Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Our dog is not easy to train. Truth be told, it’s most certainly my fault but when we went to obedience school even the teacher commented (on multiple occasions) that she has a mind of her own. Still, we keep at it and we’re making tremendous progress. Her ‘sit’ is flawless and she’s excellent at ‘down’. She knows what ‘leave it’ is and obeys that one most of the time. She also knows ‘come’ but we’re at about 60% compliance with that one. She walks beautifully on a loose lead; no pulling or lunging after squirrels or rolling acorns.
I tell you all this to say that, while quirky and somewhat stubborn, she’s fairly well behaved. In addition to basic obedience commands, we’ve worked tirelessly on her socialization. This is the area that needs the most work, and we still take steps forwards and backwards with our shy girl.
Rehabilitating this sad rescue dog has been a rewarding journey. I’ve learned a lot and grown right along with her. There is one area, however, that can only be described as an epic failure: walking calmly past another dog. Seriously, we’ve worked on this for three years straight. We’ve tried multiple techniques and still haven’t mastered it. I see other dogs that can do this without giving the passing dog a sideways glance.
Not our girl, she becomes a bundle of energy, bubbling over with enthusiasm. She lunges towards the other dog, all big smiles and wagging tails. I issue a ‘sit’ command, which she usually gets every time, but when another dog is in the mix, no way. It’s as if she can’t even hear me. She likes to greet the other dog nose to nose and do the dance that two dogs do when they first meet. I’ve always managed to eventually get her to look at me and I can usually gain control of the situation, but the next time a new dog passes us, the mayhem begins again.
In a recent poke around the internet, I ran across a suggestion that I have not tried yet. Adam Katz from dogproblems.com states that when a strong motivation for distraction presents itself, your correction must escalate. I don’t think my correction escalates when a dog passes and my girl goes crazy. If it does escalate, it isn’t very elegant, more like a scramble for order. What Katz suggests sounds a bit unconventional but it can’t be any crazier than the scene my dog and I create under the current circumstances.
Katz recommends finding a distraction dog that you know, maybe a friend or neighbor’s dog. Keep your dog in the house so she can’t see what you’re doing and tie the friend’s dog up to a tree, in clear eyeshot of your typical walking path. Then take your dog on a walk right past the distraction dog. Do not look at the distraction dog, not even a glance (you already know he’s there so there’s no need to look). Keep your gaze on your dog the whole time. The very instant you see your dog look ahead and lock his focus onto the other dog, spin 180 degrees and run in the opposite direction.
Yes, I do know how this will look if your normal walking path is a busy sidewalk with pedestrians and dogs, but I’m committed to fixing this problem so I’m willing to try it. Continue in this manner, spinning 180 degrees and running in the opposite direction. After two or three additional maneuvers you should be close to the distraction dog but your dog will be looking at you instead of the dog at the tree. Presumably, your dog will think this is a fun game and you will maintain his attention instead of the other dog.
When you get parallel with the distraction dog you can run at a 90 degree angle because your dog will be looking beside you instead of ahead of you. At this point, with practice and plenty of quality treats like soft Canidae TidNips, your dog should become aware of the dog tied to a tree but be more interested in playing with you than the other dog. Eventually your dog will look at you every time another dog approaches, wondering what you’re going to do. Problem solved.
I’ll let you know how this method works – I’m starting today! Just don’t expect a video (haha). Do any of you have recommendations or strategies you can share for getting your dog to calmly walk past another dog? I’ll take any and all advice. Thanks.
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell