Tuesday, December 13, 2011

City Dog: Walking Two Dogs at the Same Time

One of the hardest, but most necessary, things about having multiple dogs in the city is learning to walk multiple dogs at the same time. The city distractions can make it difficult to walk one dog, which is only magnified when you add a second pooch. Plus, since most of us don't have yards and we need to go on 2-3 walks a day, which quickly becomes a tiresome 4-6 daily walks if you need to walk the pooches separately.
I first 'met' Willie & Nabi's mom when she emailed to ask tips about how I learned to walk our pooches at the same time. But I was stumped. I had forgotten the steps I had taken. Now that she has been working on walking Wille and Nabi together, I thought it would be great for her to share her experiences: successes and struggles.
When A asked me to guest post about learning to walk two dogs, my first reaction was, “But I’m still learning how!  What could I tell anyone?”  Then I thought how one of the great things about the Sociabulls community is that it is owners helping owners, and how it is helpful to hear about the “Before” as well as the “After”.  
I first found this blog through Project Rescue Chicago, the awesome group that rescued puppy Bella, as well as our smiley Willie, who we fostered and then adopted about 6 months ago.  I was so impressed how A was able to walk 150 pounds of dog at once, because I was struggling to walk a mere 80 pounds of dog at once.
After a couple months with us, we started thinking of Willie as our Jekyll and Hyde dog.  Indoors or off-leash, he was super mellow and seemingly perfect.  On-leash, he would get overexcited, pull a lot, and react to other animals (sometimes dogs, but especially stray cats, squirrels, pigeons, or the housecat-sized rats that roam the streets of Chicago) by lunging and “barking smack” for half a block at a time.  Also, he would remember *everything*, so if he saw a rat on one walk, he would start reacting in anticipation the next few times he passed that same spot, even if nothing was there.          
Our other rescue, Nabi, is generally pretty good on leash, but true to her breed, she also has a high prey drive, and she has previously snatched and killed a pigeon out of mid-air while on a 6-foot leash.  
When I first started trying to walk them together, as soon as one saw a squirrel and got excited, the other would copy, and it was a mess.  We’ve recently started working with fellow Sociabull Maize’s trainer, and although we are definitely a work in progress, we are beginning to see some great changes.  Here are some of the things that we’re learning:

One Step at a Time.
Like Miss M and Mr. B, Willie and Nabi don’t have a yard, so we rely on daily walks.  We were used to doing long multiple walks a day with Nabi, so at first we were trying to work on Willie’s pulling and reacting during those long walks.  Inevitably, he was getting away with a lot of pulling on those walks (because otherwise they would’ve literally taken hours), and the more he was able to pull, the more excited he would become.
We switched gears by starting to walk Willie alone, without Nabi, because Willie was more excitable with Nabi present.  Our trainer had us break down walking with Willie to literally one step at a time, two steps at a time, etc., while never moving forward if he was pulling, rewarding for being “in position”, and “resetting” if he got ahead of us.  We use mainly kibble as training treats and began feeding most of his meals through training rather than out of a bowl.  He does get to run and sniff for parts of each walk, but only when we “free” him so he knows we’re no longer working.  Our street is a big challenge due to several dogs left out in their gated areas who charge the fence, a big stray cat population, and squirrels, so as part of every walk, we try to practice going back and forth on our street several times.  This type of walk doesn’t cover as much ground distance wise, but seems to tire Willie out by being mentally challenging.      

Not Cheating.
As you can imagine, practicing walking one step at a time can get tedious at times and sometimes the temptation to just get going already is great.  However, we have noticed that if we cheat, we have setbacks.  We especially noticed this when we took the dogs out to the suburbs for a couple days over Thanksgiving and were a bit more lax while in vacation mode.  When we returned to the city, it took a couple walks to get back to where we were before Thanksgiving.  
On Equipment.
I feel like before we started doing this, we were searching for a “magic pill” in different equipment.  We tried a couple different styles of no-pull harness, the Gentle Leader, and a prong collar.  Each would make a difference for the first few days as Willie got used to the new equipment, but then he would adjust to it and learn to pull against it, and would still get just as excited around squirrels, because we weren’t effectively addressing the underlying behavior.  I think different equipment can be a great management tool, but probably not in the way that we were using it before.  
Voluntary Check-ins.
Working with a trainer has changed our perspective from trying to get Willie to constantly follow a series of commands to letting Willie make his own choice to pay attention to us.  As an example, instead of us constantly telling Willie “watch me” like we were at first, now Willie can look where he wants, but he only gets rewarded when he voluntarily chooses to look at us and be at our side, which encourages him to keep making that same choice.  We noticed that using the first method, Willie would look at us while we were giving him a command, but not much at other times, but using the second method, he’s checking in much more frequently on his own, which helps him not get as carried away.            
Impulse Control.
We’ve also been working on other exercises like “leave it”, hand targeting, and recall, to help with focus and impulse control.    
We’re just at the beginning stages, but seeing great changes so far.  Just last week, Willie had a breakthrough moment, where a squirrel ran right in front of him, and he whimpered a couple times, but visibly made an effort to stop himself and then look at us instead!  We have noticed improvement when he is outside with Nabi as well.  Seeing how he is trying so very hard just endears him to us even more.
I love the support our Sociabulls community gives each other in trying to help our dogs be their best, from A sharing her experiences walking 150 pounds of pit bull to Maize’s mom telling us all about different trainers.  We are learning so much and looking forward to more.  Anyone else have experiences to share on working with pulling and prey drive, and learning to walk multiple dogs together?


