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February 9, 2012

Spay/ Neuter, Rescue/ Foster, Pulling on Lead!

There is always more to say about dog overpopulation and how to help. It really does come down to the spay/ neuter issue; which then branches out to include puppy mills, backyard breeders, breed discrimination and shelters over capacity; all leading to and ending in euthanasia of thousands of dogs who are physically and behaviorally healthy.
We are moving forward in our creation and operation of ‘For the Love of Dogs’ program which will help shelter dogs get into foster and forever homes. No timelines available yet, but in the meantime we plan to offer information that will showcase the benefits of fostering a dog and adopting rescue dogs.

Why is My Dog Straining on her Lead?
Victoria Stilwell from ‘It’s Me or the Dog’
Contrary to popular (but flawed) belief, dogs do not pull on the lead while being walked because they want to be pack leader, top dog, Alpha or be dominant over their human. There is a much simpler explanation that does not give credence to some people’s paranoia that dogs are on a quest for world domination! Dogs love to be outside and the walk is a stimulating and exciting part of their day so the desire to push ahead is very strong. Humans do not make ideal walking partners since a dog’s natural and comfortable walking pace is much faster than ours. Having to walk calmly by a person’s side when the only thing a dog really wants to do is run and investigate his environment, requires a degree of impulse control which can be very difficult for some dogs to utilize. A lead, though vital for safety, can also be frustrating as being ‘tied’ to a person essentially stops a dog’s ability to act naturally. That being said, all dogs need to be taught how to walk on a lead in a positive way without pain or discomfort so that a walk becomes enjoyable for everyone.

If you are overpowered by your dog’s pulling and cannot start the teaching process for fear of being pulled over, then there are humane equipment solutions to help modify the pulling while you teach your dog to walk appropriately. A chest-led harness is a perfect training aid as it takes pressure off a dog’s sensitive neck by distributing the pressure more evenly around the body. When the lead is attached to a ring located on the chest strap and your dog pulls, the harness will turn his body around rather than allowing him to go forward. I recommend this kind of harness for anyone who needs extra help as safety has to come first. (EZ Walk Harness)

Lead pulling is often successful for the dog because the person inadvertently reinforces the pulling by allowing their dog to get to where he wants to go when he pulls. But you can change this picture by changing the consequence for your dog. When he pulls, immediately stop and stand completely still until the lead relaxes, either by your dog taking a step back or turning around to give you focus. When the lead is nicely relaxed, proceed on your walk. Repeat this as necessary. If you find this technique too slow you can try the reverse direction method. When your dog pulls, issue a let’s go cue, turn away from him and walk off in the other direction, without jerking on the lead. You can avoid yanking by motivating your dog to follow you with an excited voice to get his attention. When he is following you and the lead is relaxed, turn back and continue on your way. It might take a few turns but your vocal cues and body language will be clear: pulling will not be reinforced with forward movement, but walking calmly by your side or even slightly in front of you on a loose lead will allow your dog to get to where he wants to go. You can also reinforce your dog’s decision to walk close to you by giving him a motivating reward when he is by your side.

Once your dog is listening to you more, you can vary the picture even more by becoming unpredictable yourself. This means your dog has to listen to you at all times because he never knows when you are going to turn or where you are going to go next. Instead of turning away from him when you give the let’s go cue, reverse direction by turning towards him. You can turn in a circle or do a figure of eight. Any of these variations will get your dog’s attention. Do not forget to praise him for complying because the better you make him feel walking close to you, the more he will chose to do so.

Lead lunging /reactivity and/or aggressive response are all behaviours that are exacerbated by a dog feeling restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable in a social situation. In normal circumstances, an unleashed dog would be able to put sufficient distance between him and a fear source. But if the same dog is leashed and unable to increase distance, he will react or behave defensively in the hope that the fear source will go away. If his behaviour is validated by success and distance is increased, he is likely to react in the same manner again when faced with a similar stimulus. Walking a lead lunger is not a pleasant experience and the anticipation of a problem tends to cause human tension which is transmitted down the lead to the dog, effectively making the lunging behaviour worse. Dog and owner are then locked in a viscous cycle of tension and lead lunging that becomes hard to change. You can stop the fearful lunger by first identifying the cause of his discomfort and then working to desensitize him to the stimulus that makes him uncomfortable while conditioning him to see that the stimulus is no longer cause for concern. Dogs that are social but lunge on a lead because of frustration have to be taught that lunging achieves nothing, while calm behaviour results in the dog being able to greet. If you have a social, yet frustrated dog, simply turn and walk him away from the source until he is calm and only allow him to greet only when the lead is loose.

