Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pooches: Small Girl Walking Big Dogs

 At the beginning of each school year, when I'm introducing myself to my students, I always tell them I own 2 pitbulls.
Most of the time they think I'm joking.
And I've even had a couple confide in me, mid-year, that I look more likely to have a little poodle.
One that's pink and carried around in my purse (of course!).
I think a lot of people do find it hard to believe that small girls can walk bigger dogs, or people limit their options to only having smaller dogs because they think that's all that they can handle.
Despite the misconceptions I really do like big dogs,  and here are some things I've learned along the way:

Holding Leashes
With big dogs walking together they are bound to get really excited together; any sudden leap could be too much and cause me to drop the leash. I like the hold the leash loops in the crook of my elbow which frees up my hands to hold the leash in two places. So even if something happens where I lose my grip on both hands, I still have the leashes on my elbow.
Miss M's first dog walker also taught me to tie knots in the middle of the leash which gives more of a grip.
The leash hold is especially important when I'm stopped to pick up their poo where I will be a bit preoccupied. I make sure the pooches are in a sit stay and that I do have a good hold on their leashes. 

Training Walks
We always talk about how every time we take a walk it's treated as a training walk. We keep things consistent and routine so the dogs understand our expectations. They need to sit each time we approach a corner. They need to keep checking back with us, and we keep treats to mark good behavior and focus. Since they understand how they're supposed to behave on the walks, it makes walking them that much easier...even though they outweigh me by double. We also keep referring to this really great guest post by Willie & Nabi's person about the steps she's taken to learn to walk 2 dogs at the same time.

Non-Judgmental Training Tools
We all know how important long-term training is to build positive behaviors, but the truth is: long-term training takes a long time.
Living in the city we are forced to take our dogs on daily walks on day one: encountering scary noises, lots of people, and even more dogs (we counted 30 dogs on our block alone!). So I do find it frustrating when people judge other people's training tools without understanding their situation. We believe that each owner knows their situation and dog best and can make the best choice after researching options. Even flat collars can cause severe neck and disk damage if it's not appropriate for that specific dog.
We have found that these tools can evolve throughout your time with your dog. For our own dogs we've used a variety of halters, prongs and martingales. We've also tried this plastic prong as an alternative to the large metal prongs (and we always make sure to doubleclip everything knowing that equipment can fail).

These are some things that have worked for me. Any other tips for handling large or strong pooches?


Unknown said...

I am also a small girl, standing at 5ft and am drawn to bigger more muscular dogs. Pitbulls and rottweilers top my list of dogs to get when I move out on my own. I currently have Koda my golden who at 80pd certainly can pull me if he would like to.

I have done a lot of recalls and practiced off leash walking. We used to have horses and I made sure to train him to stay with me as I rode. He even knows to sit stay in a ditch when a car comes. I like your tips about the leashes and training tools.

I am often judgemental of training tools, as I work at petsmart. We try to push people to buy head halters and have found more success with these. I really try to encourage people to research the tools they are using. Flat collars like you said along with head halters are not good for flat faced dogs. No matter the tool it is all about proper usage and training!

Anonymous said...

I know how much negative stereotypes there are with prongs, but they are tried and true with the big, challenging boys in our house. Our dog, Knox, flourished in one. He was just not responsive enough with the easy walker. However, some of our fosters do so well with the harness! We really take it on a dog by dog basis, and have all the tools to decide which method works best. Knox had a few behaviors (protective at night, more than anything) that simply needed a correction, and the prong was best for that. Safety first and public image too! On a prong, he was the ideal poster boy. That's what we wanted.

Kinsley said...

I, too, am short and being female I think most people instictivly think "you should have a small dog". But I am drawn to bigger breeds. My first dog when I moved out on my own was an Irish Wolfhound mix, and he weighed in at 140lbs. (He kind of fell into my hands when I found out someone was having hime put down.) Even though he was so big I didn't really have problems with him on walks, we lived at the beach and he loved swimming in the ocean. He was ideal. He went EVERYWHERE with me. Everyone wouId say here come K and her small horse:) I volunteer at the humane society and foster dogs, we have up to 6 dogs sometimes, and that is how I ended up with my pittie, Izzy. I figured she would be easy since I had already raised this massive dog and trained him. Boy was I wrong. I, too, treat every walk as a training walk, and sometimes we have to sit stay every 20ft because we have tons of dogs roaming around and she gets SO excited. I carry treats, and when she gets too excited I use them to distract her from whatever is stimulating her. We have been through 5 training classes, and at first we used a halter, but later realized it caused her to pull more. Now that we use martingale collars, and they work SO much better for us. It has been trial and error with Izzy, but it has taught me so much and I know when I get my next pittie, (because I love this breed) I will have a better idea what to start off with.

Luv My Rosie said...

When we went to training they recommended the metal prong collar. I was against it at first until I saw how well it worked for my dog. We use the prong for longer walks and trips to the vet, etc. When she sees the prong come out she knows its going to be a long walk and is very well behaved and heels very well. I recently tried a chest harness and I was really disappointed with how much she pulled. I think she felt she had more freedom and I felt it was a little harder to control her. Im still researching a good chest harness and would appreciate any recommendations. Also, I took your advise and bought the fish oil and all I can say is THANK YOU!!! What a difference it has made in her coat. She is soft as velvet now and she enjoys eating her dog food now!

