Sunday, June 12, 2011

Walking Multiple Dogs

Each Sunday morning I wake up anticipating a nice long walk with the dogs.  These walks are the highlight of our week – we have time to ramble along instead of rushing to get back in time for work.  As I planned this morning’s walk in my head, I remembered the stray hound dog I am holding while trying to find her owners.  “Sweet Pea” is a quiet, friendly dog that really likes attention.  I hated to leave her home alone so I thought “what’s one more?” and grabbed another leash.

Walking one or two dogs on leash can be challenge enough, but I frequently walk three or four dogs on leash together.  This morning I didn’t think twice about adding a fourth dog to our morning line up even though Sweet Pea obviously has spent little or no time on leash.  Our walk had a couple of less-than-graceful moments (which were only to be expected) but otherwise was relaxing, enjoyable and went very well. 

Let me share some of my tips for walking multiple dogs:        

  • Have a lineup.  Know which dog you want where.  In my pack, Pip generally walks furthest to the left, Nellie in the middle and Ben furthest to the right.  This isn’t set in stone but the dogs know the routine and generally default to this line up.  When I add a new dog, they go to the right of Ben so I can manage my three dogs with my left hand and have my right (dominant) hand free to wrangle the new dog. 

  • If you have a dog that is nervous about traffic, put him on the side of the lineup that will keep him furthest away from oncoming vehicles.  This way, if he spooks away from the vehicles he won’t be tangling the leashes and running through other dogs.  

  • Don’t let a dog crossover, especially not behind you.  If a dog tries to cross from one side to the other in front or behind you, use his leash to return him to his appropriate position as soon as possible.  Make sure you lead him back on the same path that he took – don’t allow him to circle around behind you.   Circling not only takes two hands to untangle the leash, he will wrap his leash around your legs and risk tripping you as well as snarling the leashes.  If you are firm and consistent, your dogs will quickly learn to walk without weaving and tangling.

  • Good leash handling is critical to enjoying a multiple dog walk.  Tangles are inevitable but how you hold your leashes will prevent tangles and allow you to respond quickly to changes in the line up.  Never wrap or bundle the leashes and don’t loop leashes over your wrist.  You will not be able to respond quickly enough to prevent tangles or correct your dog’s position if you can’t get one leash free in an instant.  Let the tail ends of the leashes hang free so they don’t knot together when you adjust leashes.

  • Hold your horses.  I like to hold my leashes like I would a rein while riding horses.  The leash runs from my dog, over my pinkie finger, under my ring, middle and index fingers and out over my thumb (my palm would be facing down with the thumb closest to my body).  This way, I have a powerful grip on the leash (I can hold all three of my dogs in my left hand this way – even if they try to bolt after something) but I can also access each individual leash rapidly.  Often, I’ll run each leash through a different finger (one between pinkie and ring finger, one between ring finger and middle finger, etc) so it is even easier to grab the leash I want with my free hand.

  • Having lots of pretty leashes helps.  I love the look and feel of leather leashes, but I use different colored nylon leashes for walking.  This allows me to instantly recognize which leash I need to grab to redirect an individual dog.  Narrower or less bulky leashes are helpful so you can comfortably hold them all in one hand.  (I prefer ¾ inch leashes to 1 inch wide leashes for this reason.) 

  • Keep moving – tangles frequently happen when the pack stops or tries to turn tightly.  Instead of turning tightly, stop and walk rapidly backwards until all the dogs turn and walk towards you.  You can then redirect them or turn yourself and walk back the other way.

  • Teach an autosit.  This allows you to stop without the dogs milling around and tangling the leashes around your legs.  It’s easiest to teach autosits to dogs individually and then practice as a group.  The easiest way to practice is with treats.  Walk along for several strides, stop and ask your dog to sit immediately.  Keep this up until the dog starts to anticipate your command.  Reward for sitting immediately when you stop.  You want your dog’s default behavior be to sit when you stop walking whether you ask or not.  Solid sits are also very helpful when you are trying to leash or unleash multiple dogs. 

  • Keep calm and carry on.  Use your “leave it” command or “walk on” to keep the pack focused on you and moving forward past exciting obstacles like bear poop, taunting squirrels and small, yappy yard dogs.  If the dogs slow down, maintain your pace so they have to keep up with you (you will feel like you are pulling them along to start with).  If you stop every time one of three or four dogs wants to sniff something, you will never make it out of the yard.

