Leash Etiquette

The dog world is a relaxed one. Well, it could be. Most of us have dogs to enjoy a bond, learn and go on walks together.

There aren’t too many rules. In my experience, the bare minimum effort that most people should  be investing to make the dog world a better place, has to do with leashes.

  • Rule #1: If you have a “problem dog” (I dislike calling them that, but keeping it short) – keep them on the leash until you have worked on the behavior! This can be a long leash that drags on the floor, but have something that you can grab or step on if needed! This will keep your dog and those around you safe!
  • Rule #2: If you see a dog on a leash… put your dog on a leash or ask if your dog is allowed to greet the leashed dog! I repeat and can’t repeat it enough: keep your dog away from a leashed dog!

It is not difficult. You don’t know why a dog is on the leash. Just last month, my dogs had to avoid all dogs because they had a highly contagious cold with a strong cough. Whenever there was a dog approaching, my dogs were put on the leash. No matter how many times I told the owner to put their dog on the leash as well and that my dogs were contagious, they just ignored me. They couldn’t understand why I would want to avoid a dog encounter, even when I was explicitly telling them. So whose problem is it when their dog starts coughing, too?

Other very valid reasons why a dog would be on a leash: aggression, fear/insecurity, they are not trained, they need to learn to walk past other dogs or act more calmly in certain situations. You can see how a dog walking up to one of these dogs could end in his training being ruined or, in the case of aggression – injury!!

What really gets me is when people let their dogs go up to assistant dogs or guide dogs for the blind while they are working – but that is a topic for another post.

So please, please always ask before letting your dog walk up to a dog on the leash. It does no harm and only makes the entire encounter very harmonious and calm.

 

Photo by Humanima
Photo by Humanima

Communication break down

What is communication made of? Today I wanted to start with the basics.

Most trainers focus very strongly on the words we train our dogs with. Some will also coach their clients on the tone in their voice and how it affects their dog. But that is only, at best, half of what you should be using!

Based on Albert Mehrabian’s philosophy, here are the 3 elements of communication and the percentage they make up of communication:

Words: 7%

Tone: 38%

Body language: 55%

When I come across someone who has a great relationship and training with their dog, I often notice that they don’t speak as much with their dog. They mostly communicate through body language. As you can see, that makes up at least 55% of communication between humans – with dogs it is even more than that. I always tell people that it rarely matters what you say, but how you say it and what your body language is saying.

If someone was standing and calmly saying “stop it” with a very limp body language… would you listen or take them seriously? Do you think a dog would?

Do you speak with your dogs all of the time or do you have a fairly silent communication? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Should you anthropomorphize?

Merriam-Webster’s definition for “anthropomorphize”:

 – “to attribute human form or personality to things not human.”

We always hear that it is not good to anthropomorphize animals. Their language should be learned and worked with, instead of expecting them to act like a human.

About a year ago, at a seminar, a fellow dog trainer shared an interesting perspective. Are there situations where it would be good to anthropomorphize a dog? His logic was that we should treat dogs as dogs and learn their language. He made a point, however, was that we are much more critical and strict of fellow humans. More often than not, parents expect more from their children and the other humans in their life, than they do of their dog. The child can’t scream in public, but… oh well, the dog can bark as much as he likes in the same situation!

So the trainer’s point was, if you saw it from that perspective, anthropomorphizing your dog might help your training. But only if you were as consistent and strict with your dog as you were with humans.

If your dog does something, ask yourself… would that be okay if another human did it? This form or “human-ising” our dogs could be beneficial to their training.

What are your thoughts? Tell me about it in the comments!

Photo by Humanima
Photo by Humanima

Getting another dog?

“She tries to bite guests, pulls on the leash, doesn’t get along with other dogs or listen to us… so my husband and I are planning on getting another dog so she has someone to play with and maybe learn good manners from.”

The dog trainer in me is bursting at the seams, wanting to drop to the ground saying, “are you insane??”

Getting another dog is not the solution to your current dogs problems. Dogs do observe each other and learn behaviours quickly. This can be great if you have a well socialized and behaved dog when buying a puppy. Not, however, when you have a dog running ship and causing chaos. He won’t transform into a perfect dog, because the new dog is calm.

All dogs change in a group setting – what some call the “group effect”. Anyone who has walked three or more dogs at once, especially regularly, will know exactly what I am talking about. You can walk with all of them individually and they will behave like superstars, doing everything they should. When you walk all of them together and they will test you. Standing there, scratching your head, you’ll wonder what has happened to them.

If you have a dog who is shy or doesn’t tend to play with other dogs (might not be used to it), then a second dog could help with that specifically.

So if your relationship and communication with your dog is not harmonious – work on that first. Working with a trainer might help, reading books, watching films or youtube videos. Do everything you can to improve your first dogs’ training. Once you have learned how to work with one dog and everything is going wonderfully… then you could consider a second.

Do you have more than two dogs? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

Photo by Humanima
Photo by Humanima

Improving yourself & problem solving

There are hundreds, thousands, of seminars you can attend, DVDs and shows to watch, books to read and trainers to hire to reach your dream with animals.

But what are some ways you can improve yourself or problem solve without leaving your backyard? 

Here are two tips for you to do by yourself or with a friend:

  • Film yourself!Anyone who has been filmed has most likely thought to themselves, “I look and move like that??” Often we are, in our minds, moving and reacting to our animals the way we saw a trainer “that one time on that show” do it. We wonder why we aren’t getting the same results. Somewhere between knowing what to do and acting it out, we get lost. If you are too shy to to be filmed, set your camera on something and film yourself. Do whatever it takes to get the problematic situation on film. Many times we notice that we are moving in a certain way… and that our timing is completely off! I have moments where I watch video footage of myself and immediately see mistakes that I didn’t even know I was making. Sometimes we can teach ourselves and not spend a dime.

 

  • Practice with a friend.Have your friend pretend to be your dog, horse, cat or whatever animal you are dealing with. What is also helpful – switch roles! Not only should you practice what you should do as a human but see what it is like to “be” your dog or horse! You might think that your signals are being understood completely differently than they are. Really act out your problem and give each other feedback. Have your friend pull on the leash and not quit until you do something that causes them to stop and walk next to you, for example. There are many options and it can be so fun!

 

When have you done one of these things and what did you discover? Tell me all about it by leaving a comment!

“What if he gets stressed?!”

“If he licks his lips, he’s stressed.”

“If he yawns, he’s stressed.”

“If he shakes his head, he’s stressed.”

“If he pants, he’s stressed.”

“If he’s stressed… the world comes to an end!!”

I’ve heard it all when it comes to dogs experiencing stress – especially after becoming a licensed dog behavioural consultant and trainer earlier this year. The signs of a stressed dog are important to recognize, but… sometimes your dog is just tired and he yawns. Or he simply happens to lick his lips or shake. Maybe it is hot out and he pants.

So I do find it problematic to tell people that all of these behaviours are signs that your dog is stressed. Some people hear this before taking their dog on a bus ride and if their dog licks his lips, they get off at the next stop, claiming that is was simply too stressful for their dog.

Now let me clarify: it is horrible for a dog to be in constant or regular stress and that should be addressed and changed for the better as soon as possible. But, if we are being real, every living being on this planet experiences stress. It’s not the “bad guy”.

We experience mild to sever stress when learning something or being in a new situation and when we have to figure something out.

We don’t think: I am stressed right now. Every animal and human has stress daily and that is part of it. Stress can be very mild, but without it, nothing would be learned, improved or even get done. We would be laying without moving all day.

In the dog scene, at least at the moment, every one is fretting and freaking out about dogs being stressed and how that should be avoided at all costs.

It is all about how we deal with the stress – same case as with humans. We talked about it being fine if your dog experiences stress – he won’t die and your relationship is not going to be washed down the drain. What will cause your relationship to falter is if you react incorrectly. If your dog is stressed and you yell at him or rush him through the situation – the stress will worsen the next time he is faced with this situation and he will lose trust with you.

When you see your dog is obviously stressed (body is tensed, constantly licking lips, panting strongly when it is not hot out, etc), try to find the cause. Is it something that you can make positive by using treats? Maybe just hang out for a while until your dog is relaxed and then continue with what you were doing. There are many options – all very specific to the situation, but freaking out and ending everything is not usually the right way to go.

In what situations does your dog get stressed?

Photo by Humanima
Photo by Humanima

“He’s still a puppy!”

“Aw, he’s still a puppy! Let him jump up…”

“He doesn’t know any better – that’s why he is biting my hand. What a cute puppy…”

Wait, slow down. When is he supposed to learn? In other words: would you allow your kid to misbehave, pull other kids’ hair, yell at them and bite strangers? Nope! (Well, I hope not.) Of course, they don’t know any better. That is the exact reason why we need to teach them what is better. Consistency is very important, just as it is with children, and this can be difficult when everyone is ooh-ing and aah-ing at how cute your puppy is when he misbehaves.

In those moments, it can feel horrible being the one to have to stop the puppy’s “cute” behaviour so that it doesn’t develop into a bad habit. But it is important and puppies are able to do and understand so much more than we give them credit for.

