I take Brian to new places and watch how he explores the world and gets more confident every day. I love our walks because they are the best opportunity to teach my dogs how to react to most unexpected situations, practise recall and anything else we’re working on. I know best places, I know where not to go because there’s nothing to play with there, I know what to do when the dogs look for reassurance startled by a loud noise or some imaginary danger. Or at least Lily and Brian think I do because I behave as if it was always the case. I didn’t decide to be their leader to boost my ego, though it does boost my ego when I have two pairs of eyes watching me for directions. My role includes surviving on very little sleep and trying to be patient, even if that’s not an adjective I’d describe myself with. When things go wrong (and they do go wrong quite often) I bite my tongue, count to ten, breathe myself into calmness and start again.
Every walk is an opportunity to learn. We meet people, dogs, we hear new sounds, we’re surrounded by new scents. Brian is slowly getting less scared of strangers, he plays with dogs but comes back when called. But then, I see people who do everything to make sure their dogs are not coming to them when called and it makes me sad. I’m being complemented on how ‘obedient’ my dogs are (they are anything but) and I don’t enjoy the complements much because of the context-somehow it makes me desperate to make others understand the bare minimum they need to do to make sure their dogs are safe. What I do is simple and everyone can (and should) make sure their dogs learn recall. So what not to do is:
-shout the dog’s name repeatedly in an angry voice
-smack your dog as soon as you get hold of him
-run after the dog making lots of noise
-display all signs of dissatisfaction because the dog hasn’t reacted immediately
-put the dog on the lead when he comes back and immediately end his walking adventure
The lead can’t be associated with ‘end of fun’. The owner can’t be associated with pain. The dog’s name can’t be associated with punishment.
Being a leader means being wise, fair and responsible. Making someone follow you because they want to is harder than scaring them into obedience, but in the long term it’s the only way. Building trust takes time and patience, but being trusted means your dog will be loyal and you will be able to trust him as well. Being feared means you will always have to be prepared for a revolt.
I don’t think most people actually want to scare their dogs, they just express their frustration and helplessness without thinking about the results of their behaviour.
We expect our dogs to think about the outcomes of their actions. Wouldn’t it be better if we understood the outcomes of our actions first?