Frantic Pulling. Nightmare. No Walks Now.

Hector’s frantic pulling on walks seemed hard to imagine when meeting him in the house.

He’s a sweet and sensitive dog, apart from what they say is excessive jumping up at people who come to the house. He wasn’t too bad with me because I kept him calm. 

It’s unfair.

Staffie frantic pulling on walksPeople come into the house and get the friendly dog highly aroused with excitable fuss. Then, when he can no longer control himself, he’s scolded.

Hector’s lack of self-control both when people come into the house and the frantic pulling on walks are due to much the same things. Over-arousal and I, believe, some anxiety too. As he now gets no exercise he must have an excess of energy and no outlet for other stresses.

If the visiting people can be persuaded to act differently, so will Hector.

No more walks due to frantic pulling

The main problem with Hector’s life is walks – or lack of walks.

His walks had become a total nightmare, both for Hector and for his humans. To try to stop the frantic pulling they use a Halti. Between straining, frantic pulling, panting and gasping, he desperately tries to scrape the thing off on the ground.

They used to walk him on the same circuit. He shot out of the front door and the frantic pulling began. Then he pulled all the way, like he was on a mission, until they got back home again. He would not stop even once for a sniff.

The man who did most of the walking, became increasingly frustrated and angry.

Walks had become a battle.

One can imagine how Hector might react if he spied another dog! Added to lunging he would rear up on his back legs, making a choking sound. The man would struggle to hold him.

Going back to the beginning.

Because Hector doesn’t get walks anyway, they can strip things back to the beginning. He has nothing to lose.

Even standing at the open front door will be a bonus.

Walks will be broken down into small stages. They will keep working on each little step until it is mastered before going on to the next.

The Halti won’t be needed. They will get a comfortable harness that attaches both front and top – a Perfect Fit. They will ditch the flexilead and use a double-ended training lead, at least six feet long.

Hector will be introduced to two new concepts on walks – freedom and choice.

Work will start with his simply wearing the harness around the house – not associating it with a walk at all. Next, when he’s calm, the lead can be popped on with no fuss.

They will stand at the closed door. Hector won’t walk calmly on a loose lead if he can’t even stand still on a loose lead!

A relaxed leash?

Steps to loose lead walking, no more frantic pulling, will move on to simply standing by the open front door and doing nothing. They will hang on and wait for the lead to slacken just a moment (as it will eventually) – then CLICK and feed something small and special.

(Some people tell me they bought a clicker but it doesn’t work. A clicker is nothing in itself. It’s how the clicker is used).

So Hector will now be learning that standing still, by the open front door on a loose lead is rewarding.

Next they can step outside and he can find that standing on the garden path on a loose lead is rewarding.

Opposite the house is a small grass area. They can then go and work the same magic there.

This could possibly take weeks but the more short sessions they can fit in the better. Currently anything outside the house is over-stimulating due to lack of acclimatisation. Because Hector sees so few now, people and dogs are a major event.

Going somewhere

Gradually they can walk a little way – but no more straight lines. No more predictable A to B. Hector will now start to enjoy his walk. It’s about information – smells and sounds. It should be about the journey, not the destination.

Hector will no longer expect to ‘get somewhere’. Frantic pulling will be unnecessary.  If they use encouragement, both dog and humans will begin to enjoy the walk for its own sake.

They can follow Hector sometimes – so long as the lead is slack. He can choose where he goes.

A special bonus will be going somewhere open and popping a long line on the back of the harness. Some freedom!

With loose lead walking under way and without the over-excitement and anxiety, they can work on what to do when he spots another dog. Very likely, due to his improved mental state, he will be less reactive.

They should make some really good progress if they take their time and are sufficiently patient.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hector. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Other Dogs. Walks. Pulling on Lead. Canicross

 

They had two German Shorthaired Pointers, Douglas and Gracie with which the couple did Canicross. Sadly, Gracie developed cancer, had to have a leg amputated and can no longer run.

Four months ago they adopted two-year-old Louie.

They want to run with him also, but his reactivity to certain other dogs makes it difficult.

Outings fall into two categories.

There are general daily walks and there is Canicross which they do several times a week.

The downside of Canicross is the level of arousal that is built up – putting Louie in the wrong state of mind for being non-reactive around other dogs.

Canicross and reactivity to other dogs

Douglas and Louie

There are conflicting things involved.

Arousal and excitement seem to be part of Canicross.

But for learning to chill around other dogs, over-arousal is counter-productive.

For Canicross in a group, Louie will be close to other dogs.

For working with his being at ease near other dogs, distance is necessary.

For Canicross Louie needs to learn to pull – with a special harness.

But for walking in a relaxed fashion, enjoying the walk for it’s own sake, pulling and excitement are counter-productive.

One seldom sees calm dogs on a loose lead, sniffing, peeing and generally enjoying the walk and ‘clocking in’ with their owner being reactive when they see another dog.

Calm everyday walks; Canicross something different.

We will aim at using everyday loose-lead walks as a kind of antidote to Canicross where they are trying to get Louie to pull.

At present walks are about trying to stop him pulling by using a head halter and then walking somewhere in a determined manner for the sake of exercise. These walks will now be as stress-free, calm and comfortable as possible.

I would abandon the head halter and use a harness, but not of the Canicross type. The lead can hook onto the front. This will then feel completely different to the Canicross pulling harness.

What is a dog walk anyway?