Most all soon-to-be working dogs begin their training at a very young age. Playing, sleep and simply being a silly puppy is also very important, of course. In the beginning we might simply expect them to do as we ask for a minute. Then that time escalates until our puppy is able to handle more and more time in a calm state of mind. When they are young is the best time to teach them good habits that will last them a life time.

 

Here is some inspiration of how high your expectations could be with your puppy. This is my puppy, Benji, at 9 weeks.

 

Too much!

“In the morning we go on a 2 hour bike ride, after lunch we take him on a walk for 1 hour and then in the afternoon we have an agility class which alternates daily with our man trailing class and then in the evening we go for another bike ride.”

Phew! I nod along as she informs me of her extravagant entertainment program for her Australian Shepherd. We’re making our way across a huge field with my two puppies, her Shepherd and her friends’ Vizsla. The only one acting insane and not able to calm down? Surprise! Her over-stimulated Australian Shepherd.

Now don’t get me wrong, most (sadly almost all) dogs are stuck at home all day, under-stimulated and lacking adequate exercise. Especially breeds like Australian Shepherds and Border Collies, etc. Dogs that are bought “just to be pets and be cute”, should most definitely be getting more exercise and training. But is it possible to be doing too much with your dog? Yes! It is all about what kind of exercise and jobs/sports you are offering your dog and how you go about doing them.

Dogs need a surprising amount of sleep – two thirds of the day or somewhere between 14-18 hours daily (depending on the breed and temperament). What happens quite often, is that people hear that their dog needs to have a lot to do and they take on too much. The dog never learns how to calm down!

Believe it or not, teaching your dog to be calm, disciplined and polite will get them more tired than running around all day. It takes concentration which can be very exhausting – especially with young dogs. Do fun things with your dog that causes them to think and use their nose to get them tired – anything that can also help them with self control.

Dogs need to learn to be calm. Most dogs who are doing too much aren’t really as happy as we might believe. A dog who is used to going on long bike rides and hikes every day (perhaps even multiple times) will need that, go crazy without it and only get more and more fit as time goes on. You’ll never be able to get your dog tired…

Most dogs I come across are physically as fit as an Olympic athlete, but have no self restraint and don’t listen to their owner at all.

So don’t put you or your dog under too much pressure to always be busy. Enjoy relaxing together as well as doing things like Dummy or trick training, for example, for fun. Never underestimate a nice long walk in the woods, perhaps with a doggy pal for your dog to play with.

Unknown Photographer I own no rights to this photo
Unknown Photographer
I own no rights to this photo

Working out together

Long walks through the forest, a morning jog or a bike ride? Going for a swim in the lake? Okay, we’ve done that countless times… what next?

Many of us workout – whether at a gym or at home – regularly while our dogs hang out at home waiting for us to go do one of the things listed above with them. Why not combine the two things and workout together?

 

I made this video yesterday, more out of silliness and fun than anything else, but it might give you some ideas. You could make certain workouts into a game so that your dogs’ mind and body get stimulated as you work out.

Some other things I do regularly with my dogs that I didn’t show, is telling them to lay down somewhere and practice our “stay” while I workout nearby. Even if your dog has a great stay, you might find him or her having difficulty staying calm and in one place while you are doing jumping jacks or running back and forth! Give it a try… go out with your dog and try some of these things out and I promise you: you will come home sweating and your dog will be panting and wagging his tail right at your side.

 

Avoidance of rehearsal

Everything developes through rehearsal. Without rehearsal, nothing can be learned or improved.

Now applying that to our animal training, many unwanted behaviors can simply be avoided. The best example that I can think of right now, is crate training with puppies. It is brilliant in preventing the learning of any bad behavior from your dog in the house. I worded that very carefully, because we aren’t necessarily teaching them anything – we’re preventing them from learning it from the beginning. My puppy Monty is almost 5 months old and has never chewed on a single thing in my house.

What is crate training? To simplify it, crate training is when you leave your puppy in a crate (with a blanket, water, etc in the living room or  other light filled room with the family around) whenever you are not around. This  means – over night, whenever you are not able to keep a constant eye on them and definitely when you leave the house. This way, they are never able to practice any bad behaviors. But the crate is only for the puppy stage. You are actively training them when you let them out of the crate (which should be very often  – whenever you’re home and not too busy), because you are always around in this scenario and are able to immediately correct any signs of a bad habit. Your puppy will have a 0% success rate at doing naughty things.

Once they are reliably well behaved, you can leave them out for longer and longer periods of time. Then you can leave them out while you go cook in the kitchen for example and just check up on them every now and then. This transitions into leaving them out for longer and longer.

The point of this post was not just about crate training, but the concept behind it. If you can in anyway adjust something in your favor, do it! Prevent the bad things from being rehearsed!

 

Unknown Photographer  I own no rights to this photo

 

 

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