Saturday, August 13, 2011

Walking Roscoe

I'm sure I must have touched on this subject in the past but I think it is very important in making your relationship with your four-legged friend the best relationship it can be. As Cesar Milan tells his clients and writes in his books over and over "mastering the walk" is the single most important activity you can do with your K-9 friend.

When we first adopted Roscoe we used a regular collar. It wasn't that big of a deal while he was 10lbs but soon his weight doubled and then tripled. Now that he weighs over 30lbs walking him on a regular buckle collar is an unpleasant pulling match. My dad tells me often that he likes the added challenge of his Irish Setter constantly pulling out in front of him and deciding without warning to pull this way and that. It is very true as he says that they both do much more physical work in a shorter amount of time but his dog, Copper, is also learning that if she pulls hard enough in one direction she'll get to go where she wants even if he doesn't want her to go there. A walk like this also cements the relationship as one which puts Copper's wants above my dad's, making Copper the master and not my dad.

Now that you know the bad results of letting your dog drag you all over creation I will share some of the benefits to having a dog that can walk next to you on a loose leash and how to achieve this. First of all you far more likely to want to walk your dog if you don't have to play tug-o-war the whole time. This will make you want to go get some exercise as well as exercise your dog. Second, if your dog walks next to you on a loose leash this means that even though you aren't in your house your dog still is looking to you as its master. My third point is a combination of the first two, since you are more eager to walk farther and longer you are able to maximize the time the two of you spend cementing a wonderful dog/master relationship. The more respect your dog gives you while walking the easier it is to transfer that respect into the rest of your relationship in public places and at home.

Now that you know the benefits of having your dog walk on a loose leash next to you and not in front of you I will give you a few tips that you can use to make this happen with your dog. First the type of equipment you use and making sure you use that equipment correctly can have a huge impact. There are three major types of equipment designed to give you more control over your dog. These three options are head-collars, slip collars, and no-pull harnesses. A head collar works in a way very similar to a bridle on a horse. Rather than attaching the leash to the base of the neck where the animal has a lot more strength you attach the leash under the muzzle where the animal has less strength. If you capitalize on the dog's weak spot you increase the effectiveness of your own strength. Now that you have the leash attached in a way that gives you the advantage I will explain how this benefits you.

As the dog starts to pull to the fullest extent of the leash its head is forced to turn back toward you, the master. This redirects the dog's attention off of whatever it was pursuing and back on you. Also as your dog starts to walk with a loose leash corrections are much easier to accomplish when the dog "forgets" what it is supposed to do. A simple flick of your wrist will accomplish far more that trying to pull a dog with a buckle collar.

Second I will explain how a slip-collar works. Slip-collars are often known as choke chain, but this name is misleading because if properly used you will not choke your dog. With a slip-collar you are able to adjust the position of the collar from the base of the dog's neck by the shoulders to the top of the neck where it meets the base of the dogs head. The idea is similar to the head-collar. The slip-collar attaches the leash to a weaker part of the dog's neck so you don't work as hard and you have better control with better results. As the dog starts to pull give it a quick pull and release immediately, making sure the collar is positioned so that when you release tension the collar slips and becomes loose again.

Third, is the no-pull harness. This is a harness that has the leash attachment at the dog's chest rather than its back. Like the head-collar, the dog is forced to turn back to you when it tries to pursue something and it allows for quick and easy corrections for the same reason as the head-collar. The advantage of the n0-pull harness is that a dog that constantly fights the head-collar which is around its muzzle will still most-likely accept a no-pull harness which has no parts near the dog's face.

Of these three I prefer the head-collar. I don't like how harnesses look and I don't like the stigma of choke chains. This is purely an opinion. All three work very well as long as they are used properly.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I am no longer a volunteer at the Brown County Humane Society. I now live and work as a live-in caregiver with my wife and two dogs. We acquired our first dog, Baron, from a breeder that had originally kept him to show but didn't want him any more because he developed some flaws as he reached maturity. Our second dog, Roscoe, we adopted from the local humane society where his mother gave birth to him and his litter-mates.
While I no longer volunteer with large numbers of dogs I still am working with my two dogs, both of which came to my home with their own unique problems. Baron came to me with a fair amount of training but most of this training was geared toward making him a great show dog. He hadn't learned how to sit, roll over, eat nicely and calmly or even how play fetch.
Roscoe came to us at 8 weeks old. He hadn't acquired any training at all. He wasn't house-trained and had no manners for interacting with people and still had a lot of work to do on his manners for interacting with other dogs as well.
With both dogs we are very happy with the progress they have made. They have both learned a number of skills or tricks including learning how to walk like "gentlemen" on their leashes. They both know how to sit and stay as well as lie down. Baron has also learned how to roll over, circle, shake, high five, and sit pretty. As you see from this post both dogs have made huge improvements in their abilities and will continue to do so as I and my wife continue to put our time and effort into training them and making them better canine citizens.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shelter Problems

Having been volunteering at the Brown County Humane Society since January one thing has become blatantly obvious. This one thing is that the longer a dog is in the shelter the greater the potential for unwanted behavior.

It is unhealthy for a dog to be penned and left alone, separate from people and other dogs. It is accepted fact that dogs are pack animals and live and work in a group. This means that when we kennel dogs separately and leave them alone for long periods of time they are experiencing something unfamiliar and unnatural. These strange situations bring with them added stress and excitement.

