Spencer getting rewarded for loose leash walking

High points

Spencer the dog at the end of his leashA couple of amazing things happened this week. These are the moments where you have trouble remembering how bad things were at the start.

Spencer and I were out for a walk a few days ago, and I decided to pop by the vet’s office and weigh Spencer. I try to drop in for social visits when there’s no one in the waiting room. We hang out in the waiting room for a few minutes, with Spencer getting treats and maybe doing some exercises. The idea is for him to learn that it isn’t always stressful to go to this place. He also gets to see me chat with the staff. And I also wanted to find out how much weight he had gained since changing his dog food.

To keep animals from getting loose, you have to ring the door bell and wait for someone to open it for you. Usually they buzz you in from behind the reception counter, but this time, the vet’s assistant was in the back doing some lab tests. The lab is straight down the hallway from the front door, which is glass. This means that Spencer watched her approaching head-on, which is a pretty confrontational situation for a dog. Yet Spencer seemed to recognize her and wagged his tail as she got closer. She opened the door, and he moved straight towards her, nuzzling/head butting her legs, which is a sign of affection from him. I was gobsmacked, and she was clearly delighted.

She went back to continue her test while I weighed Spencer, and she asked me to wait, because she likes to take note of his weight when I stop in like this. To my great surprise, Spencer sat calmly and even laid down, totally relaxed. Then he heard the vet’s voice. His usual vet is a woman, but her business partner is a man, and Spencer is fairly scared of him. When he heard the male vet calling down the hall, he jumped up and moved to the end of his leash, straining, probably wanting to leave. When the vet’s voice became muffled as he moved back into his office, I was able to call Spencer back to me, and he calmed down again. But he was pretty happy to leave “unscathed” and without having to see the scary male vet.

Our second high point of the week was at his lesson with his trainer (let’s be honest; she really trains Greg and I). The way things have gone recently, we only see her every few months, so Spencer changes a lot in-between. When we parked, he seemed to be very excited and literally dragged me down the street towards the park. It was hard to judge if he was happy or stressed until we actually reached the park and then his body language made it clear that he was totally relaxed but totally overexcited.

As Irène asked us to do various exercises, Spencer executed with a totally relaxed attitude. He was concentrated. He was interested, but unconcerned, by all the activity in the park and on the street around us. We were able to get close to Irène and take directions without Spencer reacting negatively. As Irène herself pointed out, a year ago we couldn’t get close enough for her to easily give directions. I would either have to attach Spencer to a tree, or Greg would run back and forth between us (or vice versa). But for us, the most rewarding thing of all might have been just to see the look on Irène’s face. She was so obviously delighted by and for Spencer, and that made us feel really good.

Here are some great pictures of the session, thanks to Irène Sautelet, Paris-based, bilingual, positive methods dog trainer.

Spencer the dog with his master

Although a little worried being so far away from me, Spencer stays near Greg’s side.

Loose leash walking with his master

Spencer works on staying on a loose leash and not pulling to get back to me.

Spencer getting rewarded for loose leash walking

Spencer learns that it pays to walk politely. He gets to move forward AND have a treat!

Other than the very cold, windy weather, it was almost a perfect session. There was just a small off-note at the very end when we were saying goodbye to Irène and Spencer suddenly started barking at her and straining at the leash. When I asked him to move away, he easily followed me and then was able to calm himself enough to sit down just a bit further away.

Irène noted that he had reacted when Greg and I moved together and were facing her directly. In human society, such a face-off can either mean a friendly, direct encounter or it can be more confrontational (think gangs facing off, gunslingers preparing for a gunfight, etc.) In the dog world, it pretty much only has the latter meaning, and Spencer doesn’t seem to be able to understand the first meaning. The problem is, we easily forget and do it out of habit.

I think that another factor was also that he was cold, tired and had had enough. He was a bit like an overtired toddler throwing a tantrum at the end of a great day out. When we left the park, he dragged us back to car and then spent the rest of the evening totally drained, doing his best impression of a bear rug on the living room floor.

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