Tuesday, February 28, 2012

City Dog: On Walking a Dog in the City

It seems like the simplest thing: if you have a dog, you can walk it.
Which is how it always works in the movies.
But then we have real life where the most minor thing like a walk can become unfathomable. Even the most well-behaved dogs can lose all focus the moment they get outside. For some dogs it's just so exciting to check out squirrels. Or maybe they really want to meet that other dog across the street. Or maybe they're just not used to this thing we call a leash. When I first adopted Miss M she would be so wonderful in the house, but then the moment we got outside there was so much going on she wouldn't listen to me. The worst part: she would even think the leash was a toy and she would keep grabbing the leash and to play tug. And guess who wins a tug contest with a 70lb excited dog?
Since we live in the city, and most of us don't have backyards, we are forced to take our dogs out several times a day from the moment we get them. And this can honestly be a struggle with all the other dogs, squirrels, loud noises, and people that come with living in a city. At the same time, we really do enjoy our walks and we know how important it is for our dogs to get out, get exercised, and meet other people (and dogs!). Lately we've been getting questions about how our dogs walk nicely with us in the city We know all dogs are very different, and have different sensitivities, but here are some things that have worked for us.

Our Dogs Walk "With Me"
 When we first adopted Mr B, he was a 'dog at large' allowed to run around Kalamazoo, Michigan at whim. His owner chose to relinquish him rather than pay the many off-leash fines he accumulated. So basically, Mr. B had never been on a leash before. He would try to lead the walk, pulling, with little me trailing behind him like a cartoon. When we talked to our trainer about it, the answer became so obvious: the dogs need to realize we choose the walking route and that they need to pay attention to us to know where to go. He suggested always taking different routes so they couldn't anticipate our route and take charge. We also used a "with me" strategy where the moment he began to pull we would shout "with me" and suddenly, and unexpectedly change directions. Even after all the training and year's we've had him, he still tends to walk like a jackrabbit.
We also loved hearing about SociaBulls members Willie and Nabi's amazing guest post (if you haven't read this before, you seriously need to see all the great advice they have) about just taking 'one step at a time' and 'not cheating' and 'checking in'.

Give your Dog a Job
 Another thing that really worked for Mr B was wearing his backpack. When he puts his backpack on, he realizes he has a job to do and he becomes more focused. When he carries things he also has to work harder, which makes the walks that much more beneficial, and leaves less room for jumping running and misbehaving. We always do make sure he's not carrying too much to be a strain, and that we balance each side of the bag. Added benefit: so many more people want to meet a pitbull wearing a cool backpack!

Choosing Training Gear Appropriate for your Dog
We know so many people have very strong feelings about specific training tools, but we believe that each owner knows their situation and dog best and can make the best choice after researching options. It might take time trying a variety of tools before finding one that works for your dog. We've used a variety of martingales, prongs, and easy-walk harnesses for our own dogs.
At the same time I do want to mention we have been getting disparaging comments from people making judgments about the gear dogs have been using in our photos.One thing we like about the community we have built here is that it’s owners sharing information with other owners to help us have positive relationships with our dogs and our community. While we all have preferences about training tools we use, we didn’t think it’s fair to make judgments about people’s choices of gear while not understanding their experiences. .We all know that long-term behavioral training takes time. Additionally, we do know that there can be damage from all types of walking gear. Even flat collars can cause severe neck and disk damage.
We have found this link from Bad Rap about proper fit and use of prong collars to be a useful source about prong collars.
And just be aware to properly secure whatever you may be using. We've know prong collars to open unexpectedly, clips on leashes to come loose, and dogs to slip out of collars.

Treat Every Walk as a Training Walk
 I've realized how much our pooches thrive on consistency and discipline, so we're consistently treating every venture outside as a 'training walk'. We bring high-value treats, encourage the pooches to check back at often. Miss M is extremely food motivated, and loves to perform, so I quickly learned one way to keep her interested is bring the treats and allow her to practice the tricks she's already good at on our walks. It started with 'sit' where I would randomly have her sit whenever I stopped. Then she automatically started sitting at every corner. We would randomly practice 'waving', 'finish' (walking around me in a circle) and 'down stays'. The extra mental stimulation is extra exhausting, plus imagine how many people you meet when your dog waves at them?