It is usually a pretty easy thing to deal with when you own your own dog that gets to run around, play, and go on walks whenever you are home from work, a dog that spends the vast majority of its day out and in contact with people and possibly other dogs. Shelter dogs that are kenneled for the vast majority of the day turn to unwanted behavior to deal with the stress and excitement of this situation. This will start to make them less desirable and in turn almost always guarantee that the dog will be in the shelter that much longer. It all revolves around in a circle. First the dog is in the shelter, then stress and excitement lead to unwanted behavior, then the dog stays in the shelter, and then more unwanted behavior results from the added stress and excitement.

How do we fix this problem? For some shelters it is a possibility to hire some full-time staff. This coupled with a lower number of dogs will decrease the amount of time that a dog is separated and forced to be alone. This will give the dog interaction with humans and hopefully supervised play time with other dogs as well.

But what about a shelter that is entirely volunteer operated? How can a shelter like this cope with these problems? I am seriously asking for some suggestions because I don't know what to do in this situation. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Loyalty the Fault

Loyalty the fault, full of game.
The seasoned weight lifter is tame.
The paper seeks only the fight.
Exploiting the powerful bite.
The pit bull does not plot to maim.
She will work until she is lame.
She would tackle any task that came.
Anything to please. What a sight!
Loyalty the fault.
As darts seek targets she takes aim.
Let loyalty and game be her fame.
Pit bulls full of strength and might.
Lips pulled back, flashing teeth of white.
Nurture brought about such a dame.
Loyalty the fault.

Dogs Under Stress

Today we had a situation in which one of our dogs was ready to attack another. The dog that was doing the attacking is usually a very happy, stable dog. The one being attacked always seems to be stressed out and nervous.

It started off very well. I walked these two dogs together this morning. Both dogs assumed a calm-submissive state of mind right away so I rewarded them by giving them the full length of the leashes. Both dogs went out in front of me. Both dogs remained calm-submissive for the rest of the walk and their bodies reflected calm-submissive minds. Both dogs were loose and allowed their bodies to sway as the walked. Neither one was ridged. The sniffed each other and investigated the same smells and the same holes. They looked like the best of friends.

When we got back inside the building and to the large back room where we keep the dogs I handed the leash of the more nervous dogs to another volunteer. At that moment both dogs became stiff as they sniffed each other for maybe five seconds then the more stable dog growled and lunged at the other.

Why did two dogs that were the best of friends turn on each other?

Having had time to reflect on everything that happened this morning and also what I know about both of these dogs from other experiences with them, as well as other dogs I have worked with, it is quite clear why these two dogs 'turned' on each other. It goes back to a long debated question, how much is nature and how much is nurture.

Both nature and nurture have their places in this confrontation. The stable dog attacked the unstable dog: nature. This is what must happen in a pack of dogs to ensure that the pack survives. Cesar Millan often explains how stable dogs will attack instability because it is weak. Instability hurts the pack so it must either be altered or eliminated. The first message the attacking dog wanted to send was, "you are unstable but I am stable. You need to become stable like me." If the unstable dog does not respond by becoming sable then the message becomes, "you are weak and need to be eliminated."

I also said that nurture played a role in this incident. The unstable dog had been nurtured in his nervousness and in his stressfulness. If his nervousness and stressfulness had been corrected the first time he exhibited these mindsets and behaviors he would not continue to go back to those states of mind. The fact is that these states of mind have been reinforced by how people have tried to deal with them. Pampering reinforces the state of mind that the dog is in while being pampered, it does not change the state of mind from nervous-excited to calm-submissive. The unstable dog had learned that when it was inside the building that was a place where he was supposed to be nervous and stressful.

The unstable dog made himself weak because that is what had been reinforced in him by the way that people dealt with his weaknesses in the past. The stable dog reacted in the way that its nature had determined was the best way to make the pack survive: get rid of the weak behavior by either changing it to strong behavior or eliminate the one projecting it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dogs Rehabilitating Dogs

Chelsey has been considered an unsafe dog for the past few weeks because she attacked another dog after being threatened. Should she have attacked? No. Does the attack make her a bad dog? No. What happened this morning is proof that she is neither unsafe nor bad.

This morning Chelsey, a large white pit bull mix, was walked with Emmitt, a brindle dog that looks like a dingo. The walk went very well so the man who walked them wanted to see how they would play together and he put them both in the large kennel area that had been Emmitt's alone. The two of them got along wonderfully. After about 20 minutes or possibly more they were the happiest that I have seen either one of them in all the days they have been at the Brown County Humane Society.

I am convinced that what I have thought about Chelsey for a couple weeks now is actually true. I believe that she is in fact a very stable dog. Most if not all of her hostile encounters with other dogs have been her reaction to an unstable dog.

Both Emmitt and Chelsey are fairly stable dogs although Chelsey a little bit more. For the 20 or so minutes they spent in the same kennel playing they held a very high energy level. The play of these two dogs reminded me of what it was like to go grapple around on a wrestling mat in high school with no clock and no score cards. Just to have a good, physical, fun time.

Both dogs left that play session tired, relaxed, and happy. This will become a regular part of our morning shifts with our dogs. Giving them supervised playtime with each other in order to establish a stable pack that will hopefully one day include all the dogs of the Brown County Humane Society.


Boomer has left the Brown County Humane Society. Do not be sad because he has not been euthanized. He has gone to a pit bull rescue in Malaca, MN. He was exchanged on Saturday for a smaller, more stable pit bull named Amy. On Sunday morning we got a report that Boomer was comfortably lounging in the house at the pit bull rescue with as many as eight other pit bulls roaming around in the house. He was getting along wonderfully with the other dogs there and appears to be on his way to becoming a very stable dog, capable of interaction with other animals and a vast number of people.