Tuff Pup Training Blog

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Park Pals Practice Walks Q & A

Tuff Pup Training's Park Pals Practice Walks are an opportunity for you and your dog to practice the fundamental skills that you've been working on in your personal training programs. We know at first it seems daunting to bring a reactive dog or young adolescent dog into a group of other dogs still in need of training. However, with a few rules in place, a group walk/training session for reactive dogs can be highly beneficial. Rest assured that any dog invited to join these support walks has gone through a mandatory initial consultation sessions and has been designated as safe for the group.

Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about our support walks:

[Q]  The walks sound like they’re going to be stressful. Won’t this just make my dog hate being around other dogs more?   

[A]  Our support training walks are structured to avoid as many reactive outbursts as possible and to maintain a safe learning environment for each dog and owner. Here are a few key safety measures we take:

  • Every participant is asked to read our support walk rules of conduct before joining a walk.

  • All participants must have their dog's harness or gentle leader reviewed by a trainer prior to joining the walks.

  • All walk participants are asked to begin the walks at least 50 - 100 feet from the closest dog.

  • Walking spots are chosen for good visibility (ease of seeing other dogs at a distance) and for their abundance of "exit strategies".

  • A trainer is always on hand for additional support.

[Q]  What should I expect to happen at each walk session?

[A]  The trainer on hand will greet you and make recommendations as to where to stand in regards to the other dogs. Group walks last 60 minutes total. The first 20 minutes will involve guided training from the instructor who will make rounds adjusting the training goals to the individual dog. The second half of the time will be devoted to walking (at a distance or parallel depending on the group). This time will allow for independent training with the option to troubleshoot with the trainer afterwards.

[Q]  What if my dog can't handle it or I just want to leave?

[A]  Training walk participants are welcome to pull an emergency U-Turn at any time and call it a day. Follow your gut, and if it's not a good day for your dog there is no need to push it further. However, the trainer on hand will be able to troubleshoot with you, help calm your dog down, and guide you and your dog back to the walk. That's what we're here for. You can also consider taking a quick break. Find a quiet spot out of sight from the group and return to the walk when you and your dog are ready. As you rejoin the group, keep a larger distance buffer between your dog and others.

[Q]  How many walks do I have to go on?

[A]  You should feel free to join as many or as few walks as you'd like. When signing up for your walks you can pre-pay and pre-schdule for multiple upcoming walks if you’d like. You’ll just want to click on “add another appointment” instead of “continue” when picking from the walking dates. These support walks are an ongoing offering to those people participating in Tuff Pup Training behavior consultations.

[Q]  Do I need to tell anyone I'm showing up?

[A]  You must sign up through our website if you wish to attend a Park Pals practice walk. This allows us to prepare for unusually large groups and notify you if a walk is canceled for any reason.

[Q]  How many dogs participate in each walk?

[A] Our support walks accommodate 2 - 6 dogs. If you know anyone who you think would be interested in participating in the walks but has not had a consultation with Tuff Pup Training, please feel free to have them contact us to discuss their dog's situation.

Mastering The Emergency U-turn.

The emergency U-turn is the first line of defense when encountering a loose dog or any other site that might tip your dog over threshold. Mastering the emergency U-turn involves mastering how you communicate with your dog in high stress environments. Dog trainer Grisha Stewart discusses the U-turn in her book on Behavior Adjustment Training and likens it to "a flotation device tossed to get a drowning child out of the deep end of the pool".

On face value this is nothing more then turning and moving in the opposite direction. Tuff Pup Training sees your U-turn as a crucial fundamental skills. Like all fundamental skills you would on with your dog, the more you practice the action the more reliable it will be when you need to happen.  

Extra benefit - Beyond getting you and your dog to a safe, non-reactive distance you are also giving your dog the impression that you know where the "exit strategies are". Remember that your dog does not want to "deal" with that other dog (or other trigger) anyway. As you direct your dog to turn and walk away you are supplying that functional reward of moving toward safety that sits at the heart of the B.A.T. training set-ups.

Teaching the EMERGENCY U-Turn:

Start your practice in a distraction fee space. You'll need to practice the behavior in many different environments before it will feel fluid and practical. Consider practicing twice a day for 5 minutes at times when you have to walk your dog anyway for potty breaks or exercise

  1. Start walking forward with your dog at a brisk pace. You'll be turning in a few steps but before you do begin baby talking to your dog. This works to get attention from our pup in a non invasive way as well as lighten the tone of the experience for both of you.  
  2. Slow down your forward motion or even come to a complete stop. The change in pace here will cause your dog to turn and look at you. It might not happen immediately but your dog will realize somethings up and turn to see what.
  3. The moment your dog turns Click! or say "yes!". Deliver your dog a treat but do so by holding the treat out to the side of your body that you want your dog to turn too. If you want your dog to turn and catch up to the left side of your body then be sure to hold the treat out to that left side. Only (actually) release the treat to your dog's mouth when your dog has made the effort to catch up to that side. The only thing required for your dog to do is take that one or two extra steps to reach their nose to your side. When you first try this you may only be turning your dog about 90 degrees. As you repeat the above process you can start holding back on releasing the treat until your dog has turned as full 180-degrees.
  4. Build on the U-Turn by adding more distance before clicking. Your dog has to turn and then take a full additional step with you before you click. Then repeat but wait two steps.  You are delaying the gratification but still giving plenty of opportunities for your dog to be successful. 