  • Pick your position – in front or even with you.  I prefer my dogs to walk out in front of me.  It makes crossing over and circling behind easier to control and it keeps the slack out of their leashes so they are less likely to get the leash tangled around their legs.    

  • Train dogs to different sides to make management easier.  As I said before, Pip and Nell walk to the left and Ben to the right.  They also heel to those respective sides.  Put your more challenging dog or biggest dog in your dominant hand.  Group less challenging or smaller dogs in your less dominant hand.  Yeah, I know the AKC says your dog should heel on the left but no one is judging you out there on the road.  Do what works and is most secure for you.

  • Some people like couplers but they don’t work for my dogs.  If you use a coupler, make sure the dogs are similar in size, weight and temperament.  It isn’t fair to couple a timid, nervous or small dog to another dog that will simple drag it through the walk.  If you have a dog that is at all aggressive or prone to redirecting frustration as aggression, do not use a coupler.

  • While front connect harnesses and, to a lesser extent, head halters can be useful tools in the right situations, they can cause challenges when walking a large group of dogs.  The lower connection point of the leash makes it more likely that dogs will get their legs up and over the leash and cause a tangle.  It is not fair or healthy for a dog with a head halter to be jerked or yanked because someone else got tangled up in his leash.  I prefer to use just regular collars when walking larger numbers of dogs or adding a new dog to the mix.

  • Remember that you are outnumbered and may be outweighed.  In the event that the dogs lunge forward as a group (ie., the sudden appearance of a suicidal squirrel), keep your elbows in close to your body, your arms bent at the elbow and rock your weight back on your heels.  This will allow you to use your arm and back muscles to absorb the pull and your body weight to slow them down.  If you let your arm get pulled straight or your body weight pulled forward, you could wind up in a dangerous situation and be pulled forward or off your feet.  Likewise, never wrap or loop your leashes over your arm.  In the event of an emergency, it is better to be able to drop your leashes and let your dogs go than to get pulled off your feet, dragged or hurt.  For these reasons, don’t ever walk more dogs than you can physically control if the worst should happen, no matter how well trained they might be. 
So grab a couple of dogs, or three or four if you have them, and go for a walk!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

The key to running, for both people and dogs, is to start out slow and short and build gradually.  Here are some easy steps to get started running:
·         Start by walking!  If you haven’t been walking your dog or if your walks have been very casual, work up to briskly walking for 20 minutes at a time at least three times a week.  Once you are comfortable, add a couple of minutes to each walk until you are walking for 30 minutes at least three times a week.

·         After several weeks of consistent activity, you can start adding in some short running intervals to your walks.  Your first runs will look something like this:
o       Walk briskly for 5 minutes to warm up
o       Run for 1 minute followed by a two minute walking break
o       Repeat 6 more times (for a total of 21 minutes walking/running)
o       Walk for 5 minutes to cool down

·         Slowly increase the length of the running interval while decreasing the length of the rest/walking interval.  Your progression may look something like this:
o       1 min run: 2 min walk (7 times for 21 minutes)
o       1 min run: 1 min walk (10 times)
o       2 min run: 2 min walk (5 times)
o       2 min run: 1 min walk (7 times)
o       When you are comfortable running for 2 minutes and walking for 1, gradually add 1 minute to your run interval until you are running the length and distance you want.
o       Remember to always include 5 minutes of walking for both of you to warm up and cool down. 

·         You don’t ever have to go long or go hard with your dog and it may be best if you don’t.  If your dog is running on leash, keeping a steady speed for miles is not only hard on his body but can be boring for him mentally as well.  You are better off keeping it short and interesting so you both have fun.  In my experience, dogs enjoy intervals of walking and running best because they like the variety and it is less stressful for them.  Thirty minutes is long enough for both of you to ramp up your metabolism and reap the cardiovascular benefits of running.  45 minutes is great if you both have it in you.  I would not recommend running your dog on leash for longer than an hour. 

