Loose leash walking doesn’t come naturally

While I was waiting for my fellow car-pooler yesterday I did some random googling and came across this article/tutorial about loose leash walking. Most of the contents I had already read and thought I had tried, but something about they way they put things really struck a chord with me.

First we must break YOUR habit!

It is as much an ingrained habit to you as it is your dog. He cues you to take that step by putting tension on the leash and you dutifully obey. He has trained you to respond and you are fluent in the art of following his lead. You do it without thinking. He pulls without thinking.

So I took Kasey for what would have been a 20 minute length walk that took an hour to complete. Each time I felt tension on the leash I became “a tree,” as suggested in the article. He figured out quickly that if he circled back to my side, we kept walking. After he seemed to understand the relationship there, I gave it a name “too much.” He did great. Each time he got a bit distracted by a smell or another dog or something, I would have to bring him back into focus. The loose English Setter puppy certainly didn’t help, either! But for a 20 month old puppy and the first effort this concentrated in a while, I was very happy with the progress that we made.

I realized through trial and error that a lot had to do with the pace at which I was walking. When the lead was loose and he was walking nicely at a heel, I was subconsciously speeding up, which would make him go faster, which, in turn, would put tension on the leash. So when he was on a roll, I concentrated on my cadence, and keeping a nice even pace. We did better for longer periods of time after I figured that out.

I didn’t get to take Kasey out this evening, the daylight just went away too fast for me to get everything done. I’m disappointed in myself for that, but hopefully he won’t forget everything by tomorrow evening. He usually doesn’t.

One of my favorite parts of having Kasey is watching him figure things out on his own. He’s been most successful at behaviors he’s been taught that way and it’s really amazing to see him go through the process of elimination to find out what he did right, or what I was asking him to do.  It’s rewarding for both of us.

So I’m a little late…

But here is my Wordless Wednesday contribution:

Note the marks on the bottom right of his nose. Those are from the teacher’s dog at Rally-O

Rally-O Class #2: Tension in the leash

Yesterday was another day of record-breaking heat here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I found out rather quickly that the warehouse space that houses K9Jym is not air conditioned [update-K9Jym is now airconditioned so go play!]. They do have a lounge that’s nice and cool so that’s where Kasey and I headed when we arrived about 10 minutes before class. I slowly opened the door to the lounge with Kasey just preceding me on a short lead.

BAM! SNAP! HIGH PITCHED BARKING. Apparently the teacher’s dog took an instant dislike to Kasey (who’s never met a dog he didn’t want to play with) and when I got Kasey to the other side of the room and worked on “Watch Me!” to get him back focused on me, I saw that he had a small bloody spot on his nose. I don’t think he’s ever been nipped before. It sucks that it had to happen in what’s supposed to be a safe spot and it especially sucks that it had to be the teacher’s dog. I was freaked out but willing to shake it off, since Kasey seemed to be OK both physically and mentally.

Class started and I had Kasey gnawing on his frozen peanut butter Kong and I was listening. Sounded like it was going to be a bit more of a challenge this time, with some moves that Kasey and I hadn’t ever tried. That’s good, that’s what we came for. We went 2nd to the course. Last week Kasey only had eyes for me…well actually only for the turkey dogs I was using as treats. This week, because our teacher was using her dog to demonstrate, he was out on the course with her and it was really hard to get Kasey to focus on me. I’d never seen him try to stare down a dog before but he certainly wanted to last night. It was all I could do to get him around the course, say nothing about doing a good job trying out the new skills.

The teacher was perfectly aware of what was going on. I’m not sure if she chose not to hand her dog to the other instructor because she wanted Kasey to learn from the distraction (a bit much for the 2nd class, if you ask me) or if she just didn’t think it was her job to change the situation. I don’t know. I was trying to keep myself from getting tense, because if I did, Kasey absolutely was not going to relax. I tried all the tricks I knew to get him to focus on me. We stopped in the middle of the course at one point because he wasn’t with me at all, really. I figured, hey it was only the second class, better to stop and get him to think it’s all fun and games and and that I wasn’t worried at all, why should he be? We started up again and made it to the end, at least.

We moved on to focus on practicing one sign. “Call forward right turn,” I think, and we did get it eventually. I was proud of both of us. Kasey did much better when the teacher and her dog moved to the far side of the room to work with some other teams. He really does want to be a good boy and do what I ask. But if someone had bitten me on the nose, I’d be a bit wary too, wouldn’t you?

