Dog lessons on the fly


“Don’t stop” I shared with my client. I’d already explained why you should not stop when working with walking issues. But it’s hard for humans to not stop and address. The other day Elsa and I were out and about very early. I enjoy getting our walk in as the sun just starts to rise. It’s quiet, peaceful and just what we both need to start our day. Also as we are now into spring and nearing summer; early walks are an essential part of living in Southern California.

So we were out walking when I saw a man and his small, white fluffy dog far off. I’m a scanner, something I think is also essential when you are a canine guardian. I saw him as soon as he stepped out onto the path. Like I said, he was far off. He quickly kicked into his training mode when he spotted us. He told his dog to sit and continued to tell the white fluff that there was nothing to worry about. Clearly the dog had leash aggression. Where the leash aggression came from I do not know but this is how he was dealing with it.

He was addressing the issue wrong (in my opinion). Our dogs are master readers, meaning that they see everything that we do. Each and every movement or request we give is a cue to them. So what may seem like a reasonable control request can soon become a cue for an issue.

Let’s take leash aggression like the man mentioned above was dealing with. His dog may not have seen Elsa and I but as soon as the man stopped, the dog would have begun to scan. It is a cue that the dog takes when another dog is approaching. This man not only asked his dog to sit; cuing the dog of some impending danger but he did so from far, far away. They sat there for the longest time…like the Austin Powers steam roller segment in the movie.

What he should have done in lieu of stopping and waiting…forever, was to keep moving. Keep moving and show his dog that we were a non issue. When a dog has behavior issues with something; be it an inanimate object, other dogs, people with big hats or little kids; it is our job to show them that these things are non issues and keep moving. Of course this means that you must learn to reward on the fly.

Counter conditioning implementation on the fly can take some practice but it is well worth it.

Counter - contrary; in opposition

Conditioning - a process of changing behavior by rewarding or punishing a subject each time an action is performed until the subject associates the action with pleasure or distress.  

So if every time you see the trigger for your dogs reaction, you stop; then it only fuels that reactive behavior. When you keep moving you instill a “who care” attitude so that your dog can learn that it means nothing to you. Then by adding something good, a tug toy, treats or a ball to the situation; it then goes from a bad thing to a good thing. Make sense?

Love to hear from you. Leash issues are the biggest and most common thing that people deal with.

Dog on a leash. Pay attention!

Fanny pack gone wild.  :)  I had to bring several balls with me to this beach in Connecticut.  Other dogs stole the balls all the time so I had extra bags to put the wet balls in.  

Fanny pack gone wild.  :)  I had to bring several balls with me to this beach in Connecticut.  Other dogs stole the balls all the time so I had extra bags to put the wet balls in.  

I see ducking dogs everywhere.  Team after team stroll past Elsa and I; at the beach, the park, malls and street, ducking.  What do I mean ducking?  

Ducking - to avoid or evade a blow, unpleasant task, etc.; dodge.

Humans strolling along, walking their dog with their arms swinging back and forth.  Along with their arm swing is also the leash swing, perhaps a poop bag swing if you are one of those folks who attach a poop bag holder to the leash.  While the leash swings the dog ducks to avoid the constant and annoying leash and/or poop bag holder hitting them in the face or head.  

When I am working with a client on walking, loose leash walking or heeling, I'm all eyes.  I was trained as a youngster in obedience by a very strict obedience teacher.  She was unfortunately a harsh conventional method trainer but that was many, many years ago when there was nothing else.  She watched our every movement looking for things that would interfere with the robot like obedience we were training our dogs to do.  

The obedience teacher hated when the human students swung their arms about willy nilly.  She'd scream at you until you stopped.  If you held your body crooked, you'd hear about it.  Anything that was unlike a statue was not allowed.  So, although I hated the training method; movement was something that was drilled into my head.  To this day, the arm that holds Elsa's leash is motionless, typically held by my waist.  For those students who did not catch on to the "no flailing" rule; they were told to keep their hand in a belt of waist of pants.  

