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Posts tagged ‘social skills’

Let The (Dog) Games Begin!

Remember that time I wrote about Dog Walking Social Groups? Not really? Here you go.

I’m a big fan of these groups for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they provide safe, structured socialization for dogs. Of course, sometimes group walks just aren’t possible. Like right now, it’s 7 degrees out.

That’s right: 7

So maybe you and your groupies (question: what’s a nickname for group members that doesn’t make them sound like they hang out in the back of tour buses?) are looking for something new to try indoors. Or maybe you and your fellow classmates have graduated past basic Reactive Rover type exercises and y’all want to cut loose a little with your new skills.

Enter group games! Games can be a fun way to practice what you’ve learned in class or on group hikes. They keep your dog working around other dogs in a positive and controlled setting. But they’re also pretty silly. Which can be a nice change of pace.

Also, you can pretend you’re Katniss. Only instead of a bow and arrow, you have a treat bag filled with stinky tuna.  Bad. Ass.

Will your dog volunteer as tribute? Mine neither. That's cool.

Will your dog volunteer as tribute? Mine neither.


Wanna try? Here are a few silly games I’ve played (or watched others play) that might be a good fit for your crew:

‘Red Light, Green Light!’

This is my personal favorite. I’ve had a lot of laughs playing this game with leash reactive dogs and their owners.  Here’s how it’s done: Each on-leash dog stands with their person on a start line. An instructor stands (without a dog) at the other end of the room or field with their back to the group.

The objective is to be the first pair to reach the instructor/finish line. Along the way, you’ll be practicing stuff like “look”, “down” and “let’s go”.

The instructor will call out “Green Light” and the teams will walk quickly towards the finish line while engaging their dogs and encouraging loose leash walking.

When the instructor calls out “Red Light” and turns around to face the group, all the dogs must be lying down. Any pair that is caught in motion, not lying down, has to go back to the starting line. This continues until one pair makes it to the finish line and puts their dog in a down stay.

Ring Around the Rosie’

Each on-leash dog stands with their person in a large circle. The instructor (and maybe a few friends) sings the song “Ring Around the Rosie” as the pairs walk around the outside of the circle practicing loose leash walking and eye contact.

When the song ends with the line “they all fall DOWN”, all the dogs must be in a down position. The last dog to lie down is eliminated. Be mindful of space between dogs, so that you don’t run into anyone when that “down!” gets hollered.

Musical Hoops’

Another childhood favorite adapted for dogs, this game is the canine version of Musical Chairs. You’ll need as many hula hoops as there are dogs participating in the game. To give the dogs some space from one another, you can place the hoops as far away from each other as you need and they can be set up in a circle or in a row.

The dogs are on leash with their owners and, as the music plays, the dogs walk around the hoops practicing loose leash walking and eye contact. When the music stops, the dogs are asked to sit or lie down inside the nearest hula hoop. The dogs must have at least two paws inside the hoop. If a dog does not have at least two paws inside the hoop, they’re out. One hoop is then removed and the game continues!

Again, be mindful of the other dogs. Don’t run to the same hoop with nothing but the sweet taste of victory on your lips. Winning isn’t worth a head on in-hoop collision.

Hide and Seek’

If your dog prefers solo time with you, play at home! Ask your dog to sit or lie down and put them in a stay. Hide in another room and then call your dog. Wait for him to find you – try not to laugh and give away your hiding spot! It’s that simple.


Depending on how challenging these activities are for your dogs, you may need to refrain from lots of hollering, high-fiving, and giggle fits. It’ll be helpful to stay calm and cool, so the dogs don’t get too psyched (especially if you’re playing inside). But as time goes on and the dogs settle in, I highly recommend laughing and cutting loose a little. Also, there needs to be an instructor or two (or someone else without a dog), to help troubleshoot/declare the winner.

And remember different games work for different dogs. It’s cool if these aren’t your dog’s thing. Don’t give up on games all together though. Have you tried Nose Works? I haven’t met a dog yet that doesn’t like that one. And it’s the perfect winter-time activity.

But if you do decide to play, games like these can be as challenging as regular training classes and as social as a group walk. Give them a try and may the odds be ever in your dog’s favor!


p.s. If you’ve got a favorite group or solo game that you like to play with your dogs, let us know in the comments, ok?

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Stop Caring What Others Think and Stand Up for Your Dogs

It’s almost dog bite prevention week, so I want to talk to you guys about one of the keys to reducing dog bites (as well as making life better for your dogs all around):

You need to stop caring what anyone else thinks about you and your dog.

