Enjoying my walks with my dogs

21082904_542479256088672_7221601975003592633_oOne look at this picture and it should not come as a surprise that I have abysmal upper body strength with wrists like that. CTS to boot. And it should not be hard to imagine what a strong girl Nishi is. So to me, it was clear from day 1 that if I needed to be able to walk Nishi, it could never boil down to battle of strengths. I knew then too that I would definitely be the one to lose it, EVERYTIME! So, I was very sure that I HAD to get her to a place where she would not pull me.

In the beginning, I was not really good. I tried many different approaches. Leash walking is HARD!!! I fell flat on my face many times.

Yeah, I was given the choke chain advice that I did follow for one walk. But watching Nishi gasp and sputter that disappeared after it’s maiden appearance. Then came the flat collar. But my wise brother in law talked us into a harness. I am glad that happened before the collar caused too much damage. Then there was the question of the right kind of leash. I tried the retractable for a while, then got badly injured by it, almost saw it amputate Nishi’s leg, read up about the horrors of it and gave that up. Then came some 2″, 4″ and 6″ leashes. I was obsessed. I even wrote a blog about it, which I now know is nonsense ๐Ÿ™‚

Then came the techniques. And as with most people I started at “what does the internet tell me”. And of course, what surfaces is whatever is most popular (not to be confused with the most effective, most humane or the best researched. Fake news can have as much viewership as real news these days. Ratings are just that…ratings). So “popular advice was” – be stern and jerk her back real hard when she is young and weaker than you. If she gets older and stronger she will drag you down”. Bad advice, wrapped in good advice! “Resolve it now, else she might drag you down” – good advice. “Jerk her. Be stern” – bleh! I mean, I tried it for one walk and I hated how it made me feel, yanking her back by the neck like that. My little tubby wubby puppy! So that did not work and I looked more.

Next came the world of positive reinforcement training. But here was the catch. My tubby wubby puppy refused to eat treats when outside the house. Just flat out refused. I tried EVERYTHING. Chicken, fish, fish paste, liver pate, egg puff, parathas, poories, paneer, dried shrimp, origen treats, organic home baked cookies, meat balls….NOTHING worked. I tried toys and that just drove both of us crazy.

The twist to the tale was her accident. That happened when we were on our walk. Under my watch. I never forgave myself for it. But it also drained me of every last bit of confidence to walk her on the street. Just stepping out would make me tense up. Two walks with that elevated level of stress…it unravelled me.

I am a meticulous person. I ran into very technical terms like R+ training, 3 Ds of raising criteria, “shaping behaviours”, clicker training, charging behaviours, generalizing etc…I made plans that ran pages long, listing criteria, clicking away to glory. Clickers were not available in India then. So I got a friend to bring me a pack of 100! The concept sounded brilliant and worked awesome with Karen Pryors game of “100 things to do with a box”, but when it came to leash training….nope…no luck.

Then I ran into Turid’s ideas. I learnt about calming signals and like with most Turid fan’s that became the first day of the rest of my life. I had discovered something new, was hungry to know more and was sold on her philosophy. Got all her books, DVDs and tried to leash walking her way. In theory it sounded fascinating, but in practice, it flopped badly. It did not work.

Then I met her. I learnt from her. Made more sense. Worked in the sprawling grounds of her farm in Norway. Tried it in India…epic fail! By now, I am feeling like an idiot.

I introspected and analyzed for countless hours and and realized my leash was only 6″ long. Turid’s were at least 2 feet longer. I got myself a longer leash and tada! It started working. What a difference 2 ft made.

It still was not working well enough though. Turid recommended use of treats and I tried. But that just was not working. India is too busy and distracting. Dogs were not able to talk treats. So I thought about it and realized that this could actually work to my advantage, if I could figure out a way to make the bustle of India rewarding in itself and not requiring treats. I figured I could do that if I kept the stimulation levels controlled.

Despite, I still fell flat on my face a few times. If a dog bolts on an 8ft leash…best of luck! It came down to figuring out how to prevent that bold and how to be prepared. This is where Turid’s teachings finally fell into place, where I have finally been able to work out in Bangalore’s context, how not to put my dogs in a place where they feel the need to bolt and what to do in case she does. It has taken me longer on how to teach my clients that. I am still learning.

I still need some amount of strength to stand my ground a few times. But that happens once in a while and is far easier than having to pull back or being dragged for the duration of the walk. I have not fallen in a few years and I have now walked about 400 dogs ๐Ÿ˜€ So yay! My wrists are spared. And I am not stressed any more. I love my walks with my doggies and I look forward to it.

Here are some pictures from our walks. Hope you like them.

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