Instead of trying to get somewhere, they can wander. The dogs use up so much energy with the running several times a week that walks need not be about exercise. They can give Louie full length of the training lead and let him stop whenever he likes. With the lead hooked on the chest he will be less inclined to pull. He will learn the difference.

The walk is about the journey, not the destination. If they have forty-five minutes, then they can fill that with something different each day and simply see what crops up.

Against this background, dealing with his reactivity to certain other dogs will be a lot easier. He should not be feeling restricted on tight lead and head halter when he sees another dog. They can associate dogs with good stuff – food and fun. They will make sure he doesn’t get any nearer than he’s comfortable with.

At present they are mainly avoiding other dogs on walks which will get them nowhere. In contrast, they then run with a group of dogs and this is too much. Louie may ignore the dogs when fired up with running and some he may for a while run shoulder-to-shoulder with. However, he may suddenly snap at them and bark at others.

Building up to Canicross in a group.

It’s not realistic to suggest they no longer do Canicross with Louie. However, they will go running with him alone to start with, then with a couple of dogs he gets along with and gradually build it up from there.

There is preparation work to be done at home. Two terriers live next door and they are enemies the other side of the fence. Louie patrols the garden, waiting for them to come out. While he’s rehearsing aggressive behaviour towards other dogs at home, they will make less progress when out. Working on his reactivity towards these dogs will be a good place to start.

The couple themselves need to be as relevant as they can so the dogs enjoy walking with them. Only this way they will get and hold Louie’s attention when needed.

I have never done Canicross myself (now there’s a surprise) but it seems a great thing for humans and suitable athletic dogs to do together. It’s a sport that humans have chosen.

It seems to me only fair that human and dog bond doing something that is more natural to the dog too – something the dog has chosen.

Here is a study where exercise was significantly reduced and the resulting positive effect on reactivity. Adding this to Louie’s life will hopefully counterbalance the general arousal of Canicross.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Louie because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Dog to Dog Encounter. Small Event Big Fallout

The chance dog to dog encounter was simply at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

This has set off a chain reaction leading to Paz now barking at other dogs she sees and her anxious owner’s walks ruined.

A single dog to dog encounter can be the start of something big.

dog to dog encounter has made her wary of other dogsI have seen a young man walking his gorgeous large dog of mixed breed around my village for a couple of years now.

I have always thought how happy the dog looks and how nice the man is with her.

Too often I’m tempted to stop and tell people what I think about their forcing their spaniels that would rather potter and sniff, to run beside bikes. Or to tell the owners of a poor dog trying to scarpe off his Halti on the path about Perfect Fit harnesses. Or to show someone jerking the lead how easy it is to get a dog to walk on a loose leash.

I have also wanted to stop this gentleman to say how I enjoy seeing him walking his lovely dog around my village.

Paz and her gentleman wander. She’s allowed to sniff. She wears a comfortable harness. I have seen them at all different times of day and evening. I thought that the man must spend all his time walking her. The fact is, he works shifts and still manages to walk her three times a day.

The young man found Paz in a bin six years ago. She was about one day old.

He hand-reared her. He has done miracles with her, somehow avoiding the pitfalls of hand-reared puppies that haven’t had the interaction with mother or siblings.

A couple of years ago they came over here from Italy. Paz adapted well to the change. She really has had no problems until something that was triggered a couple of weeks ago.

In a narrow alleyway, two small dogs suddenly came out of a gate and Paz pounced on them, seemingly aggressively.

This is a classic example of ‘trigger stacking‘ where a sequence of events builds up stress in the dog. Stress ‘loads the gun’. One occurrence too many can then be the final straw.

These two dogs were the final straw for Paz.

She will undoubtedly have been less relaxed than usual. Her gentleman was away for a while which will have been unusual. He had arranged for another person to walk her which hadn’t happened before.

The previous day these same two little dogs had barked at Paz but she hadn’t taken any notice.

This day, however, as they came out of the gate Paz lunged at them. No doubt the inexperienced dog walker will have reacted in a harsh way, something the young man would never have done. Maybe it was his human reaction that triggered the final bullet, so to speak.

A single unfortunate dog to dog encounter in the wrong place at the wrong time that’s caused fallout. 

Now Paz is alert and ready to bark at other dogs she meets.

The poor man is very unhappy. For Paz’ sake he is now avoiding dogs wherever possible. I feel sad for him.

His own tension will certainly be transferring to Paz and making things worse. They must be very close.

We have a couple of Boxers near to my house that are left in the garden. When someone walks past they get so angry they then start fighting one another. Many local dogs have been ‘contaminated’ by them, now being wary of dogs they pass. Paz, however, would walk past and ignore them but not any longer.

Paz no longer feels safe.

From this single badly-timed dog to dog encounter her life has changed.

Fortunately it’s not gone on for long enough to become ingrained. Instead of simply avoiding all dogs now, the man will be watching and reading her. He will give her the space she needs, but only if she needs it. Seeing other dogs at a comfortable distance he will pair with food – she will do anything for food!

He will be happy and upbeat when they see a dog approaching and hopefully this little nightmare will soon end. Paz will be back to her old self.

The person walking her at the time of her dog to dog encounter very likely reacted in a way that scared her more than the encounter itself. Paz’ gentleman needs to keep reassuring her that he will keep her safe – just as he always has done.

If it turns out to be not that simple to reverse the situation, I will go out with them and we can work on it in more depth.

From being found in a bin, hand-reared and walking happily around other dogs for six years, one unfortunate dog to dog encounter can’t be allowed to cast this shadow on their lives.