Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pooches: On Dogs, Walking Anxiety & Happiness

 While we were on vacation last week, I was able to catch up on some 'beach-reads'. One book that still has me thinking is The Happiness Project. This book follows the author's journey as she tries to live a happier, less stress-free life. The premise is simple: she tries to spend more time doing things that make her happy, while trying to change the things that make her unhappy.
The funny thing is, when I identified what made me happy and what made me unhappy, it was the same: the pooches.
One of my favorite things is to go for walks and explore Chicago with the pooches. I love taking them to parks and festivals, and I love dog training and showing how well-trained they can be.
At the same time, one of my most stressful things is our daily walks where I need to walk both dogs at the same time and anticipating everything that can go wrong on our walks. With as many as 30 dogs living on a single city block, we're always encountering other dogs barking and lunging on retractable leashes, off-leash dogs charging and challenging our dogs, and trying to control our pooches if this makes them excited enough to jump or try to play on leash.
I realized the anxiety of what could go wrong has started to make me an angry person. I am often glaring at other people as they walk their dogs towards us--much to my embarrassment, one day I even realized I was giving dirty looks to a former friend of mine I hadn't seen in a  long time and just wanted to meet the dogs.
So in recognizing this, I'm trying to think of ways to turn this around and continue having fun on the walks. Maybe I just need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and just hope that other dog owners are acting responsibly and deal with something bad only if it happens? Or maybe I need to change and do even more training with the pooches so they don't react as strongly if other dogs bark and lunge at them? Or is my worry actually a safeguard for the pooches where acting more casually could be dangerous? How does everyone else balance walking safety without becoming an angry, bitter person?

Update: Last night we announced on our Facebook page the names of the special pups saved in Shy/Khloe's memory. Introducing....Zoey (girl with mange) and Bella (girl with broken leg). Zoey will be up for adoption soon; Bella is still getting some work done on her leg. We'll continue posting real-time updates and photos on our Facebook page.

28 comments:

Two Crazy Coaches said...

I wish I had advice for you but we're never in those kinds of situations. I know you have done a great job with the pooches, but your worry is understandable!

loveandaleash said...

I have the same problem. Chick is reactive on leash if approached suddenly by a dog. When we lived in Austin, where walking off leash seems to be a normal occurrence, it was very stressful. Where we live now, it's less of an issue-- we have broad streets with lots of visibility, and everyone seems to walk on six-foot leashes. Still, when we go on adventures downtown or other more crowded areas, the old feelings rush back. I will be curious to see what comments others offer. I will be checking back for ideas!

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

first of all, the book sounds great. thats our goal in life is to just enjoy life. however, we agree, walks can be very stressful. especially since we try to treat every walk like a training event. i think you also need to take comfort in the fact that your pooches are so well trained that something really bad happening, especially on leash is a pretty small chance.

were so excited about the girl pooches and have been following on facebook! were so psyched!

Erika and Blair,xoxo said...

Personally with Indy, Koda and Sophie I try to make sure that they are heeling so that they can't pull too much and they know that they have to stay in a certain spot. However I have only ever walked Sophie and Koda at the same time. Indy is not very friendly while onleash so I try to either cross the street or reinforce heeling and just keep moving forward ignoring the other dog but giving a small smile at the other person. This acknowledges that you are busy with your dog yet are not the bitter walker. You guys always seem to be doing a great job though!

In Black and White said...

I know what you mean. Bilbo can be really hard work on-leash and I do find myself becoming incredibly annoyed at other people at times - when they make noises at him and then get pissy when he tries to jump towards them, or people who whistle out of their cars on a busy road - seriously, do they WANT my dog to run out into traffic?!
With other dogs I generally assume that Bilbo is at least 50% of the problem so I cross the street if I see any hint of behavior that I don't approve of (admittedly not so helpful when it's off-leash dogs charging at us!)

Daisy Dog said...

We are taking a leash reactivity class now, I think some of the tips will help, however loose dogs? What can I say other than I hope they don't approach us! I suppose just knowing that you can contol your dogs helps. Maybe being prepared for the possiblity of a loose dog with a walking stick or even some type of spray might ease the stress. We rarely encounter loose dogs where we walk, however once we encountered a coyote!

EmilyS said...

yeah, this is one of the biggest issues we have as pit bull owners... the paranoia that ours will respond to another dog and tarnish our breed's image. The monsters that annoy our dog never have that problem, and the cluelessness of most dog owners ("he just wants to say hi") can make our lives a challenge!

I think your new approach is fantastic though.
You know that our thoughts "flow down the leash"... so if you think positively about the good things about your walks, you will feel less stressed and the dogs will be less stressed/reactive. Think of each time you must pass an ill-behaved dog as an opportunity to practice the GOOD behavior you have taught your own dogs ("ignore" being the behavior you want)

Kiira said...

