There is no such thing as a perfect dog (or a perfect life) and if there was, I wouldn't want one. Real dogs have real problems, Lenore has very few. She is wonderfully bred, healthy, calm and obedient, she has a wonderful temperament. But I messed up in my training, I didn't really teach her to walk alongside me on a country road or on a leash. I didn't need to at the first Bedlam Farm, we had our own woods to walk in. Lately, she has gotten into the habit on our morning walks of running off either side of the road, eating coyote and deer scat in unhealthy amounts.
There are times for dogs to be free and times for them not to be free. On a walk, they need to know their work is to stay alongside the human unless freed. There should be no pressure from a leash, no tugging. Off-leash, Lenore needs to learn to stay close, she is a Lab, but the walks are not about her running around looking for food, they are about her staying close to me – by my left or right knee, she needs to understand that the walk is about me, too. My dignity and peace of mind – and her health and safety – depend on that. It was my screw-up, last week I set off to fix it.
We are doing very well for the first week. I have been using food, verbal reinforcement and visualization to transform the walk into something we are doing together – working dogs generally love that, they are bred for it. We walk on a leash for a mile or so, I periodically tap my knee, praise her and give her a bit of kibble I carry in a plastic pouch. Once or twice on the walk, I unleash her and give her the "free" command, and she can sniff and eliminate and explore. But she cannot go more than a few yards from me, if she does, I correct her and call her back to me.
The new command is "walk with me," I keep he walking alongside my knee. We had some dramatic evidence of change this morning on our country road – which is heavily trafficked by deer, racoons, coyotes, chipmunks and squirrels. Lenore walked very well on a leash, calm and by our side, no pulling, and off-leash she is paying more attention to where Maria and I are, not simply seeing the walk as a change to forage for food. I insist on being a part of it, she has to pay attention to me, she has to walk with me, not despite me. Visualizations are always complex, they are not commands, but part of a different way of thinking. I calm myself, I imagine the walk I would like, I am peaceful and clear, it is almost like an emotion.
Lenore senses and smells my emotions, dogs will become what you need them to be if you permit them and give them the chance to succeed. I am positive on these walks, clear and increasingly patient. It is becoming the kind of spiritual experience I love in my life with dogs. I think we are about 8 to 10 weeks from getting where I need to be, the more patient and at ease I am, the better she understands and responds. No more yelling at her or getting angry and frustrated, that is poor dog training and a failure of discipline and will.
It is going very well, we are getting there. Red is calmer on the walks as well, tension runs through dogs like a virus, so does calm.