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Pet Wise: Just who is walking whom? Positive dog training methods

When you and your dog set off for a walk in your neighborhood, does your dog pull and drag you? Allowing a dog to continue this behavior can be dangerous for both of you. Today’s column provides positive training methods to help to correct this behavior.

Training rules

Please do not say the word “no” if your dog makes a mistake! Dogs hear us say this word so much — not just when we say it to them but also to other family members. Instead say “oops,” “too bad” or “sorry” using a pleasant, not an angry, voice.

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You will be using food rewards that will serve as your dog’s “paycheck” for performing skills correctly! If your dog has a habit of nipping your fingers when you give him treats, don’t yell or hit your dog’s face or mouth. This could turn your dog into a “fear biter” and become afraid of human hands. To positively correct finger nipping when treats are being offered, play the “Leave It Take It” game!

· Step 1: Hold a treat on the palm of your hand and show it to your dog.

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· Step 2: When he tries to grab the treat, quickly close your hand into a fist to hide the treat.

· Step 3: Then say “leave it” over and over again in a robot-type voice. Your dog may try to lick or nibble on your hand and fingers or try to use a paw to open your hand to get the treat, but you must keep saying “leave it and watch the dog very closely because when his head moves away from your hand, say “yes!” (with a happy voice) and open your hand flat (like feeding a horse) so your dog can have that treat!

· Step 4: Older family members may also play this game so that the dog will learn self-control, and wait for permission take treats gently from other people. Young children tend to jerk their hands and might be accidentally nipped so parental supervision is advised. The “leave it” command might save a dog’s life if he tries to pick up something dangerous like a dead mouse that ate poisoned bait.

Dog walking preparation

Collar. Pat Miller, the author of The Power of Positive Dog Training prefers to use a properly fitted plain buckle or snap collar that allows the owner to fit one or two fingers between the collar and the dog’s neck. Some dogs have a scary “talent of being able to ‘back out’ of their collars!” For that problem a martingale or greyhound collar may serve as a solution. These collars tighten slightly but do not provide a choking action or pain like choke chains and prong collars.

Leash. Here in Carroll County dogs are required by law to be on leash when they are off their own property. Miller points out that even if you live in a rural setting and don’t need to walk your dog on leash on a regular basis, learning to walk on leash is an important skill because there will be times and situations when your dog must walk on a leash especially for veterinary appointments or visits to a child’s classroom for show and tell after the dog has learned good manners.

Miller recommends using a 6-foot leash made from cotton canvas and other trainers may prefer leather leashes that are softer. Although the colorful designer-nylon leashes may be attractive, if you if you have a dog that pulls, nylon can burn or cut your hands.

When it comes to retractable leashes Miller and I are on the “same page.” As Miller states, “Leashes that extend and retract may be great for exercising your dog, but aren’t great for training”[i] She adds that they are bulky to hold and don’t help your dog stay near you while walking. In fact they actually reward the dog for pulling!” These leashes are also are dangerous. There are documented cases of the thin retractable cords getting wrapped around fingers and severing them as well as small dogs losing limbs.

Jake, a 2-year-old Border Collie, works on training with his owner Lynn Hummel at Linden Hollow Sheep Farm in St. Cloud on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.
Jake, a 2-year-old Border Collie, works on training with his owner Lynn Hummel at Linden Hollow Sheep Farm in St. Cloud on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel)

Getting, keeping dog’s attention

· Select a quiet room or area in your home where your dog won’t have distractions and will be able to move in a 20-foot straight line.

· Wear comfortable flat shoes and a “Treat Pouch” (to be worn on your left side) from a pet supply store.

· Purchase healthy low-calorie pet treats like Charlie Bears. & fill the bait pouch.

· Your dog will be positioned on your left side wearing a collar and leash.

· Say your dog’s name using a happy voice with a smile on your face.

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· If your dog looks up at you, say “Yes!” and quickly give him a treat! Do this five times then take a break and play with your dog. Practice this skill daily.

What to do if dog pulls

If your dog pulls you, don’t pull your dog back to you. Instead, stop moving forward, “plant” your feet, stand still and count to 10 slowly.

If your dog turns around and looks at you or comes back to be close to you (even better!), praise your dog and give him treats. Select pea-sized dry healthy treats like “Charley Bears” and place them in a left side front pants pocket or a treat pouch to be worn on your left side. Your dog will positioned on your left side.

Take one step forward, but if he pulls again stop moving and wait for the dog to turn and look at you again. Then praise and reward him with treats.

Eventually your dog will figure out that pulling does not pay because he can’t move forward, but by staying close to you on your left side, good things happen (Treats and praise). Then he can finally move forward!

Please be patient because some dogs may not figure this out immediately.

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