How to walk your dog

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Apr 4, 2016, 08.23 PM IST

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We all know that our dogs need to be walked. We also know from experience that a dog that’s not trained to walk could end up pulling a lot on the leash. This habit can not only get difficult for pet parents to cope with, but can also cause some serious injuries to the dog.

There are a few different walking techniques that are being taught today. The most popular one is heel. Another technique that is rapidly gaining popularity is loose leash walking (LLW). Both techniques need training. But how does one decide what technique to choose?

Heel is a technique where the dog is taught to walk close to and one step behind the handler. The premise is that the handler is going to lead the walk and the dog needs to pay close attention to the human and follow the human’s direction on the walk.

LLW is based on a very different premise. In LLW the dog is not required to stay very close to the handler and watch the handler at all times. The dog has more freedom to sniff around and explore things on the walk, setting his own pace. The only thing required of a dog on these walks is that he not pull on the leash and to respond fast to rare human intervention in case of imminent dangers. The technique works best when coupled with an extra-long leash, to make exploring a lot easier.

Both techniques teach dogs very different skills. Heel is a technique that relies heavily on humans leading the way. So the main skill the dog learns here is to follow the lead of a human closely. In LLW however the dog leads the way. In such a situation the dog learns interesting life skills like coping with other dogs on walks, dealing with surprises thrown in during exploration, problem-solving skills and other life skills. The dog also comes to learn the idea of give and take with humans, as he is required to maintain the leash loose when he is exploring.

Animal behaviour research is throwing some new light on facts that is changing the way we look at walks. We now know animals value choice. Exercising choice leads to valuable learning of coping skills. A dog that develops its coping strategies is known to be a more confident dog, and therefore calmer and less likely to be reactive. All animals, in wild and captivity, need to feel that they have meaningful choices they can exercise and feel sure-footed about dealing with the curve balls life throws at them.

All animals need to feel ready to face the world.

An animal that does not feel ready to face the world is suffering from Learned Helplessness. This is a behavioural condition where the animal is not sure he will be able to cope with new situations in life. He has learned to be helpless and rely on humans for all decisions. An unsure dog is going to be a nervous dog. Nervousness can lead to hyperactivity, destruction, reactivity, depression or cause the dog to shut down. This is not very different from the way children react. If we don’t gently expose them to situations that teach them decision making and coping skills, they experience severe anxiety at the prospect of facing real life.

Of course your dog will always be under your care and does not have to learn to fend for himself. But giving him the confidence that he can face the situations he comes across in his life, can mean a lot to him. That would mean being able to deal with other dogs, people, new smells, sights and sounds etc. So give him a chance to be more than just a pet dog. He will love you for it.

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Making boarding stress free

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Oct 6, 2015, 12.29 AM IST

With the holiday season round the corner, it’s likely that many pet parents are planning to travel. That perhaps means boarding for dogs. Here’s how you can make it much easier on your dog.

The first thing to understand about boarding is that for most dogs, it is a stressful experience. Dogs are not used to being left in an unfamiliar place without family for extended periods of time. So be nice to your dog if you intend to board her and understand that it’s going to be rough on her. Prepare her for it and be prepared for the repercussions of boarding as well.
The first thing to do is the pick the right boarding place. Boarding is not the time to socialise your dog. Socialisation needs to happen when the dog is under your supervision and in a great state of mind. So try not to pack in too much during this time and stick to basic boarding that gives your dog maximum peace and quiet during this confusing and stressful time. Pick a boarding that provides your dog with some amount of private space to retreat into during stressful times.

Boarding is also not the time for training. Learning happens best when the mind is fresh. Save training for later – when you are back, your dog has had time to settle down, return to normal and is ready for lessons. However, you do need to ensure that the training you have done or are doing, does not get reversed during boarding. So meet with the boarding staff to understand their routine. Work with them to figure out something that will not interfere with your training. For example, if you are working on leash training, you don’t want the boarding staff to use a different method and confuse your dog. It’s better to have off-leash play areas for the dog instead of leashed walks. My clients don’t play fetch with the dog. So they ask boarding staff not to incorporate any fetch into routine into their dogs when boarding.

Once you have identified the boarding, prepare your dog by visiting the place a few times ahead of the actual boarding. Leave the dog behind for short periods, a few hours at most. Let the dog get familiar with the place and gain confidence that you will be back.

On the day, pack a few essential things for your dog. Pack your dog’s bowl, a few toys, blankets and a bed. All of your dog’s medication and special meals, if any, should go along. Any special instructions – like not playing fetch – or edical instructions and emergency contact numbers should be given in writing. Emergency contacts should include your number, your vet who knows your dog’s medical history and a local contact will take the trouble to respond to emergencies.

Once at the boarding place, look at the dog’s private quarters and use the blankets to create more privacy. Remember that when a dog is boarding, the point is for the dog to be as calm and relaxed as possible. Meet the staff, talk to them kindly and demonstrate to them special instructions, if any. Don’t fuss around your dog. Leave unceremoniously. One last word of advice – avoid boarding during Diwali. Diwali is scary beyond words for dogs. Being away from you makes it much worse. Try to keep your dog with you. If you must board, try to pick a boarding, as far away from the city centre as possible.

Dealing with unwanted behaviour

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jul 6, 2015, 08.51 PM IST

In a recent video making the rounds on the internet, a boisterous Dane is nipping at his guardian. When my clients came to me with a similar problem, I did a simple exercise with them, trying to understand what was causing this behaviour and how to fix it. The solution is actually quite generic and applicable to most undesirable behaviour – barking, nipping, jumping etc. To understand the solution, we first need to understand the cause of the problem.

Dogs behave this way either because they are over stimulated or because they are seeking attention. We often make the critical mistake of giving attention to the dog and getting agitated ourselves. That’s counter-productive because it adds to the dog’s agitation, worsening the problem. Now that we understand that, let’s look at the solution. For simplicity, remember it as the 4Rs – Remove, Redirect, Reward, Repeat.
Remove: First, do not enable the dog’s behaviour. The best way to do this is to unceremoniously leave the room and give yourself a time-out of 10 – 30 seconds, depending on the dog. Attention-seeking dogs get a strong message immediately, you don’t even need to yell or reprimand them. 
Redirect: Since a dog’s adrenaline levels are quite high during such times, it’s important to give him/her something to do. Else the dog might redirect his/her energy resulting in destructive behaviour such as barking or peeing. After the 30-second break, give the dog something to chew on (preferably bones) or do a treat search. It is a simple exercise of scattering tasty treats (paneer/chicken) on the floor or lawn and allow the dog to search for it.
Reward: Rewards come much later, perhaps on another day when the dog is not so agitated, comes and politely asks for attention. Be sharp enough to notice that and give due attention.
Repeat: Note down what worked and keep the winning formula ready to repeat when necessary. Note down the time it took for the dog to calm down. Note down the redirection activity that worked best for your dog. Note down how your dog asks politely for attention. Be observant about these things. It’s important to observe your own actions and that of your dog.
However, there are some caveats to keep in mind. This method will fail, if you don’t go all the way and do all 4Rs religiously. Be mindful of these pitfalls: Remove yourself completely from the situation. Saying “No” defeats the purpose. It constitutes negative attention. To an attention-seeking dog, it is still gratifying. Walk away in complete silence.
Chew toys rarely work as redirection objects. If you cannot give bones it is going to be difficult. You could try flavoured green coconuts and ropes (cotton/jute/coir). Get creative with how you’ll flavour it and have fresh ones ready at all times. Old objects are just as boring to dogs as old TV shows episodes are to us. How many times can you watch the same episode?
Rewards are easy to miss. We are great at noticing when a dog is naughty but not so great at noticing when a dog is being good. Be observant and make sure you have told your dog what behaviour gets him rewards.
Be rigorous in observing and documenting your working formula. You will need to fine tune it to make it work for you. Finetuning requires that you are sure about what you are doing, what’s working and what’s not. That’s how you can consistently repeat the right formula and improve on it.