Do not punish a dog that lunges on the lead for any reason, especially if the cause of the behaviour is insecurity, which is the case for most dogs. Put the emphasis on giving your dog something else to do in that moment instead of using punishment, which will help him be more comfortable in the situation. Punishment makes lead lunging behaviour worse and a dog more insecure because the dog begins to associate the punishment with the stimulus that it fears. For example, if your dog does not like other dogs and is punished for reacting badly each time he sees another dog, the visual of the dog will then be associated with the fear or pain of the punishment. Therefore in the dog’s mind, seeing a dog means unpleasant things happen to him, which promotes a really negative association: approaching dogs equal pain or fear. By using positive reinforcement techniques you can actually change the way your dog feels about a certain situation for the better and therefore change his emotional and behavioural response. For example, when your dog sees another dog in the distance and is curious but not yet uncomfortable, bring out his favourite toy or food and play with him or feed him. The toys or food you use have to be of the highest value and only used when doing this teaching around other dogs. Playing or feeding your dog will help him to not only focus on something else when he is in the proximity of another dog, but the pleasure he gets playing or eating will change the way he perceives the outcome of that dog’s presence. Now he is associating the sight of another dog with positive things happening to him that make him feel good. This is the key to changing the way a dog feels. Remember punishment serves to suppress behaviour at that moment, but does not help to change the way a dog feels emotionally, while using these positive techniques will have longer lasting success.

Desensitizing your dog to a perceived threat, i.e. an approaching dog, may happen very quickly or might take time, but every dog is different and it is important to go at your dog’s pace. To teach your dog to be comfortable with other dogs passing by, start by having a friend or trainer bring their calm, non-reactive dog to help you. Begin the training by having them stand at a distance where your dog is comfortable and can focus on other things. Play a game your dog enjoys, give him his favourite toy or feed him some delicious food. If your dog shows no signs of discomfort ask your helper to bring their dog a little closer. Continue to play or feed your dog and give plenty of praise. If at any time your dog reacts negatively, simply turn around and walk away from the situation until he calms down enough to play again or accept food. If this is not the case, move the helper dog back to a distance where your dog can relax and repeat the process. It might take time depending on your dog’s level of discomfort, but do not give up, as this training technique has an impressive success rate. Stay calm and relaxed yourself throughout the process and gradually work up to the point where the other dog is able to walk past as your dog focuses on you or stays calmly by your side.
When you get to the point where you can walk past other dogs with no reaction at all your dog might be ready to experience his first greeting. I never allow unconfident dogs to greet face to face to begin with as it can be too much pressure, so practice following the other dog or walking parallel with each other until both dogs are comfortable. If your dog is relaxed then you can both walk in an arc towards each other, have your dogs greet for a few seconds face to face and then happily draw them away from each other, rewarding them for making this huge step.
When it is appropriate, try going for regular walks with your dog’s new friend and begin adding other dogs to the mix until you can get a regular walking group together. Simply experiencing the joys of a walk with other dogs will help your dog feel more comfortable around them.

Some lead lungers need a security blanket when they walk. These act rather like a pacifier or children’s dummy. These dogs find it really comforting to carry something that they love in their mouth for all or part of the walk, keeping them relaxed in the environment. A beloved toy might be all you need to help your dog relax.

Whether your dog is pulling on the leash because he has not been taught to walk appropriately or is lunging because he is frustrated or insecure, there are many effective ways to change his behaviour without relying on punitive techniques to do it. The secret of this training is patience and understanding your dog’s experience. Observe your dog as he walks and never miss a chance to give positive feedback if he does something that you like. For example, if your lead lunger now makes a decision to look at you, sniff the ground, turn his back, sit or lie down, or offer any other behaviour other than lunging at the other dog walking by, reward that choice and make him feel good about making the right decision. He will make it again the next time he is in a similar situation.

The Rover Reporter
I have a sensitive tummy. My Mom says I do not process fat in food well. She cooks white meat chicken breast for me and combines it with SoJos (vegetable and fruit mix carried at both Crates) and NOW (grain free, 100% meat) for my meals. Guessing you are reading this thinking, ‘she is so wonderful cooking for her dog’ but truthfully I have to wait longer while she cooks and who wouldn’t like some Purina or even a pizza crust once and awhile.
When the Red Sox truck leaves for spring training I can start counting the days ’til I go to the beach! Last summer one of our guests left a bag of dog food within jumping reach and I was able to eat almost the whole thing! OK, that’s a nice thought to nap about!

Later, Ernestine

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