I’ve discovered an interesting thing since I’ve adapted our Loose Lead walking technique. If you’ve been following our Facebook page, you may have seen that we have stopped waiting for pulling dogs to come back to us, Clicking and Treating, then moving off again.
Instead, by turning and walking away in the opposite direction just before your dog’s lead goes taut, we’re finding that dogs are much calmer. They soon learn to walk nicely on a U shaped lead without getting the Feel Good from pinging to the end of the lead then back again for treats. Which can be a bit of a tendency in fizzy teenagers!
The more I watched owners doing it, the more I started to see that their dogs were becoming increasingly focused on them and a lot less likely to engage with triggers.
It was using this Loose Lead technique with our Grumbly dogs that made me realise that it was having a profound effect on the triggers as well. By turning away from an off-lead dog which is running into your on-lead Grumbly, you’re giving a very clear message to both dogs: I am not engaging with that dog.
It’s human nature to want to keep your eye on an approaching dog. We tend to feel that we need to know what it’s up to so that we can control the situation.
But does being able to see what it’s doing really mean you can control the situation? Watching it isn’t going to stop it approaching. And what your dog really needs you to do is get her away from it.
What made increasing sense was that approaching dogs were stopping when we turned away from them. Not all of them – there is always going to be the bad mannered dog that bounces up to others, but in the last fortnight I’ve had only one dog continue to come in. And when the client and I talked things over after the event, she said that she realised she had turned and looked over her shoulder at it, which was when it came up to us.
Not only did it make sense, it almost made me think: It’s so obvious! We’re teaching all our dogs to give calming signals to other dogs and yet WE’RE not giving them. Most of you who read this blog regularly are fluent in reading dogs and know that head turns, shoulder turns and curved bodies are clear ways that our dogs tell others that they don’t want to engage.
And yet what are we doing when our dogs are doing that? We’re actually really muddying the waters for them by turning full-on to the approaching dog and looking at it.
When I’m out with my little gang, if another dog approaches, all of them give calming signals. They all head-turn and body-curve. Because of what I know about dogs, I tend to turn halfway away from the dog, but I’m not sure I can hand-on-heart say I always do. Because I feel my job is to protect mine.
So they’re all throwing out loads of calming ‘back-off’ signals and there am I, the human klutz in the middle of them, with my body directed right at the other dog and looking at it so that I can assess its mood and work out how safe my dogs are.
My head is always down and turned away, though, no matter what my body is doing. And I give ‘eye-swipes’ rather than look straight at it. But that’s not enough. My body is still saying ‘Yup! Game on! Come and join us!’ Even those eye-swipes are enough for a fizzy, bouncy teenager to see it as encouragement to keep coming forward.
I’ve tried using the full head and body turn with several dogs in the last fortnight and found that one very determined dog (with upright, aroused tail, bristly ears and fixed-stare) actually sat down when my client, her dog and I turned and walked away, and kept looking away from it. Even when were were at a safe distance, we stood and kept our backs turned and it was then that I glanced (under my armpit!) at it and realised that it had sat down.
It isn’t an easy thing to do. Like I said, it’s in our nature to want to check on what another dog is doing, especially if you live with a Grumbly. I think a lot of us tend to feel very protective of our Grumblies, because we work so hard not to put them in positions where they might feel they need to react. But, really, if you’re looking at an approaching dog, what can you do to help your dog that you can’t do if your back is turned on it?
It isn’t going to stop if you’re looking at it. So looking at it isn’t controlling it, or controlling your dog.
Looking at it doesn’t mean you’re better equipped to help your dog out.
Because the only thing that will ever help your dog in this situation is giving her more distance and getting her away. If your head and body are turned away from the trigger, I’m finding that a natural response seems to be that your dog focuses more intently on you. Your attention is also on your dog – which is exactly where it needs to be when you’re trying to walk her calmly away from a trigger.
You’re better equipped to Mark and Treat her for referring to you instead of looking at the dog, because you’re thinking about her rather than the dog.
Which means youre a whole lot less likely to trip over a tussock of grass than when you’re scurrying away, giving frantic looks over your shoulder …. Much calmer for everyone!