The right trainer

With the growing number of trainers in the country, how do you determine the right trainer and training for your dog? Here are some tips that might help you with `puppytraining’.First and foremost, stay away from puppy training at a boarding facility. Dogs area not good at generalizations and cannot come back and apply all the learning to a new environment. So a puppy toilet trained at a boarding-training facility, may not be well-behaved at your home. A puppy that listens to a trainer may not pay heed to your commands. Hence look for training that includes you in the process.
While at training always insist on doing a trial of the commands in which the dog would be trained.You need to know how to do it so th at you can go home and practice. Ensure that the trainer has got you familiar with the right way of doing it.
Your trainer has to address more than obedience issues in your dog. Your trainer has to guide your pet through toilet training, bite inhibition, handling of fears, socialization and environmental training. The latter is training a dog on how to be in different environments -like a friend’s house, a busy road, at a pet friendly café etc.
Your trainer has to use methods you are comfortable with.They have to be humane and gentle. If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the amount of pressure on your dog, withdraw your dog from the session and have a conversation with the trainer. If your trainer is not flexible to more humane meth ods and believes there is only one way to do something, then you might want to look for another trainer. There are new ways of training dogs and putting a dog in a choke chain or spike collar are no more necessary. So look for trainers who are up to date on training methods and are not using such methods.
Do not leave your dog unattended with your trainer till you have enough confidence in him or her. The first few encounters have to be completely supervised, irrespective of what the trainer stays. You need to ensure your dog is in safe hands and until that trust is built you have the right to watch, at least from a distance.
In addition to obedience, you should have a talk with the trainer on teaching your dog to handle Diwali, thunderstorms and other irrational fears that he may develop. You may at some point have to travel. So talk to your trainer about crate training as well.
Have your trainer oversee at least one socialization session and give you guidance specific to your dog on how to socialize your dog. The formula is not the same for all dogs, just as we humans do not greet everyone the same way and don’t have the same preference in who we chose to greet. Some dogs need to take it slow while some are social butterflies.
Your trainer should also work with your vet’s inputs on what your dog’s diet needs are; how many hours of sleep he might need, how many minutes of walk a day etc. Your behaviourist should also give you insight into whether you should neuter/spay your dog and if so when.
Look at the trainer/behaviourist as a family coach. Everything about your dog should be at your trainer’s finger tips or at least in a file so that the puppy sessions are tailor made for your puppy, his breed characteristics and his individual traits. In addition your trainer needs to be available for emergency consultations. As long as your trainer cares for your dog and you care for your dog, you will be fine.

Leashes Unleashed!

Yeah! I am into retail therapy. The quirky part, however, is that I get my shopping fix at pet shops.  Consequently our household has tried dog foods of all kinds, treats of all kinds, leashes & collars of all kinds and toys of all kinds. So! here is a dump of the different kinds of leashes available in the market & their utility.

When I walk about leashes, I also need to talk about collars and harnesses at the same time. You might wonder why omit all other things like shampoos, dog foods etc… Well, to my mind, leashes are critical. The wrong leash and collar can be lethal. And with the right leash and collar and loads of love and some simple training techniques, even the strongest of dogs can walk well. Nishi is 40kgs of all muscle and excitement and energy. So, I have given this a lot thought. Hence, I can write something that could perhaps be useful.

Collars & Harnesses

Ok. So, let me start with one end of the leash…the dog. We have 2 options to fasten a leash to a dog – The Harness or The Collar. Nishi has both, each serving a distinctly different purpose. She has a thin metal collar that sports a pretty name tag and a bell. I have heard of too many cases of lost dogs and I’d like to believe that having that name tag, with our number on it is wise. I never want to take it off, ever. Hence the choice of metal, so that I don’t have to take it off, even when it’s wet.

