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.
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).