Anonymous said...

This is such a helpful post! While our dog, Knox is a good city walker, we've been slacking on his training and though he doesn't pull, he tends to lead... a big no-no. When we add the typical foster dog in the mix, its a chaos sometimes...Knox 'forgets' all is manners b'c the foster is acting out. I really need to reset myself and start from scratch. It IS a challenge and we too have those typical city distractions. Thanks for sharing! It is going to be part of my new years resolution for knox (yes, he doesn't get to choose, I do!lol)

Trissi_V said...

Walks can take forever sometimes with two dogs when it comes to training. If one starts to react I correct and walk the opposite direction until the reaction subsides. Laci is almost perfect and the only bit of correction I need is my outside boundary word "Nope". Apollo is bigger and more stubborn with a longer neck. I don't think we could get through a walk without his halti on.

Emily said...

Oh this is very helpful! My little girl caught a pigeon in her mouth on a walk one time... my boyfriend was walking her and he was trying to pry the bird out her mouth-- he said the bird's eyes went white and the bird... not my dog haha kept trying to bite him-- all while nearby landscapers watched and laughed.
Our dogs also are prone to the urge to chase rabbits, something we have instead of squirrels in the desert. Anyway, I know the key is being consistent and I have to remind myself of this. The problem we have is often our walks are rushed due to our work schedule and what could be a training opportunity turns into a rushed walk.
Reading stuff like this motivates me to get back on track!

In Black and White said...

My biggest problem when walking two is that I get lazy about training. Bilbo's been getting a bit of a short straw recently as well because Flower can't walk more than a block or two at the moment. She gets so anxious if we both leave without her that I prefer to do it in short bursts rather than disappear for hours at a time, so he hasn't had more than a 45 minute walk for weeks now.
At least I don't have to walk three these days. That just got silly...!

Brenda said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for sharing your experiences with Willi and Nabi. I am so proud of Nabi too, I can just see that scene with the squirrel running past and her working so hard to restrain herself. I have seen Lady do that, and it does endear them to you even more, to know that they're trying. I am curious - when you reward the spontaneous "looking" (or "paying attention"), how do you do that? Provide a quick treat? I like the idea of rewarding the voluntary looking, and it's something I haven't tried yet. I thought I'd tried everything already! :)

My challenging dog is Lady, a big German Shepherd. But thankfully her reactivity does not spread to the other two dogs, so only one is going crazy - not three. And really, she is SO much better than she used to be. Now her reaction is very toned down, if at all. A couple of weeks ago, I got brave and took all three dogs on a jog. I was so proud of them! They were so good, running shoulder to shoulder with each other, off to my left side. I thought to myself, I bet we are a sight, the four of us running down this busy road, lol!

Jaime said...

We are struggling with some leash reactivity with Izzy now. This morning, she got along with all 5 dogs we passed, even insisting on playing with a pug. But some days, she just can't stand to have another dog near her and will lunge and bark. Makes it hard when you have goofy foster puppy on one side and lunging lunatic on the other. We're working on it, but sometimes its nearly impossible to break her out of the fixation.

Kate said...

Great post. We had to start working more on loose leash walking with the dogs when we were working with Heidi for the Canine Good Citizen test, and it was definitely hard! I really understand the temptation to cheat sometimes...

Alanna said...

Oh man, I so could've used this info when I was regularly walking my 60lb pittie and my friends' 130lb Shepherd together. Eventually it became too much for my puny 95lb self. My girl is a great on the leash but the Shepherd was not used to walking on a leash - he pulled terribly (i.e. basically dragged me down the street LOL) and would constantly try to start wresting matches with my dog - for some reason always when we were crossing the street or when a person or another dog passed. It became a bit of a nightmare! It was tough because he wasn't my dog so the training I did with him during our walks had gone out the window by the next walk. Both my dog and I were relieved when we stopped walking the other dog!

Two Pitties in the City said...