But we NEVER use this to leash her. Choke chains, pinch chains and collars are known to damage a dogs trachea, neck & spinal chord. So we use a body belt or a harness. Turid Ragaas, one of my favorite trainers explains very well the kinds of harnesses and helped me decide to get a 2-stage harness for her. We have all these products available in pet stores in Bangalore.So, a good harness, in our experience, is a good investment, well worth it’s money in gold. In Bangalore, I have found Puppia, Karlie and Rogz market 2-stage harnesses.  There are some specialty harnesses/collars too.

  • One of them is the Halti. It is supposed to help reduce pulling. I personally prefer training her not to pull, rather than using a product like Halti. So, I never went for it. Hence, there is not much I can tell about a Halti. 
  • There are pinch and choke collars. I personally despise these and NEVER use them to leash Nishi. It is inhumane to use this product – Read the PETA article. And if you want to use it, this blog is not going to be useful to you. I like to handle my Nishi with tender love and care. So I don’t buy into any argument that says that “some dogs need it”.
  • There are also purely ornamental collars. I use these on Nishi frequently, as the function of leashing her is done by the harness. So the collar is used ornament-ally and to sport her name tag. 
  • Handmade Ornamental Collar
  • I also found one with LED lights on it. I was tempted to buy it to put on her on vacations, when she runs away in the dark. But these were not water proof. So my opinion – thumbs down!
  • One thing that I am on a look out for, but don’t find frequently is collars with a reflective surface on it. These are occasionally available in the market and I am always on the look out for it. These are again useful to find her in the dark especially because she is so dark. Nishi, indeed (we named her Nishi, because Nishi means “the night” in sanskrit)

When Nishi goes out for a short walk to relieve herself, we sometimes put a collar on her. In this case, we get a collar that has padding on the inside, so that it does not cut into her neck. We also pick a collar with a strong quick-release buckle, instead of the metallic buckles seen on belts. This encourages us to remove the collar as soon as we get back, thus not leaving marks on her neck. The dog I had when I was growing up lost all his fur on his neck because he had a collar on at all times. Collars kept on at all times can also get damp. Damp collars harbor infections and fungus and have to be frequently changed and aired. So, I am quite keen not to keep a collar on at all times for Nishi.

Traditional Metallic Buckle
Quick Release Buckle

Leashes & Tethers 

Now, the leash. To determine the right kind of leash, what matters is the other end of the leash – which most times is me or my husband – the walker. So large part of picking the right leash is based on my comfort. Nishi does a good job of Loose Leash Walking. But she is an excitable girl and will lunge when she sees something exciting. So, the leash needs to be comfortable on my hands, strong, reliable and predictable. The other occasion when I use a leash is when we tether her to something. We frequently take her to restaurants, friends houses or on vacations. On several such occasions we need to tether her. So that is the other criteria. Here is the long and short of several of the products I have seen in the market.

Warnings from Flexi Website

Retractable Leashes 

These can be extremely convenient, especially for Indian city walking. When we take Nishi out, she decides to go into empty sites or go explore on top of sand piles and we don’t have to go in with her. We can stand a safe distance away and let her explore. You know what I mean…no need to step on muck, leave that up to her 🙂 Having said that, there are some things to remember.

  1. The quality of the product matters a lot because there is a spring mechanism involved. So we have ended up buying a poor quality product, where the spring gets ruined in no time. Flexi is be best quality I have seen available in he market today.
  2. These come in 2 types: tape and string. Both have their advantages. The Tape tends to get twisted, if you extend it too much. The String can cut or burn into skin quite easily. I have experienced both.
  3. There is much debate on the safety of this product. Check out the warnings that are extracted from the Flexi website. This blog post discusses the Flexi pros and cons in a bit more detail: The Great Flexi Debate

So, bottom line: I am not a fan of this product. But my husband is. So we try to use it sparingly. I want to find a good leash to tie the flexi to my husbands waist, so that the device does not run after Nishi, if he accidentally drops it. Will update the post, if this works. As of now, I remain skeptical on this. 

