Thursday, July 26, 2012

Forward Motion!

There will always be the loose dog that runs up on you, the responsible dog owner with YOUR dog(s) on leash. While complaining about it to your dog-owning community of friends may serve its purpose, it is not moving you forward. So, how do we move forward? We arm ourselves with the information we need to set our dog(s) up for success when it does happen.

You will never find yourself successful at changing the behavior of others, so let’s – for a moment – entertain the idea of changing our own behaviors? Join me!

While out for a jog this morning, I saw a man walking his two dogs on leash. It appeared to be a nice, pleasing and easy stroll until a nearby household opened the front door and out charged a young male shepherd mix. I watched, for a moment, from a distance. Dude, I hope that household has a solid recall, I thought. Nope. Even if she DID, wouldn’t this be a really hard one?

Note: If you can’t call your dog off of other dogs, don’t shame yourself, just set a new goal and work towards it! Training your dog to a higher level of reliability can be fun! Forward motion!
As I make my way towards the situation to assess and/or dive in to help out, I see the man with his two dogs come to a stop. While the dogs initially begin a pleasant and appropriate exchange, the man pulls up on his leashes and begins pulling the dogs backwards, towards him. Yikes. Restraint! It is awkward. Instantly, his own human behavior creates a greater stress for his dogs -- where there was very little before. The dogs begin moving against the owners pull (a natural opposition reflex) and a circular motion by all dogs begins. Leashes begin tangling. I shout out, “Sir, you’ll want to keep walking” as I approach closer, I have to repeat myself in a normal voice: “Sir, you’ll need to go ahead and keep walking”. “I am” he replies (he has no idea that he is, in fact, standing in place). “Sir, I can help you, but I need for you to keep your body moving in a forward motion. KEEP WALKING." The man continues to keep his feet planted in the same spot. Posturing begins. Note: this man offers the behavior of your typical dog owner. There is nothing wrong with what he has done, but you must see by now that he is not doing anything to promote a safe situation for his dogs. Do you see him inadvertently making the situation worse without a strategy? He is set in his own ways. His strong  default behavior prevents him from hearing the canine professional telling him exactly what to do.

Many times in life, not just dog training, we need to identify our weakness and just move forward. We get to do that today. Together.

1.      Keep moving! A forward motion actually gives your dog something constructive to do and without you realizing it, it likely changes your dog’s body posture to one that is more socially accepted by the oncoming canine. Your eyes, hips and shoulders should be pointed in the direction that you are moving (thus, in the direction in which you want your dog to move)…this “body language” speaks loud and clear to your dog “come with me”.  Note: Your initial movement should be to move away from, not towards (so this may require a 90 or 180 degree turn before you find your forward motion). Once you find that forward motion, however, do not deviate, regardless of where the other dog positions himself. Walk with purpose!

2.      Do not stop your body. A pause in your motion only introduces a greater ambiguity to the situation. Tell your dog WHAT you want by merely moving forward with your body. Move away from the situation. Don’t stop.

3.      Ignore the other dog. Do your best to focus on your own movements (forward) and allow the off-leash dog owner to handle her own dog. We all know it’s REALLY hard to reach in and grab circular moving dogs tangled in leashes. AND it only creates a greater duration of frustration for all. Your forward motion will also serve to get all the dogs moving in a linear path making it easier for the other handler to gain control.

4.      Refrain from tugging or pulling your dog towards you. A tight leash should only occur because you are moving forward and your dog is looking behind. When you do otherwise, you are making (yes…MAKING) your dog offer a posture that he/she would not have naturally offered. You have now created a bigger problem.

5.      Remain calm. BECAUSE YOU HAVE A PLAN NOW! Remaining calm and confident will only serve to create the same demeanor in your dog(s). This means that you should not be shouting out verbal commands to your dogs or to the other dog. This means that you should not be shouting at all. In fact doing so will only serve to increase arousal in all of the dogs i.e. you maximize potential for a dog fight when you insert your voice. Why? Because it is a stressed voice. Silently, communicate to your dog by your own forward motion. Oh…and once this situation is over, please, please don’t stand around yelling at the other person. Get out of there, move FORWARD! Your dogs do not need any more stress or arousal.

KB: In a slow, calm, low-toned voice I hear myself say “Sir, you MUST WALK FORWARD or drop your leashes. You are about to create a fight. I need you to hear me and MOVE FORWARD DOWN THAT SIDEWALK”.

Walk way and provide your dog
with the confidence in knowing
that you will lead!
He finally hears me. He begins moving his body forward. “Stop looking back” he hears me say. The leashes untangle, his leashed dogs are so grateful and pay no attention to the hoodlum who ran up on them (who was just curious). Yeah, so...all his dogs wanted to do in the first place was what? Have their space. Yes. They just wanted the opportunity to offer their own greeting and then continue on their walk, the same route they take every single day. His dogs craved forward motion. The dogs knew exactly what to do. Do you see? Owner behavior, in this instance, prevented the dogs from having what could have been just a neutral experience. Owner behavior created the tension where there was none before. Forward motion was the answer all along! The woman from the home is able to grab her dog because now everyone is moving smoothly in the same direction. The whole thing resolves itself. The answer, here, it is crystal clear: it is forward motion.

Rehearse it. Picture it. Visualize yourself offering this behavior to your dog before the incident occurs. Know your strategy and I promise you WILL minimize the potential for greater conflict.
If you find your eyes right HERE…I congratulate you for reading this and adding to your own dog training toolbox. Responsible Dog Ownership at its finest!

Paws up! ~ Kimberly
Kimberly Burgan, CPDT-KA and Author of “Poppy and Puppy Are Friends: A Child’s Introduction to Responsible Dog Ownership | Dog Training in Austin, Texas
AVAILABLE NOW! “Poppy & Puppy Are Friends” written by Kimberly Burgan, CPDT-KA and illustrated by Christy Stallop at: A children’s book about kids and dogs and responsible dog ownership.