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Of Cobblers, Cookies, Choices and Connections

Of Cobblers, Cookies, Choices and Connections

Are you familiar with that old saying, that the cobbler’s children always go barefoot? The cobbler (shoemaker) is so busy making others’ shoes that he has no time to make them for his own children.

It’s not quite that bad at my house, but I’ll confess that often the responsibilities of running a business get in the way of my doing enough working and playing with my own very forgiving dogs. We build a lot of enrichment into each day’s schedule, but not nearly enough leash walking to suit any of us.

Along with my New Year’s resolution of regular blogging, I resolved to add regular walks to our schedule. Flim Flam was my companion today, and I brought along the most awesome treat I had in the house: dehydrated raw lamb.

Armed with this delicacy, I knew we were ready for any distractions. As is so often the case, however, my dog was not reading from the same script.

This blade of grass! That molecule of sidewalk! Bunny! Joggers! Don’t you seeeeeee? It’s a wonderland out here!”

Dehydrated raw lamb—usually an 8.5 on on Flim’s 10 point treat value scale—was no match for our environment. My “cookies” were simply not good enough to compete with all the rich stimuli he was encountering. Did he want lamb? NOOOO. He wanted to interact with the environment.

I, on the other hand, wanted some time together that didn’t involve the dislocation of my shoulder as he pulled toward each new enticement.

What to do? Adjust our ”conversation” to build a more connected walk.

The good news is that it was possible, desirable in fact, for us both to get what we wanted. I anchored my hand on my hip so that I wouldn’t be inclined to pull back on the leash, and simply waited. The moment Flim loosened the tension, I praised him, and moved with him to the area of his interest, sharing his excitement in a way that kept us connected.

That blade of grass?! You’re right, Flim. It’s remarkable!” (…both kneeling on ground to sniff…)

The next time the leash tightened I waited, and when he looked back at me we ran together to where the squirrel had been.

“Oh, dude! That squirrel was fast!” (…looking woefully into the trees…)

The third time Flim alerted toward a jogger, and when he checked in, I invited him to chase me, as I ran backwards.

“Can’t catch me!” (…but of course he could…)

With each check-in our connection grew, as Flim and I shared his most powerful reinforcement in the moment—the opportunity to sniff, chase, and explore—and as he increasingly saw me as his partner in those experiences. It was thoroughly enjoyable for us both, as what could have been a contentious leash tug-of-war became a collaboration of shared experiences.

Here are a few tips for a more collaborative walk:

  1. Pay attention to what your dog really loves when out and about.
  2. Save concerns about getting “from here to there” for another day. (…but watch for an upcoming blog on doing just that!)
  3. Distance is key. Give enough space from the distractions so that your dog can continue to think and make good decisions.
  4. Don’t yank or be yanked. Anchor your hand on your hip or waist as you and your dog move around. If your dog runs all the way to the end of the leash, just wait, and when he loosens the leash or checks back in with you, celebrate by going together to whatever he found so interesting.
  5. Bring your best treats and alternative reinforcements: a 10 (or 11!) on your dog’s 10-point scale to reward great connections.
  6. Sometimes what your dog finds compelling isn’t something that he should get to investigate, such as a jogger and her dog running by, a nest of baby birds, or a barking dog behind a fence. Offer alternatives such as the opportunity to chase you, play “find it” with treats in the grass, or tug a favorite toy.