Choices during walks

Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Dec 22, 2014, 10.16 PM IST

It’s been a week since I returned from an International Dog Trainer Education in North Carolina. Since I’ve been back, the participants of the education have been exchanging their very first experiences of this new kind of training – Natural Training. Everyone seems to be in awe of how effective these methods are and how seemingly small things make such a huge difference. What stands out the most in the stories shared are the ones that highlight the effect of choices on dogs’ behavior. This is most evident in walks.

All participants of the education are people with big hearts and an intense desire to help dogs. Many of the participants have troubled dogs. Many of the dogs are reactive dogs – reactive to dogs, to people, to objects etc. All of their pet parents have been leaving no stone unturned in finding solutions to help their dogs. So getting updates from them is particularly heart warming. And the single biggest tool that seems to be helping them all is easing the stress on walks by converting walks to loose leash walks and giving the dogs choices on their walks.

Loose leash walk starts by first loosening the leash. For that, one needs a long leash – at least 9 feet long. But not everyone might be able to handle their dog on such a long leash, without actual training. That’s okay. That need not be the starting point. However, even on a shorter leash, it’s possible to give a dog choices. It all starts with what’s in our minds.

It’s important to identify the main intention of a walk. The traditional view on walks is that walks provide dogs with physical exercise. But a walk does something far more important – it provides dogs with mental stimulation. A dog gets to see the world, hear strange sounds, sniff interesting odours, feel different textures under their paws and experience the world in general. A dog’s senses are fired up and these in turn light up different parts of the brain, keeping a dog mentally fit. A mentally fit dog is a well balanced dog.

It’s hence critical to give a dog maximum opportunity to process the world around him at his own pace, make choices and experience the consequences of their choices within safe limits. It’s important not to distract the dog during this experience. Our presence there is to keep the dog within safe limits and to take the dog out of the situation if it gets too much for him to cope with. But within the coping limits of the dog, there is a lot of freedom we can give a dog.

Freedom starts off with letting the dog walk at his own pace. Do not rush the dog or set a pace for him. Always leave home with some time to spare, in case the dog takes a little longer on a certain walk. Let the dog sniff as much as he wants. The olfactory senses in a dog are the most powerful of their senses and stimulating that really lights up the brain like a Christmas tree. When possible, let the dog pick the route of the walk. Every once in a while, go on a completely new route. And when your dog wants to turn around to avoid something, respect his wishes. Do not force him to deal with anything.

With these small changes, you will be surprised with the changes you will see in your dog within a short while. If your dog is pulling too much on the leash, he has not learned to be calm enough and explore during a walk. Get professional help in teaching the dog to walk on a loose leash. Good walks go a long way in improving the quality of a dog’s life and in cementing a good bond between dog and human.

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Leash Walking

I often love to demonstrate leash walking. Dogs seem to understand several languages and will follow me irre spective of what language I use -English, Kannada, French, Norwegian…it does not matter; human language is just noise to the dog. I rely on non-verbal communication -my shoulders pointed towards the direction I want to go and it’s the dog’s nature to join you and head in the same direction.

How often have we seen people standing adamantly, pulling back on a leash, facing a dog and yelling “Tommy come on! Let’s go.“ All Tommy is understanding is: “Tommy blah blah! Blah blah.“ Tommy takes one look at your shoulders and assumes mommy wants to go this way, so do I. If you want Tommy to realise that you want to go in the opposite direction, then you need to turn away.
If you stand still and don’t pull, but be adamant, you will notice something: your dog will sit down. This again is the universal language of the dog. You too can speak the same language by kneeling, facing away from the dog, in the direction you want to go to. And eventually the dog will turn to your preferred direction.
At the start, there could be a lot of changing of directions! Persist and soon your dog will be walking like a pro, as long as you are willing to respect the wishes of the dog to go sniff where he wants to. What matters is that your dog gets his fair share of things to explore -as long as he does not pull.
Now we come to equipment. Choke collars and regular collars go around the neck of the dog. Even the best trained dogs can sometimes pull or you might have to pull him back from one of the inconsiderate city drivers. When the pull happens the soft lower part of the neck takes all the pressure. This has some very drastic effect. In order to make walks a stress free pleasant walk remember the following » » Comfortable equipment like a good quality harness Give and take you let the dog where he wants to go when he is not pulling » No walk when he is pulling. Just change direction. Don’t pull him as far as possible.

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 🙂

Loose Leash Walking

Ok, so I am finally on my favorite topic – Loose Leash Walking or LLW. At the onset, let me remind you that I grew up in a household with a Doberman. The Dobbie was trained by a cop and did a remarkable job of heeling. He would walk beside you like he was in a military parade. Of course, we did not maintain the training and he lost all his Heel Skills. Oh yeah, that’s another thing we did not know back then. Dog training is not a one off, like going through college and getting a certificate to hang up on a wall. Training is a life long process and what is learned can be un-learned just as easily and often when we least expect it. Anyways, I’ll get to that topic of life-long training in a bit.

So, coming back to Heel Work, based on my previous experience, when I started walking Nishi, I expected the same results. But anyone who knows Nishi will know that she is so much of “stop and smell the flowers” kind of a puppy. I would walk briskly down the road, expecting her to follow. I would clap my hands, click away to glory, call her name and do all kinds of things to get her attention when she was busy sniffing at some interesting plant. The end result was me looking like a fool and being thoroughly frustrated and tired when I got home.

I would complain to Uttam only to be met with a quizzical look and his claim that she is perfectly well behaved when he walks her. I put that down to one of two explanations:

  1. Playing into the popular myth that men show more dominance and hence dogs are more obedient around them, I shook my head in frustration and grumbled: “what’s with men and dogs. Sexist dogs! Argh!”
  2. I assumed that Nishi tugged and pulled when she was with Uttam too. But because he was stronger, he just did not feel it.

