Peggianne, one of our coaches, and I, were doing dog introductions a few of weeks ago when we noticed a woman walking a dog on the same side of the street the car was parked. She would take a few steps, jerk the leash so hard the dog would be lifted off their feet, then she would push their butt to the ground so they would be sitting next to her compliantly. The dog was on a slip lead so each time they were jerked, they were also choked. And when the dog didn’t comply with this force, the woman would pin the dog to the ground and cast her body over the top of theirs, waiting a couple minutes before standing and taking another step. Over the course of 15 minutes, the woman had barely moved a block. It was painful to witness. My heart pounded deep in my chest and it took everything in me to not tell her how inappropriate her behavior was.
After getting our forth and final dog out of the car, Peggianne made her way across the street. She did this to create distance from the dog and their handler and to create movement with engagement, which can help occupy the dogs’ minds and keep them from making challenging decisions, such as, playing or reacting to any potential trigger.
Everyday the context and environment changes, and every dog and every person has their daily struggles. We cannot expect dogs to not be affected by what happens in their environment. Thankfully, Peggianne is a skilled coach and this particular team redirects from a trigger rather quickly. For your viewing pleasure, I have attached a video from that day showcasing Peggianne and her team’s skills.
As I was taking video of Peggianne and the dogs, another 100 meters down the street I noticed that the woman is again jerking the leash. For the painful 30 seconds I watched, the dog was jerked over 10 times. I turned my focus to Peggianne who had to circle back around to close her hatch. As the dog got a glimpse of the team, I also saw their curiosity pique. Their body turned toward the group and immediately they were taken to the ground. Trying to avoid any reactivity from the team, Peggianne closed her hatch and I directed her to begin the run without the videographer.
Instead, I opened my camera, ready to shoot a video of how NOT to walk a dog, when I realized this woman might be having a shitty day. I put my phone away and began to walk toward her slowly, saying, “Hi, I’m Tricia. Is it okay if I say hi to your dog?” She replied, “Sure, he is not mine and he doesn’t have any manners but he’s friendly.” As I got closer, I realized the dog was an ex-client. We’ll call him Woofer for privacy’s sake. Woofer is a sweet, fearful herding breed mix who is completely misunderstood by the people in his world.
Woofer was excited, jumped on me and was jerked multiple times for it. Then as he went to sniff the grass, he was jerked again and his butt was pushed to the ground. As we talked, the woman told me she was the neighborhood dog walker and expressed how difficult Woofer was to walk. I explained that I knew Woofer well, and empathized with how challenging reactivity can be to manage. For anyone who knows me, I am the Queen of Unsolicited Advice, but I had to soften my approach and only give advice if she asked for it and listen without judgement.
I spotted a couple walking a dog on the opposite side of the street and I couldn’t bear to see Woofer be jerked again. I asked if I could take the leash and she gladly handed it over. The moment Woofer looked in the direction of the dog, I marked it with a verbal “yes”; immediately he looked back at me and was rewarded with tasty currency. We repeated The Engage-Disengage Game until the dog and their people were out of sight. (Please see infographic below post).
I was so proud of Woofer! It proved to be an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to his walker an effective and humane way to train, and one that helps create a bond between a dog and human rather than a dictatorship fraught with corporal punishment. This opened up a conversation with questions about dog behavior. It felt solicited, productive and well-received. She seemed excited to learn and even told me she wanted to have a positive experience with him without using force. She went on to explain Woofer had a “behaviorist” who taught her and the owner how to deal with his reactivity and disobedience.
Over the 30 minutes we spent together, I explained and demonstrated how important distance is from a potential trigger. I told her that if she were ever caught in a challenging situation, to get his attention with tasty currency and excitement while creating space. I asked if she’d rather listen to someone yelling and using force to get her attention, or listen to someone using a softer, more gentle tone. We talked about pairing the “scary things” with something positive and tasty to help Woofer feel more safe and confident. Also, to allow him to sniff and explore his world, as sniffing is an enriching and calming activity for our dogs.
I directed her to our resources page at:
I Speak Dog at:
to learn more about dog body language and basic dog behavior. I told that her if she ever had a question, to call me directly. We hugged, and she happily took the treats I offered for the remaining walk with sweet, misunderstood Woofer.
Over my professional 12-year career, I have made many mistakes, particularly at the beginning. My hopes are that I can help educate other professionals in this field and make a positive impact in the lives of dogs. Thankfully, my delivery was well-received by Woofer’s walker, but that will not always be the case. For the future of dog, please know and understand dog body language and basic dog behavior!