I’m not sure what to do at this point. I really like the instructor, but her “oh, he’s a little reactive if you hadn’t noticed” was really not the response I was looking for. Maybe, “sorry, is your dog, OK, let’s keep them a good distance apart.” But I felt like she was blowing it off. Maybe she was embarrassed? She’s a good and patient teacher and her dog is very good at Rally and tricks and listens to her very well. It seemed to be just a personality clash. But at the same time, I want to keep Kasey safe and for him to have a good time. If she keeps bringing her dog with her, I’m not sure if that will be possible. For now, I’ll wait and see, I guess. I don’t want to pull out of the class. If anyone reading has suggestions please comment, I’ll take any advice I can get, for sure!

In which Kasey makes me proud

Kasey eats a car at the Dog Walk

Yesterday I took Kasey to the 7th Annual DeBella Dog Walk. It was basically a fair for dog people in lovely Green Lane Park.  There were various rescue organizations and sponsors there, including Cutters Mill, my favorite local pet store, and K9Jym, where I take Kasey for his Rally Obedience class. There was a police narcotic and bomb dog demo, an agility demo done by the people at K9Jym, contests, and giveaways.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many dogs in one place before. And so many different breeds. I think my favorite was a mix–half St. Bernard, half Irish Wolfhound–the biggest dog I’d ever seen! There was a ACD mix puppy there who was up for adoption and promptly stole my heart. Her name was Piglet, and if Kasey had been a bit older, I might have two dogs right now.

It was hot hot hot yesterday (I think it hit 93 degrees), but I had come prepared. The night before I had wet a towel and froze it so I could wipe down his fur with nice cool water throughout the day. I also had frozen containers of water that thawed slowly so that he could always have a drink and a lick of the ice. Almost every organization that was there had a bowl of water outside their canopy and there was a lake for the puppers to cool off in, too.  I shared my water and my rag with a couple of people who said it was a great idea and they would have to remember that for next time.

Kasey was a complete joy! I was so proud of him I nearly burst. I had him on a regular 6-foot lead, but he was wearing his Easy Walker harness. I wanted him to have a good time, and I didn’t want to have to spend the whole day correcting him and working on his pulling. I am willing to put in the time, and I have been, he’s just not perfect yet and I knew there would be a lot of stimulation. Just wanted us both to relax and enjoy.

He walked nicely beside me, he greeted dogs perfectly, he let people pet him without getting too excited. Maybe it’s just because it was so hot, but even so, he was amazing. I want to keep taking him to as many events like this as I can find, it’s so good for both of us.

I love being around other dog people, and, in general, everyone was friendly and responsible. Of course, you’re going to have those poople who won’t clean up after their dog and the occasional kidlet who forgets to ask before petting… I was however, witness to a scary incident, and I didn’t see it coming at all. I had Kasey down by the lake shore so he could get his belly cool. Next to us on one side was a family (mother, father, pre-teen daughter) letting their two greyhounds in the water. On my other side a family was trying to get their little teacup chihuahua to go in the water. In a split second the greyhound who the pre-teen girl had on lead had dragged her across the water and had the little chihuahua completely in his mouth! Screaming and barking and panic ensued, and the father of the chihuahua basically pried the greyhound’s jaws apart and took his dog out. Nobody seemed to have gotten hurt except the little girl was completely shattered. Basically, all her parents said was “don’t cry it wasn’t your fault” (which it wasn’t) and “You can’t walk with Otis anymore he’s too strong for you.” Well gee, you didn’t know that before you went on the dog walk today? Suddenly Otis developed superstrength? Gah, stuff like that frustrates me.  As an aside, Kasey didn’t make a move toward that commotion after I told him stay.

All in all, it was a really good experience. I hope to find more things in the area to go to this summer. If anyone reads this and happens to be in Southeastern PA and you know of an event, let me know, please!

Sometimes the Old Adages are True

“You get what you pay for!” Yep, I’d have to agree on that one. On Saturday I went to the local Tuesday/Saturday flea market. My friend and I wandered the stalls, laughed at the giant lizard statues for sale in one booth, oohed over the fake designer bags in another, and kept our eyes open for pet-related merchandise.

It was a beautiful day and a lot of people, merchants and customers alike, had brought their dogs along. (Kasey’s not ready for that kind of commotion and congestion yet, but we’re working on it.) I love to look at dogs and there was a particularly cute Australian Cattle Dog Mix over by one of the stalls. I asked the merchant, an elderly man, if I could approach his dog. “Watch Out! Once you start scratching her, she won’t let you go,” was his warning. After making a fuss over Rosie for a while, I stood up from a squat and looked at what the elderly gentleman was offering at his table.

Oooooh! Lovely embroidered collars and matching leashes. “How much?” I asked. Only $8.00 for a collar and $15 if you bought the leash too. I couldn’t resist such a kind, friendly, old-fashioned gentleman and his beautiful girl, so I carefully chose a Khaki colored collar embroidered with red stars and put it in my bag with all my other great deals.

