Follow the leader

When I was out with the dogs last night, we passed my neighbor Tony’s house and they both started their usual routine of wildly lunging toward and yapping at him as he stood out in his driveway. I tried to pull them away quickly, but Tony was already heading toward us.

“Oh, now, hold on!” he said with a grin. “That won’t work. Lemme show ya.” And show me he did, taking the dogs’ leashes and snapping them gently to attention, one on either side of him. He strode off down the sidewalk without a word to the dogs or a backward glance to me, with my indefatigable puller and my insistent sniffer both trotting along neatly just off his heels with their ears forward and their heads up. He went about half a block, turned around sharply, and returned them to me in the same fashion. As a family of cyclists approached and the dogs’ heads turned, he again gently snapped their attention back to him and they made not a peep. He even managed to get them to completely ignore a cat walking through his yard with just repeated quick tugs on their leashes.

He didn’t hit them or yell at them or haul them around or do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. He did consistently require them to keep their attention on him, and they seemed remarkably willing to oblige. At one point he squatted down and put Reggie by his side but slightly behind him. She sat down calmly and quietly gazed around her. Then he moved her to slightly in front of him, and she became instantly alert and distracted by activity on the street, completely oblivious to both of us. I was flabbergasted at what a difference 12 inches one way or the other made in her demeanor. He explained that when the dog is in front, she sees herself as the leader and therefore the protector of her pack, and that brings out her guarding and challenging behaviors. When I am in front of her, she no longer feels herself to be “on duty” and can simply relax. This is why it is so essential to walk the dogs at heel and not allow them to run out the length of the leash.

As I stood there watching this display of what Tony repeatedly called “calm, assertive leadership,” I think my jaw fell on the ground. I could not believe that my own two incorrigible little dogs were happily following this man, whom they’ve met only once or twice, and were so quick to do every single thing he directed them to do. Astonishing.

Tony’s dog-training rap is lifted straight from Cesar Millan, of course, and I’ve heard it hundreds of times: you have to be the leader of the pack if you expect your dog(s) to follow you. I understood this perfectly with my Rottweiler and practiced it well, so training her was a breeze. But with the little dogs, especially headstrong and independent Reggie, I’ve given up trying to control them on the walk because I just don’t want to put the time and energy into managing them every step of the way. It’s been easier for me to zone out, let them go where they want to go, stop where they want to stop, and act however they please toward the people and animals they encounter along the way. I know their bad behaviors are my own fault. But I really didn’t know until yesterday how to correct it. Tony not only corrected it completely but also made it look so easy that I felt acutely embarrassed by what I’ve been tolerating for so long.

Rudy has always been an easy dog to live with and to walk, so being a calm, assertive leader with him has always been easy, too. When I tell him to do something, he responds quickly, and he remembers when he’s been corrected. Reggie, on the other hand, has been a challenge from day one, and she has never responded to any of the training tricks I know. After months of trying and failing to curb her pulling on the leash, I just abdicated control of the walk to her. My contributions heretofore have been limited to perfectly useless asking, pleading, whining, admonishing and berating with many curses. Even when I’m telling her for the 50th time to “slow down” or “stop pulling,” I know she doesn’t understand a word I say apart from her own name and I feel stupid for doing it but I don’t know what else to do!

what-dogs-hear

It is useless to ask a dog to do something and inadequate to tell her to do something. One must actually make the dog do it, one way or another. And it’s also high time I admitted that not yelling or swearing or visibly freaking out is not the same thing as being calm, or assertive. They deserve better leadership from me, and I know I can do better for them.

I resolved to be that better leader and put an end to the arm-stretching pulling contest with Reggie on this evening’s walk. I put a leash in each hand and positioned the dogs beside and slightly behind me, and away we went at a brisk clip. Rudy fell right into line, of course, and although I had to gently correct Reggie most of the way, let me tell you: It was a miracle. They didn’t pull my arms off, they didn’t stop to sniff at every tree and fence post, and they didn’t make much more than a cursory yap at any of the people or animals we passed. Astonishing.

