Monday, October 11, 2010

Leash Monster! Training class report

Over the past nine months or so, Zuko has been getting more and more reactive to other dogs when on leash. It tends to be very hit and miss and unpredictable. Off leash, he's great. He loves other dogs and does well at daycare and at the off-leash beach. So, needless to say, we were a bit mystified by his on-leash behavior.

Does that look like a Leash Monster to you?

This past Thursday we started "Leash Monster" training with Dog Evolve. First - I just have to say - Zuko is a pretty well adjusted dog. The other dogs in his class have a number of issues going on: attention barking, leash straining, cowering from people, etc. It was nice to get this perspective that he's a pretty easy dog - especially for a Shiba. We believe a lot of it is he has good genes, but I think we should give ourselves some credit for doing at least a few things right with our pup.

OK - so Leash Monster training is specific to dogs who are good off-leash but reactive on-leash. We learned two very important things Thursday night:
  1. Zuko is rude. 
  2. The lunging, barking and snapping is out of frustration, not aggression.
Let's talk about the rudeness. The trainers were saying his behavior is not unusual for Spitz breeds and Shibas: he's a face-sniffer. He will butt-sniff also, but he often approaches a dog and sniffs their face and apparently in the dog world this is RUDE. So we had a few laughs about needing to train him to always butt-sniff and I expressed that I sincerely hoped I was not going to have to lead through example.

This face-sniffing thing gave me one of those "doh" moments though - I flashed back to his most reactive moments and it is after he has approached a dog and face-sniffed. I'm guessing the other dog then says "rudeness, get out of my face" in some doggie language I don't see and Zuko gets all badass and lunges and snarls. It would also explain why the sighting of another Shiba can sometimes be a total mess as both of them snarl and lunge at each other - because they are both being rude badasses.

One approach the trainers recommended is to pass the other dog and walker first. This sets the dogs up to be facing the proper greeting area - their butts. It also gives you a quick and clear escape route forward if your dog reacts negatively versus being face-to-face and having to drag your dog back away from the other dog.

The second lesson was a bit of relief for me: he's reacting out of frustration, not aggression. We suspected this may be the case since we noticed early on that he would often start growling when we pulled him away to continue his walk. The trainers described the dog's feeling as this: imagine you love ice cream and someone keeps taking you into the best ice creams shops and never letting you buy or taste any ice cream. Wouldn't you be frustrated?

Our homework this week is to work on doing a "leave it" and redirecting his attention when he sees another dog. Since Zuko tends to obsess a bit when he sees another dog, this is challenging but we are working on it. The other homework is to just go the other way when you see a dog or do a very fast "blow by" the other dog - not stopping, not looking, getting past the other dog and then when Zuko is re-focused on us he gets treated.

All of this is easier said then done. San Francisco is a dog-crazy city and so many dogs are off-leash where they shouldn't be and not under any kind of voice control. So I had to ask the question: what if you turn and leave the situation and the other dog follows you. The advice was to keep going, don't look back. If the dog just will not give up, the final emergency-last-ditch advice was to take treats, turn, and throw them at the dog. This will surprise them and they should start snarfing up the treats on the ground and leave off. The trainers discussed that they are not in support of feeding other people's dogs nor rewarding bad behavior (following you and your dog forever) but you have to take care of your dog first. If the other dog's owner isn't doing their job you have to do what you have to do.

So, as with all things: practice, practice, practice this week! Looking forward to our next class!

-- Zuko's Trainer


  1. very interesting read. re: taro's post about the rude big dogs, they tend to chase him, corner him then face sniff. that's when taro will respond, showing teeth (never making contact, but always getting close when he's *really* stressed). he hates being face-sniffed unless humans are around and have dogs on leashes. then, he doesn't mind so much.

    taro's absolutely a face sniffer. we'll have to work on that. good to know, especially because it might give him a little extra protection at the parks.

    we also have to work on leaving "it" (whereby i mean the vague or animal it, not the harmful, clearly visible object or food in the house it)--he sees street cats and wants to go for them. and if dogs aren't interested in him, then he *really* wants to see them.

    sigh. always some work to do. 2 year-old shibas really are like humans in their early-mid 20s.

  2. Hi Kai! I thought the face-sniffing thing was the single most important thing I've learned in awhile. Thanks for sharing Taro's challenges with the same thing - it confirms what the trainers said: Shibas are known for this. Funny that they take offense when the OTHER dog does it to them but what do you expect from royalty? LOL!

    Leave it - same here too. He's great with stuff on the ground but other dogs he just goes into Shiba Obsessive Mode.

