Quickly I said to the friendly gentleman, “I’m not coming closer because my dog gets a little worried about people.” Fortunately he understood and stopped; at which point we chatted about our dogs as I practiced the sit stay. Thankfully my dog and I ended with a productive obedience and social lesson at about the right emotional level for him to feel relaxed and safe.
In the final columns on DINOS (Dogs In Need Of Space) I’ll suggest two strategies, practical obedience and preventive handling skills, that an owner can use to optimize a successful encounter with a dog or person. We’ll start with obedience skills.
Three Basic Obedience Skills
Here are three basic obedience skills your DINOS needs to know: Walk politely on leash, Stay, Recall. A well-trained DINOS can make greeting people and dogs in your home and public safer and easier. If both you and your dog have your respective jobs down pat, panic becomes a less likely option.
Teaching a dog to walk politely on leash begins with clear communication about your expectations. I ask my dogs to walk in position on my left at my pace without pulling. Because tight leashes tend to create aggressive reactions, it’s important to keep that leash loose. Don’t be stingy with rewards for right behavior. Consider using training equipment designed to lessen leash tug of wars, such as a head halter or front clip harness.
A reliable sit and down stay can relax your dog, inhibit its movement, not to mention keep its attention on you. Again, if you are clear about your expectations and fair in adding complexity, stay is relatively easy to teach. Incrementally and one variable at a time, build duration, distance and levels of distraction. Start easy, for example, 5 seconds at 1 foot in a quiet place with three rewards. Don’t forget to use a release word at the end.
“Come.” The most important four letter word in a training tool box. Does your dog turn its head toward you upon hearing its name? Will it run promptly and straight to you when invited and park itself in front? Will it do this when distracted? Plan on hundreds of memorable rewards to get reliability.
Bonus behavior: The head turn toward you on the recall mirrors the head turn away from an object when you ask the dog to “leave it.” Those are two tricks in one word!
Make Training Easy at First; Add Complexity
Don’t start training your dog in the middle of an emotional meltdown. Do start in a quiet place with a calm and attentive dog. When that becomes easy, you can start adding more difficult distractions and different locations that are closer to simulating the cues that trigger emotional reactions. Invite friends to your home to help train, let the cat walk around, train in front of your house, go to the park and even to town as you build your dog’s confidence and obedience skills.
For the young dog in the opening scenario, we practiced sit stay (on leash at my side with food rewards) while I talked to the gentleman about 20 feet away. Before this, however, we logged countless hours of leash walking, stay and recalls at home with multiple distractions and encounters with people he knew..
But what if you have a young dog not fully trained? How do you handle situations where it might react with shyness or lunging and barking? Fortunately, there are handling strategies to ease you and your dog through such experiences. In my next column I’ll review a few that work for many dogs.