One of the best payoffs of devoting time to training is when it really starts to make your life easier instead of just adding another commitment to a busy schedule. This paid off yesterday with Ranger’s first family walk. Because of his overreactions to other dogs and his tendency to pull, we had not taken Ranger out before with the baby; it was too much of an inconvenience to try to manage a flailing slobber bark-hound (I’m sure that is just one word in German) instead of just being able to enjoy an evening stroll.
This time, there was strolling AND enjoyment.
In general it is much safer to take a baby stroller and dog with one person to handle each, and our planned walk required it because one side of the loop has a couple of iffy houses with occasional unrestrained dogs. So I was on dog duty while my husband cared for the baby.
We tried to run off a little energy at first with some jogging; a dog’s natural pace is a trot, so requiring an active Lab to walk sloooowly is really a lot to ask. This dog can chase a 4-wheeler all day long, so it is a testament to his self control that he spent this outing trotting slowly or walking – especially since the older kids were zooming ahead on scooters.
Instead of a formal heel, I prefer a basic loose leash walk for long walks. We worked on the red light/green light method of leash training the whole time, and Ranger is really getting it. If he tightens the leash, we stop; once he lets off the tension and looks at me, we move forward. We did have to play stop and catch-up a couple of times, but this walk was still *vastly* improved over prior attempts where he happily choked himself at the end of the leash.
I also started introducing some other ways to communicate with Ranger. To give him advance notice of how to modify his speed, I tell him “Easy” if we are going to slow down, and “Wait” if I am about to stop. This gives him a chance to restrain himself instead of just hitting the end of the leash without warning. I did bring my treat pouch so Ranger got an intermittent treat for slowing down and waiting for me when asked.
The other big success was when we passed other dogs. What an improvement!! Ranger started to get a little excited at the first Barky Dog house, so I shoved some treats in his face in between woofs and hops, and he very quickly oriented back to me instead of hyperfocusing on the dogs. He quickly remembered that taking a quick peek at the other dogs and then back at me would earn a treat, so he chose that behavior instead of staring, bouncing, and barking at the rude dogs. I was so proud!
We also did a lot of jolly talking. Letting your dog know that Barky Dogs are fun and silly instead of threatening or scary can really help keep him from overreacting. If you are out on a walk with your dog, do not yank away and scold if he barks at other dogs approaching or reacting to him! Instead, encourage him that it is NOT something to worry about.
As an example, I keep up a running dialogue like this: “Who’s a GOOD boy Ranger, look at THAT silly barky dog! He’s so funny you’re a GOOD boy!!”.
At the next two houses and when passing a bulldog who was walking his owners down the street, Ranger took some sneak peeks at the other dogs but overall walked calmly past and looked at ME for approval and encouragement. Ding ding ding! You won’t get that kind of reassurance check-in from correcting your dog or yelling at him.
Please note this is just general advice for dogs that get excited at each other on walks. If your dog is extremely reactive or makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you need help from a professional trainer instead of just dragging him down the street trying to jolly talk a slavering angry dog past your frightened neighbors.
We had a great walk and some more strides ahead with Ranger’s behavior around other dogs, so I am quite pleased with the training session. Here’s to more beautiful days.