When we got back home we took Kasey outback for a game of chuck-it on his zip line. I, of course, put his new collar on, too. Kasey took off after the first ball, and ran to the end of his line (the ball overshot a bit) and SNAP! Just kept running to get the ball. The collar buckle had completely snapped (not separated, but snapped into two jagged pieces) and was lying in the grass. Luckily Kasey was so engrossed in playing fetch that he didn’t notice and just brought the ball back like normal. If he had seen, I have no doubt that he would have taken the opportunity to go for a run (the off lead stuff is going very slowly) without collar or tags. My heart didn’t stop racing for a while. Thank goodness Kasey loves his tennis balls!

I don’t blame the old man, the collars appeared sturdy and basically just like one you would get in a store, yet my 60 pound dog broke it like a twig. I really did like it, though, I wonder if I can put a new buckle on it somehow.

It’s what’s for dinner

In my adventures of home cooking for Kasey, I’ve been dreading doing a cost comparison. At first I thought, “well, it’ll cost a bit more to cook for him correctly, but it will be worth it.” So far it’s cost quite a bit more, but I think that’s because, as the LOLCats would say “UR DOIN’ IT WRONG.” I’ve bought the various supplements and carbs (rice, oats, pasta) in bulk . Don’t need a lot of that so, I’m OK there. Bought diced canned veggies, but those will be starting to come from the garden soon, so I’m not too worried about that. It’s the meat that’s eating (hee hee) into my budget.

Kasey seems to have an intolerance to beef (I’m thinking of reintroducing it in small amounts, but that’s for a different post) so there goes my cheapest source. Pork is way too expensive. So I’m pretty much left with chicken and turkey. I’ve been buying ground turkey at a local turkey farm because I feel good about knowing the source. It’s about $2.50 a pound, which isn’t awful, but it adds up. I’m paying it because it’s a worthwhile way to spend my money, but long term I was on the lookout for a better solution.

I think I’ve found it. Turkey Thighs. They’re HUGE!! And they’re less than $2.00 a pound. I roasted them in the oven, let the meat cool, and then shreded it and used it in my recipe the same way I would have used the ground meat. I’m going to start buying the thighs any time I see them at a good price. I wonder how long they’d freeze for? Homecookers: what’s your go-to meat?

In other news, Kasey and I went out to PetSmart last night to get him a new Kong in preparation for Monday’s class. He made friends with a lab/plott hound mix, which looked a lot like a lab/pibble mix. He was a sweetie and his new family is going to get a lot of joy out of him, I just wonder if the shelter where they got him was afraid to say he was part “pit bull” for fear he’d end up staying in the shelter. So sad. ::shrug:: Who knows, when breeds get blended I suppose a dog could look like almost anything, and the family was doing right by him now.

Let’s Go Rally-O!

Kasey and I had our first Rally-O class last night at the new K-9 Jym (I hate the way they spell gym–it hurts my editor’s heart–but they are great people). I think it’s going to be so much fun. Kasey has not been in any sort of formal training in a while, and for a 20 month old puppy, he did really well. I’m so glad he’s well socialized and friendly.

Our main problem, well my main problem, is going to be keeping him quiet in between his turns at the course. He has a habit, when he’s on leash and around other dogs, of really getting his “big boy bark” on. And he has me trained…he’s figured out that in order for me to use the “shhh” command and treat him, he has to be barking. My suspicion is he just gets bored, but I’m really not sure what triggers the behavior, as he’s far from a barky dog in any other situations, the dog park included.

What I ended up doing was bribing him.  When we were working, I used dehydrated turkey dogs, which he works really well  for. And once we got off the course, I’d grab a stick of string cheese, hold it in my fist with a little bit showing, put him in a down and let him work on getting the treat out of my hand. My hand suffered a bit from this after a while, but at least it shut him up. ;O)  I think next week I’ll bring a kong and  a supply of peanut butter; it should have the same effect and save my hand. It’s a band-aid, I know, but I’m hoping he’ll just settle into the environment eventually.  Not sure what I’ll do if he doesn’t. If anyone has suggestions, I’ll surely take them.

Nothin’ like home cookin’

I spend a lot of time over on Pet Connection, the best all around pet information website out there. And after reading discussion after discussion on the pet food recall of 2007 and now the more recent peanut product recalls, I’ve come to the realization that our food system (be it for human or pet) has too many holes in it to be safe. And pet food, I fear, is even less regulated that the human food system. I’ve decided that I want to pull Kasey out of the kibble cycle and I’ve started to mix a bit of kibble with a homemade diet.

I didn’t decide on this lightly and I didn’t just jump into it. I purchased two books: The Healthy Dog Cookbook by Jonna Anne with Mary Strauss, Canine Nutritionist, Shawn Messonnier, DVM, Veterinary Consultant; and Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD. And I’ve read all I could find and asked people I trusted.

