Walking Buster from Walt Disney

The first chapter of Nishi diaries has to be – Walking the dog. This topic is closest to my heart for reasons that will soon become obvious. I have read so much about it, ruminated so much and filled my head with so much on this topic that if you brought up this topic after I have had a few glasses of Chardonnay, you WILL regret it, irrespective of what you have been drinking all evening. I will go on and on and on and then some more.

The dogs I grew up with did not walk well at all. They were so bad that, one even dislocated my dad’s shoulder. At this point we got dog walkers and considered the problem solved. Today, I spend hours everyday observing dog walkers closely. Most are not even dog-people and don’t give a damn about the dog they are walking. The dog eats rubbish along the way, runs into oncoming traffic, gets into fight with strays…and they don’t care. Most don’t even walk; they just linger on the street, chatting with their friends. And the few, who do care, know so little about dogs that it’s a pity watching them struggle with the dog. End result – an under exercised dog, with bad walking habits, frequent stomach upsets, complaints by neighbours of the dogs harassing them when he is on his walk, and in extreme unfortunate cases, accidents as well.

For those of you who don’t know our story, one February evening, when Nishi was not yet one year old, we took her out on a walk. We made one critical mistake and a car ran over her face. Bless her brave little heart, she still fights it with such courage. While I know that beating myself up about what happened will not reverse the events of that evening, I also know it makes me so much more careful & thoughtful with Nishi. That is something I can never expect of any dog walker. So, really no dog walker can ever be good enough for my little puppy girl.

The Walt Disney dog has really created a warped image in our mind on what dog walking is. The freckled kid, Timmy, cheerfully calls out to Buster, Buster comes skipping along with leash in his mouth, they walk side-by-side – boy and dog, go to a park by the lake, Buster fetches a stick that Timmy throws at him, the lovely neighbourhood lady who has her baby in a stroller stops by to pat Buster on his head, they all laugh and walk back home, to the sound of birds chirping!

LIES! All lies. When was the last you heard birds chirp in Bangalore?

Most of my reading on dog training made me realize that walking a dog seems to be one of the biggest challenges dog owners and dog trainers face. And this is the one thing that dogs tend to take the longest to get trained. So, it’s not just me who thinks this needs special attention, it seems to be quite a common issue. But, in India, the story gets more interesting, as always πŸ™‚

I compared the Walt Disney set-up to what I was up against. So where do those serene streets exist in Bangalore, that are not infested by insane cab and auto rickshaw drivers who seem to be on a mission to kill? And where are those enclosed parks that prevents your dog from bolting on to the street in hot pursuit of a squirrel? And say you found that elusive park, but looked away for a second to smile at the cute neighbour (those do exist right?) , your pooch has his face buried deep in a gorgeously stale paneer dish from Nandini Palace or worse, in some “holy droppings”. In fact, on one of our vacations, we found ourselves rather embarrassed to bring back a happy Nishi, whose face was covered in…ahem…, lets say, fresh manure! Our friends, all too familiar with this scenario saved us embarrassment by trying to “dignify” this taste of theirs, and christened it Grass Mousse πŸ™‚

Anyways, after an evaluation of Disney’s Rue de la Buster versus Koramangala, I abandoned the Walt Disney guide to dog training, and looked at other dog training books and manuals. Almost all of them said “start in a quiet place, with minimal distractions to start training”. So I tried starting in my basement. Drivers were driving like F1 drivers, in and out of their parking spots. I tried the apartment gardens and children found Nishi too cute to let her train. I looked for a quiet street.; If there were no cars on the streets, there were stray dogs. If not strays, others were walking their dogs. Milkmen and newspaper guys during early mornings, crazy cabbies at night..so where could I start this training?

That’s when I realized that I needed a training strategy and technique unique to India. I am still working out what works best for our conditions. I will share all of my experiences on this blog. I want to end this entry with some good & bad advice I have received on this topic of leash training:

Bad Advice 1: (this one was by our breeder) Don’t put your dog on a leash or training till she is 6 months!

Has anyone seen how big a 6 month old dog is? How fast they can get? How am I supposed to take this dog for potty breaks without a leash? And how do I put a dog on a leash and not have the dog leash trained? A 6 month old boxer is a strong dog and when she pulls, I eat mud!

Bad Advice 2: (this has come from so many areas, it disgusts me) Put your dog on a choke collar, so that you can use her strength to deter her from bad walking habits

I did try this once. I heard Nishi choking on it & abandoned it. A quick internet search showed me the health risks of this inhumane contraption. It is apparently effective if used rightly. But it is so easy to use it incorrectly. As far as my Nishi is concerned, I don’t see a need to risk using this thing incorrectly. If there is a more pleasant way, I think she deserves it. The number of times I have seen “experts” putting their dog on a choke chain and the dogs tongue turning purple, while on it! Looks cruel to me and nothing will convince me to do it. NEVER!

Good Advice along with some misguided information:
(this one was by a friendly neighbour) Start training early and finish all training by 4 months. Dog’s cannot learn after that

Initially I did freak out about the 4 month time limit. I felt I was doomed as my dog was “too old for new tricks”. But to my relief, I learned that this saying is just a myth. Nishi learns so much faster and better today than when she was a puppy. She can concentrate much better.

However I did see some merit in starting early. Delayed training gives dogs room to pick up some bad habits that they need to unlearn. Unlearning is actually hard. Also, physically controlling an older dog is harder and having completed lessons, particularly leash training at a younger age, makes walks a lot easier. But, it is never too late and always worth the effort. Happy walking!

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