Tag Archives: woods

The 3 reasons for pulling

According to “received wisdom”, dogs pull on their leashes because they’re trying to dominate us. So apparently all those sled dogs have really put us in our place! Anyway, snarkiness aside, as far as I can tell, Spencer has 3 reasons for pulling:

  1. The Flight response — In our anthropocentric perspective, we assume the dog is trying to get somewhere. When we first started working with Irène (our positive methods trainer), we asked her in perplexity, “If Spencer is actually frightened and not dominant/[insert other standard uncontrollable dog descriptor], then why does he pull out on walks?” I paraphrase, but her response was pretty much “He’s probably just trying to get the heck out of there. He doesn’t know where he’s going. He just knows that he’s uncomfortable here.” Well, that was a light-bulb moment.
  2. He walks faster than we do — It seems pretty laughable, but he has long legs.  Spencer pretty much has to drag his feet to adopt our pace. He does try to respect the length of the leash, but he’s quickly at the end of it. So his solution is to bounce back and forth between walking at a brisk pace forward and turning back to us (either waiting for us to catch up or taking a couple of steps back in our direction) to acknowledge that he’s not supposed to pull. He’s much better at not pulling when he’s on his long lead in the woods than when he’s on the shorter leash.
  3. He’s on a mission — Have you ever been with someone (or been that someone) who charges ahead to a planned destination, leaving the rest  of the group behind? Maybe you know exactly where the right department in the store is. When Spencer is tracking a scent, the outside world does not exist. He’s like a little tank charging along at his predetermined sniffer pace. To give an example, yesterday he was tracking deer in the woods, and he didn’t even notice when two dogs ran right past us! Normally he would have begged to go play with them. It’s a mission of a different sort, but when he’s looking for exactly the right place to poop, he also pulls.

Bonus reason: Apparently it’s instinctual for a dog to pull back against resistance. Again, think about sled dogs. But think also about tug-of-war. It seems a bit circular, but if you don’t want your dog to pull, then you shouldn’t let him pull.

We’re working on that. Spencer’s gotten a lot better about learning where the limits of the leash are and respecting them, but he’s not one of those dogs who spends all his time gazing adoringly at his walker as he goes along either. More about that in an upcoming post.

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Hummer’s Big Stick

So we’re still seeing Pascale and Hummer about once a week. When we can, we meet in the forest, and when that doesn’t work, we meet at the local park. Hummer lives in our neighborhood, so we’re looking forward to a day when maybe the dogs can play together in the yard and we can calmly have a cup of tea. But we’re not there yet for a couple of reasons: Continue reading

A leap too far?

The waterfall at Gouloux

Le Saut de Gouloux

One day while in the Morvan, we decided to make our daily outing to the Saut de Gouloux. Despite the name (saut=leap in French), this is actually a small waterfall which used to be used for milling. This seemed like exactly the kind of thing we could do with Spencer. So we loaded up the car, drove the 10 km or so and then realized we’d forgotten the short leash. Another roundtrip and we started on what we expected to be a nice hike. Continue reading

A walk in the woods…with friends!

Hummer the German Shepherd holds his flexi-lead in his mouth.

For a long time, Irène has been encouraging us to find another big dog that Spencer can go for walks with so that he gets used to just hanging with another dog and not feeling the need to jump on him constantly. This is, of course, easier said than done. You have to find someone with a similar schedule, who’s willing and able to walk at off-peak hours. You need another dog who likes the same rough-and-tumble style of play. Both parties need to be able to get to the woods, which eliminates anyone dependent on public transport.  Perhaps most importantly, we needed someone who understands Spencer’s issues and who isn’t going to try to be helpful by coming too close too fast or any of the other well-meaning things people do that complicate training for us.

So we were pretty happy a couple of weeks ago when we were sitting, taking a break on a path in the woods, and a friendly German Shepherd bounded up to say hello and his mistress said hi. I responded and then exclaimed, “We know each other!” as I recognized them. We had already met Hummer (the dog) and Pascale (his human) at our local park, where the two dogs seemed to enjoy wrestling together.

I haven’t been going to the park for a bunch of reasons that I won’t get into, but they range from realizing that walking there through local traffic was stressful for Spencer to the fact that some very tolerant people were maybe getting tired of Spencer’s outbursts.

Anyway, it was a delight to see them. Pascale is really good about letting Hummer play with Spencer, but keeping a distance that Spencer is comfortable with. And Hummer and Spencer like to play. For her part, Pascale seems happy to see us because Hummer is starting to cause her problems too. He’s a rambunctious adolescent and — among other things, has developed a bad habit of barking and biting at other dogs. It starts out as play and then he kind of boils over. So for us, this is a great opportunity to teach social skills to both dogs and to feel a little less isolated ourselves.

That chance encounter went well. Hummer was loose and Spencer was on his long line, so they could play well, which they did until it was clear to me that Spencer had had enough.

The following week was a little harder. We met at the parking lot with both dogs leashed and a surprising number of people (the result of mushroom season, school holidays and a lovely autumn day.)

We revised our initial plan of walking them side by side at a distance and staggered them instead, with Pascale and Hummer in front. Every so often, they would both seem willing to come together and play, which we would allow until any misbehavior broke out. Hummer kept sniping at Spencer, so we mostly just walked in procession.

Spencer and I couldn’t stay long because he had a vet appointment: he was suffering from swelling and bleeding on his muzzle. That probably didn’t put him in a good mood for playing, because any blows to the muzzle would have been pretty painful.

This week went better. There was less barking. Spencer is clearly ambivalent about Hummer: he wants to play with him, but Hummer’s pseudo-aggressive behavior scares him. Pascale and I watch the ballet and laughed. One time, Spencer and I were gradually getting closer, with me following Spencer’s pace to make sure he’s always comfortable. Hummer suddenly turned around, stopped and stared at Spencer, who made a u-turn and headed back up the trail behind me. But he doesn’t seem to get overly stressed, and once Hummer backs off, Spencer is willing to start following again and gradually move up and attempt contact.

The day ended with a play session that really started to get out of hand. For the first time, I was nervous that Hummer was going to bite for real. Spencer tried to walk away, and Hummer kept after him. I finally inserted myself between them and confronted Hummer while Pascale came up to leash him and help separate the two dogs.

We then sat on two sides of the path talking and resting while the tension dissipated. Once we do manage to separate them, Hummer immediately ignores Spencer, so it’s not like he’s going after him in cold blood.

While Spencer and I had a cuddle, Hummer got impatient and wanted to be on his way. Pascale kept chatting with me. So, to make his point, Hummer picked up the handle of his flexi-lead and started a game of keep-away with Pascale. Look closely at the photo: Hummer’s muzzle is not that boxy: it’s the flexi-lead in his mouth.

Impressionnant !

I don’t think anyone with an “easy” dog can understand the gratification when your problem dog gets social interaction exactly right. Spencer has been making loads of progress recently, and one of the reasons I haven’t written in a while is that it’s simply been too nice out and we’ve just been enjoying the moment.

While Spencer’s behavior has been gradually improving, our first really stellar moment was a few weeks ago and involved Dylan the Jack Russell Terrier. Continue reading

Run (in the) Forest, Run!

Because of Spencer’s stress issues, we have a really hard time getting him to play away from home. And looking back on it, it actually took a really long time for him to feel relaxed to play here too. (The one exception is with other dogs — all he wants to do is play with every dog he meets.)

But playing is also an important way for him to learn that the outside world is less scary. First of all, we signal to him that we are relaxed enough to play. Second, the pleasure of playing helps him to associate good feelings wiht the outside world and to relax. Continue reading