Commands or Negotiations

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jul 4, 2016, 09.37 PM IST

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Loose leash walking has many benefits over “heel”

I was recently in conversation with a friend, discussing the difference between “heel” and loose leash walks. “Heel” is based on the principle of instructing a dog. Loose leash walks on the other hand are based on negotiating with a dog. So the discussion between these two methods is one of an instruction based technique versus a negotiation based technique.

Instructions or commands by nature are a power based structure where there is a power imbalance. One is telling another what to do and the other does not have a choice in the matter. A negotiation on the other hand is about finding an arrangement that works for both.

The first problem with a power based system is that, the power imbalance puts our dogs in a place where they don’t feel much control over their lives. They are often looking for ways not to follow what’s been asked of them as a way to reclaim some control. That’s why so many clients end up with me complaining that their dog knows what’s wanted to of him but will not always follow the instruction.

For example, the clients who learn loose leash walking are advised to negotiate with their dogs and strike a deal that on most occasions they will allow the dog to define the walk, but on few occasions they would request the dog to allow them to define the walk. Since the dog has a choice almost all dogs find the deal rather appealing and take it gladly. Noncompliance is non-issue in this situation.

The second problem with a command based system is it’s limited repertoire. Here we try to teach a dog the meaning of a few words. Now there are dogs that have apparently learnt hundreds of words. But we are all not Einsteins and neither are most of our dogs. Realistically this vocabulary is going to be small. Even if we were going to negotiate with our dogs, we would not know how to based on a vocabulary of just commands like SIT, DOWN, GO, COME!

The complicated negotiation mentioned above is not even possible with these words. It requires a far more complicated language. Here is where the knowledge of dog language is useful. When we are tasked with learning their language, we pick up much more than just commands. We learn a much more nuanced and complete repertoire with which we can actually negotiate.

The last problem with a command based system is that it assumes that our decisions are always the better decisions. It discounts the fact that in certain situations a dog’s decision can in fact be better. Rambo came in this morning and I was told he was aggressive. I had evaluated that this was because of Rambo’s fear of dealing with dogs.

We went out on a loose leash walk. We suddenly found ourselves at the mouth of a street with two dogs blocking it and barking their heads of at us. We did not command Rambo to come away, but offered the option of walking away as a choice. We could do that because we were not relying on a command, but instead on polite dog language to suggest another option to the dog. He saw our suggestion, considered it and not only walked away, but led us through another less stressful path back home.

His instinct was right about not taking those two belligerent dogs on. His human guardians were stunned watching their “aggressive” dog walk away. What commands
had failed to achieve, a negotiation had achieved beautifully on our very first loose leash walking session.

If you like this article, use the sharing buttons to share this information with friends. Invite pet parents to a new way of thinking about our best friends.

Walk like a pro

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jun 6, 2016, 10.17 PM IST

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Loose leash walks are calming for both humans and dogs

Hope all of you had a great weekend. We had a great weekend for sure at the Hundeskole. We had a walking workshop. A lovely dog visited us for the workshop and participants got to watch what a mere two hour workshop can achieve in terms of teaching a dog how to walk well without pulling. A few friends I was talking to before the workshop asked me if the visiting dog had already been trained and wondered how I was going to conduct the workshop and train a dog in under two hours to get the dog walking well. But that’s just it. It’s so easy once you have the right equipment and know the fundamental philosophy behind a loose leash walk.

A loose leash walk is basically a contract between human and dog – as long as the leash is loose, walking happens. But when the leash is tight, walking stops. In addition, loose lease walk relies on body language based communication to tell your dog what you need. So you need to show with your shoulders which direction you want the dog to walk in. Body language communication is far more effective with dogs, compared to verbal communication which is not their ‘native tongue’.

Let’s assume that all’s well and you are walking nicely on a long loose leash with a dog. Suddenly the dog gets excited and bolts in front, tightening the leash and breaking the contract. So the walk needs to stop. Then you need the dog to walk back to you to release the tension on the leash so that the walk can resume. But to show your dog that he needs to walk back, you need to communicate with your shoulders that you want the dog to come back to you. So you face away from the dog and wait for the dog to return.