If you do this, you will free yourself up to make better choices on behalf of your dogs. When you make better choices, you are setting your dogs up for success in our crazy world. And when you do that, they are less likely to get into trouble which they will wind up paying for big time.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Stand up for your dogs. Be assertive in protecting your dog’s physical and mental health, as well as the safety of those around them. 

2. When you’re not sure if your dog can handle something, always err on the side of caution. Choose management over “I don’t know, so let’s find out!”

Dogs need us to do both of these things more often, so that they don’t feel like they need to take matters into their own hands teeth.

Obviously, dogs need lots of other things from us too: socialization, training, proper management, and a never ending supply of peanut butter that they can roll around in like it’s a canine version of that scene in Indecent Proposal. People also need to learn how to read their dog’s body language,  understand stress and fear, and not screw their dogs up in general. But we’ve covered that before, here and all over the web.

What I’m talking about now doesn’t really have all that much to do with the dogs. It’s about us humans and how uncomfortable many of us are with being forceful, direct, and making unpopular choices that we’re afraid will make people not like us. This is causing some problems for our dogs.

Too often we choose not to speak up for our dogs, even as things take a weird turn. We recognize that our dog is uncomfortable with the hyper kids running circles around them. We suspect that the unfamiliar dog approaching our dog isn’t as friendly as their owner is claiming. We don’t know if our dog is ok with the cleaning lady entering the house while we’re gone. But we allow it anyway.

We allow our desire to be perceived as friendly or nice or easy going to override our own gut instincts or what our dog is trying to tell us. Our desire to be liked – to avoid being seen as unfriendly or rude or “bitchy”  – is powerful stuff.

It’s so powerful, that humans will choose to ignore their own instincts and proceed into potentially dangerous scenarios, just so they don’t make a bad impression.

Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, says that unlike other living creatures, humans will sense danger, yet still walk right into it. “You’re in a hallway waiting for an elevator late at night. Elevator door opens, and there’s a guy inside, and he makes you afraid. You don’t know why, you don’t know what it is. Some memory of this building—whatever it may be. And many women will stand there and look at that guy and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to think like that. I don’t want to be the kind of person who lets the door close in his face. I’ve got to be nice. I don’t want him to think I’m not nice’.” More on that here. 

If we’re willing to walk right into a metal box with a stranger that totally scares us just so we won’t be seen as rude, imagine how difficult it is for many people to be assertive on behalf of their dogs with nice folks at the park, their neighbors, visitors, family, and friends. We’re willing to deny our fear around murderers. It’s no wonder we’re not comfortable speaking up for ourselves around people we pass on a dog walk.

The problem with our discomfort is that dog bites often happen when we are:

1. In denial about our dog’s limitations and/or their behavior issues. To be a good advocate for them, dogs need you to see them as they are, in the present.

2. We know their limits, but we still hesitate to take action.

And the flip side of suspecting or knowing your dog has issues and not speaking up is:

3. When we are in complete denial that our “good” dogs would ever bite someone.

Number 3 is a whole blog in and of itself. This blog is really about the first two points. But I’ll sum up #3 real quick for good measure:

All dogs have the potential to bite. ALL of them. Breed, size, age, zodiac sign – doesn’t matter. Push any dog hard and long enough or in just the right way (You mean it’s not OK for my 2 year old to crawl into my “good” dog’s crate while he’s sleeping?) and they run out of options and will bite. So don’t push any dog’s luck. Don’t allow them to be treated roughly or inappropriately or fail to properly supervise them because they’re such “good dogs.” Your dog needs you to stop thinking they’re a robot with no limits and respect their boundaries. Don’t fool yourself. Your dog will appreciate it if you help them out by setting them up to be good.

When we let dogs bite, the dogs pay for it. They might hurt a person or another dog or get hurt themselves. They might cause your home owner’s insurance to drop you and then you can’t keep your dog. They might be declared dangerous. They might make the news and inflame the public into calling for a ban on all dogs that look like your dog. They might be taken from you and euthanized.

Dog bites aren’t the only consequence, of course. When we don’t step up other not-so-great stuff happens, like we put our dogs into situations that make them stressed and miserable. Or they have a bad experience with another dog and then they become a DINOS. But this post isn’t about dog behavior. It’s about us and our malfunctions.

Sometimes, we have to step out of our comfort zone in order to be effective advocates for our dog’s safety and health. Do not let others pressure you. Stop caring what anyone else thinks and just do what you know is right for your dogs.

Channel your inner Ron Swanson:

ron swanson

Now, I recognize that there are things that happen that are beyond our control. Also, I understand that sometimes we genuinely think we’re making the right choice and it turns out to be the wrong one. And of course, I want you to socialize, train, and do new stuff with your dogs, which means that inevitably there will be goof ups. I get it. That’s life.

