Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Leash Monster: Update - the proper way to meet and greet

Last week in Leash Monster training, we continued to practice the "leave it" idea. As you dog sees or approaches another dog, you do a "leave it" and then turn the dog around and walk backwards.

It sorta works with Zuko. I think Shibas are related to that little girl in the Exorcist though - Zuko can swivel his head around to a shocking angle and STILL be walking towards me while giving the evil eye to the dog behind him. Impressive, but not helping the situation.

What's that over there? Can I obsess on it? Is it a dog? Please let it be a dog!

Our trainers from Dog Evolve swear by the Gentle Leader head collar. They claim there are pressure points on the back of the head where the leader sits that help calm a dog. Jokingly, they refer to it as "doggie Prozac". And clearly, some of the dogs in class really, really need this. One woman has a herding dog mix who she says is a spaz. I've never seen it - because she's had the Gentle Leader on the dog in every class and he is super mellow. However, I struggle with this - I don't want to use something artificial to force behavior in Zuko. Nor do I want to put him into a zen-trance. I love my happy, energetic dog. I just don't want him lunging at other dogs and being a leash monster. Every other dog in class is using the Gentle Leader now except us. The trainers asked and I said I'd rather not - and the one trainer supported this. She said the only dog she has ever had a complete freak-out-melt-down when having a Gentle Leader on was.... wait for it... yeah, a Shiba Inu (surprise!).

What I have done is switch back to the front-clip Easy Walker harness instead of a collar. I'm guessing dragging him away and him making choking sounds as it happens is not reinforcing the message that leaving dogs alone is a GOOD and HAPPY thing. Of course, this puts us back where we were months ago - we think he was clipped by a harness buckle as a puppy and he flinches everything one of those snap close behind his head. We tried reconditioning him out of it, but he's like a cat - he will never, ever, ever forget it.

So - back to the lesson last week on proper greeting. In my last post I talked about Mr. Rudeness and his face-sniffing issues. In class, we focused on first approaching a dog and doing the "leave it" and turn and walk backward before anyone got snarly. Next, we would pass each other - quickly - the whole time talking to your dog and dangling a treat in front of them. In this exercise, the dogs are next to each other so when they are looking at you and that tasty treat in your hand, they are ignoring the other dog.

The next step is to just stop as they reach nose-to-butt position.  The dogs are facing opposite directions and positioned in the right place to turn their head, sniff butts and be polite. Even the slightest turn of the head to proper sniffing position is immediately marked and rewarded and you continue walking forward.

Whew! Easy enough in class - the dogs are all getting to know each other and everything is calm. At the end of the class they brought in a good sized female lab - a new dog!! This was the test... and everyone passed except for the one dog who barks so much at other dogs she has to be isolated during class or she will not stop. (This dog's trainer is the one who actually needs the training - he's very timid with her).

I am personally relieved I do not need to lead by example to show Zuko the proper way to meet and greet another dog. ;-) We've been working on doing the "leave it" and then "go say hi" and stopping where he can be set up to properly greet. Of course, this morning we met a Shiba mix who he knows and we passed each other, stopped, and they BOTH immediately turned all the way around so they could face-sniff. No monster-badness happened, but I was still left standing there rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Shibas. 

-- Posted by Zuko's bewildered mom

P.S. - If you haven't heard, the Twitter Shibas are considering a National Shiba Inu Meet-up next year! If you could / would attend, please complete this survey before Oct 30th!


  1. The only dog I have ever had a complete-freak-out-meltdown on a Gentle Leader is my own Shiba Inu. He is also the only dog I've ever worked with who absolutely refuses to accept it, no matter what method or approach we use to try. As much as I think they are super great training tools for every other breed, I think Shibas are the exception. It will be an all out battle of wills that you will not win. Trust me. Don't let someone talk you into it. It is not worth it, especially if there are alternatives available that he will accept.

  2. Hi K9Trainer: Thank you for the note! I really appreciate your insight. I'm using the Easy Walker harness for now and plan on sticking with it. I agree, the Gentle Leader is right for some dogs, but it doesn't fit my training style and clearly sounds like a disaster waiting to happen if I did try to put it on Zuko! Thanks again for the note (and the support!).

  3. Have you ever tried a slip on martingale collar? That's what I use in my classes. However, I think my mom is going to get me an Easy Walk harness.

  4. I tried one of those Halti head harnesses on Mika... He did NOT like it. He got real aggressive to anything near him and completely spazzed out. The trainer let us take the harness home and try slowly introducing him to it... No luck, he just freaked out. The odd thing is, I can grab Mika's muzzle and he's calm, but once you put that thing over his muzzle and clipped in, he has a shiba melt-down and everyone knows it. I had no problems getting it on him (he came up to it to sniff it and he didn't shy away from it), he was calm for that, but once everything was in place, and I think he noticed that it wasn't going anywhere, it just went down hill.

    It's a good thing you didn't try it on Zuko.

  5. @Mika: wow. Third report of a Shiba losing it with the head collar. That makes it 3 for 3 - no one has mentioned success with it on a Shiba. Thank you for sharing! We missed class last week due to pup being zonked out and my feeling like a MUNI bus had ran over me, so our last class is this week. We'll see how it goes, but I'm thinking some private lessons may be in our future.

  6. Can’t get over the fact that words can be used this beautifully.dog harness with front clip