·         If you do want to add additional time and distance to your workout, don’t add more than 10% a week.  (If you are measuring your workout by time, that means you can add three additional minutes to your initial thirty minute workout each week.)  Trying to go too far too fast is a major cause of burnout and injury in runners – both human and canine!

·         Watch your dog and set a pace that is comfortable for him.  If your dog is frequently switching between trotting and running, speed up or slow down so he can hold a consistent gait.  Carefully watch for any signs of stress.  If he’s running behind you more than he is running with or ahead of you, this may be a cue that you need to slow down and walk home.  

·         Dogs running off leash (where legal and if your dog is reliable) can regulate their personal speed and gait better.   

·         If you are going for a longer run, make small amounts of water available at intervals during your run but don’t let your dog down a large amount of water mid run.     

·         Watch for signs of slowing down.  As your dog ages, he may not be able to go as far or fast as he used to.  If he isn’t as eager to run or gets up stiffly the morning after a run, consider cutting back on the speed and/or mileage.  Of course, discuss any changes with your vet to rule out underlying medical conditions.  Older dogs may prefer certain types of footing (dirt roads and trails tend to put less stress on the joints than pavement) or to run off leash (if appropriate) so they can set the pace that is comfortable for them. 

·         Not every dog was “born to run”.  If you have planned carefully and started slowly and your dog isn’t having fun, look for a different activity to engage him in.  Some dogs just don’t enjoy running for exercise, they may prefer to walk or play off leash instead. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Running with Your Dog: Let's Get Started

Pip has been hounding me to post so here is an introduction to things to think about before you actually start running with your dog.  Next week, I'll get around to the actual running part.

It’s spring time and for many of us, it is time to start getting back into shape.  Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to lose a couple of pounds or you just want to be more active.  Either way, running is a great way to do it and including your dog provides additional incentive to get there and get it done. Chances are good that if you are out of shape, your dog probably is too.  Pet obesity is a growing problem in the US and the best way to fight it is to measure your dog’s food and make sure he is getting enough physical activity.  In today’s world, running with your dog is a great way to up his activity level in a safe and enjoyable way.

Most dogs enjoy running and running with your pooch can help you stay motivated too.  Don’t feel like running today?  Nothing like a disappointed look from your dog to guilt you into getting out the door (getting out the door is the hardest part of running).  To be honest, I wouldn’t be a runner today if it weren’t for my dogs.  When I started running, Nellie’s enjoyment of the activity is what kept me going. 

So let’s start with some basic ground rules:
  • Make sure your dog has good leash manners before you start running.  Running is hard enough without your dog pulling or trying to stop and pee on every vertical object you pass.  If your dog likes to sniff and mark a lot, teach him a “leave it” command, tell him to “leave it” before you get to a distracting object and don’t break your stride if he stops to sniff – keep right on going – so he learns he has to keep up with you. 

  • Chances are good that you will be passing other runners, pedestrians or dogs, make sure your dog is comfortable moving over to the side of the trail with you and waiting nicely while people and dogs pass.  No one wants a dog lunging at them, even if it is just because he’s really friendly and wants to greet them.  If your dog isn’t used to this, practice asking him to sit every time you stop walking.  When you see a person coming, step to the side of the trail, ask him to sit and offer him a treat as the person passes.  As he gets used to ignoring people and dogs passing him, you can pick up the pace and won’t need to stop each time you pass a distraction. 

  • Everything gets more challenging when you pick up the pace so practice first at the walk and in a low distraction environment.  Work up to a more distracting environment at the walk and make sure your dog’s behavior is consistent before you finally start running.

  • Don’t run young dogs.  Puppies need about a year for their joints to stop growing (this may happen as young as 9 months for small breed dogs or not until 18 months for giant breed dogs).  You don’t want to put stress on their joints before they are fully formed.  Up until then, limit running to short intervals during off leash play time so your puppy can choose to start and stop on his own.

  • Brachyencephalatic breeds (dogs with compressed faces like bulldogs, boxers and Boston terriers) have more difficulty breathing.  Be careful not to overexert them.  Depending on their individual anatomy, some individuals of these breeds may simply not be good candidates as running partners. 

  • Dogs do not manage heat as well as people do.  If outside temperatures are warm, watch your dog carefully for signs that he is uncomfortably warm.  He shouldn’t be panting excessively or lagging behind you.  If it is hot out, leave your dog home.  Remember that he can’t sweat and releasing heat by panting while running is difficult.  Also, hot pavement can easily scorch his paw pads.    