What I’m talking about here is when you’re hesitant to do what you know needs to be done or when you’re afraid to err on the side of caution because you think it’ll make you look like a “square.”

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you all permission to stand up for yourselves and your dogs. You have to do it. Your dogs need you to do it.

The next time someone tries to force themselves or their dog onto your dog, you’re going to boldly step in front of your dogs and say “STOP.”  Say it like you mean it. Then drop the mic and walk away.

The next time someone comes over to your house and you’re not sure if your dog will be OK with them, you’re going to put your dog in another room or in their crate or on a leash.  When your friend visits with their little kids or the landscaper needs to use your bathroom or the police* bangs on your door, you’re not going to hold your breath and see what happens.  You’re going to tighten up your core muscles and say, “Please wait while I put my dog away.” When they say, “It’s OK, I love dogs”, you will hold your ground and follow through with the plan.

And the next time you’re at the vet or the groomers and you don’t like the way they’re handling your dog, you’re going to say, “We need to do this another way.”I struggled with this one. But I’m over it now. Same thing goes for trainers. If you don’t like they way a trainer is working with your dog, you’re going to say, “Thanks, but we need something different.”

Yes, the other person may say nasty things to you or about you. They might call you a “bitch.”  I want you to not care. Because in that moment what you really are is your dog’s hero. You just took their well-being into your hands and acted with conviction. You made the right choice and they’re safe because of you. Bravo.

And who cares what people call you?  As my future BFF Tina Fey says, “Bitches get stuff done. Bitch is the new black

Tina Fey

Look, the other person will get over it. They might not even care at all. For them, the discomfort of dealing with hero-you won’t last long. Even if it does, even if your neighbors think you’re kind of stand-offish, it’s not rocking their world.  But for you, the consequences of not standing up for your dogs might be long-lasting and deep-cutting. Set those limits, then don’t give a hoot what anyone thinks about you.

p.s. There are other ways to set limits and not giving a crap what anyone thinks, like: if they need it, walk your dog with a muzzle on. You will get weird looks. But you don’t care, cuz you’re being Safety First.

Hey, I know this is uncomfortable for some of you. But I know you can do it because you love your dogs.

If it helps, I want you to think of me standing next to you, cheering you on as you stand up for your dog’s needs. I’m five feet worth of NJ/Philly-loud-talking-feistyness and I don’t give an eff about saying “No” to anyone if it means making sure my dogs don’t get into trouble or have a bad experience. So picture me there beside you the next time you need a boost. Know that every time you make that tough choice to stand for your up dogs, I’m yelling, “Rock Star!!” just for you.

Now go get ’em Tiger.

* You have the right to secure your dog before letting the police enter your property.  ALWAYS do it.

Want to give this blog to your clients or friends? Here’s a printer-friendly PDF version: Stand Up For Your Dogs

Dog Walking Social Groups

Those of us with DINOS™ definitely want our space, but that doesn’t mean we never want our dogs to enjoy the company of other dogs. We simply want or need more structured socialization opportunities where we can count on other dog owners to respect our space.

This is especially true for reactive dogs who are learning to stay calm around other dogs.

If you’ve ever been in a reactive dog training class, you know that one of the best ways to increase your dog’s skills around other dogs is to practice, practice, practice. But that can be really hard to do once class is over and you no longer have a set time and place to meet up with other responsible families who are working on their dog’s leash skills.

That’s where dog walking social groups can really come in handy.

If you have a reactive dog and you’ve laid down the foundation for your leash work in a group class, a great way to continue working on your skills and exposing your dogs to other canine pals, is to join a dog walking group.

These groups are a terrific opportunity for any dog, reactive or not, to socialize with canine pals. Contrary to popular beliefs, off leash play isn’t the only game in town when it comes to socialization.  Side by side walks on leash and training classes are social activities for your dog too!

So whether you have a dog that is a social butterfly, but prefers calmer, on-leash socializing (like a senior dog) or a dog who needs exercise in a more controlled environment than a dog park (like a dog recovering from an injury), groups walks might be the perfect fit for you.

Before joining a group, you need to do two things:

Know your dog and their limitations. These groups aren’t every dog’s cup of kibble.

Know the rules of the club. Every group is different.

Many of dog walking groups listed here follow the rule that dogs do NOT interact during the hikes or walks and openly encourage DINOS to attend their events. But please check first. Some groups allow more interactions between dogs and might not be the right fit for your pup. You’ll also need to know if your dog is up for the challenge of being around a potentially large group of dogs. You may need to start small and work up to joining this type of social outing.