Breakfast With the Bennetts said...

when I walk with Boxen and Bella together I have a leash that is connected in the middle and swivles. That way they pull on each other instead of me if one of them pulls. The handle of the leash is padded and reinforced and they are always double locked. They really like the leash because they can walk without getting tangled up and I love it because of the control it gives me.

Anonymous said...

Girl you are always so stylish walking the pooches! I'm lucky if I put on matching tennis shoes. :-)

I'm 5' nothin' myself, and I never thought twice about getting a "big" dog. I don't even really consider 60lb Oscar to be "big," I still think of him as my little boy! We trained him with a prong collar as well, and he did great in it. It's all about the individual dog and what works for them. As you said, all equipment can cause harm if used improperly.

Emily said...

Someone had one of those plastic prongs at adoptions last weekend and it did wonders on one of our reactive dogs-- I need one for my Star Puller. =)
I could do this post called Weak Girl Walking Big Dogs. =) People do seem to think walking a large dog is unmanageable but it truly is all in training. The easiest dog I ever walked was a gigantic mastiff who was at least 130 pounds. If he had bad leash manners it would have been terrible, but luckily he was trained and well mannered so it didn't matter. Training is definitely key when walking a strong dog.
And how often do we see people with dogs under 20 pounds who let the dog run the show? The dog may not be able to physically pull you down, but they can still have control over you if you let them!
We struggle on and off with Hades and leash manners but I am learning more and more that consistency is key and he is showing great improvements. You're right, every walk is a training opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't seen the plastic prong before. I think that is our next step with our Devo. He just doesn't walk well. Eventually, about 15 mins into the walk, he will calm down but that's not good enough. We've tried various tools so far and they don't seem to make a bit of a difference. It's so amazing how 3 dogs can all require such differnt tools. I'm small myself and I LOVE having "big" dogs. I feel more confident with them. And when I was a single gal with just Buddy it did get me some man attention from time to time ;-)

Anonymous said...

I don't think the size of the person matters - it's how well you train your dogs.

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

I loved this post! I get a secret joy when people find out i have a pitbull and watchin their face.

Two Kitties One Pittie said...

Ha! You are way too badass for a pink pocket poodle. :) Just like your dogs, you change people's perceptions about pit bulls. And that's awesome.

Nic-n-Steve-n-Oakley too! said...

We just started using a metal prong collar. Our big guy Oakley (75lbs, 16 months) has been through 18 weeks of obedience training (which he did great at BTW). One of the trainers recomended we try the prong collar for better reaction from him. We never did in training . . . we were a bit unsure . . . but we started to on walks. What a difference! He is always well behaved, but the prong has ended his desire to pull! He will sit/stay at corners, and when other dogs approach. His daily walks are up to a local park to play with his friends. He's extremely social, and LOVES all other dogs (all sizes too!). We take the prong off for playtime at the park, and for the walk home. 15 minutes with the prong on the way to the park is just enough for him! We don't use the prong at home for training - we prefer to use his leash, with a choke or martingale. (his leash calms him down at home - we learned this trick from a private trainer).

LOVE your blog by the way :)

Jen said...

I'm not a small girl, and Elka is also a big girl. I do think, on observation, people still think I won't be able to handle her. Surprise, I can pick up my 71 pound dog, and have more than once carried over over broke glass on the sidewalk!

We've never used a prong collar, though I did have a chain for a little while, in between collar purchases, but I stopped using it when I realized I wasn't happy with it and Elka didn't care if she was getting choked.

I used a clicker and treats, and treats, to train her to walk on a flat collar, and right now, our walk equipment is 1 1/2 inch wide leather collar, EZY dog Chest plate harness, attachment that separately clips the collar to the leash, and a 4 foot long, wide leather leash. Longer leashes just make me feel clumsy, so I don't worry about them.

Jaime said...

I hate knots in my leash! Pet peeve I guess....

Skinny Fat Kid walks Izzy on the prong and I've been using the Gentle Leader head collar. It's all about what works for you. While I'm 5'8 and can hold my own, Izzy is leash reactive so we have to be on top of things. She does loose leash walk, but only has a few extra inches in case a skateboard or dog comes out of no where. We've learned to be able to handle her on a short leash but longer gives her too much freedom to lunge!

Two French Bulldogs said...

okay,we areno pittie but mom holds our leashes exactly like you
Benny & Lily

Julia said...

We love our Starmark collar! I think I've told at least 4-5 people about it @ SociaBulls in the past few weeks!

zoki said...

when i am picking up their poo, i step on the leashes to avoid a disaster if there is a sudden lunge!

Keri @ Trinitys Love said...

People have said that I look like I would own a small dog to, but I quickly tell them I'm a strict 'big dog person'. When I was 10 I taught my 50lb lab mix how to walk nicely and my dad was the one being pulled down the street with her. It made me feel good!

Anonymous said...

I hold Boomer and Dottie's leashes the same way because I know they could take me for a ride if they really wanted to and I need to be able to hold on and keep control.

Unknown said...

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