First off, I've quickly become addicted to your blog! I'm a few neighborhoods away in Lincoln Park, but also have two rescue dogs that have come to be a a huge focus of my life (both 2yo males: Petey- American Bulldog/pit mix from Animal Care and Control and Monkey- pit mix from Anti-Cruelty). Walking/running them is stressful at times, but each outing is a learning experience. It's never quite relaxing unless we are truly alone on the streets, but every encounter with other dogs reinforces what they should be learning (for my guys, it's to ignore the other dogs).
Though very few people with dogs have really wanted to meet my boys, we are constantly passing other dogs on the sidewalk. If I sense a trigger (larger dogs or staring dogs), I bring my guys to the side, "sit" them and have them focus on me, then treat them. This always sends a message to oncoming people with dogs to respect your "training session". Though the occasional setbacks are mentally difficult for me to accept, I love those times when we set a good example. We even catch the occasional "thank you" or "good dogs" from the people who pass (though certainly not as many as M and B!).

Kari in WeHo said...

Is she really trying to lead a less stress-free life (which would imply more stress) or a more stress-free life? OK, OK sorry I am so used to doing that to my husband (and really who and I to comment with my terrible grammar).

I do understand the walking stress though. Mesa and Big Carl are infinitely more reactive on leash than off leash. They are actually no trouble at off leash parks.

Patty said...

I have had to learn that saying NO is ok on our walks. "NO you can not approach my dog we are training." I have gotten dirty looks and been told she is a dog let her have fun. But you know what, the training is for her benefit. The better trained she is the more places she gets to go.

Furthermore, my little rhino is leash reactive so I really get peeved when people let their off leash dog approach (off leash is btw not legal in our city except in designated areas). When I say my dog is reactive please get your dog. I always get the same response "it Is ok my dog is friendly". Arg not the point!

Haha, ok that was a completely unhelpful post. I can say that I stick to No when needed but I do try to let people approach us when it is a controlled setting. If they are willing to listen to my request (don't reward the jumping) then I am happy to let Sophie say hi.

As for off leash dogs, I just pray we don't run into them. When we do, I try to keep Sophie focused with treats and quickly move away.

Tucker The Crestie said...

Completely understandable and I know many others, including myself, who have struggled with this. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to change anyone else's behaviors with their dogs, but you can work harder on the dogs' focus on you, so that when distractions do present themselves, they are conditioned to keep their focus and look to you for direction. Definitely a challenge!

A&A Friese said...

Love that first picture of Miss M! Fortunately most our walks are at our near by dog park where we mostly let Molly off leash and the dogs we encounter are typically very friendly and their owners have control over them. Also our dog park is so expansive and never gets overcrowded so it is the perfect place for friendly, neutral interactions. However, we do come across the occasional irresponsible owner that has absolutely no control over their very poor mannered dog or better yet a dog comes running up to us with no owner in sight. You guys constantly impress me with how well you have trained your pooches, and I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to maneuver a small sidewalk with off leash dogs approaching and idiotic owners not controling them! Keep on keeping on A and E you guys do a great job!

Benny and Lily said...

Oh my goodness you hit the nail on the head, whatever that means. Mom said she totally understands and feels the same way. Relaxing walks are turning into stressful ones. Mom gets mad when people let their dogs suddenly approach us or if they are off leash. She starts with the HBO words. We will tell her to enjoy the walks
Benny & Lily

Bobby said...

Yes I can understand it could be a worry. Bobby grumps at some dogs, I do not know when he is going to do it or why, he could see the same dog another day and wag his tail.

poodleandpitbull said...

Depending on how hard your pups are to handle, you may want to consider walking them separately (I know it sucks, but it's safest). I generally walk my two together, but they have separate issues (Emma's is with people, Charlie's is with dogs). Teaching a solid hand target is essential. You might also want to look into hands free leashes (I love Ruffwear's leashes - but then I love all their stuff) so you can use treats and hand targets more easily. Look into the Look At That (LAT) game from "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt - it will really help you get past distractions safely.

Good luck!!

The Pickle Ranch said...

Yesterday I took both of my dogs for a walk together for just the third time. One is a stray who is easily spooked and the other is fantastic - except in the presence of cats. I actually thought about your blog when I was walking them. I remembered you saying that walks are training opportunities. So that's what I did. It was fantastic! We didn't get very far, because we kept practicing stopping and turning around, but it was relatively easy. And on the way home, we were actually tested by 2 cats playing in the road. The dogs sat and we watched. I have you to thank. I love this blog!

mayziegal said...

Because Mayzie was not socialized while growing up, she is reactive to other dogs on leash. Obviously, this is pretty stressful. What I have found that helps is always having a plan. Mayzie really just wants to get AWAY from the other dog, so we do an about-face or cross to the other side of the street. Of course, we live in a much less populated area than you do.

Honestly, I think you're doing the right thing by keeping the pooches away from other dogs. You can control your dogs but you can't control others. It never ceases to amaze me how little people know about their own dogs. When Ranger was attacked and bitten several times by a 110 pound off-leash dog, his owner actually told me that her dog LOVED little dogs and was just trying to play. Uh...what?

Shauna (Fido and Wino) said...

I know what you mean.