These are things that work for our dogs. And we also love this guest post from Maize about managing a leash reactive dog in the city, and Willie's guest post about walking two dogs at the same time.
What other things have seemed to work for everyone?

22 comments:

waldobungie said...

I know when I walked Ms. M back in October, I thought she walked sooo well on a leash! I dream about it as Lucy Lou drags me down our neighborhood streets.... ;)

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

I got the idea to treat every walk as a training activity from you a while back. I really made a difference for us. And I agree that everyone does their own thing with their pup!

TheRiverFinn said...

I love this! I will say that seeing a dog practically choking to death in a choke collar didn't leave ne quiet one day. It wasn't the dog or the equipment, but the owner. He was using the equipment improperly, and it was probably the wrong equipment to use with that dog, period. That dog needed more guidance and understanding. Rather than attack the guy, I struck up a conversation with him about how hard it was for me to get Axle to stop pulling. That lead to discussing different techniques and equipment. We parted on friendly terms, and he seemed genuinely interested in trying different things with his dog. Treat other owners and their dogs with love and respect, and then you'll truly make a difference. :)

Kate said...

leash work is sooooo hard for me. I can teach our dogs tons of stuff, but I struggle a lot when it comes to having the dogs walk nicely on a leash. I do a lot of the same things you do - treats and using an easy walk harness - and they go a long way. I've gotten better about leash training, but they still aren't perfect!

Rebelwerewolf said...

We had a lot of success using the Gentle Leader headcollar with Badger. However, we noticed Mushroom was losing fur on her nose after only using it for a few days. We're having some success walking her using her flat collar, but the pulling and having to stop constantly has made us want to skimp on the length of her walks. We're going to try putting moleskin on the part of the headcollar that goes over her nose and see if that helps.

Sam said...

I really love your last section "Treat Every Walk as a Training Walk" - a while back I got involved in a very heated discussion on Dogster about what constitutes a walk. The majority of the folks involved thought a "walk" was when the dog made all the decisions, should have no direction, and the person should have no input into what the dog does. Our job was to simply hold the leash. Your dog should be able to pee/poo where they wanted, visit who they wanted, go where they wanted... the list went on and on. I argued that a walk is a place to teach your dog manners, and that a walk should be considered a training exercise, that is okay to let your dog have down time during your walk where he/she can sniff and explore - boy, did I ever get trampled for my comments! Thanks for the great article.

Sam

Rebelwerewolf said...

That's both odd and enlightening. I thought everyone agreed that walks were supposed to be human-led, but I guess this explains retractable leashes.

SherBear said...

while Nala walks fantastically with an Easy Walker in a "neutral" environment, she really needs a Gentle Leader for city walking. While most dog owners (esp large dogs) understand that it's a type of harness (and some used one on their dog for their first year or two, which gives me hope for Miss Nala) I do occassionally get asked if it's a muzzle (I also sometimes get asked if she bites since she is a pitbull). I never take these questions personally and figure since they are asking me they would like to learn about my dog. My comment on the Gentle Leader is a simple "oh no, not a muzzle - she is a puller" and my standard answer for biting is "only if you are a tennis ball!" While I personally wouldn't use a prong collar I have read the Bad Rap article (and a couple others) and understand that they are very effective and safe if used properly - I only cast judgement on bad owners, not equipment!

Sophie said...

I believe Premier will provide you with some kind of extra padding to use with the gentle leader, call the customer service for help.

Sarah said...

Patience and the ability not to get embarrassed by your dog's behavior are my two most valuable training tools.

Kristine said...

I like Sarah's comment. It's so true!

I often use you and your awesome dogs as an example of someone without a fenced yard whose dogs are not the least bit lacking. In fact, I think often think the whole yard thing is a bit over-rated. Our lack of space forced us to get out with our dog every day, multiple times a day, which in turn forced us to work on her crazy behaviours. If we'd had a yard we may have been much lazier and she probably wouldn't be the great dog she is today.