If you’re looking for a dog walking group to join, take a peek at the listed below.

Note that many of the groups listed are pit bull groups, but don’t let that stop you from signing up! The overwhelming majority of them welcome all dog breeds to join in the fun and benefit from the structured group walk dynamic. Founded as way to socialize and exercise their pooches, these groups serve the dual purpose of educating the public about these misunderstood dogs. Pit bull peeps rock my world. Just sayin.

 

Chicago Sociabulls Chicago, IL

Contented Canine Palm City, FL (boarding facility that also organizes group walks – check for upcoming events)

Country Haven Kennels Mount Holly, NJ (boarding facility that also organizes group walks 2x per week)

Dog Walk Corpus Christi Corpus Christi, TX

Edmonton Dog Enthusiasts Edmonton, AB Canada

Hikeabull South Bay area, CA

Lead the Ways Canine Community Bensalem PA

Lucas County Pit Crew Toledo, OH (rescue with monthly walks – see calendar)

Pack Walk with Willow and Friends Central Gulf Coast area, FL

Pit Crew Dog Walkers San Diego, CA

Philadelphia, Walk That Dog Philly PA

Portland Pit Bull Parade Portland, OR

Postitive Pittie Pack Hoboken, NJ

San Antonio Nature Hounds San Antonio,TX

SCRRAP Sonoma County, CA (check Facebook for upcoming Bully Walks)

SociaBull Monterey, CA area

StubbyDog Trekkers Saratoga, CA

Sussex County Dog Walking Group Branchville NJ

and

Pack Walk Zurich in Switzerland (dogs are off leash – not recommended for DINOS)

Social Walks der Hundephilosophin  in Germany

And if you know of a group not mentioned here, please let me know in the comments below, so I can add them in!

StubbyDog Trekkers in California

Want to start a new group?

Take a look at some of the blog posts, listed below, for helpful tips and photos. It’s also worth visiting each one of the groups listed above, because almost all of them detail their rules right on their homepage. Each group is a little different, but you’ll see a lot of overlapping ideas and guidelines to incorporate in your new group.

To sum it up, here are the highlights:

  • Dogs don’t interact with each other.
  • Flat, standard issue leashes required. No flexis.
  • One dog per person.
  • Dogs with reactivity, aggression, or in some cases, new dogs, wear red bandanas, so that the group members know to give those dogs extra space.
  • There are two people present without dogs. One at the front of the group and the other at the back. They are able to support the dog walking pairs with training, watch out for loose dogs, and provide an extra set of hands (personally, I’ve held a lot of dog leashes while people tie their shoes!).
  • The two group leaders use walkie talkies to communicate, if the group is large and spread out (like on a hike).
  • The group leaders carry tools such as Direct Stop, for safety.
  • In densely populated areas, the number of dogs is limited and must sign up in  advance.
  • Groups use Meetup.com or Facebook pages as a way for member to communicate with each other about upcoming events.
  • And may I suggest handing these pocket sized educational cards out to people you pass?

More on starting a group – a guest post from Hikeabull

Tips for city groups from Two Pitties in the City

Tools to use: Hikeabull’s walkie talkies and Two Pitties on leashes and collars and StubbyPuddin tips on equipment

If you’re looking for people to join your new group, I highly recommend contacting a trainer to see if they have clients that might benefit from this kind of outing. Even better,  join or contact a dog reactivity class and then, after the course is over, have the group continue meeting. They’ll have similar skills, an understanding of each other’s needs, and a motivation to keep on coming, so they can practice. Feel free to post about your new group on the DINOS Facebook page too.

How many of you belong to a group or are planning on starting one? Let me know in the comments and on Facebook!

Happy trails everyone!

SIDE NOTE: I’ve heard from a few of you who would like permission to use “DINOS” in your new dog walking group’s name. I think that’s super cool!  You’re welcome to use “DINOS” and/or “Dogs in Need of Space” in your tag line or description section of your group’s website, so the public knows that DINOS are welcome. DINOS is trademarked (which means it cannot be used for commercial purposes), so using it this way, instead of in your group’s name, would allow you to create a group logo or merchandise without any issues. If you have any questions, please contact me directly at: info@notesfromadogwalker.com for more information. Thanks!

My Dog is Friendly! A Public Service Announcement

There is epidemic happening across the country and no one is safe.  It’s occurring on crowded city sidewalks and spacious country walking trails. It doesn’t discriminate based on race, age, or economic status.

Innocent dogs and their owners are being terrorized, chased down the street, pinned into corners by…other dog owners.

