“Stop that dog!”

By: Tyler Kent CPDT-KA

I’ve been training my Belgian Malinois late at night on the street. We use this time for distractions, but also because I live in an apartment with limited space. Why is my space so limited? Well, it’s an apartment, and I just became a father. My free time is now spent with my daughter. Turns out, babies take up a lot of space… Once she falls asleep late at night, I let mom and her relax in peace while I go tire out the pup. It’s good to bond with him. Since the baby, he’s been neglected. He stopped eating his full meals and was starting to chew patches of fur off. I was watching my neglect manifest as new, unfortunate behaviors. At least he wasn’t eating the furniture. After a few days of training, the chewing subsided and he started finishing his meals again. Problem solved.

On one of our late night sessions, we spot an owner and her dog approaching across the street. The dog was an Australian Shepherd that was dragging her owner down the block. I thought that our dogs might get to say hi, but I continued my training. I hear a scream, “stop that dog,” and by the time I turned around, the woman was running down the street (away from us) and the dog was already out of sight. A minute later, traffic backs up, a crowd gathered down the block, and 5 cop cars show up. I couldn’t see what’s going on, but Occam’s razor would suggest that it had something to do with the woman and her dog. Did the dog survive? I hope so. How could the owner have avoided that situation?

I’m not a fan of any dog pulling on the end of the leash. Dog’s are our companions, they look to us for guidance and leadership. If they are pulling you, you are giving them none of those things. An already skittish animal without a leader is a dangerous thing. You’re giving your pet the option to makes its own choice in a stressful situation. Those choices are fight or flight. Both options are terrible. Both options are avoidable.

The solution to her problem is easy to say. Teach your dog to heel on a leash. In practice, this is extremely difficult and takes time and patience. Your dog needs to know that the outside world is safe. How do you manage that task? Treats and rewards. Your dog needs to trust that you can control the situation. How do you manage that? Treats and rewards. Your dog needs to understand what you want from them on the walk. How do you manage that? Treats and rewards.

Proponents of the E-collars (electronic correction collars) will say you can teach a dog what you want by punishing what you don’t want. They are right. But that doesn’t build trust with your dog. That doesn’t help calm their anxiety. I like to say, “it puts the behavior on the back burner.” Meaning, remove the collar, the behavior will present itself again. It’s doing nothing to fix the underlying issue, anxiety in the outside world.

For some, e-collars can be a valuable tool in your arsenal if used correctly. They can help tighten up behaviors if you are doing competitions. They can teach your dog what not to do but they don’t teach them what you want. They teach them that certain things hurt and that they should not do those things. It still leaves them lacking for direction from you, their companion.

Treats work. There is a wealth of research out there on the effects of positive reinforcement. It works on humans, ravens, mice, great apes, lesser apes, marine mammals, and countless other species. You use something the animal wants, to teach them what you want. It is a communication tool. Think of it as if you’re hacking your animal’s brain, so you can speak to them directly. What an amazing feat, especially because it is accomplished by just a few calories between your fingers.

How would I start to help this woman? Most importantly, make sure her equipment can handle and dog without breaking. Martingale collars are best because they prevent slipping and backing-out without choking the dog. I would suggest a leash that you can keep a firm grasp of. Keeping your dog safe starts there and is your utmost responsibility.

Next, I would have her work on a leash in her apartment. Known as “tethering” you start to teach your dog what you want, in an environment that makes them feel safe. I would then have her move to the outside of her apartment. Watch the world, listen to the sounds, and get plenty of treats. Desensitization through counter conditioning helps any pup understand that the world is safe. Treats for calm behavior. Working with the dog like she did inside. Walking back and forth on the leash, rewarding for following closely and looking to the owner for direction.

This method is teaching your dog that good things happen when they follow you. Great things happen when they look to you for direction. All this is accomplished with a treat. High valued treats might help with a hyper anxious dog. The outside world can be over stimulating and scary. When paired with a treat they don’t usually get (cheese, bacon, liver, steak) you will make progress. Slow and steady heals the dog. Slow and steady heels the dog.

One Commment

  1. cp says:

    Great Article!

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