Elderly Dog Owner. Difficulty Walking the Dog

An elderly dog owner may no longer be able to walk their dog

How many an elderly dog owner or frail person has problems walking their pet due to a fear of being pulled over or losing control of their dog?

Elderly dog owner has difficulty walking her

Beautiful, biddable Sian

Today’s client homed the dear little Staffie six weeks ago. Stella is 6 years old.

Being in the ‘elderly dog owner’ category myself, I am aware of how especially important it is that the dog walks beside us because she wants to. Not because we need to use strength. It’s also vital we can trust her not to lunge if she sees another dog.

My client is an elderly dog owner and admits she sometimes finds balance difficult. She is light and frail in build and has some trouble holding onto the lead due to arthritis in her hands.

I can identify with this. Fortunately I am still strong and active. Hopefully experience compensates somewhat for age! I know how important it is not to fall over. A broken bone or hip could be the end of life as we know it.

Stella previously belonged to an old lady who could no longer keep her. That is so sad isn’t it. I would be devastated if that happened to me and as my own four dogs get older (as do I), I need to consider what to do next.

As soon as Stella is out of the gate she’s on alert. She pulls on the lead and the lady,having to use both hands, keeps her tightly next to her. This is largely for fear of Stella crossing in front of her and tripping her up.

Stella gets extremely excited to see another dog.

It’s obvious that Stella’s previous elderly owner had a lot of callers and friends because Stella is so chilled and friendly with all people. It’s also fairly obvious that she was seldom taken out and probably for several years will have encountered few other dogs.

There is no sign of aggression, no growling or barking. She lunges towards the dog and then, frustrated, spins and bucks on the lead which is attached to a half-check collar.

My first thoughts were that the lady needs to use much more helpful equipment. We both walked Stella around the garden and the pavement outside wearing a Perfect Fit harness.

I have an eight foot training lead which has a hook both ends.

We experimented with hooking the lead in two places. On a ring on the chest and ring on the top. We then experimented with attaching the lead at the chest only.

Stella needs to learn to walk on the same side and not cross over in front of the lady. We found that fastening the lead to just the chest worked best for now. There was too much untangling the lead from around her legs when she crossed sides otherwise! This requires a degree of agility.

The lady is going to walk Stella in the garden and near home with several very short sessions a day, teaching her that walks means a loose lead. Stella will walk beside the lady because she likes being there. If the lead goes tight, she will be taught to come back voluntarily and will be rewarded when she does so.

I’m not describing the exact process here because it’s been developed through trial and error especially for this particular lady and her dog. Something different may well work better for another elderly dog owner with a different dog.

Once the lady has the loose lead walking technique confidently under her belt (and if she were going to classes this could take several weeks), she will be ready to deal with the issue of other dogs.

Changing how Stella feels about dogs.

I believe Stella’s reactivity is that of a very friendly dog, excited and keyed up because everything is new. She wants to say hello or play but is also feeling a bit scared. If she were off lead with freedom of choice it could be a very different matter.

When they see a dog, instead of tightening the lead and advancing, or tightening the lead and immediately crossing the road, the lady will keep the leash loose. She will watch for Stella’s reaction.

On a loose lead everything will be very different for Stella.

The very moment she alerts or stiffens, before any lunging or spinning, they will increase distance away from the other dog.

When they have found the threshold where Stella knows the dog is there but is cool with it, the lady will associate the dog with something she loves. She will feed her frankfurter pieces maybe or scatter food on the ground. If Stella either won’t eat or if she snatches the food, they need to create still more distance.

The aim is to avoid Stella going over threshold at all costs. Here is very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long

Stella’s confidence should grow. When she trusts the person holding the lead to read her signals, she will get nearer to the other dog before she reacts. That person does not need physical strength.

There is another reason for using a harness and not attaching the lead to the collar. Whenever Stella has lunged or spun it will have caused discomfort to her neck – a negative association with other dogs.

From now on, all associations with other dogs must be positive.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail. I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Stella. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Enjoyable Walks Begin at Home

Enjoyable walks with Izzy can be better if she’s calmer before leaving

Enjoyable walks with Old English Izzy Izzy, a stunning 14-month Old English Sheepdog, is extremely friendly, very bouncy and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the all the attention she gets.

When I arrived she came to the door and gave one Woof. Thinking she may have been uneasy because I was taking no notice of her (something she wasn’t used to) I said hello. This stressed her sufficiently to make her do a small tiddle on the floor.

She very quickly relaxed however. There was a bit of jumping up but she was so friendly and biddable. A delight.

 

Izzy is treated like she’s the centre of their world (which she probably is!)

Izzy is adored by four ladies and other family members including young children. Whenever she wants attention she gets loads of it. To look at her you can see how hard she must be to resist. However, it does leave her with little incentive to give them her attention when they want it.

She has constant access to food, so food isn’t a sufficiently valuable currency for rewarding and paying her for doing as asked. She could instead be working for some of her food.

What prevents enjoyable walks is Izzy’s pulling like a train on lead and going ‘deaf’ when called if she’s engaged in something she would prefer to be doing, like running off to play with another dog.

