I know my person, Marika, isn’t the brightest. She’s stubborn, easily distracted and will even ignore me when I give her a direct request (if there is something she would rather do). At first I thought it was because of her breed, but I have come to realize that she had not been taught her to walk on lead politely when she was young. She had been taught that she was supposed to “Be the Boss” and she was told things like, “Walk your dog, don’t let him walk you!” While I am sure this advice was well-meaning, it lead to bad habits that took a long time for me to train out of her.
In the beginning, she seemed to completely ignore wonderful smells that we should have gone to investigate. She would walk as if I wasn’t even there, never making eye contact or stopping to play together. She would change directions suddenly and without warning. She got flustered and panicky when we saw a dog that I wanted to sniff and play with. When people who approached us in an intimidating and unfriendly manner, she didn’t even notice and I was forced to see them off with a sound barking. Even that did not reassure her. She would pull me away, yanking my neck. This added to my frustration.
Over the last two years she has improved immensely. She finally started to realize that she needed to give warning before changing directions. These days she brings along treats. These are much more interesting than other dogs. She learned not to get so close to dogs and so obviously the treat took precedence.
I have to say that I learned more patience as well.
I realized that in some ways I was setting her up to fail, I would cross back and forth in front of her to sniff the path and she would trip on me, so now I stay to one side unless she has indicated a need to switch sides. I will also check in with her regularly, to make sure she is still paying attention to me, and ever for this she has learned to give me a treat occasionally.
Now that she behaves properly, people don’t bother us anymore. Because she has learned to check in with me, I can let her know when I would like to go sniff a good smell for awhile. Now we do this together! I am delighted that she has learned to relax and take in the smellery. We also play a fun game where we change directions together and run quickly, then slow down at the same moment. Obviously she needed to learn to communicate better what she wanted and really, I have learned so much by training her. She isn’t perfect. Occasionally she will still embarrass me. Like the other day when I saw a squirrel for the first time, I clearly indicated to her that we should chase it and she completely ruined the moment with her clumsy stumbling and falling to the ground. I know she will continue to improve, but our goal of a walk together as companions and friends is not so far off.
Submitted by Ripley, proud pup of WHS Director of Behavior and Training, Marika Bell