How many of us are mostly or completely dependent on physical means to control our dogs? I'm definitely in that group. From Day One (though we got him at around a year of age), we used a prong with Renji because he is very reactive and pretty hard when it comes to corrections. We do go to training and we do lots of motivational methods to convince Renji that staying with us and maintaining a loose lead is a good thing. When dealing with a stubborn dog, this can be good but he also decides he can have it both ways as the correction for pulling/losing track is not a big deal. We then moved to the Gentle Leader and now I basically have a pissed-off tarpon on the end of my leash, not nearly pulling as much but bucking, rolling, shaking, at times you'd think I was trying to control a green stallion. It certainly didn't add to his reactivity like the prong did in hot situations but his comfort level was lowered and I was still stuck with relying on the leash and the tool. We cannot get anywhere in any trials unless we can break free of this reliance. In short, I have a well managed dog as opposed to a well trained dog. Management doesn't cut it in trials nor should it be acceptable in daily life save for extreme circumstances or unusual situations; the norm should be a well trained dog that obeys because it is more pleasant, it gets what it wants, and it allows for a harmonious partnership.
Many people fail to fully utilize the tools that no store can purchase: body and voice. Our dogs pay very close attention to how we say things rather than what exactly we say. Volume, tone, long and drawn out versus staccato and sharp can make all the difference in the world. Physically, when communicating with a dog all we usually use are our hands. We often forget about the rest of our bodies, pushing away a dog with our hands instead of moving our entire body in front of the dog in a clear signal of "not your concern." Today we went to the park, about a 20 minute walk, using Renji's Gentle Leader rather than our mainstay prong. After a heavy game of fetch, I didn't want to put his GL back on to restrict his panting in any way but I had nothing else left but his flat buckle collar, a pouch of boiled chicken, and myself. Renji does enjoy pulling and will test on a prong or a GL and we tried all manners of training to get him to reduce pulling, but he is a work in progress. I knew that my tone of voice while giving commands does make a big difference and I knew that I could use my body to go a long way with him, so off we went with the buckle collar.
Renji has a tendency to walk faster than I do, a tendency I think most dogs share. It takes a good amount of self-control to settle in at a human's pokey pace. It's also been proven that the pressure from pulling on a collar actually encourages further pulling. Despite a prong, Renji will gladly pull; though not nearly as much, I still do not want a taut leash and it does nothing to teach him not to pull. It is the same with the Gentle Leader though the pressure points differ. He is still used to pulling, but now his discomfort is greater and so is his reaction to the collar. Renji was calmer around other dogs because the prong corrections fire him up (something that happens in quite a few dogs) but he still hit the end of the leash frequently, fought the collar, and I also relied upon the collar and leash way too much. Now that he was on the buckle collar, I radically changed my approach. As much as I could, I pretended that there was no leash connecting me to my dog. Much to my amazement, the results were the best 20 minute walk we have ever had.
I gave the command to walk by my side quietly and calmly, nearly a whisper and in a low, soothing voice. He did not have to walk shoulder-to-leg but he did have to stay reasonably close. If I was beginning to have a lovely view of his rear half, that was outside the zone I decided upon. Once he started to get a little ahead of the zone, I gave a corrective vocal marker. Renji responds well to "hey" and "ah-ah-ah." When giving these negative markers, I made sure to adjust my voice to the infraction. Slightly off, and it would be quiet but firm, a little sharp. If he was quickly exiting the zone, the correction escalated in volume and sharpness but never to an anxious shout or exclamation and as much as possible kept it short rather than "hey hey hey no no no," a trap into which many fall. Sometimes I had to stop and pat my leg to call him back or stop and walk backwards or even turn around, but that is part of using my body. We did walk by two people with dogs but at a distance, and a man, but these distractions would have set him off on a prong or GL. I believe my determination to not communicate through the leash helped him to stay calmer as well. Throughout the walk, I found that I did indeed have a throttle-like control of Renji just with my voice.
That's our story thus far. If we continue on this path, I will soon have a well trained dog and will be able to leave the management to occasional events rather than daily life. Hopefully we will be able to become less reliant on tools like leashes and collars and more reliant on ourselves alone, save for goodies like treats and toys. Dogs still need a paycheck, after all.
Any stories of breaking through the dependencies, bumps in the road, tips and tricks?
Renji - 6 y/o M GSD x chow rescue
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"German shepherd dog breeding is working dog breeding or it is not German shepherd dog breeding." -v. Stephanitz