I see people walking along, not paying any attention to who is on the other end of the leash.  The leash can be whipping them in the face, their collar half pulled over their head, the humans hand even hitting the dog in the face as it swings.  So many dogs walk very far away from their human simply due to an avoidance behavior.  The guardian has no idea that their dog is not enjoying the walk because of the swinging.  

When you walk your dog, pay attention.  Yes there are times when something can happen for a moment and you might miss it.  But typically if you look down at your dog on a regular basis you'll notice this kind of stuff.  Does your dog strain at their leash?  Either sideways or backwards?  Well maybe they are trying to avoid the swing.  

The whole poop bag holder is a big thing now.  I don't understand attaching one to a leash, honestly.  I wear the very chic fanny belt; although it is not on my fanny.  ;)  I carry everything I need on a walk in it, poop bags included.   

So pay attention.  Ask someone to watch you walk.  Be aware of what your body is doing.  Along with the annoying face swapping, there could be other things going on that you have never noticed.  

Meet and greets


As you all know I am big on socializing; it is one of the most important factors with having dogs.    At two years old now; Elsa has a great deal of it under her belt.  But the socializing doesn't stop there; I am constantly on the look out for nice dogs to say hi to.  We don't say hi to everyone and learning to calmly walk by some dogs is just as important as saying hi.  There are always dogs at the parks, beaches and fields that you just don't want to talk to.  They either give off clear "not friendly" vibes or their owner shares this information with you.  Too many bad interactions can cause a dog to react defensively more often.  So we are very choosey who we say hi to.

At thirteen years old, Luke is beyond needing socializing.  He has a list of dislikes that has grown over the years.  I know him so well that I can tell way in advance if an oncoming dog will be a match or not.  It can be a certain breed or body language that a dog is giving off.  If it's not a match we simply take some space.  As for Elsa, she is much more flexible yet she too has had some bad interactions so I do my best to minimize these.  Picking and choosing who to say hi to takes work.  You need to read the other dog and do it quickly.  Much has to do with an owner.  The other day we walked passed a guy with an older Labrador; Luke is not a big fan of Labs.  But the biggest factor in not talking to these two was the man who was barely holding the leash.  The dog was straining at the end and it looked like it was all the owner could do to hold on.  Not good. 

Leash aggression is a very common issue with dogs.  When you put a leash on a dog; several things happen.  One you have your dog within your personal circle making the guarding reaction kick into gear.  Then we add onto that the whole tension on the leash issue.  Humans typically do much too much pulling and tugging on a leash.  This in itself gives off lots of incorrect messages via the dog.  As the owner pulls back the dog pulls forward; which implies a lunging statement from the dog.  In turn the other dog seeing this gets defensive.  Then there is the whole relaying of our own emotions to the dog via the leash.  The leash also takes away the ability to move away for a dog.  Moving freely makes things much more relaxed. 

Sometimes I will walk very close to another dog so that I can see their body language a bit more clearly before making a decision.  Lots of people say "yes, very friendly" when asked but they are often incorrect in their response.  I make the decision for myself, whether they have said that their dog is friendly or not.  If it is just Luke with me then we don't bother; when I'm out with Luke I am out for simply the outing unless we run into a friend of his.  But for Elsa I am always looking for a nice dog to perhaps makes friends with. 

The other day Elsa and Luke stopped to talk to a nice little poodle mix.  He was a bit apprehensive but not enough to give off any aggressive responses.  We made it short and sweet which is always the best way to go and continued on our way.  Up ahead I saw a Golden and Siberian interacting; even though both dogs were wagging, it was clear that there was tension.  I opted to make a big arch around these two and to the other side of the park.  As we passed by them the little dog we had been talking to stopped to chat with the Siberian and they got into a scuffle.  I'd made the right decision as far as that one had been concerned.  If you are in doubt at all, don't.  It just is not worth the work of undoing the fallout behaviors that come from negative greetings. 

Socializing is wonderful but minimizing the negative is just as important.  Pick and choose.  Best to have two great interactions than a whole handful of bad ones; negative fuels negative.