Monday, February 3, 2014

Night and Day

Kane, our 11-month-old puppy, looking up at Steve for direction.
You can see the small prong collar nestled into his ruff.
UPDATE: Kane turned one on January 19, 2014.
The last post I wrote about walking Kane demonstrated the nightmare we were facing: the dog would be fine for a while and then just freak out. My friends on Facebook know that it had not improved significantly since that blog post.

We had switched to a Halti collar, but he still yanked and growled. We would step on the leash, if we could -- recently, he'd started pulling so hard that I would have fallen over if I'd lifted one foot off the ground. And even if I could gain control, there was no guarantee that he wouldn't try again 30 seconds later.

I thought it was getting better (by avoiding wide open areas), but then on Friday, I took him out -- and he was doing quite well -- until he saw the open space of the park (which we were bypassing), and then he lost it. It was about half a kilometre from home and we alternated with his pulling me and my pulling him, long after the park was out of view. He was growling and nasty, and I hated him.

We got home, I put him in his kennel, and I contacted Cher Wood at Streetwise Canine. I felt like I was calling SuperNanny - and my desperation was not that far off. If we could not resolve this situation, I would have to stop walking Kane. This was completely unacceptable.

When Cher showed up on Saturday, my back and shoulders were still stiff and sore from the prolonged tug-of-war.

Once Cher took the leash, within five minutes -- FIVE MINUTES -- she had Kane heeling. The rambunctious, rebellious dog we'd been fighting with for weeks was suddenly submissive and cooperative.

Can you believe it? Here are the mistakes we were making:

1. The prong collar we had at first was too big and too loose.
2. We were giving him too much leash.
3. I had the wrong objective for the walk.

The Collar

The apple is to give you a sense of scale.

The prong collar on the left is the one that Kane came with; the one on the right is a MUCH smaller one, fitted by the trainer. Kane's fur really masks a much smaller neck, and the larger collar kept flipping around so that the prongs were at the back of his neck. The prongs themselves were also too far apart.

The way the prong collar works is by gently putting pressure onto very sensitive points around the dog's jaw and skull. Because Kane's collar flipped around and lower onto the large muscles of his upper back, the prongs were not delivering the message.

They do not press on the trachea. And they are blunt-tipped. Here's a close-up.

When the collar is properly fitted, it takes just the gentlest bit of pressure -- I wish I could show you -- just a tap, really, to get the dog's attention. Cher likened them to the little nip that a mother dog would give her puppy.

Too Much Leash

We had been spoiled by Scooter, who was such a well-trained, submissive dog that she would never have yanked us. We allowed her to run ahead of us. We let her off-leash (when there were no other dogs or youngsters in the park). Even off-leash, she stuck close.

With Kane, I gave him about four feet of leash. Most of the time, that leash was pulled taut. Occasionally, he would let it slack, and I would rush to praise him, trying to reinforce this position.

Cher had us hold the leash such that Kane's head was right by our thigh. Because I'm short, that means holding the leash about six inches from the collar, maybe less.

If the dog starts to tug forward, you just give a gentle tug - not a yank - equal in pressure to what the dog was giving. You don't need to say anything. You don't need to give treats. The objective is to keep the dog as calm as possible. So no excited "atta boys."

Previously, that little stick on the ground would've been hoovered into Kane's maw within seconds. The short leash does not allow it.

And lest you think this is unpleasant for Kane, I would have you look at that happily wagging tail.

The walk ends up being a gentle series of pinky-strength adjustments, rather than full-body battles.

Objective for Taking the Dog for a Walk

I was so concerned that this breed (black Labrador retriever and border collie mix) needed lots of exercise that I thought he really needed to be given as much free rein as possible.

While he does need exercise (and so do I), the main point of the walk is to bond with each other. For Kane to learn that I am the alpha in this pack. With that in mind, it is imperative that we (the humans) set the ground rules. His behaviour was doing the opposite of helping us bond!

You'll notice in the top picture that Kane is looking attentively at Steve. Before, we would release him from his sit or down whenever he seemed to calm down. Cher pointed out that he needed to be looking at us for cues -- for everything! When to eat, when to walk, when to release his sit.

Now that IS a good doggy.
Like any toddler, Kane tried his antics as we trained. Cher watched as Kane and I were in a growling tug-o-war, me barely able to stay standing. Kane had the leash in his jaws, clamped tight and was growling as he pulled with all his might against me.

In a loud voice, I said, "No!" That didn't work. Sit!" That didn't work, (though it had one time previously). "Lie down!" Kane just looked at me like it was part of a game. HIS game. And I was losing. I didn't even bother trying to offer him a treat, as I knew that would have zilch effect.

I tried pulling firmly up on the leash, but that just had him dancing on his hind legs and he pulled me off balance quickly enough that he was able to get back onto all fours. I couldn't stomp on the leash. I handed Cher the leash.

Her reaction was immediate:

"STOP IT! THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!" she screamed at him, and gave a really sharp, strong yank on the leash that tore it out of his mouth. Then, holding the leash close to his head, she put him into "a down" and waited until he had pulled himself together.

I honestly can't remember if he tried it again with her. He did try it with Steve, but got the immediate unequivocal response.

Eventually, Kane will respond to the gentler version, the sharp "no," but he is one willful, strong, and large dog who wants to be alpha, and he must learn that he cannot "go primitive" on me or he will be put immediately and sharply in his place.

So I've spent the past 24 hours sounding like a really mean lady, whenever Kane does something unacceptable, like barking in the house (a little woof isn't so bad) or growling at anyone (never okay). He's smart. He'll get it eventually, and then he'll earn more freedom. But for now, he has not demonstrated that he is ready for more.

This morning, Steve took Kane for a walk, and there was no tug-o-war. This afternoon (just after I took the pictures with Steve), I took Kane for a walk. He was GOOOOD!

He's still learning that if I put him into a sit, we won't start walking again until he looks up at me for permission. At any threshold (like crossing a street), or if I find I'm having to tug on the collar a little too frequently, I put him into a sit and wait until he calms himself down.

It is kind of amazing, folks, isn't it?

I'll close with this.


  1. Amazingly said!! Very proud of you guys for putting in the work needed to help Kane create a calm state of mind :)

  2. I'm so glad! It's such a hard battle, but totally worth it. Like with toddlers and teenagers! Also, that quote at the end is perfect. PERFECT!

    1. Definitely worth it. Today's walk was an absolute delight. I even had him walking BEHIND me when we went through the forest. We saw squirrels and other dogs and he kept it together!

  3. I'm glad that the new approach is working so well. Kane certainly has the potential of being a great dog-- Jeremy and I really enjoyed his company when we visited with you and Steve on Saturday afternoon. I'm glad that he now has humans who are teaching him what needs to be a good canine citizen.

    1. I'm pretty sure the foster homes had him under control, but he has gotten away with misbehaving in the past so had to try again. His walks continue to go well, so I am very happy.


What did you think? Any comments?

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...