Saturday, January 14, 2012

Polite Leash Walking (i.e., Not Pulling on Leash), Part I: Why Bother to Teach It?

In honor of National Train Your Dog Month, I will be focusing on polite leash walking for the next few posts. Some of you may be wondering why polite leash walking is even important, especially as there are so many management tools available – e.g., head halters, no-pull walking harnesses, etc. I'd like to address that question in this first post on the topic.


1. Your dog's safety
Pulling dogs can run straight into the path of a hazard, such as an unfriendly dog, a bicycle, or a car unexpectedly exiting a driveway.  When your dog is trained to walk politely on leash, he is less likely to move abruptly into danger.

2. Your safety
Pulling dogs make it more likely you will trip and fall.  When your dog is trained to walk politely on leash, she is less likely to pull you off your feet.

3. Your dog's health
Dogs who pull on leash can cause themselves all kinds of physical harm.  If you walk your dog on a collar (whether it is flat, choke, or prong), the repeated pressure on his throat can cause a variety of problems, including damage to the trachea.  If you use a walking harness, your dog can experience shoulder problems or other issues (the exact type of physical stress depends on the specific type of harness).  If you use a head halter, your dog may strain his neck or spine.  A dog who walks politely on leash will not experience these problems, regardless of the equipment used.

4. Your health
Constantly pulling your dog back, and being yanked around by your dog, can stress your wrists, arms, shoulders, and back.  A polite dog puts no pressure on the leash most of the time, which makes for less strain on your body.

5. The safety (and health) of your friends and family
There may be times when you have to ask a friend or family member to walk your dog.  Even if you are personally able to handle it when your dog pulls on leash, your friend or family member may not be able to handle the pulling.  This is true even if your dog is small.  There was an incident in a family I know where a 15 lb. dog pulled grandma right off her feet, injuring her badly.  When your dog is trained to walk politely on leash, anyone who is old enough to be trusted to walk alone (no toddlers, please!) can walk your dog safely.

6. The safety (and health) of strange people and animals
A dog who pulls on leash can get in the way of other people or animals, scare a human into stumbling or falling over, or startle a dog into pulling the leash right out of her human's hand. It's all very well to say your dog is friendly as he launches himself (and you) at a strange person or animal, but if that person or animal is afraid, your dog's intent does not matter.  Teaching your dog to walk politely on leash reduces the likelihood of these kinds of accidents.

7. Your dog's diet
It's hard to see what's on the ground near your dog when she is far ahead of you pulling on the leash.  Many dogs "scavenge" as they walk, and your dog may occasionally decide to ingest something inappropriate.  If your dog is walking politely at your side, you are much more likely to spot the inappropriate "edible object" before your dog is able to get it, which gives you a chance to cue your dog to leave the object alone before she even puts it in her mouth.

8. Your enjoyment of the walk
A dog who pulls on the leash is no fun to walk.  You spend the entire time worrying about where the dog will pull you next, and struggling with the leash.  A walk with a well-trained dog gives you the opportunity to enjoy both your dog's company and the area in which you are walking.

9. Your pride
Let's face it – it's embarrassing when other people see you being pulled down the street by your dog. "Why can't that person control his dog?" or similar thoughts are likely going through the heads of the people staring as your dog yanks you around.  When your dog walks politely on leash, you can walk your dog with your head held high.

10. Your connection with your dog
Best of all, training your dog to walk politely on leash using pet-friendly methods involves many sub-skills that improve your connection with your dog, and are useful in other situations.  It's also easier to reach down and pet your dog during walks if she is walking politely beside you (as opposed to six feet ahead of you and pulling).

With all these benefits to teaching your dog to walk politely on leash, why continue to deal with pulling?

In the following weeks, I will discuss various aspects of polite leash walking, including equipment, training, and trouble-shooting.  I look forward to seeing you here.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Canine at the Keyboard: It's Not Easy Living in a Human World

Hello everyone in the blogosphere! My name is Franklin, and I will be the regular canine guest contributor to this blog.  I hope you will enjoy reading my notes.

Today, I will be sharing a few thoughts on being a canine in a human world.

Let me start by telling those of you who are human that it's not easy being a canine in a human world.  First of all, human computer keyboards are not well designed for typing with paws.  Second, humans have odd rules about all kinds of things.  For example, they don't seem to like the polite canine manner of greeting, which consists of sniffing the area between the legs.  Also, while humans are allowed to urinate indoors (in giant porcelain bowls), they discourage us from urinating unless we are outdoors – even if there is a tree indoors.  (I learned this a few years ago when we were visiting a friend and I urinated on her "Christmas Tree." I just though it was indoor canine plumbing.)

