So I looked deeper into their training technique. Their take on this: “walk with your dog next to you and everytime she leaves your side, yank her back hard“. In my opinion, this is bad technique, for two reasons and I present my case below.
Firstly, this concept of “yanking her back hard“, requires me to use my strength. Anyone who has had medium or big dogs, will be familiar with how strong they can get. Considering how pathetic my upper body strength is, the outcome of this battle of strength with the dog is a no-brainer: Dog Wins! And I am left with a battered ego at not being able to train my dog, a chaffed palm and pulled muscles. So, when I decided to get a boxer, I made up my mind that I was not going to use any training technique that required me to use my strength to overpower Nishi. If I found myself doing that, then I had to stop, and rethink my approach. Consequently, in our household, there is no yanking, beating or pulling. Even if there are stronger people around, who actually can overpower Nishi, I know that there will come a time, when I am alone with her and I don’t want her to quickly realize “Ooh! Weak lady! Me wins this time…yaaaaay!”.
The second discussion is about the “dog leaving your side“. When training a dog to walk on a leash, there are two types of training: 1) Heel Work 2) Loose Leash Walking or LLW. Heel Work is what one sees in dog shows -the dog sticks close to your heel and walks almost in step with you. Impressive to watch! When I was growing up, I had a dobermann who was trained by a cop on Heel Work. So naturally, when I got Nishi, I started researching on Heel Work. I picked up Monks of New Skete, almost a cult classic. But soon I started running into a few dissenting voices on Heel Work and recommending LLW instead. The most compelling voice that reached me was that of Turid Ragaas. She has heavily influenced me and I have all of her material. Her website is also very handy. Her approach is one of give and take. You allow your dog to have some fun on his/her walks, who in-turn behaves well and asks “politely” for permissions to explore.
I think back at the times when I have not had a chance to step out all day. After about 10 – 12 hours, I am going nuts and just want to get out and do something. Wouldn’t Nishi feel the same? She stays home all day, just waiting for the 5 PM walk. So when I finally take her out, I don’t have the heart to insist that she focuses just on my heel. I like treating her to the smells and sounds of the great outdoors. She is a curious girl who want to sniff everything. And if it’s a popular doggie-pee-spot, she wants sniff away for several minutes, gathering all of her doggie-social-information. If I am going to spend hours on facebook, I feel I owe her at least a few minutes at that popular street light post. She is not really the facebook type. She prefers pee-sniffing 🙂 Of course, if she were a show dog, I might have required her to do Heel-Work. But she is not one, so why expect that out of her?
Given that I really want her to enjoy her walk, we walk with a leash loose enough for her to walk in the direction that she wants to go, and as long as she walks “politely”, I follow her patiently. However, if she loses her manners and starts pulling, then I get adamant and stand still. Absolutely still. No movement in any direction at all, no matter how long it takes. She sits or releases the tension on the leash by taking a step back. We then resume our walk. This method is sometimes referred to as “Be a Tree”. I’ll write about my experiences with this technique a little later.
The other thing people talk about is training your dog to walk off-leash. But, given our past experience, my opinion is set in stone here: I have a zero risk appetite when it comes to taking my Nishi off the leash. If it is not an enclosed space, if there is ANY opportunity for a crazy cabbie or auto driver to zip up the road, then Nishi will not be risked an encounter with such driver. I have seen fully grown humans, take stupid decisions on roads and meet with accidents. How can I count on a dog to actually evaluate ramifications of running after a very interesting cat or squirrel when a car is zipping down the road? According to me, that evaluation is my responsibility and I will gladly shoulder it for her sake. Her safety is my duty!
I found it very useful to take a step back, before training and think about what’s important for us. There are several techniques out there. I have at least 10 books and DVDs on this, each author with a different approach and opinion. This indicates to me that there is no one right way. But what I found useful, is to have a clear opinion on my priorities for Nishi and let that guide my training. For me, these rules are sacrosanct:
- No causing Nishi ANY pain (exceptions might occur if every there was a human being hurt badly. I hope that day never comes)
- No use of strength. If it comes down to it, take a break and rethink the whole strategy. I am not going to lose battles with my dog
- Training should be fun for Nishi and I. Rules for the sake of rules don’t benefit us.
I will put down more details on LLW and “Be a Tree” in subsequent posts. But I leave my readers with a question. If you had to write down your own philosophy on training what would it be. Leave me comments. I would love to hear from you.