  • Senior dogs, overweight dogs and dogs with joint problems are not good candidates for running, walk them instead.  If you have any concerns or your dog has any health problems, consult your vet before you start walking or running with your dog.  Overweight dogs should shed the excess weight through walking, swimming or other low impact activities before you start running with them as excess weight puts additional strain on their joints and organs while making them more sensitive to heat stress.     


Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Update from the Pack

Hey there!  It’s me, Pip Squeak.  Mom* has been very slack about writing lately so I have taken it upon myself to write a note and let you know how we are all doing here “down east”.  First, Mom’s been working a lot.  Let me tell you, she’s up and going in the morning and doesn’t get back until 5 or 6.  Then we go for a walk, have a little play time in the back yard, have dinner, maybe chew a bone and go to bed.  That’s about it.  On the weekends, we go for a longer walk and get bigger bones.  All-in-all, it’s okay but I’ll admit things are a little boring.  We are trying to be good and take it easy on her though. 

This morning, we went for a run.  Now honestly, I really can’t tell much difference between our “walks” and our “runs” except that I don’t have to wait up for her quite as much on the runs.  She’s never going to break any land speed records, let me tell you and boy does she look silly doing it.  Don’t tell her I said this but she kind of waddles when she runs instead of trotting all nice and slightly diagonally like I do.  Dogs are so much more efficiently built than humans. 

Today we did “intervals”.  That’s her word for running more like us.  When she runs intervals, she runs and stops then runs and stops again.  This is similar to the way I run except I can never tell what Mom stops for.  I stop to sniff good things but lots of times Mom runs right past the interesting stuff (turkey poop, coyote tracks, deer rubs) and stops in the middle of nowhere just to pant!  I like running without my leash best because then I can stop at the good stuff.  Otherwise, I have to stop when she stops and, as I said, her choice in stopping places can be pretty lame.

When she does start running again, it’s funny because I never see what she’s trying to chase.  It probably doesn’t matter though because Mom’s never going to catch it!  Ben says he ran in a race with her once and there were some very fast humans there.  He thought some of them could even keep up with us chasing a turkey.  I wouldn’t believe that based on watching Mom run.  Heck, she can hardly catch up with me when I’m standing still getting ready to roll in something fabulous. 

Lots of times Mom stops to make us pose so she can take a picture.  Really, you would think she has enough pictures of us at this point but no it’s, “Sit here so I can take a picture” or “Lie down there, that will make such a cute picture”.  She even waits until we are all facing her before she’ll take the picture.  Honestly, there are things to sniff and chase crazy lady!  Let’s go.  We do pose to humor her though.  Today, she made us take a picture in front of an old airplane strip.  It was so boring it took a couple of tries before she got a picture with all of us looking towards her.  We were all scanning the woods for something more interesting!  Meanwhile, she ignored the perfectly intriguing pile of coyote poop right in the middle of the road.  People have weird priorities. 
This is us in front of the airstrip.  Anticlimactic right?  For those of you who don't know us personally, that's me on the left!

Mom told us today that we were lucky because even though she is slow, some people don’t ever run with their dogs.  Some hardly even walk with them.  It is hard to believe, but I’ve seen how excited some of the foster dogs get when Mom takes them running so I guess it must be true.  It’s funny but kind of sad at the same time.  It’s the most fun we have (other than chewing on bones of course).    

So, I told Mom that the next note she writes should explain to people how to get started running with their dogs.  I know how fun it is to go for a run with Mom as slow and clumsy as she is so if people just got started even a little bit, I know their dogs would appreciate it.  So stay tuned for her next note and get ready to start running with your dog. 

*Mom isn’t really my mom.  My real mom was a very nice border collie.  I call Lisa “Mom” because she took my family out of the shelter when we needed homes and she kept me forever because I was cute and persistent.  She also found homes for my real mom and my sister Ginger.  So she’s the mom of the family I live with now and it’s nicer than just calling her The Food Lady. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Teachable Moments

This week's post is by Terri Wilkes, a Mid Atlantic Border Collie Rescue volunteer.

