What is a “normal” walk?

May 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm 10 comments

This is copied and pasted from a post I read on the  Functional Rewards yahoo group:

(I hope that the author doesn’t mind my reposting this)

“Reactive” dogs just can’t be compared to the mellow, ho hum, relaxed sort of dog that is comfortable, pleasant, and predictable on a leisurely walk.  If that is the type of walk that the owner of a “reactive” dog hopes to have, then the owner is setting his/herself and the dog up to fail.  Some reactive dogs may be able to achieve that at some point, or at least a semblance of it… but most will NOT achieve that “bomb proof” status.

I also believe that there is a type of “grief” that owners of challenging dogs go through in realizing their dog may not be able to meet the owners’ desires/needs or do the types of things that the owner hoped to do with their dog.  I believe this is an important part of loving our dogs for who they are (and HOW they are).

Now, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t continue to re-train/rehab our dogs – though admittedly, sometimes I do think we do overdo this and should consider just letting our dog be who they are and CHANGE OUR THINKING and activities to SUIT THE DOG.  But in using remedial training methods, mostly I just think our goals, expectations, and measures need to be comparing our dog to his/her own behavior… not against the typical dog.  Does that make sense?  I also think that our goals with reactive dogs are better focused on increasing management and safety, and REDUCING reactivity (the number of triggers, the intensity of the reaction, and recovery time) as opposed to shooting for a “normal” walk.  One of the lessons I always remind myself:  MAKE SURE MY EXPECTATIONS (of myself and my dog) ARE REASONABLE AND ACHIEVABLE.

This is an illustration that I did over a year ago.

I am still very mindful of all these ‘management rules’. However, I am pleased to say that I am better at READING Boogie, and at catching and responding to his signals, which means that we don’t always have to turn away/cross the street/avoid civilization.

These days, I rarely use the “Look At That” cue. (aka BAT – Stage One) I say “Boogie, WAIT” and we wait. Then I watch him to see what he is feeling. 80% of the time he wants to move forward, NOT move away. Using moving forward as the functional reward, I wait for Boogie to check in with me. He gets a YES! and Treat and we move forward.  This way, I know that the trigger is no longer (or never was) an issue.

The other 20% of the time, Boogie freezes. He becomes tense when he sees the trigger. This is a cue for me that we need to get away. I tap his butt, call him, and we do a 180, away from the scary/offending person or dog. Boogie pees on something. Relaxes.

Yep, NORMAL dog-walking for me.

I would be happier if Boogie could be relaxed with *slow-moving hunched-over old people with grocery bags who stare at him*….

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Grisha Stewart  |  May 31, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Love it! It’s so true that we have to come to grips with what our dogs can do, and love them for that, even in the midst of training for improvement. Normal is overrated anyway. :)

    The fun part is looking back over time and realizing that there is a New Normal for your dog as he improves.

    Reply
    • 2. Cindy M  |  June 1, 2011 at 4:10 am

      Sometimes letting go of the expectations (but not the training/rehab) can be the most liberating experience, and allow us to work with “the dog who is there that day.” I’ve found it really helpful. (Although my “dog” is a horse. ;)

      Reply
      • 3. Grisha Stewart  |  June 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm

        Cindy – Love your phrasing! “Sometimes letting go of the expectations (but not the training/rehab) can be the most liberating experience, and allow us to work with ‘the dog who is there that day.'” Mind if I use that?

  • 4. Shelly Volsche  |  May 31, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I LOVE THIS! Your illustrations are always so spot on. I wish I could get Calvin better at the “scary kid asks to pet me, AFTER they are hovering two feet above my head.” Luckily, he usually runs away and pees on something. :-)

    Reply
    • 5. lili  |  July 20, 2011 at 1:21 am

      Thank you, Shelly. Good thing that Calvin runs away :)

      Reply
  • 6. Jen  |  May 31, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    You rock! Oh and I got the magnet the other day, so cute. :)

    Reply
  • 7. Jamie and Risa  |  May 31, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Outstanding article! This is definitely something I need to continue to keep in mind. I have certainly lamented the fact that I can’t ‘just go on a walk’ with Risa. I just have to treat each one as a training session. Certainly walks have become more ‘normal’ for us over time but they’re still not the type of walk most people have with their dogs. And that’s fine.

    Reply
    • 8. lili  |  July 20, 2011 at 1:27 am

      I’ve come to the realization that every moment of the day is like a training session… every social situation, every encounter…
      The hardest part is not other dogs, but other people/dog owners.

      Yesterday, a friendly neighbor approached us with his dog and I called out to him that I would have to cross the street ASAP. He called back “Don’t worry! I’ll move over here…” (and he led his dog around a parked car… still approaching us) I shouted back in a mad panic “No! That’s not going to work! It’s still too close!” He didn’t get it of course. In the time I spent talking him I should’ve just turned and walked away… but that would’ve been rude of me (in any normal situation).

      Reply
  • 9. Amy Samida  |  June 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Excellent post! Your illustrations made me laugh because they so remind me of my dog, Tug. I was lucky in that his issues only involved other dogs and squirrels, not humans, but being a 100+ lb., knee high, bull mastiff/pit bull mix, I had a scraped face, knee, or elbow more than once when he yanked me right off my feet.

    Our “normal” is now, really, what everybody wants when they walk their dog, but he’s almost 9 years old. It was a long, slow process and it’s such a thrill to look back at some of our more hair raising experiences and know that, at this point, they just wouldn’t be an issue.

    Reply
    • 10. lili  |  July 20, 2011 at 1:28 am

      I know what you mean. I look back at how it used to be and we have come a long way :)

      Reply

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