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!
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.