This whole process will make the act of turning a visual cue for your dog to follow. If you turn, your dog should turn. Since you'll likely be using this to avoid a trigger in a rushed or abrupt way you should consider adding a vocal cue. Begin to say "let's go" or "this way" just as your dog turns to make an association between the words and the action. Grisha Stewart (mention above) recommends the vocal cue be "Call Your Dog!". That way you can simultaneously U-Turn while demanding that an off leash dog be called back to it's owner.  

Adding distractions and proofing the U-turn: 

Begin searching for mild distractions to practice around. Pick distractions that might get your dog's attention but won't trigger an emotional over-reaction. Walk toward that distraction and 100 feet away implement your U-Turn as practiced. Then repeat but implement the U-Turn at 90 feet, then 80 feet, 70 feet, etc. Continue until you are at 10 or 5 feet distances. 

The best way to practice is to ask the help of friends or family to create set-ups where they can be your distraction.  Take the opportunity to try out your U-Turns during the Tuff Pup Training reactive group walks at times when another dog has gotten too close. Then return to group at a distance your dog feel safe with. 

If you are struggling with your U-Turns don't hesitate to contact Tuff Pup Training to troubleshoot or to schedule a personal training session. 

How to Handle Being Approched By A Loose Dog

Handling Loose Dogs.

There you are, walking home with your dog who is very much on-leash and under control when an off-leash dog comes running up to you. Especially for reactive dog owners this is can cause your blood to run cold. It's important to have a plan of action thought through in advance. It with take juggling some spur of the moment decisions and remembering to breath.  Here are a few considerations to help you plan for the approach of an off-leash free-running dog:

When you can, Get out of there.

If you don't have to, don't make this off-leash dog any of your business. You have your own dog and your own safety to think about. The moment you sense that the dog across the street or park is actually off-leash start looking for a good exit strategy. If you can't just walk away look for trees, cars, benches or anything else that might help to block your dog from view until the off-leash dog has moved along. 

If you see an off leash dog on a city street and it's far enough ahead, You can employ your emergency U-turn. You can review our post on emergency U-turns to get pointers on mastering this safety measure.

Are you cornered?

If you are forced into a confrontation with the off-leash dog...

  • Stop and body block. Shorten your leash and step in front of your dog. Lean your body posture forward. Step forcefully to counter the movements of the off-leash dog. Don't give this off-leash dog an easy path to your dog. The forceful posture will often get the dogs attention and cause them to pause and look up. Then..
  • Use a calm but assertive tone to shout... "Get Your Dog" or "Call Your Dog". Don't feel bad saying "my dog bites" if it helps bring a sense of urgency to the other owner. Even if their is no other owner, your shouting may elicit the help from a passersby to wrangle or distract the dog to give you and exit opportunity.
  • If you are still confronted with the dog you can try leaning your posture forward, stand tall and confidently say "Sit!". Giving a sit to off-leash dogs can often have surprising effects. Alternatively you can say "stop", "stay" or "down". If the dog pauses at all or actually listens to the command you can toss a handful of treats over the dogs head as an attempt to create another exit opportunity.

Safety Note: Throwing treats as a distraction may have actually been your first thought. Although using food as a distraction for the off-leash dog it tends to only be effective in cases where the off-leash dog is actually dog-friendly to begin with. If the off-leash is fixated on your dog and agitated it will then that dog will take treats and will likely ignore them on the ground.

What If a fight breaks out?

Stay calm. If someone is there to help you: Grasp the dogs by the hind legs, lifting as you would a wheelbarrow, rather than reaching for collars or the teeth-end of the dog! Remove fighting dogs from one-another and trade contact information. You may need to create a distraction or interruption before being able to grab the dogs (e.g. air horn, dump water bowls or spray with a water bottle).

If you are in a neighborhood where this happens often you might consider carrying citronella spray and/or a pepper spray like "Direct Stop" by Premier. These kinds of sprays can be a important last resort. Make sure to read the products full warnings and guidelines.

If possible, take pictures of the other dog. Take pictures of any bites and follow up with the other dog owner. Become familiar with local leash laws. Avoid having your dog around other dogs for at least 78 hours to avoid the adrenalin from the fight causing your dog to be triggered in another social interaction. After that, contact your close friends or family who have dogs that your dog likes. Ask them to go on a walk with you or set-up a structured play-date.

Warning: Breaking up a dog fight can be very dangerous to you. These suggestions should be followed at your own risk. Please stay safe.

Dog fights can be as bad or worse then car accidents. Even in the best case scenario, everyone's nerves are left fried. Dog owners left disheartened and scared. Learning how to read canine body language and teaching your dog public safety skills like eye contact can keep you and your pup safe for future walks.

For more info on at-home training programs for leash walking and dog park play contact tuffpuptraining.com.