We picked Bear up from Kristin’s after a week away. While he was happy to see us, he was also as excited, or more excited, to play with the dogs in the Kristin’s backyard. Camp is over for Bear.
And Kristin experienced Bear on a leash. And she said that we need to start over. That Bear needs to relearn how to walk on leash. He is not to pull; he is taken for a walk; he is not taking the thing at the other end of the leash for a walk. He is not to decide that it is time for a potty break and yank the walker over to a grassy spot. Bear needs to walk with the person, following the person.
This has been a challenge from the beginning. And I think the challenge emerged from Bear’s natural inclinations, but also from our lack of consistency in training. Bear is a bullheaded animal. He is not quick to change. In fact, at our last lesson, Kristin was a bit surprised at how stubborn Bear was when we were introducing the “no-scent” exercise. Bear is also very playful. Job one is to have fun. He constantly scans the environment for a playmate, preferably one with four legs, but two will do.
As trainers I don’t think we transitioned from the “get a treat for a trick/behavior” to the “demand for trick/behavior”. It might be the timing of Bear’s Parvo episode that delayed this transition. After getting out of the hospital (and paying that treacherous bill), Bear was still recovering for a month. His intestines were still rebuilding, and we had to be careful with what he ate. He was prone to extreme diarrhea. So maybe we handled him with kid gloves. And coupled with his confident demeanor, the gentle handling really conditioned him to expect special treatment.
I’ve also always had a low-key dog. My former dogs, Duke in Boulder and Annie all over the US, never needed a leash for a walk. They were interested in checking out new smells in the area. We would walk or bike together. They were happy and friendly, but they did not pester people or dogs for attention. I was prideful of their demeanor, laid back, and able to go without a leash. I enjoyed walking the street with Annie or Duke either next to me or trailing a bit behind.
Walks with Bear challenge one’s peace of mind. He sees the leash and dashes away. Not very far, he stands at the back door. And this is likely where the chasm of a trainer and me begin. I walk to Bear, who stands at the back door. He waits while I click the leash. Something inside tells me that Bear should approach me for the walk. Whenever I walk to him, I feel a pang of “I don’t think this is right” feeling. But I am happy he doesn’t continue fleeing from me while I have the leash, so Bear effectively trained me to go to him for a walk.
Bear occasionally got used to the gentle lead.
When we first introduced the gentle-lead I would give him treats when he had it on. I’d put it on him without the leash to desensitize the feeling, giving Bear treats while he wore it, trying to associate yummy treats with wearing the gentle lead. Not sure if my techniques were poorly executed, poorly planned, or were simply not instituted long enough. Bear’s behavior never changed, and I tired of the struggle with the gentle-lead.
And so I would snap on the gentle-lead and proceed for the walk. And Bear still enjoyed his walks. Walking with head up and tail wagging, he would tug on the lead still, but it was simply a bit easier to correct him. And whenever possible, he would rub his nose along some grass with his butt up high, tail wagging, relieving that pesky gentle-lead annoyance on his snout.
Another chasm between dog-trainer and me: Instead of dealing with the annoying habits of the walk, I found another means of exercising Bear. I nearly completely abandoned the walk. I went for the bike. With the leash in right hand, I rode while Bear ran. We would go to the park to get off-leash time. We would occasionally find other dogs to run with, but usually found an extremely annoying owner yelling to keep Bear away from his dogs, that Bear’s safety was in danger (can’t discuss now, but maybe later). So score another for Bear, he once again taught me behavior in line with his needs.
Dog park by the river.
So now we begin again. With a new Handcraft Collar, we take Bear on short walks. We go up and down the block. We might make it around the block. And why are they such short walks? They are so short because we have about four inches of leash to work with. When he pulls forward or to the side, we pull up on the leash, engaging the Handcraft Collar, sending a signal (hopefully) to Bear to back it up. The challenge involves releasing the leash, disengaging the collar, at the moment Bear gives in. We (myself, Heather, and Bear) are all working on this.
It has been a week and things are improving. Bear walks nicely along a boring stretch of road. He continues to become maniacal when we approach a house or park that has a history of playing with other dogs. The final exam for Bear (and me I suppose) occurs at the dog park, walking nicely on lead in the parking lot. We will try this out today. And just thinking about it makes me sad because I see it as a form of torture. And I vehemently hate torturing things (even though I teach math). In fact, I would rather be tortured than administer the torture.
I love taking Bear to the dog park so he can run and swim. Not only can you see the joy in Bear’s entire body wagging, but he also wears a smile. So I wonder do we go down to the park and walk in the parking lot, returning after that training. Or do we continue to the park after the training? What would a trainer do? If he is horrible on the leash in the parking lot, lunging and crying to play, do you still give play time. Or is it simply a training session, no more. No reward for bad behavior? I’m inclined to let him play, walking in the park, letting Bear run around, feeling for a few moments at least, that I have a dog I can walk without a leash.
Update: Scent training
Scent training tools: scent, no-scent, hot dogs, and cheese chunks.
We continue with the “scent/no-scent” training. Bear does great, signaling the scent and ignoring the no-scent. And then he does not so good, reluctant on the scent and signaling the no-scent.
But then he’ll wake from a nap when I walk by with an open scent sample in my pocket and signal. And he’ll ignore the no-scent in my pocket. I’m still clinging to the time he slept on the couch and I put the scent beaker in my pocket. His head jerked up and walked over to me to signal.