She is wild with excitement before the walk even starts.

The lady, having been pulled over by her, will no longer walk her alone, so one of her three adult daughters will come after work and accompany her.

There is a massively exciting greeting at the door when the daughters arrive, possibly with grandchildren too, to the extent that Izzy will pee on the floor. In the normal way of things it would take quite a while for the effects of this degree of excitement to subside and they immediately go out for the walk.

Soon Izzy will learn that ‘good things come to a calm dog’ while they give her time before leaving, doing their best not to wind her up in the first place. Enjoyable walks should then be a lot easier.

Walking equipment needs to be changed away from that which depends upon physically restraining the dog to equipment that encourages her to walk comfortably and willingly beside them. I use a good harness with D-ring at the chest (Perfect Fit) and a loose training lead. Equally important is that they all practise the correct walking technique.

I demonstrated with the lead on Izzy’s collar. She was excited when I picked up my lead so I sat down and waited. Then I called her to me (reward) and asked her to sit quietly – once. After a moment she did so and I attached the lead to the collar so that it hung from the front under her chin. I then walked around the house with her following me on a loose lead.

To make my point I now turned the collar so the lead attachment on top of her neck. Izzy immediately pulled due to the ‘opposition reflex‘.

I rested my case.

‘Coming back when called’ also begins at home. If she won’t come in from the garden until she is ready she certainly won’t when there is something exciting to run off after on a walk.

So, with a mix of a calm start, better equipment, a technique where she walks nicely because she wants to, being conditioned until coming when called is a habit along with a slightly different overall relationship with her humans at home, enjoyable walks should be achieved before too long.

 

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 Izzy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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 Get Help page)

From Street Dogs to Pets

Rocky and Flossie were born on the streets in a small coastal town in BulgaDogs from streets of Kavanaria around two years ago from mothers also born on the streets. For the past year or so they have lived in a house with a couple who have done remarkably well with them, transforming them from street dogs to settled house dogs.

The one respect in which they are, if anything, getting worse is when out on walks and particularly when encountering other dogs.

Outside the house – more their natural habitat one might think – they are finding things harder.

Initially there were no problems with other dogs. When picked up they had no scars or evidence of fighting and they had lived happily and free around the other street dogs. Now when they encounter a dog, Rocky in particular is scared and Flossie is getting worse. Rocky shrinks and lowers himself and as they get nearer he resorts to lunging and barking, not wanting the other dog to get any closer.

This is where humans need to start thinking ‘dog’. It really doesn’t matter whether a destination is reached, it’s about the journey. What does matter is that they mimic as closely as possible what a free dog would do to feel safe. If the dog wants to increase distance then that’s what must happen. It could mean turning around. For now it could mean avoiding narrow passages and taking different routes. It could in some cases mean starting walks with a car journey to somewhere appropriate and safe.

In his past life, unleashed, Rocky could have chosen to turn and go the other way.  Both dogs would have had free choice as to whether to interact with other dogs or not. Now Flossie and Rocky are, necessarily, trapped on the end of leashes even when away from the roads. If let off lead, Rocky will take himself off for an hour or two and Flossie may well go home.

The lady in particular is finding walking the dogs increasingly nerve-wracking. She is afraid Rocky in particular might harm another dog.

There are three elements we discussed to help these two lovely dogs. The first is, when they are out, for them to feel as free and comfortable as possible. From having no restriction at all they are now on the end of retractable leads which, by the very way they work, always have tension. They thankfully wear harnesses but even these could be more comfortable.

The next thing is that the dogs need to be walked separately for a while because each needs full attention and their ways of reacting aren’t the same so they could well be firing one another up.

Thirdly, their reactivity needs to be worked on – carefully. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but even worse is to push them too close, beyond their comfort threshold so that they feel forced to defend themselves. The human at the end of the lead, watching their own dog carefully and increasing distance the instant there is any sign of discomfort or fear will, over time, build up trust. If Rocky knows he’s being ‘listened to’ then he should gradually dare go a bit closer.

Now desensitisation can begin. The appearance of another dog can start to be associated with good things like scattered food – but from a ‘safe’ distance.

When the dogs are in open places they are currently restricted on the end of just ten feet or so of retractable lead. They could be on 15 metre long, loose training lines, able to run, sniff and explore. If an off-lead dog does happen to run up, whilst escape strategies have been discussed, the dog should feel he has some choice. On the end of long lines their recall can really be worked on.

Both dogs are understandably nervous of new things, certain sudden sounds and people who look ‘different’. The best tool to change this is for every single time either Rocky or Flossie encounters something even slightly scary or anxious-making, something good should happen. This can be food or fun – the more rewarding to the dog the better.

Helping the dogs to feel safe is the priority. It’s the most important thing – more important to them than food even. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t be interested in food. Right from puppyhood these two would have been free to follow their instincts in order to keep themselves safe. In their new life, because trapped in effect, they need total trust in their humans to keep them safe instead.

So much of the stuff I normally advise is already in place for these dogs at home including a perfect diet and kind, positive training techniques from caring and knowledgeable people. It will be great when (and it will take as long as it take), the walks become relaxed and enjoyable too.