Part 4 of 5 (Baby Birthing Blogtastic Extra Release! Go Karen Go!)
Here we get to some of the nitty gritty. I shall attempt to answer your question, “So Mr Dog Man. What’s so bad about my beloved retracto leash thingy?” Yesterday (August 26th) I took the afternoon shift for all the dogs while my friends were out doing some things. I took Lucas to a “new” place (call it the Shark Walk) we found that he likes. He will walk about a mile at the Shark Walk instead of the 50-200 yards he clocks at Holmes Run. We had a good time and after I got Lucas settled back at the house, I loaded M+M into the car and took them to their spot. But there is some construction happening and we could not get there.
I went to a very nearby alternate and got turned around and could not find the entrance. (I had only been there once before.) I ended up going to Lucas’s new place with them. This was not ideal. We had now been in the car for about 20 minutes. Shark Walk has a parking lot by a large pool and rec complex with basketball courts and tennis courts. The path goes right by the pool house and pool on one side and the backyards of people’s homes on the other. So right out of the car there is no fun time or play time or run time (which is what they are used to). Dogs used to a 3 minute drive to freedom have now been in the car for 20, and they have to get on leash and stay in very good control through the parking lot (safety) and down about 200 yards of path under observation by homeowners and pool members and employees. AND – they have never been here before. It is a NEW PLACE!
Mickey was so excited, he fell getting out of the car. (He is fine.) I got them leashed and it was a bit of a struggle to keep them under control. They did not do too terrible all things considered, but it was harder than it needed to be and part of that is simple equipment. In keeping with our existing training efforts, I established an “inside” and kept them both together on that side. Mickey really wanted to go. He was not in the mood for heeling or group slow walk. I have always found it easier to teach dogs to heel off leash than on. It is not an easy on-leash skill. Off leash it is simple and fun. They do what they want and simply stay behind you. I think (after doing this with lots of dogs over the years) that to ask this of them when they are on leash seems both insulting and arbitrary. They are already on the leash. You have called them in close and they are staying close. I imagine the conversation goes something like this:
Mickey: Why are we arguing over 4 inches?
Me: Because you begin with your nose 4 inches in front of me, then it quickly becomes 14 and soon you are past me and I am forgotten.
Mickey: sheepishly looks away as if to track the progress of a butterfly.
Me: Also, we are walking with your brother. He is heeling. Then you quit heeling (or never quite start heeling). And he sees you are in front of me. That may not be permitted! So he pulls up ahead of me and tries to get his nose ahead of your nose. You guys play that game and you might as well be in your own world for all you focus on what I have to say at that time.
Mickey: Were you saying something?
To teach dogs to heel on leash with two at the same time is hard. It is harder when their collars are very loose. You need to hold the leash as close to the collar as you can with your arm mostly straight and slightly behind you. It is not the most comfortable position. But if you let your arm hang straight, that would put the dog’s neck/collar near your leg, leaving their whole head in front of you.
Especially in the beginning, you cannot allow this. (Recall from a previous entry – the key element of “heel” is the dogs actively giving the “point” position to me. In dog world if you don’t stay out front, you are not point. The key to me is not that I be first, but that they follow me without testing the line and trying to take back the point. (For most this is not actually “bad” behavior, but a fun game.))
Once they get it, you can relax a little about exactly where a good comfortable heel is for you and your pals, but you can’t get there until they learn the basics. Mickey has a long head and a long nose. To keep his nose behind me, I have to hold my arm back pretty far, which is awkward.
Now, I have that damn retracto leash thingy. This is an incredibly bulky block of plastic around the size of your basic mass market paperback book. And it is kinda long. Instead of the simplicity of holding the proper point on a straight leash, I have to figure out how to hold this blocky clunk of crap and maintain the proper distance for Mickey. These things seem to me to be designed to work on dogs (like Mickey) that like to stay out front. They do not seem to have been designed to remotely deal with the possibility that the dog may sometimes be behind you. This is always a weird and uncomfortable position for them. Now it is for me too.
*From my early days of dog training, i have generally trained two dogs at one time. I have experimented with many methods. While you do have to adapt to new dogs, i have a basic set of programs and practices that work well. Even with two dogs, i prefer to keep both leashes in one hand. This has a few advantages. It is naturally easier to keep both dogs on the same side (inside) if both leashes are in one hand on that side. You do lose some of the physical advantage of one leash one dog one hand, but time has shown me that these are not battles won with strength. And to that extent that strength is required, you probably don’t have enough to overpower your dog anyway (i never have).
Luckily I do have Max on Luc’s leash, but it is surprisingly hard to use both leashes at the same time. Normally, during an on leash heel exercise, I hold the leash near the collar and sort of ball the excess in my hand. The excess in my hand keeps slipping out against the plastic of the retracto thingy. I try just holding the retracto leash instead of its handle, but it is definitely not designed for that. It is nearly impossible to get a grip on those and I am in week two of healing a very deep cut on my right hand from the friction burn I got when one of these went through my hand.
I simply am unable to keep them in a proper heel. I end up in an even more awkward and uncomfortable position (for all of us) holding Max back with Luc’s leash and holding Mickey’s collar and sort of holding the blocky end of the retracto thingy under my arm.
We get past the main “action” zone of pool people and resume a more normal walk. I keep Mickey on leash, but give him the release command that he may go ahead now. I get Max off leash and release him as well. Because this is a new place and they just did a hard thing, I give them freedom to explore and switch sides and have fun. Soon we are past everyone and just in the woods. I let Mickey go free as well. They run and have a great time and once we turn around, after a mile or so, they are easier to corral on the way back.
Then we get back to the leash area, and soon enough to the “Heel” zone and it is just as hard as it was on the way out. Max was doing fine, but I simply cold not find a way to keep Mickey behind me. I went back to holding him by the collar. We got to the car and both boys did a perfect sit and stay. I got the leashes off, the car unlocked, and the back door open when a lady calls out “Excuse me” – pretty loud and insistent. A quick scan of the area makes it clear that she is talking to me. I turn back to the dogs, still in a perfect sit and stay even with this lady approaching and the car door open. I get Mickey in and Max waits patiently. “Excuse me. Are you a dog trainer?” She yells and keeps coming. She is still across the lot maybe about 5 car lengths away. I raise my hand in a palm up “hold” symbol and look at her and hold her gaze with mine, and say to her “Wait.” She does. I get Max in the car and she begins to approach again. “Excuse me. Are you a dog trainer?”
I continue to ignore her as I open the passenger door and insert the keys to lower the windows for the guys. Once I have them set, I turn to deal with her.
Stay Tuned for the thrilling conclusion! Part 5