String/Chord Retractable Tape Retractable

 

Non-retractable leashes 

Ergonomic Leashes – easy on the hands

These come in chains or fabric. Obviously, I prefer fabric, because I am the one, who is going to be at the other end of the leash and I am no masochist to put my hand in chains. The fabric leashes too come as flat ribbons or rounded ropes. But what matters more to me is not the ribbon or rope, but the loop that I will be holding on to. Several leashes today come with a good amount of padding in that loop. That makes it very comfortable to hold. In fact, I recently saw an “ergonomic” leash. It’s pricey. But if it works, it might be worth the money considering how strong Nishi is. At the end of the day, what matters is that it needs to be comfortable for the walker. Regarding the strength of the leash, obviously, strong dogs will need strong leashes. What is perhaps a bit less obvious is the weight of the leash. Tiny dogs and puppies will need light leashes. It’s not just the weight of the rope or tape, but also the hook that hooks to the collar. That metallic piece could sometimes be heavy, even if the rope/tape is thin or weak.  So, I have learned to look specifically at that piece and get something light for the puppies I foster.

My favorite tether that is also a great leash,
with sufficient padding to offer a comfortable grip

Tether 

We have several tethers of different lengths. We use relatively shorter ones for restaurants and friends houses. We use longer ones for resorts and gardens, where we are ok with her running around, but don’t want her to leave our sight entirely. One thing we have experienced is that having a hook at the tethering end is useful, especially if we want to tether her to cafe & restaurant tables.

Floor pegs 

My brother-in-law recently picked up this product that I thought was fabulous, particularly because we take Nishi everywhere with us, even to places that have nothing I can tether her to. It is a peg that screws into the ground. We are often at Airlines Hotel, getting ourselves a dosa and buying Nishi some idlis. We just screw this into the earth and tada! We are all sorted, we stand by the car, eat our dosas and idlis, get our filter coffee and are on our merry way.

We recently picked up a variation of this tether with a spring attached to it. Dogs on such a long leash can forget they are on it and bolt. A sprint in the tether can cushion the pull when the dog reaches the end of the leash and I love this product.
Portable screw-in peg along with a 15m tether – a must have for gardens and vacations

Where to Shop

I bet this is a lot of information. So here is a quick list on where you can find several of these products. For most of the products I visit one of 2 stores:
  1. Paws, the pet store: This is off brigade road. The shop & collection of products is awesome, but the approach is poor and parking is hard. But good news is that they have a website and a good facebook page with product details AND they will deliver the product home – http://www.pawsthepetstore.com/ . Wonderful owners who will give you prompt responses on facebook, if you have product queries. Do check out their Puppia Harness. I swear by it.
  2. Glenands, Koramangala: There are multiple Glenands stores. But I have only been to the one in Koramangala and I simply love it. I have seen the ergonomic leashes only here. Also, one very cool thing is that you can buy a nametag for your dog and get it etched then and there, in 2 minutes. I just love that. I gift nametags to all dogs I know 🙂 GLENANDS PET SHOP # 475, 1st Cross, 5th Block, KHB COLONY, KORAMANGALA, BANGALORE 560098. Phone: 40927524. Mobile:9739000950
  3. Shreenidhi Vet Pharma: This is the only place I have found the portable screw in peg. It’s a good combination of a pet shop as well as a vet pharma. A good place to stop off for people in North Bangalore. Shreenidhi Vet Pharma, No. 49, Opposite to Veterinary College, Bellary Road, Ganganagar, Bangalore – 24. Ph: 23533238

There are other online shops. But for Collars & Leashes it is best done in person, as the fit and the feel has to be just right. So I always take Nishi while shopping for these and will try it on, pull and tug and see how it feels in my hand and how Nishi reacts to these, how easy it is to put on and take off etc…and only then pick them up. 

So, this is my take on collars, harness, leashes and tethers. If there is anything available in the market, worth mentioning, please do leave me a comment. I am very interested in knowing about all of them and trying out all of them. Meanwhile happy walking 🙂