Thanks for the great (judgment-free) tips!

Christine said...

I agree, what sounds like it should be so simple can be so hard! One thing I find so hard is that in the city, there is virtually no quiet, distraction-free outdoor space to practice. We just have to hit the street from day 1, and it can be so helpful, and even a necessity, to have training equipment to keep ourselves and our dogs safe while they are still learning.

Two French Bulldogs said...

All doggie owners should be as dedicated as you. Good post
Benny & Lily

houndstooth said...

I've learned a lot about different training tools, and adding Morgan to our group definitely caused me to expand my horizons and comfort zone about different tools and training styles. While a Freedom harness worked wonderfully to teach Bunny to walk nicely (she'd NEVER been on a leash before we brought her home at eighteen months old! It was like walking a kangaroo!) a harness just signaled to Morgan that it was time to pull lower and harder! And for Kuster, a harness means it's time to go to work. He only wears his harness when he's tracking.

We try to make walking with our dogs a social and learning experience. It's really hard right now while we're trying to teach Kuster manners. We tell him no jumping on people, but a lot of strangers go out of their way to encourage and reward that bad behavior. For a dog as smart as he is, it's really tough, and we're still trying to find our balance there!

Tracy Wilson said...

Very good information and lots of food for though-
I have a 7 year old Am Staff bitch who just acts brain dead when she gets on a leash...this is only recent, though. Not sure what caused it, or how to fix it.

She is a bit of a challenge.
Thanks again for the info!
Tracy

Skinny Fat Kid said...

Most of the dogs on our pack walk practice "with me" since that's what the trainer teaches them at our local shelter.

We got Izzy a backpack last week and it already broke! I just ordered another but did notice when we had it that she was more focused. Her reactivity was less intense.

Living in a city can be hard and we know people must think we're crazy, but we don't mind! Makes me feel good when I have Izzy in a full focus on me while some Shih Tzus bark on by.

Emily said...

I wish I had a list of great things that work for us, but currently all three have their individual struggles that they are working through! It's great to find what works for each. Our Braylon is the most manageable but Hades likes to whine and pull towards things and hearing dogs barking in yards totally upsets him! I will come back to this post a year from now when I'm a real pro! ;)

Two Kitties One Pittie said...

As always, this is a great post! I think that it's so important to recognize, as you said, that each dog is an individual and thus requires different equipment! I also love the idea of making each walk a learning opportunity! Thanks for posting...I'll definitely share this the next time someone asks how I could have a nearly 60 lb dog in a small, yardless apartment!

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for the judgment-free dog walking tips! Sometimes I feel like the only one who struggles with walking. I love the idea of having our pups want to be there and also knowing they are not walking themselves... I like the idea of redirecting them and making them focus on you. I think the hardest part is being consistent... I am definitely guilty of wanting to just walk and sometimes I encourage unwanted behavior just by letting them keep going so we can get back home.

EGG said...

I agree about the different training tools needed based on what works best for the dogs. I have 3 dogs a sheppard/greyhound mix, pitbull/ rottie mix, and a pitbull/mastiff mix all 3 use a different type of "collar" on walks my big boy needs a prong but mostly turned around (prongs facing out) when he isnt listening i turn them the right way for awhile and he goes back to listening than i can turn it around again the mere feel of it keeps him in check, one of my girls uses a no pull harness she is my conspiracy dog and thinks everyone/thing is after her so it helps her feel secure, while my greyhound mix (ol' banana nose) needs a gentle leader because she is so nose driven and surprisingly this one is the one i have gotten the most comments on mostly they think its a muzzle. it takes alot of trial and error to find what works and what doesnt and you cant let anyone else tell you what is good or bad for YOUR dog.

Msminnamouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wewalkdogs said...

Walking your dog is an essential part of a healthly lifestyle for you and your dog. It provides physical and mental benefits for you both. And walking your dog can also be a great way to reinforce existing training methods and establish new ones as well.

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