Friday, October 22, 2010

Understanding what we do

A very large component of our job at Doglando is to keep our dogs safe, teach them appropriate boundaries, respect for other dogs and humans, and lessons on how to engage with humans and dogs in an appropriate fashion.

Given the amount of space and freedom our dogs have, it is imperative we, the handlers have very good voice control over our dogs; and unfortunately its not magical and happens over time. We are successful in building this relationship with our dogs because of two reasons:

1. Our clients understand and are committed to our program, and bring their dogs on a routine basis. Practicing to be a good dog, makes a great dog.

2. Our staff are very clear, concise and consistent in establishing these rules with the dogs.

A typical day at Doglando looks like this:

1. 45-50 dogs
2. No breed restrictions, dogs of all kinds, ages and size
3. Off leash and 100% cage-free play time
4. Constant management and redirection of dogs

Without educating pet owners or individuals on what we do, the manner in which we work and correct our dogs can be very easily perceived to be "inappropriate" to some.

A tool we use with managing our dogs is called a heeling stick. This tool is used tool to teach dogs respect for space, and to move in the direction we want them to. These sticks are used as an extension of our arm. Of course, the introduction of the heeling stick is done gradually as the dog develops more confidence, trust and understanding on what it is we are asking of them.

For example, this morning we were working on Crosby, a one year old male Husky to wait until its his turn to go through the gate. Crosby is a head strong dog, who has learned to physically challenge his mum and dad whenever they attempt to control him. His adverse behaviors to redirection with his parents result in using his force to get away, his teeth to demonstrate control on the handler, and the strength of force of his upper body to get out of his collar... if you were able to grab him. Typical behaviors of many companion dogs.

We were leaving our 2 acre field, to come into Retriever bay... and all the dogs waited patiently awaiting to hear their names. Crosby was the last one, he kept trying to play the bolting & barging game.

So, in an instance like this one of the ways we would work a dog would be to ask the dog to sit, and wait for a few seconds. We will call their name and release them to enter the yard. If they break the sit, we would simply redirect them using the verbal cue "sit." Not only did Crosby break the sit, but he would immediately lower his head, lean back and then shift his weight forward and look for an opportunity to barge through.

The safest way of correcting him for this, would be to use the heeling stick as a clear indicator of a boundary. A dog who is so motivated to play the pushy game, will ignore that boundary, and to remind him of it, it can effectively be done by just a flick of the wrist.

When making contact with the dog, using the heeling stick, one's wrist must do all the work. It is incorrect, unnecessary, and can cause fear as well as resemble more of a hit, if that stick is heightened. The stick is used as an extension of one's arm, without the handler having to bend down.

So, we corrected Crosby for barging through the gate, by tapping the ground in front of him with the heeling stick. That did not rise much of a concern to him, he tried again. This time, as he leaned in forward and lunged, we tapped him to encourage him to stop and think.

He stopped and stood up, then tried again. This time he made it through the gate... of course it resulted in a huge level of reinforcement for the dog.

Once he entered Retriever's Bay he took off. We cornered him using our body in a similar fashion a herding dog would herd... and once he was stopped I reached in to grab his collar and walk him back to the gate to work on this exercise.

Crosby challenged us once again, at the grab of his collar, by stiffening up, and turning his head to make tooth contact on my hand. Something else we need to improve on, but all a matter of strong will, determination, and a pushy dog.

So, we walked him back to the other side of the gate, and I told him to sit, he did. He looked up to me and I gently praised him. I asked him to down, and he took a few seconds to think about it, and then did, so I reached in to pet him. I gave him a few more seconds before releasing him, and when I did, he was not sure it was okay to get up. I should mention here, the dog was not afraid, he was just uncertain, or may he was certain and just was not ready.... lol...after all it is all on his terms.

Anyway, so I went behind him, and using the side of my foot against his rear, I gently moved him forward, by occupying the space behind him with by body... while using the release cue.

I can not emphasize enough on the importance of educating our clients to assure understanding and trust, and we take the time to explain all this upon enrolling into our enrichment program.

Our job is like one of a police officer, or a doctor. There is always risk of someone watching to perceive our actions to be something they were not, and to make false accusations. Then you have "ugly" competitors that spend a whole lot more time trying to bring you down, as opposed to competeing in a healthy and constructive manner. But like my dad always tells me.... "there are costs to doing business that don't include soft or hard costs."

The greatest part of it the trust we have formed in the community and amongst pet owners over the years.

Dog Responsibly, Thanks Dog Orlando for your trust, loyalty and on going support.

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