Most dog owners, trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, etc, agree that walking and outings provide an essential daily component of dog life.
What many dog owners don't realize is... Need = REWARD.
For many dogs, the reward of a walk is so alluring, so powerful, that even the most scrumptious edibles pale by comparison. Even the discomfort of leaning on a flat collar or twisting your face on a headcollar or pinches from a pinch collar often fail to distract you from the surge of elation you feel when anticipating a walk! The reward is totally worth any hassle to try to get to it faster.
Since your dog views the walk as a reward, your dog believes that whatever behavior it engages in makes the walk happen. This is called "transitive logic".
If your dog is pawing and barking at you, and you go get the leash-- what made you go get the leash? When your dog leaps and thrashes while you attempt to attach the leash, what behavior made you finally get the leash attached? Jumping & thrashing, of course! And when you walk to the door with your riot on a string, what makes the door open? Its obvious to any dog. The rioting did.
Now, your dog knows your personal sequence of events. Every step in that sequence is a reward. Any, god forbid, reversal in the sequence is a punisher. Hesitation or slowness is a mild punisher that can serve as a useful elicitor.
Remember back to where we observed that walking was worth ANY hassle? Make the hassle being calm -- or at least controlled!
Walks should start as your idea, not the dog's. Ignoring any previously rewarded behavior (like the pawing, barking, whining, pacing stuff) will cause the behavior to worsen. The dog thinks, "I know this works -- I just have to do it harder, louder, faster, over here, over there, in combination with something else..." The dog has to exhaust every possible variation of the thing that he KNOWS works until he realizes, "Hey, amybe this doesn't work anymore..."
Try choosing a command you want to use to earn the walk. It can always be the same one. It can be a different one every time. Don't forget a release word!
Perform your regular sequence at about 1/2 speed.
In either case, by continuing with your sequence when you are seeing things you like, and reversing your sequence when you see things you don't like, you can communicate quickly to the dog what works and what doesn't with regard to getting to go for a walk.
To make things even clearer, you can use the word "good" repeatedly to mark every single correct behavior. At least one every 2 seconds! Use a single marker like "oops", "eh-eh", or even clear your throat at the second you see something you don't like AND simultaneously demonstrate that it doesn't work by reversing your sequence.
Using the markers alone may distract the first few times, but if they doesn't predict anything meaningful (i.e., we are moving toward or away from walking), they will soon be disregarded. Show, don't tell!
Showing works so well that you can do it in absolute silence (no markers), and the dog will still catch on! This silent interaction is what was historically meant by "dog whispering".
"What if he has to go the bathroom?"
For many of us who work typical 9-5 jobs, the evening meet-up has an added level of reward intensity. The urgency of needing to go to the bathroom can really make things difficult. It makes the reward of the walk of even HIGHER value! So whatever the dog is doing just prior to this walk is REALLY working. At least, according to the dogs.
How do we combat this? Well, I suppose a hard-core dog trainer would insist that you just make the dog behave before giving it access to this reward. Lucky for you, and all my own spoiled dogs, I am far from hard-core!
For this circumstance, if you believe it IS urgent, I'd suggest taking the dog directly (no sniffing or meandering--hustle!) to a designated potty spot as close to the house as possible. Then, return to the house with the same hustle. Make it your idea to go on for a real walk when it is convenient for you. OR, if you prefer to do it right away after the potty, you could ask for a command response near the potty spot and go. You could simply expect (wait for) calm behavior and go. You could still hustle back to the house and go.
However, you know your dog's routine -- does she step out the door and then not potty for 20 minutes? If this sounds more like your dog, I'd be a little more skeptical about interpreting the "urgency" of the behavior when you arrive at home!
The idea of instituting a deliberate walk routine is often problematic for dog owners. So let me simply remind you -- if you do what you've always done, you'll get the results you've always gotten! The cognitive demands of giving 100% attention and interaction with your dog after a long, hard day place on you, the owner, often serve to dissuade (punish?) us from doing what will ultimately enable us to think less and walk more conveniently. However, as someone who doesn't have chaos for walks, let me tell you -- it's totally worth it. Once your new routine becomes "what you've always done", those results will be what you always get!
This blog will no longer be updated.
- ▼ August 2009 (11)