    We'll post after each class - we can all learn together! :-)

  3. My problem with Kitsune being a Leash Monster is that nobody else puts their dogs on a leash, leaving them to run up to him and be rude. And he does think it's rude, too. Face sniffing, not so much. Butt sniffing, big no-no in Kitsune-Land. Not until you've gotten the face sniffing out of the way first. Interesting that wolves almost always greet each other with the face first and not the other way around. I guess they're almost always greeting pack members, though. Maybe it's not rude if you're family.

  4. @K9Trainer: Just last night my husband had an incident in the park. He and Zuko were in the on-leash area and someone had their dog off leash. It was dark and he didn't see him coming... until Zuko was lunging and snarling. He had to get between Zuko and the other dog and STILL the owner wouldn't get her dog!! I really don't understand people. Is it laziness? Do they think it is fun to start incidents?

  5. I have no idea, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. Especially when they start yelling, "Oh, she's fine, she's fine! She just wants to play!" Okay, maybe she is, but he's not, and he's the one who can't get away. Elrjsklkjsed! I feel a blog post coming on.

  6. Weird - I posted a comment yesterday and it seems to have disappeared. Oh well. I think it said something along these lines:

    Whenever Misaki meets another dog she's always the one who gets annoyed first. I haven't really noticed, but it might be because the other dog face sniffs her back - I'll have to keep an eye on that. As a general rule we keep any meetings short just because she is curious but doesn't necessarily want to hang out and have coffee with the other dog (might stunt her growth, she says). We give it about 30 seconds to a minute at most, but usually just keep her moving.

    Thankfully she's good with Leave It. We can't take credit for teaching her that one, but our Akita we did teach it to her. She learned it pretty quickly, but she also was a dog who desperately wanted to make us happy. Misaki, of course, doesn't have that compulsion.

    Dogs off leash drives me crazy. When we had an Akita it was exactly what K9Trainer said - "Oh, he's friendly. He just wants to play!" Yeah, well, my Akita doesn't play, so who do you think is going to win that battle? Then I was hyperaware because I didn't want to have to deal with an injured dog because mine was just protecting itself (Ruby did not like dogs at all). Now, I'm hyperaware because as much as cute little Shiba Misaki thinks she can take care of herself she's still pretty dang little.

    Silver lining: Now I can just pick Misaki up if there is an issue. With Ruby, that wasn't quite possible.

    Keep us updated on Zuko's progress - sounds like a very interesting class!

  7. Wow. Thank you for posting this.

    I had realized that Shio tends to sniff the faces of other dogs but did not know how rude it is in the dog world. Also, whenever a new dog darts over and sticks their face in Shio's butt, he'll prance away like a little ballerina. I always thought that the dog was being too forward in their greetings but now I know better.

    Thanks for opening up our eyes to the difference between face and butt sniffing! We'll have to start training with the butt sniffing right away!

    Shibas are so high maintenance. But we knew this already! ;)

    (Really, thank you!!!)

  8. @Ting: I am so buying Zuko a tutu for Halloween costume. Your "ballerina" comment cracked me up - Shibas are a bit prissy, aren't they?

    Honestly though - Zuko is the least likely to get the most out of this class. The other dogs have ISSUES. Our Shibas may be eccentric, but they are not problem children (relatively speaking). They just don't have the same challenges as say, a low-self-esteem Jack Russell who barks for attention, is hyper yet cowers from people. :-(

  9. You know, sometimes I think that Shio is difficult. But then I have a friend who reminds me that he knows a Shiba that will lick turf and stare at a wall all day without moving. Thanks to him, that's how I always remember how lucky I am to have such an awesome Shiba!

  10. SO glad I read this! Leah is DEFINITELY a face sniffer. And then that's when she tends to get into altercations. And I really don't like when she's at the other end of the leash directly in front of me so I can't see her face & if she's showing teeth or anything (until it's too late...) Today there was a 2 lb. chihuahua she was face sniffing and I was SO afraid that thing's face was gonna be gone in 2 seconds flat LOL! (Luckily, there were no issues!)

    But we'll definitely have to work on encouraging the butt-sniffing. She does it occasionally, but seems to prefer the face. And when another dog sniffs hers, she usually does a.. "HEY! Where do you think you're putting your face, buddy?!" move and turns around. Oh, shibas... *shakes head* :)

  11. Hi everyone! I am so glad others have benefited from this post. I have an update from last week's class but ... well, I'm a bit behind. :-) We learned how to work on encouraging butt-sniffing. Luckily, I did not have to lead by example. Stay tuned!