TO TREAT OR NOT TO TREAT
Most of what we ask our dogs to do is very "un-dog" stuff. From walking calmly on a loose lead, to not chasing another dog's ball, to ignoring a crisp packet on the pavement: none of this is natural dog behaviour. Dogs are curious - their brains are programmed to investigate. If we want them to control the urge to investigate, we need to make not-investigating feel as good as investigating.
LOOSE LEAD WALKING IS A BIG JOB
Walking calmly near us on a loose lead is asking a lot when the world at nose height smells mind-blowing. To our dogs, everything out there is shouting "me, me, me, me!" Most dogs, especially young ones, want to dash from one smell to the next. That's what their nose is telling them to do: investigate. Asking them to walk nicely on a loose lead is going against every instinct they have.
The videos below show Peggy, a young Labrador who was a bouncy, joyful teenager when she came to us. She used to yank her mum out of the front door and zoom down the path, head down, nose snuffling and barely any awareness of her mum on the other end of the lead. Her mum has worked hard with her. Incredibly hard. And it has taken months to get her where she is now, because getting strong connection consistently on walks doesn't happen overnight. With some dogs, it doesn't even happen consistently over weeks. It can take months to build a strong connection on walks because most dogs are much more interested in connecting with their environment than with us.
SELF-CONTROL IS A MANAGERIAL ROLE
Controlling those urges to sniff is asking the brain to do a high level job of self-control. We're talking a management role here - this doesn't come in the job-category of floor sweeping and stacking shelves. This is organising, controlling and processing information at a much higher level; this is asking the brain to work at management level.
REAL JOBS NEED REAL WAGES
If we want our dogs to use their brains at management level, we need to pay them management wages. A smile, a few words or one dry treat isn't going to cut it. As my granny used to say: if you pay peanuts, you get monkey work.
If we're going to understand how to get high level work out of our dogs, we need to understand how they read their world. Dogs interpret everything through their noses. And the smells around them probably add up to 10 out of 10 for Wow Factor.
What's our Wow Factor next to that? Possibly a 5 or 6 out of 10 on a good day. If we've worked really hard on training strong connection and self-control, we might be able to hit a 7/10, now and then, once we walk out of the gate into the big wide world. But we're still not quite reaching that 10/10.
Sniffs hit the top scores. Without doing anything. Those smells don't have to do a thing to be 10/10. They're just there. Being themselves. Smelling.
If we're going to ask our dogs to do un-dog stuff where their brains need to do managerial work, we need to make ourselves as close to 9 or 10 out of 10 as possible. We're never going to add up to 10/10 for an entire walk, but we can get close for parts of it.
HOW DO WE MAKE OURSELVES MATTER MORE?
The easiest, fastest way to really matter to our dogs on a walk is to use very tasty, very smelly treats. And to use them often. This is all about paying that brain to do the managerial role we want it to: to control the nose that is desperate to sniff; to slow down the legs that want to chase off; to focus those eyes that want to flit about all over the place.
THE BOREDOM FACTOR
Teaching a dog to walk on a loose lead can be frustrating. It can feel endless. It can be boring and repetitive.
And it can be all those things for us too...
We so often look at these things in terms of how we feel about them: training loose lead walking takes aaaaaages and my dog just won't listen.
Meanwhile, Stuffy on the end of the lead is feeling: lead walking is soooooo boring. Getting anywhere takes aaaaaaaages. And my person just won't listen.
This is the disconnection between us and our dogs. Neither of us are really listening to the other. We expect our dogs to listen to us but how often do we listen to them?
Walks would be so much easier and more enjoyable if we could understand how hard it is for our dogs to connect with us when they're surrounded by enticing smells. If we make it feel worthwhile by paying them real wages for a job well done, they're more likely to do that job well.
REAL WAGES FOR REAL JOBS
So when we set out on a walk we need a treat pouch full of tiny, tasty, semi-moist treats. Not the dry stuff you find on most pet shop shelves. Our dogs need paying with the good stuff: liver treats, Real Meat Treats from Natures Menu, Pate from JR Products online, fish cubes from Skippers and Fish4Dogs, tiny pieces of cheese, cooked cold meat, sprats, tuna omelette (smells vile; works a treat). In fact, anything that makes our dogs eyes light up with £££ signs!
Because walking calmly on a loose lead is a tough job and, really: would any of us work a tough job for no pay?