Enjoyable Walks: More Than Just Dog Training – a Holistic Approach
This is the story of a new client I went to the other day with two three-year-old re-homed German Shepherds: Princess and Duke. I was called because walks are a nightmare for the whole family, the lady in particular.
First a bit of background.
The five family members are very conscientious dog owners. The dogs are fed raw food which the lady has thoroughly researched. They have been taught many training tricks and much time is lavished on them.
The last of Princess’ eight puppies went to a carefully checked home a couple of weeks ago and now she has been spayed.
Both Duke (the puppies’ father, above left ) and Princess (right) had a far from ideal start in life. Duke was left in a barn and not taken anywhere to meet people, dogs and the outside world until he was five months old, which left a big gap in his vital socialization. Princess had been left all by herself for hours on end and was beaten for destroying things.
The family have made huge headway with both dogs. Unsurprisingly, their main hurdle is socialization along with reactivity to other dogs when out, particularly Duke.
Despite their efforts, they have been missing the vital ingredient to real success – positive reinforcement, particularly food.
Although their sole aim in asking for my help is to be able to enjoy walks, this is where I take a holistic approach. Enjoyable walks are about much more than ‘dog training’.
The relationship with the person is particularly important when a dog is ‘trapped’ on a leash. Firstly and most importantly, the dog needs to trust the person to whom he is physically tied – trust them to protect him and themselves and also to make the decisions. Secondly, the dog needs to find the person relevant so that they can obtain and hold the dog’s attention.
When off leash, this also involves coming straight away when called rather than putting the owner somewhere way down on his or her list of priorities!
But how can the dog to trust the person holding the leash if that person is not confident? The lady’s anxiety is also a big factor in this case.
Ever since Prince was attacked by another dog a year or so ago when out with the lady, she panics whenever they see another dog. She admits that her reactions are part of the problem. She insists on muzzling both dogs although neither has ever bitten anyone nor actually attacked another dog.
Even discussing the situation with her made the poor lady tense up.
The business of decision-making, trust in the person on the end of the leash and their being ‘relevant’ in order to get and hold a dog’s attention begins at home. If these things are not in place within the safe and distraction-free home environment, how can they apply out in the big world when faced with potential threats?
This is why a holistic approach works best. The process isn’t simply just about walks and other dogs.
Princess and Duke will be learning to respond to a whistle which will be thoroughly ‘charged’ at home – using food. They will learn to do their usual training tricks for one quiet request rather than repeated loud commands in order to teach them to really listen – and, again, they will be rewarded with food. The dogs will learn to give their owners eye contact and hold it upon request, they will learn to come immediately when called at home and they will learn that, although they are the alarm system, their owners are ultimately in charge of protection duty.
Building up an association between favorite food and other dogs will be part of the solution. Perhaps the lady would like to take a bag of her favorite sweets out on walks also and pop one into her own mouth to build up a similar association!
This all takes time of course, but with these basics in place and calm loose leash walking established, these dogs should eventually be in a very different state of mind when meeting other dogs than they are now – as should their lady owner.