch warmed up to Ginger.
By this point, Ginger was calm and submissive - so I removed her leash. Play time!
A few other dogs expressed some fear when others surrounded to sniff and investigate. I did my Cesar Millan "shhhttt" sound and commanded the attention of the curious pups - and definitely helped avoid a situation when one dog just started to show his teeth at one of the other dogs. The sound was coupled with an assertive touch. The other dogs backed away, the snarly dog looked relieved, and re-entered the group where they all played happily for several minutes without incident.
Did I succeed in becoming the pack leader of the entire park? Not sure - but it was fun to try and I had some fantastic conversations with other dog owners while I was in the park.
Did I succeed in preparing Ginger for a successful visit to the park? Without question! Every step of the way the message that she got was that I was in control, that there were rules and boundaries that she had to play by, and that I would enforce them for her and other dogs. She had also completely surrendered to the environment before she was allowed to co-mingle.
The key take-aways are:
1) Calm-submissive state
2) Establish the dog as a member of the pack - just not as the pack leader...that should be a human
3) Do not stop a new dog in the middle of a pack or you're asking for fear to set in...that triggers "flight or fight" response, and if the dog is surrounded or has stopped and is still on a leash, the only option is aggression (fight). Movement means flight (his preferred response) is a possibility to your dog and it also represents moving as a pack which is comforting to the dog.
4) Correct ANY unwanted behavior...including fear! Fear is the precursor to aggression. If a human doesn't correct it, the pack will...and they will do so on THEIR terms.
I encourage you to give this a try yourself - you'll feel empowered, your dog will be happy and will remain conscious of your presence in the park throughout the duration of your visit!
All the best!
Hey gang - a story problem for you:
Dog A and and Owner A (DA & OA from here) are playing in the park off leash with several other dogs and their owners. All are getting along swimmingly. The pack is happy and stable. DA is the oldest of the pack, has raised a litter of puppies, and is the dominant member of the 4-legged pack.
Dog B and Owner B (DB and OB from here) enter the environment with DB on leash and stop to socialize.
DA is a 60-lb pooch.
DB is a 7-lb pooch.
The 4 established pack members approach DB to greet him by bowing their heads and attempting to sniff DB's backside.
After a few seconds, DB raises his lip, bears his teeth, and then quickly follows with a warning snap directed at DA.
DA retaliates vocally and physically by pinning DB.
OA grabs DA from behind, and in an instant, DA releases, retreats, and it's over. OA corrects DA and they are subsequently at approximately Level-2 intensity.
Meanwhile, OB has picked up DB, and begins to berate OA at approximately Level-8 and quickly walks away - still chastising OA in front of the other pack members and their stable owners. OA is deflated and embarrassed. OA pursues OB to verify that DB is unharmed. OB states that DA is an aggressive dog, should never be off leash, that DA attacked DB, and that it's not a fair "fight" because DB is only 7-lbs.
1) How would you characterize the demeanor of DA and DB?
2) What, in your opinion, was the trigger point?
3) What could have been done to avoid this - or more specifically, what is the desired behavior from: OA, OB, DA, DB?
Just like our human relationships, the problems we experience with our dogs can usually be attributed to a misunderstanding or miscommunication. The premise behind the popular book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", by John Gray, Ph.D. is that men and women speak different languages.
Similarly, dogs and people speak different languages. Perhaps humans are from Earth, and dogs are from Pluto?
Unfortunately, you and your dog cannot sit down at the dinner table or lie together on the couch and express your feelings and perhaps even apologize. You, the human, are left with the entire burden of both interpreting your dog's foreign language and trying to deliver instructions in something other than your native tongue!
So - what to do? Ask yourself, "What conversation am I having with my dog when Problem X arises?"
For example - if your dog is pulling on the leash while you walk, look at the mechanics and positioning of you and your dog. Now put yourself in the dog's shoes. Does your dog think, "my pack leader is taking me for a walk", "I'm taking my human for a walk", or "OMG! I see and smell everything! It's total chaos...every man for himself"?
If you come to the conclusion that it's one of the latter two - you should feel good about yourself. After all, you now have a deeper understanding of your partner. :-)
One technique that can help you change the conversation is to re-trace your "go for a walk" ritual from the moment you decide you're going to venture out of the house. At what point does the situation transition from, "I'm calmly laying down on my dog-bed with the TV on in the background" to "it's party time, come on - let's go crazy!"?
Once you've identified that point - modify your demeanor so that the conversation you're having with your dog is, "I'm taking YOU for a walk. It will be a peaceful journey in which you will follow MY lead".
With walking in particular, forward progress should be made with you: physically out front, relaxed and confident, and acting purposefully (short potty break, bonding experience, fitness walk, etc).
When you blurt out in your cutesy-tootsy voice, "come on puppy, mommy's gonna take her little pumpkin out for a walk" - are you communicating relaxation, confidence, or purpose? Are you inviting insanity?
When the dog starts getting excited before you put the leash on, are you continuing the "go for a walk" routine - or do you stop there and wait for the dog to be calm before progressing? Excitement is fine at play time or when it's invited by you - be sure you're not unintentionally inviting excitement at walk time.
For other behavior issues, apply the same process: What is the conversation? How might the dog be interpreting the situation? When does the miscommunication start? What universal language gestures do I need to use to display my relaxed and confident demeanor? What universal language gestures do I need to use to clearly communicate what I want from my dog?