I often use this phrase while working with children, but today it dawned on me that it is a perfect opportunity as a dog owner to work on improving my dog's behaviors.  As Sarah can attest, I am known for adopting the schizophrenic pups.  Actually, my dog Sophie (a corgi/border/something mix) is 11 years old and has come such a long way in the last few years because I decided to stop protecting the world from her nonsense and make her 'deal with it'.

We have a big issue with the door, any door.  If a person comes through--even one of the family, the dog goes nuts. The barking, shrieking and running away from us goes on and on.  I just got fed up that I can't speak to anyone without my dog freaking out. When the doorbell rings I changed my body language.  I don't instantly search for her or try to get her contained before I answer the door (I look like a frantic fool).  I simply answer the door, give her a firm "quiet" and proceed to let the person know that the dog doesn't attack, she barks and I open the door and allow her to go out on the porch.  She gives them a few sniffs and barks and then we all enter the house.  Once she sees that I am ok with this person she settles and I reward her with a treat. 

Today the cable man arrived.  Big, scary, stranger with tools and wires.  So I proceed with the same process and it worked!  She started to huff and puff and carry on a bit inside when he was moving about from room to room and opening the garage door.  I decided that this was my opportunity not to stress out, but to make it a "teachable moment".  I am in the middle of the exact situation I want to work on with her.  I planted myself at the dining table with my laptop to work.  I got a few delicacies from the fridge (cheese bits, meat, etc) and kept them next to me on the table.  This is Sophie's currency !   

Each time she was quiet, sat next to me and allowed the cable man to pass by I rewarded her with a treat and praise.  I ignored any stuff I didn't like.  For the first time I had someone in my home for hours and she was just acting like nothing was unusual!  She got her toy and went and lay down.  She even followed the guy around wagging her tail.  I am almost looking forward to having more people show up so I can reinforce this. 

I hope that this inspires others to use those moments when you feel out of control of your dog's behavior and use it to teach. I realize I have to change my reactions and behavior in order to get her to.   Took me a little while, but I am getting it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Training Tip for Today:

Take the blame out of training time.  Your dog isn't being stupid, stubborn or "dominant" and labelling him as such doesn't help you train him better.  He either doesn't understand what you are asking, isn't sufficiently motivated or you are asking for too much too soon. Take a step a back and look at your training program. Figure out how to make the right behavior easy, the wrong behavior hard and reward each tiny step in the right direction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Clearing up Myths Surrounding Animal Rescue

Today I'd like to share an article written by our friends at Mid Atlantic Border Collie Rescue.  