Once I demonstrated this technique to the participants, they were very skeptical, telling me that the dog would not return. So we practised it in the garden. What did we see? The lovely ‘demo’ dog had initially had an argument with her handler, insisting that she wanted to go in the opposite direction the handler wanted her to walk in. We just stood there, facing opposite directions. After a 30-second non-verbal argument of this kind, the dog finally understood. This was not like before. This was a new style of walk. She got what was expected of her. As our hands-on session progressed, her arguments became shorter and by the time we were ready to try the walk on the street, she was walking like a pro.

There are a few tricks to keep in mind. First up, this walk works only with a non-retractable long leash that is at least eight feet long with an H harness. Secondly, people take time to get used to the long leash. So you need to practice the walk in a garden, basement or terrace of a building, till you have mastered it. You don’t drive on the streets till you have mastered the skill of handling the car’s accelerator, brake and clutch. It’s the same for long leashes. And finally, if your dog is not normal and is exhibiting signs of stress or other behavioural problems, first get them addressed by a behaviourist before attempting loose leash walks with the dog.

The participants of the workshop all walked in with skepticism and walked out eager to try this. Most felt that their dogs would enjoy it the most. That’s what comes out of a technique that actually understands the emotional wellbeing of dogs. If there is one piece of advice I can give to people who want to make their dog’s life as pleasant as possible – learn about dogs and their emotions. It goes a long way.

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.

Communication during walks

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Feb 1, 2016, 11.17 PM IST

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Peanut and Butter are two adorable dogs. But they carry a burden – they live in the same house and don’t get along too well with each other. This has had a profound effect on their lives. Butter has become a nervous dog needing a lot of space. Peanut has become dog-reactive. Peanut was also injured early in his life, which left him with a permanent limp. And that has repercussions on his entire constitution. His nerves are frayed, quite literally. His skin ripples to a touch. A dog in such discomfort and stress will understandably be on edge. As expected, he is quick to react to the first sign of confrontation from any other dog.

Just to illustrate Peanut’s dog-reactiveness, let me give you an example. I was walking him one evening when we passed by a beauty parlour. The place was shut and the closed door was made of reflective glass. Peanut’s own reflection caught his attention. He went up to the reflection to examine it. As he recognised the silhouette of a dog, he became agitated. His lips curled and he let out a low growl. His reflection growled back at him. He backed up and assumed a menacing position. He sniffed around the “other dog” and started to wonder if there indeed was a dog there. We finally left 10 minutes later when he had confirmed that there was no dog there. But all it took was a reflection to set him off.

Peanut and Butter have dog walkers who are so nervous to walk them that they carry a big stick with them to ward off any stray dogs that might approach. They don’t know how else to handle Peanut’s dog reactivity. So when I offered to walk Peanut and Butter without a stick, it left the humans around quite unsure and surprised. I started by walking the dogs one at a time, because dogs need that kind of attention during walks.

As Peanut and I started approaching a fork in the road, we encountered our streeties. At the mouth of each of the two roads in front of us, there were two dogs each, barking and growling and asking us to stay away. Confronted with four streeties, I tensed up a bit at first. I tried to signal to Peanut that we were going to turn around and head back. Peanut resisted. I remembered my teacher’s advice and took a deep breath. I eased up, stopped instructing Peanut and loosened the leash. It does take a little skill to be able to keep the leash short but loose. But it’s an important skill worth learning. As I did that, I realised Peanut was busy sniffing the ground. In the dog world this is a signal to ask other dogs to calm down. He was communicating with them. Gradually, he meandered around a bit and entered the street that was guarded by two frantically barking dogs. Eventually the dogs stopped barking and signalled back to him. Once he had established good communication, he turned around and we walked back.

However, it’s easy to see that such subtle communication completely breaks down if we are instructing the dogs or yanking on the leash. Hence the skill of loose leash walking with minimal instructions is important. Dogs, left to themselves are great at conflict resolution. Even the dog-reactive Peanut could manage that. But they need to be given a chance. I’ll let you in on the most important lesson I have learnt through my education – the best “dog training” tool that exists is the ability to self-train ourselves by getting more observant about dogs.

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.

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 🙂