I took my 2 dogs on a hike the other day and at the trailhead I saw a person coming towards us with a adolescent golden retriever. The minute the young dog saw us approaching he began to get excited, pulling on leash and wiggling like crazy. I’m sure he saw 2 new potential best buddies headed his way! His owner was trying desperately to get the dog’s attention by waving treats in his face, but the pup wasn’t the least bit interested in the treats. When they were finally past us I heard the owner say “well, that didn’t work.”
That got me thinking – I wonder what treats he was using? I wonder how much training the dog had before hitting a hiking trail on a busy Sunday morning? I wonder how many times the pulling and wiggling had ended in a spontaneous fun play session with a new friend? Let’s break these down one by one, shall we?
I wonder what treats he was using? When using food for training the value of the food has to match the difficulty of the environment you’re in, or the difficulty of the task you are asking your dog to perform. Kibble might work at home, but when you head out to an area with new sights, smells, people and dogs, you better have epic treats like rotisserie chicken or steak.
I wonder how much training the dog had before hitting a hiking trail on a busy Sunday morning? If your dog can’t walk calmly around your neighborhood, he’s certainly not going to be able to do it on a busy hiking trail. I tell my clients to pick their battles – if they are taking their dog on a field trip for exploration then don’t worry about obedience. Put the dog on a long line and allow them to explore. Yes, they are going to pull some. That’s ok, we’ll work on the loose leash walking another time and in a quieter place. Then, when the dog is better at it, we’ll try the hiking trail again.
I wonder how many times the pulling and wiggling had ended in a spontaneous fun play session with a new friend? We all want dogs that get along with other dogs. However, dogs also need to learn when its playtime and when it’s not. For many dogs, especially young ones, every walk becomes an opportunity to meet new friends. So, we set up this unrealistic expectation for our dogs that all other dogs are potential playmates. When this doesn’t happen, our dogs can become frustrated. Its best to teach your dog right from the start that they will be meeting a select few dogs on walks and the rest are to be ignored.
If something in your training isn’t working you may want to ask yourself these same questions.