What's worse is that most humans don't speak Dog at all, and even those who do speak Dog have only learned the basics.  No matter how many times I look away or yawn to indicate I'd like a little more space, some humans just keep invading my space.  It's enough to make a dog crazy sometimes!

Because of all of this, I have had to become fluent at Human Body Language (HBL).  Most humans speak HBL pretty well when they aren't thinking too hard, so I can tell what they want much of the time (especially if I keep all their odd rules in mind), but when they start talking, their HBL often gets very strange.  To make things worse, the few human words I've learned to recognize sometimes contradict what their HBL says.  I can't imagine how humans manage to communicate amongst themselves, to be honest.

Fortunately, my humans seem to understand that human rules are confusing, and work very hard to communicate clearly with me.  When they want to teach me something new, they get out something called "the clicker," the sound of which always has the same meaning – "Well done! Come get your treat."  After they explain, with the aid of the clicker, the behavior they want me to do, they teach me what the behavior is called in HBL or human words, and I know that if they make the movement or sound they taught me, I can earn a treat by doing the behavior we practiced.

My humans are also very understanding when it comes to unpleasant situations.  For example, I have learned that rude behavior towards me from unknown humans or other animals is generally followed by treats from my humans.  My humans also generally interrupt the annoying behavior to which I am being subjected, so I've learned to stay still and wait for rescue and treats (or move quietly away to await my treats, if things really are too intense), in these unpleasant situations.

So all in all, while living as a canine in a human household can be tough at times, my life is pretty good.  My humans give me affection, exercise, food, and a soft place to sleep, and I give them love and entertainment.  I think if you asked them, they would say it's a pretty good trade-off –and I agree!

Editor's note: My husband and I do think it's a pretty good trade-off, and are very grateful to have Franklin in our lives.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Blog

Many people make New Year's resolutions.  I'm not usually one of them (I prefer to make my resolutions on whatever day of the year they happen to fall), but this New Year's I have resolved to start a training blog.  The purpose of this blog is to discuss humane training for dogs and other pets.  I am happy to take questions (leave a comment or contact me), and will address questions and comments as quickly as possible.

In this first post, I'd like to remind everyone that January is National Train Your Dog Month.  Hopefully you are already deliberately training your pet, but in case you aren't, here's something to think about:

Whenever you interact with your pet, training is taking place.  Sometimes you are training your pet, and sometimes your pet is training you (and generally, both are taking place simultaneously to some extent).

It's good to be aware of what training is taking place, and even better to be at least partially in control of the training.  For example, say you are watching TV and your dog comes up to you and nuzzles your arm.  Do you reach down and pet your dog?  If so, you're training your dog to come nuzzle you while you watch TV (assuming your dog likes being petted).  There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this, as long as you like the result (more nuzzling).  If, on the other hand, you dislike being nuzzled while you watch TV, it's best to control your reaction and avoid petting your dog when he or she nuzzles you.

Much of the time when we complain that we hate it when our pet does something or other, we have inadvertently trained it (or allowed our pet to train us to reward the behavior, depending on how you want to look at it).  Becoming aware of what training is taking place is a great first step in training the things we actually want.

So here's my challenge for you this month: Notice the things your pet does that you like, as well as the things your pet does that you don't like.  Ask yourself what is reinforcing these behaviors (in other words, what is keeping these behaviors going).  Then think about how you can change the equation to maximize behaviors you like and minimize behaviors you don't like.  Here are a few tips:

- Reinforce behavior you like, with attention, petting, food, access to desired resources (such as toys and the outdoors), and anything else your pet likes.

- Ignore behavior you don't like, lest you accidentally reinforce it with attention.  Simply sit tight, look at the ceiling, keep your lips closed, and wait for the behavior to stop.  Then count to ten and resume interacting with your pet (if appropriate).  That's right, I am asking you to take the word "No!" out of your vocabulary (since for many pets, even "negative" attention is good – much like some publicists would say that even "bad" press is good).  If sitting tight is not an option, walk away and put a closed door between you and your pet, if necessary.

- Manage behavior you can't ignore.  Here's an example: Some pets like to "surf" kitchen counters looking for food.  This behavior is generally not about getting your attention, but rather about eating, so your ignoring it will have no impact on the behavior at all.  To prevent this behavior, keep your kichen counters clean or close off the kitchen so your pet can't get in there (or both).

In the coming weeks and months, I'll discuss how to train a wide range of behaviors, and how to deal with many common annoying behaviors.  If there is a behavior you'd like me to deal with sooner rather than later, contact me.  In the meantime…

Happy New Year!