I realized that by getting tense I was actually making the situation worse. The more freaked out I get, the more freaked out the dogs get and that doesn't help anything. I am now trying to remember that each time I step out the door is a chance to practice being calm, cool and under control no matter what life/other dog owners throw at me.

So now, when I see a yippy dog that I am pretty sure is going to set my dogs off I think, "What a wonderful dog. Love that dog. I am so happy this will give us a chance to practice keeping calm and polite."

And you know what? My dogs do so much better! I firmly believe that the only way to develop grace under pressure is to be under pressure and to practice grace. So I try to be thankful for the opportunity to practice :)

Sam said...

You know, I've tried to be like that too. I wish I could report I was 100% successful, but I still have to work! :P I've identified my favorite things as my husband, the boys, my horses and art - and I try to dedicate as much time as I can to do those.

Sam

houndstooth said...

We're lucky in that we live in a small town, and we don't encounter tons of people in a close space. I think we try to prepare ourselves somewhat, though, because we know that not everyone everywhere is responsible. I do carry pepper spray, and sometimes a walking stick on hikes. I wouldn't hesitate to use it to defend us. That being said, I don't expect the worst of people. Most that we meet are very pleasant, and impressed that the girls are so well-behaved. There's a lot of work that goes into having them well-socialized, but after you've done it, why not get out there and enjoy it?

Mr. Pip said...

It's a balancing act - you want to trust other people, but you also have to be cautious at the same time. I definitely struggle with it too ...

We were at Montrose Beach with Pip and our daughter over the weekend. We were having a great time. I noticed a dog off leash. I didn't think much of it, but then the dog ran off and jumped on another dog. At first, I thought they were having fun, but the other dog (who was on a leash) started yelping. The owner of the non-leash dog took their time getting over to pull their dog off the other dog. It was a very tense situation. We left shortly after that - I admit it made me nervous for Pip and for our daughter.

jen said...

I hear you!
I love to spend time with the dogs, they make me happy, and I like to walk them, but everytime we walk I get nervous, nervous they are going to pull me down, nervous someone will be walking their dog and not have control..etc. So if you find something that helps you-please let me know!

Susan Campisi said...

This is a great post as I'm always mulling over the happiness factor, particularly as it relates to having Tommy. When I first got him I was anxious about so many things and I realized the anxieties were all about what *might* happen in the near future. It made it hard to relax when I was constantly in fear of potential catastrophes. But I don't live in an urban center like you do and I'm only walking one dog so I'm sure I'd be very stressed in your situation. Sorry!

Do you have a word you use to calm your dogs? When things get tense with other dogs, I always say to Tommy in my calmest voice, "Easy, easy." And when another dog barks, he heels and I feed him handfuls of kibble. He's trained to my side when a dog barks instead of reacting. But again, easier with one dog.

Roo said...

Mom carries an air horn in case we run across doggies off leash. So far, she's only had to use it a couple times when they wouldn't listen to her request to back off. The air horn got them to stop and reverse their approach. Got to tell ya though, it spooks me too :( But Mom would rather freak me out a little than to have an 'incident'.

Retractable leashes for reactive dogs is absurd. Mom's frowning and fuming over this one. Dingbats!

Hope you have a pleasant event free walkie today :D

Waggin at ya,
Roo

C. B. Irvin said...

whew! Just got done walking our Boxer Pit Mix on one of our big woodsy trail systems in town. 15 of the 17 dogs were off leash that we encountered, including 3 huge german shepards who came charging towards us. Thank goodness my dad went out in front of us and requested the owners to leash them up. I love when people look at you like you're the idiot! I have not found a way to deal with it well. Making him sit-stay almost seems to get worse reaction than letting em sniff for a second and moving on. Alls I know is with each dog we passed he kept pulling harder, even with his choke on. I would love to hear more training tips from all.

road-dog-tales said...

Totally understand your situation! Been there! We were finally able to buy some property with swimming holes so we don't have to go out in the public for walks. This solution isn't for everyone. Wish we had some better ideas. You guys are so well trained, but we know - sometimes you just wanna go for a walk and relax and be left alone :)

The Road Dogs

ForPetsSake said...

I agree with your final thoughts on this - energy and confidence must rule the day! While I definitely find myself getting anxious and frustrated when "iffy" situations come up, I've noticed a complete turn around when I have control of my feelings and anxiety. The dogs are far less reactive, and calm. If you're worried about strange off leash dogs, carry a walking stick and have the kids leashes on a caribiner around your waist...just a thought.

Katya said...

Love this article. When attempting to walk both of my pits at the same time, it becomes overwhelming and very nerveracking.. While one is good at the command "leave it", my other one, Millie gets over-excited reactive.. Barking and demanding to play and meet the other dog, and I end up dragging her away from the other dog we come across.. So then I'm looking like the crazy girl with two pits who can't control them.. I'm attempting to set up another appointment with our dog trainer so she can give us a few pointers.. the weather is too beautiful for the pooches to be locked up in the house and for me to be so nervous and anxious that I don't walk them..
I wish there was an easy solution.
Anybody have any insight on prong collars vs front end halters ive seen people use??

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