But, you ask, don’t all dogs like to meet, greet, and play with other dogs, even unfamiliar ones? How rude of them not to greet me and my dog!  Not so, kind hearted dog lovers, not so at all.

In every city, town, and suburb, loving, law abiding families share their lives with dogs that, for a variety of reasons, cannot or would rather not, socialize with other dogs.

Today I call on all dog lovers to take a stand on behalf of dogs that walk in public while they simultaneously cope with one or more of the following:

  • contagious diseases
  • leash reactivity
  • service or working dogs
  • injuries and painful physical conditions
  • intolerance of other animals
  • recovery from surgery
  • fearful of unfamiliar or rowdy dogs
  • aging and elderly
  • learning self control around other dogs
  • are owned by people that want to be left alone

To keep it simple, these dogs and their owners shall be known as Dogs in Need of Space (DINOS)™

These DINOS have every right to walk the streets, using a standard 4-6 foot leash, without interacting with strangers, human or canine.  And yet…they are hounded, day after day, by cheery, well meaning dog owners who insist on meeting them.

Despite frantic efforts to cross the street or hiding between parked cars, DINOS are chased down by other people walking dogs, who refuse to believe that there is someone out there that do not want to meet them.

How do you spot these terrorists? You can recognize these people by their battle cry, “My dog is friendly!” Henceforth known as My Dog is Friendly (MDIF).

Pick any corner of any town in America and you’re likely to see a scene similar to this one:

A DINOS is working on his manners, let’s say it’s leash reactivity. He has some issues with strange dogs, but is in training so that he can learn to stay calm in their presence.  The DINOS owner spots another dog coming and, like their trainer instructed them, they create some distance and do a sit-stay with eye contact. The goal: to keep cool while the other dog passes.

But they didn’t realize they were being stalked by an eager MDIF. Look! There’s they are now, crossing the street, speed walking in a beeline right towards the seated DINOS, their own dog straining at the collar.

The DINOS owner steps further away, trying again to create distance.  Any anthropologist (or kindergartner) can read the clear body language in play from the DINOS team.  Observe: no eye contact or smiling, they are facing away from MDIF, perhaps glancing frantically around themselves, looking for an escape.

MDIF is impervious to body language and insists on coming closer. The  signals from the DINOS owner become escalated, and like a dog losing its patience with a rude puppy, the DINOS owner issues a quiet, but firm warning, “My dog doesn’t like other dogs.”

Unable to understand their native language, MDIF continues their advances until DINOS is trapped and begins to lose his ability to stay cool.  See: lunging and barking, coupled with awkward struggles to get away.  Now, like a dog that’s being humped relentlessly by a teenage dog with no manners, the DINOS owner snaps, so the message is clear, “Stop! Don’t come any closer!”

And, without fail, MDIF calls out their cheerful, pleading battle cry, “My dog is friendly!”  Usually this is received by the back of the DINOS team as they jog away.

Then, with a hurt look, the MDIF mutters, “What’s your dog’s problem?”

The DINOS owner, shaken, wonders why they are working so hard on improving their dog’s manners when the humans around them have the social skills of, well, a dog with no social skills.

A brief interlude from the author:

Quickly, let’s turn to the similar epidemic of off leash dogs that are not under voice control. It’s the law: Put your dog on a leash.  No one but ME gets to decide who my dog interacts with.  Not you, with the “friendly” dog who just wants to say “hi” or you, with the dog who “knows” not to leave your property, but charges me up my porch steps. I, and I alone, will decide if my dog will be interacting with your dog and when you let your dog run loose you are ROBBING ME of my right to choose whether or not we want to interact with your dog. Not cool.

And now back to our Public Service Announcement:

Dogs In Need Of Space are good dogs. They may not want to socialize with your dog, but they have the right to walk with their owners, on leash, without harassment from strangers who insist on a forced greeting.  Their owners do not want to cause a scene or yell, in a panic, at strangers. They don’t want their dog to act inappropriately, get hurt, backslide on their training, or frighten anyone. Please, dog lovers of the world, allow these dogs and their people some space and, if they are walking or turning away from you, keep your dog close by and pass them without comment.

All they want is to walk their dogs in peace, without having to hide under a park bench in order to escape the relentless pursuit of dogs owners who call out…

 “My dog is friendly!” 



If your dogs are DINOS,  join the movement on Facebook!

Printer friendly pdf: My Dog is Friendly PSA

For more info and resources, please visit the Dogs in Need of Space website.

 

DINOS™ and DINOS: Dogs In Need of Space™

Copyright Jessica Dolce 2011 – 2015