This video demonstrates how to walk a dog “the Cesar way,” and covers all the points that Tony made to me about redirecting the dogs’ attention to keep them calmly moving forward.

I am ready and willing to reclaim my position as pack leader so that my dogs can retire from that role and simply enjoy their exercise without having always to be on guard and ready to rumble. Reggie’s shrieking, squealing challenges to all comers are audible for blocks around and we walk nearly every day, so I think every single one of my neighbors will (silently) thank me for finally getting my dogs under control.

 

Dog day

Today was all about the dogs.

Rudy went to the groomer this morning for a close shave because his coat had gone all to mats and because I don’t want to worry about it while he’s convalescing from his foot surgery, which is scheduled for next week.

shaved-rudy

The doctor and I are both thinking it’s likely that left outside toe is going to have to come off.

While Rudy was out, Reggie and I took advantage of the glorious spring sunshine to take a long walk out by the horse pastures not too far from our house. As we passed the horses, I noticed for the second time on our walks along that road the sound of several dogs yipping and squealing in an obvious attempt to get somebody’s attention. The first time I heard it, I saw people and a car near where the sound was coming from, so I didn’t pay it much mind. But today there was no one to be seen, so we went to investigate.

We found two adult border collies frantically throwing themselves against the walls of a large aluminum horse trailer sitting in direct sun. I peeked through the holes and saw a lot of feces on the floor around a chewed-up and bone-dry plastic dish. The trailer didn’t appear to be locked, but I was not going to let the dogs out onto an unfenced lot. They seemed friendly enough and were certainly energetic and healthy looking, but I know that dark trailer was heating up fast even with a cool breeze blowing.

A few dozen yards from the trailer was a good-sized shed where I found two younger, smaller border collies throwing themselves against a chain-link gate with equal vigor, and with a similar lack of amenities in their pen. Unlike the last time an animal’s distress calls disturbed my peace, I did not hesitate to pull out my phone and call animal control. I left a long message, got cut off by the voicemail demon, called back and left a second message, got cut off again, and felt completely helpless. So I tied Reggie to a nearby fence post and went across the street to knock on doors. Couldn’t find anybody at home, so we finally had to go on our way.

