I remember the serenity of strolling through open fields, wandering along footpaths with my dog Titon, relaxed and calm by my side. After the last blog post I wrote, I mentioned how I almost saw my first dog there with me, right by my side! And recall him looking up at me with those endearing and loving big brown eyes. It was one of the best feelings in the world. Well, when things are going right of course…
But when you’re the owner of a barking dog, street-free and idyllic walks like this are buried deep within the graveyard. More often than not, you’re left feeling dead inside at what ‘could’ happen with your dogs behaviour.
Sometimes it seems so bloody random and out of the blue, you’re left wondering what they’re going to do next. Then you start to recognise the signs of their behaviour, perhaps they stop dead in their tracks, lower their body and stare? Maybe they lunge first, and then start barking? You become more accustomed to exactly what it is your dog is going to bark at.
Oh shit, there’s an off lead dog and it’s looking right at us. Any second no….. Boom. Barking has commenced.
You also probably do a few things to encourage, or at least help your dog along in their barking show. I’m talking about the things you do physically and emotionally, that your dog WILL be picking up on.
I can see you right now my friend, and I see this a LOT in my 1:1 clients when they first arrive to me.
You change your focus from looking down at your loving dogs face, filled with happiness because things are going right, then what you do is lift your head back up to where you’re heading or whats around you, then you see it. Things quickly change in that head of yours.
That distraction. You know… the one that makes you take a short, sharp intake of breath, holding it for a second or two, then you tend to look back down at your dog to see if they’ve noticed it too, quickly rearrange the lead in your hand and then you make another cardinal mistake of gripping the lead extra extra tight.
What comes next is the rearrangement of your bodies position. Preparing for what is about to come. Time to hang on for dear life now, my friend! Dig that back foot it, hold onto whatever you’ve got around you and await for the commotion.
All of theses things can help the dog along in performing a reaction. But your dog probably picked up on all of this from the moment you set eyes on the distraction itself. Everything else you did just heightened the triggers. Your dog knew what you were doing or feeling before you’d even realised what you’d done…
You could actually be teaching your dog to bark more if we don’t do something about this.
Then you start thinking (or at least have at some point) ”Why won’t my dog just be a considerate walking partner and quit acting the clown?”
The simplest of tasks quickly butchered to pieces by the inconsideration, of your wild, uncontrollable animal. Though, it isn’t really a case of your dog being at fault. It’s not entirely your fault either, but you’re in this together and this barking is a reaction they simply cannot help without you providing more learning for them on what it is you’d like them to do in these situations instead.
Hey, I get it though, it’s easy to get that sheer fully fledged embarrassment factor, or feel stupidly apprehensive of the judgmental eyes when other people stroll past and their dogs don’t even bat an eyelid. I’ve been there. That last blog post I wrote, I had it then.
I have, still have and will continue to have judgments just because of my breed choice with the German Shepherds. When they’re doing nothing wrong I’ll get judged. Never mind if Hunter gets worried and rears up barking.
And I, like you, will continue to get this.
But let me tell you something…
You are not on your own here. These struggles you work through, the unreasonable outbursts, and insensitive judgements from people who quite frankly don’t have a fucking clue what its like.
Therefore, how can they truly understand?
I went out again with Hunter today, I’d been told about a walk that was just a stone’s throw from the house. Literally down the road, cross over and there’s the track. Initially and because I hadn’t done the walk before, I thought I’d do it with Lilly first. Just to check it out and see what problems could present. A reccy, so to speak.
But I took note how it was raining heavy here this morning, so that was a tick on the it’ll be okay box as a lot of people won’t be out. It wasn’t quite as long as the last walk I wrote about and was probably only 20minutes in total. But it was 20 minutes well spent.
We saw two dogs on the walk, at a reasonable distance away and we had no barking outbursts at all.
I didn’t want a repeat of the last walk and knew any head on collisions would be where I was most likely to encounter an issue. But we only had one dog in front, and one behind, all of us walking in the same direction. Hunter saw, looked away from them, did some sniffing games and generally didn’t care there was two dogs around.
He focused, and checked them out with his incredibly powerful and insanely accurate nose. No doubts about that at all, but exposure was the name of the game. Nobody ever cured a barking dog problem from hiding away with them.
So, today has been a good day, and you might be sat there thinking well my dog isn’t at that stage yet. They can’t deal with distractions at all and I haven’t always got space to get away from things. We can’t do the whole quiet and calm exposure yet.
That’s totally cool and I get it. I didn’t just head straight back out with Hunter after I put him on ten days house rest, I did a little bit and often, building him up to be able to walk around the village before lockdown hit, then we’d work in a new village, and some days we’d just do other things and not have a walk at all.
If you’re struggling to get to the exposure stage right and cannot keep to your quiet criteria for a stress-free walk, then I’d probably start working on the foundations first. And nailing them down.
You can find these in my 3 steps to silence book which you can get you mitts on if you just click right here
Put these into practice first, before anything else. And we can soon get you up to the stage of having a dog who is ready and better prepared to deal with the distractions you both come across.
P.s. I took one video and one photo on todays walks (my phones camera is shocking and I’ve ordered a new one today because I’m sick of this happening. See poor photo effort below)
Must. Try. Harder. Until next time amigo!