Fall Dog Class Fieldtrip a Success

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The dogs pose in front of Sam Elliot's store (the black lab)

Sunday November 22, 2009 by Sophia Yin, DVM

I remember in highschool math class thinking, math wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the word problems. Now, as an adult, I think, if you can't do the word problems, which represent math in real life, you don't really know math. Similarly, with dog training classes, it's great when dogs know how to sit, and heel and focus on their owners in the controlled class environment but what they really need is to be able to do those things in real world. That is, it's not good enough to do them just at their home or in their own neighborhood, the behaviors must be reliable in new locations with high distractions. That is why I frequently have a field trip after the last week of a 6-week dog training session. And that's what we did today. We took a field trip to downtown Davis. Four dogs-five if you include my dog Jonesy-attended. Four had a history of lunging at, snapping at unfamiliar dogs, one had a history of lunging or snapping at people in his personal space. These were all issues we had addressed in behavior consults for some dogs as well as during this class. And then there's Jonesy. In unskilled hands he's more likely to bark fearfully at skateboards, loiters, and random objects and then become overly aroused. Here are the exercises they worked on today.

 

Dogs focus on owners while walking across the street

Dogs focus on owners while walking across the street

 

Exercise 1: Sit at corners and heel across the street

It's difficult to look both ways for cars when waiting at the corner if your dog's dragging you around or getting ready to trip you. In exercise one, all dogs were required to sit at the each corner and heel when going across the street. Remember, if you need to watch your dog when crossing the street, make sure there are no careless drivers or bike riders who could accidentally run you over.

 

Dog should be even with her behind the owner slighlty on walks. When walking past potential distractions, owners should keep dog's focused on them.

When walking past distractions dogs should be focusing on their owners.

 Exercise 2: Walking at attention past people

When out walking, it's important for dog and handler to share the road with pedestrians. Many people are uncomfortable with unfamiliar dogs regardless of whether the dog is friendly or not. So in these exercises dog owners were required to 1) keep their dog close enough to them so that pedestrians would not feel like they had to move out of the way. 2) Keep their dog looking at them as pedestrians passed if there was any chance their dog might look at or try to sniff the pedestrian. While looking at pedestrians may be ok, it's nice for people to know for sure that you have control of your dog. Owners could also just move off to the side and have their dogs perform sits facing them and away from those passing by.

Exercise 3: Defensive greetings

Next we set two student volunteers up on the sidewalk to act as dopey dog greeters. As dogs walked down the sidewalk, the volunteer inappropriately approached to pet the dogs and possibly solicit jumping while stating, “Can I pet your dog?” Dog owners defensively backed up with their dogs so that it was clear that the answer was “not yet.” Once they had their dogs sitting, or lying down, they invited the greeters to greet. For the dog in the class who was fearful of unfamiliar people, the owner worked on keeping the dog focused and out of trouble.

Dogs that tend to jump a lot should be trained to lie down (instead of sit) to greet people

Dogs that tend to jump a lot should be trained to lie down (instead of sit) to greet people

Exercise 4: Walking next to other dogs

Now dogs were required to walk down the sidewalk in tandem. This was probably the most difficult exercise. Dog tended to sneak glances away in between heeling at attention. Jonesy gave several student volunteers a workout. He looks easy because he's fairly well behaved for me. When other people work with him they he's probably more difficult than any dog they will handle. They learn that they will be doing lots of running around, with fast paced changes in order to keep his attention. Look away for instant and he's getting into trouble.

Walking next to other dogs

Walking next to other dogs

 

 

Exercise 5: Clearing the sidewalk to let others pass by

Here everyone clears the sidewalk to let people pass by. Then owners keep their dogs focused on them even when student volunteer pedestrians try to distract them.

Exercise 6: Chilling out on downtown benches

Sometimes you want to just sit with your dog and enjoy the scenery, your meal, or conversing with friend. In this exercise, dogs were required to lie down while owners sat on downtown benches. Then student volunteers as well as dog owners took turns walking up to the handlers with dogs and offered human food. The dogs were required to remain sitting or lying down and were not allowed to sniff the other dog.

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Sam Elliot, Otter, and Lily wait patiently as Chris hands human treats to Allan

Sam Elliot, Otter, and Lily wait patiently as Chris hands human treats to Allan

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4 responses to “Fall Dog Class Fieldtrip a Success

  1. I liked how you discussed dealing with public (for ex: how to let people know politely that you don’t want your dog to be pet) as this often isn’t discussed. I have a similar problem with other dogs approaching mine.
    My cattledog x can be reactive with other dogs and we’ve been working over the past few monthes to the point where she is very focused on me and no longer reacts to other dogs. However, I always have my dog on a leash and three times in the past two weeks she has been jumped on and harrased by offleash dogs(in mandatory leash areas)…including one dog who she got in a fight with (I had her leash and the other dog was loose). People also come towards me and ask if it okay to meet…my dog is not ready for greetings just yet (I only allow her to greet dogs I know and trust and only when she is calm because I want to make sure all of her greetings are good experiences) but people still persist. Even when I say no and clearly back away they continue to come towards me with there dogs
    I am not a very “forward” person in that I would never yell at someone (to leash there dogs) and I want to remain as calm as possible so my dog does not feed off my anxiety. I also don’t want to say “back off shes aggressive” because I don’t want people to think negatively of her. I think its very important that people only let a)trained dogs offleash (ones who do not approach other dogs without being given the cue to go meet and b)do not allow there dogs to meet other dogs without permission (I have heard way to many calls of “he’s friendly” ). I am doing everything I can to make my dogs experiences with other dogs as positive as possible..but its difficult when I cannot walk around my own neighborhood without her being harrased.
    I really hope people take this into consideration, both in always asking permission to pet a dog and not persisting if the person says no or is unsure, as well as in letting there dogs run up and greet everydog they meet.

  2. Sounds like your dog’s come a long way. Yes unleashed dogs and poorly behaved owners can pose a problem and set your training back. In addition even on-leash dogs can be a problem. Once I had 5 different dogs lunge and bark and Jonesy (my JRT) when we were jogging. This was 5 unrelated dogs in different locations along the run. And I think it was probably at 7:00 am in the morning and we probably only ran 5-7 miles!
    I generally just focus on keeping Jonesy focused on me even as the dog is really near. For me, I also sometimes have to just let him be on a loose lead to sniff the dog for an instant and then call him away. For other dogs I have to rely more on a head collar such as the genlte leader to help keep them focused on me. Of course this works only if they are already really really good with the GL.It’s definitely challenging. Several weeks ago in class one of the dog’s owners got scared when a young dog in class started running towards hers during the come when called races. She wrapped her arms around her dog to protect her dog when she could have just as easily backed away and kept her dog focused on her. So next class we worked on mild emergencies several times. Now the owner doesn’t panic when a dog runs up off leash and is able to keep her dog focused on her. She also now sees that it’s the other dogs who are ill-behaved compared to hers who is now really well controlled and focused on her in public with distractions. So sometimes it’s just about relaxing so that you can react the way you would in a less scary situation.
    but it sounds like you’re doing well!

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