Then one day, I joined him on his walk and what I saw gave me the long overdue wake up call I needed. It was not Nishi who was different with us. It was us that was different around Nishi. Uttam saw that Nishi liked to sniff and explore.Instead of trying to get her attention away from it, he would actually try to find more spots that she might find interesting to sniff. He tried to find more mud piles that she liked to frolic in. He waited while she had fun and giggled when she looked up with her face full of sand. Obviously on the few rare occasions when he did not want her to sniff or smell, he would just walk up to her, put his hand on her face and gently get her attention and lead her away from that spot. And she did not mind at all, because her mind had already moved on to the next exciting spot that she knew she was going to get to stop at. And guess what, both came home absolutely happy at the end of each walk. Made all the difference!

So, that, in my opinion, is what LLW is all about. Now I keep Nishi’s leash long enough for her to show me where she wants to go. The optimal length of a leash perhaps requires more discussion. But that can wait for another blog. For now, lets assume I am talking about 5 feet long leash. And as long she walks over calmly, I just let her go over, spend some time sniffing and frolicking. If I really really really don’t want her to go somewhere, then I just walk over and gently move her head away from what she has her nose buried in. This is important because dogs’ hearing almost gets shut down when their smelling is on hyper drive. We’ve noticed that no matter how loud we call Nishi’s name she does not look up. But if we walk over and gently tap on her head, she suddenly looks up like she just got woken up from a trance. So, I have realized that there really is no point in yelling screaming and shouting her name. She just cannot hear and it’s not her fault.

So what happens if she is not so polite in getting to this “interesting spot”? What if she pulls? While I don’t have the strength to pull her back, I know I have the strength to just stand my ground. This method is sometimes referred to as the “Be a Tree” method. Imagine that when she pulls, I hook her leash to a tree. I try not to move, yell, scold…nothing at all. I use that time to just drift off to think about my to do list. If it’s getting on my nerves, I take deep breaths and starting counting. Eventually the pulling stops and just for a second she will slacken the leash or sit. The walk resumes at that second. Sometimes I say “good girl”. But most times, I don’t have to do that either, coz resuming the walk is reward enough for her. Eventually the message Nishi gets is “when I pull, walk stops. When I stop pulling walk starts”. And that’s it. This has been most effective for me so far. But, it is work in progress and it will continue to be, because there are times when Nishi’s “reasoning” has been masked by severe excitement. At those times, I just continue to do breathing exercises and switching between my roles of Nishi-mom and Tree!

I have read of many many techniques. A few things that I saw across most techniques:

  1. When Nishi pulls, walk stops. Period!
  2. I NEVER pull Nishi. If I want Nishi to come to me, I call her in a excited voice and pretend I have found something exciting and want us to check it out. The aim is to get her excited and come with me for more “exploring”. If she is too distracted and my trick failed, then I just have to go over and move her head away from what she is finding so interesting. Sometimes, bits of chicken stashed away in my pocket help during this, where I promise a reward of herb chicken if she stops stuffing her face in the packet of Sambar and follows me.

But for me, in most cases, just going up to her, moving her face away from her “object of interest”, then saying something in an exciting tone and breaking into a little jog helps. She gets thrilled and runs beside me. 

There are many other techniques that have some additional steps. One of my favorite is Turid Ragaas’ technique. So, she asks you to start at home. That step went well. Then I moved the training to the garden in our apartment. Went ok. Finally moved to the street and everything fell through. It just was not working. Then I ordered the DVD to see what I was doing wrong. I watched it several times looking for the right technique. Eventually it hit me. ALL the training was being done in a completely isolated place with minimal distraction. Until the dog was trained fully, walking would happen in this isolated place. And that could take up to a month. Now where am I going to find a place like that for a month. That’s when I realized that most of these techniques, while very effective in other parts of the world, might not be as effective in India. So, now I stick to the “Be a Tree” method and it’s working well for us.

Of course, there are a few pit falls. Firstly, after Nishi’s accident in february 2010, we had so much on our mind, that training stopped all together. BIG MISTAKE. So now we have to start all over again and she is so much bigger and stronger now. My learning here is to never stop training, EVER. The second is that when I have the leash in my hand, if Nishi pulls, I find it hard not to just let my arm move forward and let her pull. So I found an interesting alternative: tie the leash around my waist. Then, as soon as she pulls, it gets taught around my stomach and I react faster and stop instantly. I need to get a longer leash to try this. Let’s see how that goes. Will post more on that.

But here is the most important lesson I have learned. Leash walking training is really a life long thing. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it is possible to un-learn. My dobbie did, and he got so bad that it was hard to imagine that he was once so perfect with his heel work. So, if it’s a life long activity, then it is important to figure out how to enjoy it. I feel that what might eventually determine success of our leash training is my ability to enjoy the training and allow Nishi to enjoy it too, so that we never see a need to stop or suspend training. Here is to many more happy walks 🙂

What kind of Leash Training is right for me?

In my previous post I explained why I find Leash Training so daunting & important. Given that,  I spared no expense in finding a trainer, who claimed to have been trained in Malaysia and would train my dog to pass the Canine Good Citizen Evaluation. Sounded fancy enough. “Ah! Now I am going to get my Walt Disney’s Buster-like-doggie”. What did I get instead? A verdict from the trainers that she had attitude issues, did not like to walk and was not really trainable! And in return, Nishi promptly disliked them. If I have learned anything at all from dogs, its this: if your dog dislikes someone, there is good reason for you to dislike them too.

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:

  1. No causing Nishi ANY pain (exceptions might occur if every there was a human being hurt badly. I hope that day never comes)
  2. 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
  3. 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.

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 🙂

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 🙂

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!