So far I’ve made three recipes in bulk, all of which Kasey seems to love.  He has noticeably (even!)  more energy, and his poop as been lovely…well, for poop, you know.  I weighed him a few days ago, and I’m going to keep close track of his weight to make sure that’s not being adversely effected in either direction. I’m also being careful to make sure that he gets his calcium and other nutrient by feeding a variety of different recipes.

I’ll keep updating on my findings and how he changes or doesn’t change with this new diet.

Back and hopefully better than ever

Long time no post I know. My last blog had a nice little following, and I’ll admit I was a bit disappointing to be writing to dead air. But if I don’t post, then no one will ever read. So I’m back with a renewed energy and some new ideas.

A little update on where we are:

Kasey is 18 months now. He looks like a big dog, but he’s still a puppy in a lot of ways.  I’ve noticed a bit of slipping in his general manners.  Meaning, for example, he doesn’t always plunk down immediately when I say “sit.” Unless, of course, I have food, then that’s a completely different story. I’m working on treating for the basics again and this spring I think I’m going to enroll us in a new class. It’s good for him and for me to make that kind of a commitment, even though it does cost a chunk of change. The first new class I think will be one called “Good Manners” as a refresher. Then…I really want to try out an agility class with him. I think he’d be a natural.

The other big news is I’ve made a committment to feeding Kasey homemade meals. Mostly cooked, but with some raw if I completely trust the source. I’ll do a whole post on that very soon, but I’ll say I see a marked improvement in Kasey’s…well..his poop is a lot more firm and not runny, which has always been a problem for him.

Right now I’m smack in the middle of reading The Other End of the Leash by Patricia B. McConnell, PH.D. It’s been very enlightening and I’ll post a review when I’m finished with it.

I’ll leave you with this thought:

If dogs could talk, it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one.  ~Andy Rooney

Training–Positive Reinforcement and one way we’ve adapted it

As soon as Kasey was vaccinated we signed him up for the puppy class at PetSmart. I suppose the training at PetSmart is pretty much a quality crapshoot, but we really lucked out. Linda was fabulous during both Kasey’s puppy and intermediate class, and I would have immediately signed him up for advanced if I wasn’t trimming down my expenses to only the most necessary things.

Linda is a proponent of positive reinforcement. Give a treat when something is done right, give nothing when something is done wrong. Never put a dog in a situation where he can’t/you know he won’t succeed.  From what I have have read as a layperson, this is the kindest and most effective way to get a dog to respond. (Another thing I learned from Linda was to get the dog to perform the behavior and then give the behavior a name. I think this was called “luring,” but I’m not absolutely sure.)

Positive reinforcement, while the best, isn’t always the easiest. It creates a certain amount of frustration in that you basically can never punish your dog for doing something wrong. Believe me I am not a proponent of ever laying a hand on a dog in anger, but it’s very hard to praise and reward them for coming to you when you didn’t want them to run away toward the neighbors in the first place. When you most want to use your angriest tone of voice is when you have to be the sweetest, or why in the world would the dog want to come back to you?

I read a lot of pet blogs, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a mention of just how frustrating training a dog can be–just how much self-control it can take. I can’t be the only one who has said “you hold his leash I have to walk away for a minute.” and then started crying out of utter frustration that me and my dog weren’t understanding each other at all that day. Can I?

I have done that.  Does it mean I shouldn’t have a dog? I don’t think so. I think someone who wouldn’t know when to walk away shouldn’t have a dog. At least I know when I need to distance myself.

I think we’ve worked out a pretty good compromise to let Kasey know when he’s done something wrong, however, and this eases my frustration mightily.  I have to thank Victoria Stillwell for this technique, which she used on an aggressive husky on her show, It’s Me or the Dog. By the way, my own trainer, Linda, said she fully endorses just about anything Victoria suggests.

Generally in the warmer months our family eats meals on our screened-in patio. Kasey’s favorite place is generally where ever we are, so his bowl of kibble gets set down on the floor about 3 feet from the table. However, he developed a bad habit of finishing (or not eating his kibble at all) and then walking around the table with his nose as close to it as possible.

We tried various already known commands and nothing was curbing his desire to see if our meal was better than his. Finally I decided that whenever he came nosing I would say “no begging” and then take him into the house and shut the door. I waited about 1 minute, watching his nose at the window and then let him back in. He immediately came to the table. I repeated “no begging” and then put him back in the house. We repeated this about 4 times and he caught on, he doesn’t want to be separated from us. Now when we say “no begging” he leaves the table and lies down on his bed in the corner.

Occasionally, something is so tempting that he has to be put in the house again as a reminder. This definitely isn’t positive reinforcement.  It is, however, working for us, and I wouldn’t hesistate to use it to teach him something else.