After we picked up Rudy from the groomer in the afternoon, I drove back to the pasture and checked on the dogs in the trailer again. They seemed fine in spite of the rising heat. I knocked on a different door, and this time found a lady who not only knew the owner of the dogs, but explained to me that he was a breeder (!) who was keeping them there only until they could be sold (!!) and that he had been there today to check on them (whew!). She said she also kept an eye on them and that they were being cared for. I told her I was very concerned about the dogs in the trailer as the weather gets warmer. She was very nice and said she would tell the dogs’ owner that somebody had inquired and was concerned. I went away feeling that I had done all I could and that they were going to be okay.

~~~~~

Walking the dogs separately was my treat for the day. When they are together, Reggie always has to be out front pulling hard to be ahead of Rudy, which is a near-constant strain on my arm and back. She’s also a fierce little street fighter who challenges any person or animal in sight in the most embarrassing fashion. Her aggression triggers Rudy’s aggression as well and they become a rather formidable bundle of belligerence.

aggressive-little-dog

When the dogs see little kids, they both get so yappy and jittery that I’m afraid their energy will scare the kids, who will make jerky motions with their little hands, and then there could be trouble, so when kids ask to pet them, I just have to say “sorry, thanks for asking, but they’re not really very friendly.” Walking them together, in fact, is and has always been a tremendous pain in my ass—Reggie constantly pulling, Rudy constantly stopping to sniff and pee, both of them acting like idiots at the mere sight of a cat or a kid or another dog or anything at all unusual that sets off their alarms. So having them one at a time today was delightful. Reggie got to be far out ahead of me on the retractable lead in her robustly independent fashion, and we both walked faster than usual. She was perfectly behaved, so not a harsh word was spoken.

When I took Rudy out by himself later in day, we walked much slower than usual so that he could take all the time he wanted to sniff and pee without Reggie hauling us along. He ignored all stimulus from other animals and people, and when a little girl stopped us and asked to pet him, I didn’t hesitate to let her because he was perfectly calm and polite. Reggie would have been the same way had she been by herself. There’s something about being in a pack that makes them act so unpleasantly together, and I haven’t been able to remedy it in nearly five years of walking with them. I realize the fault is in my failure to train them, and if I knew what to do to correct their behavior, I would do it.

So, why don’t I walk them separately every day? Time and energy constraints, mostly. Also, because the one who gets left at home takes it really, really hard, especially Reggie. When I take Rudy out, I can hear her squealing and crying at the door all the way down the block. I just can’t bear being the cause of those distress calls.

 

Out of practice

I’ve been at my parents’ house for the past 2+ weeks supporting them both through my mother’s recent surgery and stroke. I just got back to my home last night, and quickly found that I’m out of practice already in a few things. Such as:

Yoga: Exercise is one of the two foundations of self care (the other being nutrition) but is always the first thing I abandon in a pinch. I rolled out the mat this morning because every single muscle in my body was begging to be stretched and it felt sooooo good.

Hehehe. This appeals to my editorial tendencies.

Hehehe. This appeals to my editorial tendencies.

Regular meals: I always eat breakfast first thing in the morning no matter what else is going on, but I only managed the occasional lunch-at-noon and supper-at-five that I am accustomed to having at home. So I’m back on schedule with that.

I like to know when the chuck wagon's due to open.

I like to know when the chuck wagon’s due to open.

Walking the dogs: My poor little pooches spent hours and hours and hours alone in the house or in the car while I was running hither and tither, and with the exception of some minor damage to some paper products for which Reggie is almost certainly responsible, they were beautifully behaved house guests and travelers. As I said, exercise is the first thing to go; I had no energy left at the end of the day to even run them around the block. I didn’t sleep very well last night and felt none too zippy this afternoon, but I took them out for half an hour anyway and they both were ecstatic about it from the moment I started lacing up my shoes to go.

Kind of like this, but with more barking.

They were both kind of like this, but with more barking. Much more barking.

Daily blogging: Boy howdy, have I missed my posting! But I didn’t want to get into all the details of my mother’s condition or her progress (which has been slow and steady), and the daily round of ordinary caretaking—visiting mom, cleaning house, doing laundry, buying groceries, providing regular updates to family and friends—just isn’t interesting enough for daily blogging. You kind of had to be there, as they say.

blogging

I’m happy to be back in my own little groove in my own little house, but of course I am still very concerned about how both my parents are doing and I will be keeping as close track of them as I can from 500 miles away until I can clear my calendar to go back to visit for another two weeks (hopefully in mid-June). They have plenty of people around to help them, but my dad is holding down the fort at home by himself and an extra set of hands to help with the everyday stuff is always welcome.

Here’s my family—dad, mom, me and my sister—a couple of nights ago.

Aren't we just the cutest? :-)

Aren’t we just the cutest? 🙂

Better late than never

When we were stuck in a deep freeze for the entire month of January, I was on the lookout every day for a pair of palm-sized reusable hand warmers to keep my fingers from freezing off while I was walking the dogs. I could keep all the rest of my body warm except my fingers, even in good-quality gloves. We missed a lot of walks because I make my living with these digits and I need to keep them attached to my body.

While I was out at the video store tonight to pick up a couple of movies for the weekend (because I still haven’t tangled myself up in the Netflix web yet), I found the perfect solution. Never mind that the weather has turned mild and summer will be on its way very soon. When it gets cold again, I will be ready.

Sock monkey handwarmers. Yes.

Sock monkey hand warmers. Yes. The one with the blue hat is still cool; the one with the red hat has been activated and is toasty warm. 

They fit right inside the glove and will stay warm for half an hour, which is as long as the dogs need to get their chores done and as long as I can stand to be out in the cold anyway, so they really are perfect. And cute! Always a bonus.

Now I’m almost looking forward to next winter. Almost.