Part 3 of 5
Now that Lucas walks differently it is very difficult to walk all three dogs together as one solo biped. Mickey and Lucas are the tortoise and the hare. Right now I would have to leash Mickey on a retracto, leash Lucas on his straight leash (just to ensure that he actually comes along instead of laying down in the middle of the path) and let Max be free. And that is not good enough. If I took them to a new place, I could leave Lucas off leash, but Mickey and Max would both have to go on leash and they are extra difficult to control in new places. The excitement of new smells and their natural games and vying to be first can short circuit the work we do. I can usually calm Max down quickly and get him to heel. But if Mickey starts to pull ahead, then Max will want to at least catch up if not pass him and I am forgotten.
As an intermediary step I established a new training pattern for M+M on our evening walks. Because their normal walk, Holmes Run, is associated with fun and play, I try to limit the amount of training we do down there. I want that place to stay fun for them. The walks around the neighborhood are perfect for training though. They know that these are shorter walks. Until I began this program, they knew they would stay on the leashes the whole time and have limited freedom. They know the area so it is not filled with the excitement of NEW PLACE.
I start the session inside the house making them sit and stay to get leashed up and making them wait there together until the official release command “OK”. I keep them contained as we go out the door. I bring them in close as we get to the end of the driveway and then make them stay together and stand there a moment – doing nothin’ – just waiting. I keep them still as I move around them to keep me on the “outside” – closer to the cars on the road, and them on the “inside” – between me and the houses. I keep them close for a few feet then release them with an “OK”. If they behave well (as they are doing most nights), I call them back in before the second driveway, make them sit and stay, remove Max’s leash (I am using Luc’s straight leash on Max for this), make them stay another moment, then give the release command.
They get better every night. The past two nights I have been able to keep Max off leash for the whole walk and with very minimal instruction, he stays “inside”. Mickey is doing well, I think he would actually get all this quicker than Max, but he is harder to train because he takes constant vigilance and he prefers a greater distance between himself and the pack (and I am doing this after 8:30pm and it is dark (though of course I have my headlamp on! Best tool for so many things, but I believe indispensable for dog walking at night. I use this model and it has totally paid for itself. )). There are lots of things you can teach multiple dogs simultaneously, but the details of off leash work require an almost one-on-one level of attention in the beginning. Once Max has it, I will begin with Mickey.
One more random piece of the training program. We change sides of the street together. There is no willy nilly street crossing. The first night they were a bit shocked at this news, but they got used to it and it is fine now. If they just wander towards the other side, I call them back. If they leave it alone, then we move on. If they both try it or if one tries often (and nicely) I get everyone together, make them stay still as I move around them to reposition myself between the cars on the road and the dogs and we re-establish order. There is a new “inside” but the rules are the same.
This was a little complex for them at first, but they got it quickly through repetition and consistency. Last night (August 26th) no one even asked to switch sides. This probably sounds rather anal, and it probably is. (I do try and use my crazy for the forces of Good.) But, like all my dog training tactics, there is a reason and a point to it. Some of it comes back to numbers. The more dogs you have to walk at one time, the more control you need.
Some of it is safety. (Two six month old hound dog pups I raised have pulled me down and dragged me across parking lots (and I mean fully layed out on the ground busted chin being pulled on my stomach/side/back by the leashes I still hold), through gardens, almost out into the street.) Another practical application is simply about “will” and leadership. I (anyone in charge of a dog) need the animal to have faith in me and in my decisions and requests/commands. It really is about helping them get more freedom not about me gaining control. I need the confidence in them and our bond to be able to let them run free – which is what we all want in the end.
But they are getting it and they like it. The plan worked out. Max quickly figured out that learning a few rules and following them and staying off leash is much better than walking on leash and being pulled and fussed at the whole time. Now the walk is almost all pure fun. The better Max gets, the more attention I can pay to Mickey and he has a better time too. There is a nice grassy area and a sandy beach and a lake near the end of this circuit and on “good nights” everybody gets to party. Those two guys run and chase and smash each other. When Max gets tired, I chase Mickey. Even here in the play, I am teaching Mickey. I use my voice to help set-up the perimeter of our “play area” and he abides by this quickly.
Stay Tuned…Part 4