Dog’s Eye View: A walk in the park
Years ago, I had a border collie named Judy. I’d started working with her on sheep but she hadn’t yet shown interest in them as a working dog. Instead, she’d race to the corral and run at the horses (a dangerous kind of entertainment) and hang out at the house.
I took her to a stock dog workshop. On the second day there, Judy suddenly crouched down and began to stalk the sheep. Her hard-wired herding dog behavior kicked in.
At this moment, the teacher walked very purposefully to me and said, “Okay. From this day forward, this dog NEVER goes to the sheep without you. The sheep aren’t there for her entertainment; they have only to do with you. She’s part of a team.”
The wisdom of these words has stayed with me. Teamwork is about relationship, communication and skill training. This includes responsibility, love, trust, having fun, earning freedom, and yes, rules. It’s a conversation.
Living by rules alone can be like boot camp. We bark commands, and our dog obeys or else. He might not be allowed to express his unique side of the relationship. Freedom alone can create an out of control dog. His behavior is sometimes frustrating, sometimes dangerous. He may be headed for the animal shelter if he doesn’t get help. His freedom needs to be balanced with some rules, skills and leadership.
A frequent comment from our students is, “When I walk my dog out on trails, I unleash him, and he’s pretty good about sticking around until another dog comes by, or he smells something interesting.”
I remember what I learned at the stock dog workshop. My dog and I need to work together as a team everywhere.
Leash walking has everything to do with relationship, management and learning. It begins in our home by teaching our dog foundation behaviors such as sit, come, wait and heel. Practicing these skills earns more privileges and more freedom.
We take care of his life needs, giving him enough exercise time, play time and settle down time. We teach him that being on his leash is not punishment but an opportunity to go with us to very interesting places.
If we let our dog run around outside alone with nature or with other dogs without our involvement and training, how can we expect that he’ll suddenly run to us and respond to us in a crisis or even leave his doggy friends? His fulfillment comes from his environment and other dogs, not us.
Relationship acts like a big rubber band. We stretch out to explore and bounce back to the security and joy of our shared life. There’s mutual pull being exerted on both parties.
The beautiful shared walks we dream about have to do with us, as a team. It could or should be a walk in the park.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with over 25 years of experience. She can be reached at http://www.totalteamworktraining.com.
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