This is all so fantastic, thanks again so much for sharing! When we first adopted Mr. B, E had to go away for a conference and I was just so miserable going on 6 walks every day. I don't remember the point when I was able to walk them together, but even now it's not always great. I have the 'morning shift' and the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing I will run into so many fewer dogs the earlier I go. Our main problem is Mr. B gets excited when he sees dogs (and housecat sized rats!) and starts squealing, and when Miss M sees this, it's her opportunity to jump on him; so then I have 2 huge pitbulls playing on leash and making funny noises and it just looks bad. I think I need to use the voluntary check ins, and even the one step at a time with Mr. B because he pulls so much!

Two Kitties One Pittie said...

What a great post! I give you guys so much credit for all your hard work! I never even knew your dogs had those issues based on seeing them on the Sociabulls walks! Zoe also goes crazy when she sees squirrels, pigeons, rats, cats, etc. We also work on the "watch me" + treat, or the "leave it" + treat commands when she walks by them. But it definitely takes diligence, and she will slack off if she sees that I'm not paying attention or being lazy. It's a constant work in progress.

Thanks again for the great post!

Kristine said...

There is a lot of great information here! I only have one dog - for now - but I have attempted to walk several at once in the past and it was not a simple task. It made me question my intentions on adopting another dog one day. I'll have to store this post away for the future. Walking my one is challenging enough for now!

Anonymous said...

This was a very much wonderful article - according to my mom. As for me, I don't know WHAT you humans think is SO wrong with us helping you move a little faster by pulling you along. Plus, how would you ever see those squirrels if we didn't bark and jump at them?

Mom keeps saying we need to work on my walking nicer on leash (and that you gave her some good ideas). But I think she needs to just hurry up and walk faster and help me chase those squirrels!

Wiggles & Wags,

Christine said...

Thanks everyone for the nice comments!

Brenda - Congrats on your three-dog-jog! That's amazing. We do mostly use food to reward for the voluntary looking. We'll bring enough kibble for 1 of Willie's meals in a baggie and always hold a handful so that we can shoot a kibble into his mouth kind of like a Pez dispenser. Whatever is left over at the end of the walk is what he eats out of a bowl. If he's pretty calm, we'll also reward with just praise or environmental rewards like letting him go sniff.

Kiira said...

Oh, man do I feel your pain! 2x50lbs for two hours every day. Monkey is fearful of most traffic, which results in a flight response (uncontrollable pulling), and both Monkey and Petey are absolutely obsessed with squirrels (daytime) and rabbits, which are all over the place after dark. I let Monkey cheat too often, because I'm afraid that Petey, who has a decent walk, will get fed up for having to suffer through Monkey's corrections (reversing direction, etc.) every few steps. But you have some amazing advice, and it's made me realize that I've got to do a lot more one-on-one work with Monkey to address his fear of trucks and buses.

gabrielle said...

Great tip on rewarding for self check-ins! I generally walk 3, sometimes 4 at once. My own dog is a sticky 72-lb pit-x, but Luna is good on leash. I have 2 permanent fosters, both 14-yo and 21 lbs. Those 3 are easy; in fact, most of my fosters have been pretty good on walks, incl the 110-lb mastiff mix (thank goodness). My current #4 is also a pit-x (& pointer, I think), not used to leash and pulls. Mainly I walk her alone, since we're still at the 2-3 steps before I have to stop stage. One advantage of having been laid off recently is having more time to train. When working, I'd usually have to walk all the dogs together in the am. I'm in the 'burbs but near a busy street. My own block is quiet and Luna gets excited if we see another dog, wants to play and throws a pit-fit. My most challenging foster was a 2-l rattie with high prey drive, but at least I could pick her up. If she saw a rabbit or squirrel, she went into Tasmanian Devil mode.

gabrielle said...

Oops, I meant "stocky 72-lb" and "20-lb rattie." Been working in the yard and the fingers are cold.

Rachel said...

Thank you so so so much for posting this! Honestly at times, when I read about everyone walking their dogs so frequently (and without complaint) I begin to think that I'm the only one that struggles with walks. My pit Amy is an excellent walker. Our problem child is our lab Luke. He just has so much energy, everything is a party. Reading your article really made me think though and I definitely have not done my part. Like you said, at times, it is so tempting to just get on with the walk. But each time I let him pull just so we can keep moving I am teaching him its ok. So, thank you very much for your great post. I will go back to taking things step by step until we get it! Thank you for the inspiration :-)

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

This is amazing, we really appreciate the advice, and will work on implementing it!

Kobipup said...

Great information! We're working on the same techniques with our 10 month old border collie puppy. Being in the dead of winter right now certainly does not help, but patience pays off. I also have an older 12 year old dog. He requires far fewer walks so I try to take the puppy out more on his own to work on his walking skills. When I do bring my older dog I tie his leash around my waist as he only ever pulls to find a spot to pee. Doing this allows me to keep one hand free to treat our puppy for walking politely.


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