Clearing up the Myths Surrounding Animal Rescue   
When you have been involved in animal rescue long enough, you hear so many things that people assume which are simply not true! So, in order to clear up so common myths or misconceptions, we have listed a few of them here.
Myth: Rescue groups exist to serve and assist former owners and future adopters.
Reality: Rescue groups exist solely to serve the animals it seeks to save and must always do what is best for its animals, and not the potential adopter or former owner.
Myth: Rescue groups are grateful and happy to receive the donations of animals from their former owners.
Reality: Rescuers are saddened when someone who acquired an animal with a promise to love and care for them are now giving them away. We are people who believe that caring for an animal is for life, not for convenience.
Myth: Rescue groups are desperate to find homes for dogs, and any home will suit.
Reality: Quality rescue groups are very careful about placing the right dog in the right home. Some dogs have special needs and are placed into homes appropriate for them. We invest time speaking with potential adopters, getting to know them. We visit their homes to make certain that the dog we place into their home will thrive in the home that applicant has to offer. We want every adoption to work and to be the best adoption possible and are very careful about our placements. We always try to do what is in the dog's best interest; we are, after all, the guardian of the dog.
Myth: Rescue groups are just like shelters.
Reality: Rescue groups tend to be experts on the breed(s) that they are representing. Rescue groups also tend to foster their dogs, rather than to house them inside of kennels. Because of that, rescues tend to know their animals more intimately than a shelter; therefore can really help to place the perfect pet into the adoptive home.
Myth: Rescue groups never have puppies (or kittens) available.
Reality: Rescue groups do sometimes have puppies available, and often they are quality pups who came out of unpleasant situations. If you are set on a puppy, consider applying and asking to be put on the waiting list.
Myth: Rescue groups always have puppies (or kittens) available.
Reality: Only occasionally do most rescues have young pups available. However, the majority of dogs we rescue are between the ages of one and three years. When considering adopting a rescue dog, please be flexible in your expectations.
Myth: Adult animals are difficult to train and do not bond as tightly as animals adopted in infancy.
Reality: Adult animals are almost always far quicker to catch on to new rules and in the experience of many adopters, may actually bind tighter, almost as if to not ‘lose’ their new person. While adopted adult dogs do come with history or ‘baggage’, so did your spouse/mate/friend and somehow you manage to love them and they you.
Myth: There is something wrong with an animal that is in rescue.
Reality: The large majority of animals in rescue have simply been tossed away. Sure, some of them do need some honing to become perfect, but most of us need that as well! Many of these animals are shy and under-socialized. They have not been abused; they have not been trained or exposed to the world. This is an easy thing to accomplish and the large majority of animals respond well to simple exposure.
Myth: Adopting a child is easier than adopting an animal through a rescue group.
Reality: Adopting an animal is sometimes time consuming and yes, you will need to answer questions and allow us to visit you in your home, however, comparing pet adoption to the adoption of a child is ridiculous and incomparable.
Myth: Rescue people use rescue to make money. If they were really interested in finding animals homes, they would give them away rather than charge a fee.
Reality: While some rescue groups get financial support from a national club (either the breed's club or a national rescue for that breed), most money that is spent on the care of the dogs in rescue comes from the rescue. In order to continue to rescue animals, the rescue must charge a fee or the rescue will fail. Each animal receives the vet care needed to ensure that they are reasonably healthy when they are adopted. Vet care costs, as does food, and shelter. In reality, the Adoption Donation made for an animal is far less than the actual cost to care for the animal while it is in our care.
Myth: Rescue is going to ‘make money’ from the animal that I donate, so there is no need for me to give a financial donation if I choose to relinquish my animal.
Reality: Far from it. The rescue that kindly accepts your animal into its rescue program will likely invest double its adoption fee into your animal before it is placed into its forever home. Your donation ensures that your dog receives the best care possible and that the rescue can continue to operate in order to save another animal.
Myth: The breed rescue people will take my dog if it has bitten and will rehabilitate and re-home that dog.
Reality: If you do not trust your dog, you should not ask anyone else to trust your dog. Dogs ‘speak’ with their mouths (teeth), and some dogs speak more loudly with them than others. In a situation where a dog is unpredictable, it cannot be placed safely into a new home. Please take responsibility for your dog and either handle him with training or management, or in severe cases, euthanasia.  
Myth: The rescue people will take my old or sick dog and care for him in his final days
Reality: Breed rescue does not exist for your convenience. Rescue exists for the animals, and our ability to re-home them. If an animal is ill, or old and infirm, it is far less likely to be re-homed, therefore, we are unable to assist.
Myth: Breed rescue will adopt out intact dogs for breeding purposes.
Reality: As unbelievable as this is, many people think we will do this. The truth is, we aim to REDUCE the number of dogs who wind up in shelters, not to INCREASE those numbers. No ethical rescue person will adopt out an animal that is intact.
Myth: Rescue groups are the people who have dogs that sniff in rubble or avalanches to find bodies or trapped people or rescue groups are the people who train dogs to help the disabled.
Reality: Not us. The first is Search and Rescue, the second is Service Dogs.
Myth: Animal rescue groups are against breeding as a general practice.
Reality: While some rescuers are against breeding in general, many people involved with rescue are breeders themselves. What we are against are irresponsible breeders who are uneducated and are not breeding in order to improve their chosen breed. Breeding is not something to be taken lightly. It is not something one just does, out of curiosity, to teach the kids about nature or to make some extra pocket money. When done correctly, breeding is not profitable, and is done ONLY to improve the overall quality of the breed. There are many people out there who breed simply to satiate the demands of the "pet" market, which ends up weakening the genetic pool of the given breed. This is what most rescuers are against, because we do not want to see anything happen that will diminish the quality of the dogs we love so much.

© MABCR 2009
Portions of this document have been borrowed from various animal rescue sites on the internet, as well as valued MABCR volunteers.