Whole Dog Journal's Blog May 9, 2011

Proud and Scared Both

Posted at 10:49AM - Comments: (15)

In the past few months, to accommodate a shifting family situation, I’ve moved my “home office” out of my home, twice. First to a rented office space, which I hated (after 14 years of being able to go to the kitchen or back yard or to go take a nap any time I wanted to!). Then my husband and I bought a second house in a short sale, to use as my office, extra space for extra family members, and a fix-up project. It’s two blocks from our home, and Otto and I walk (and bike) from house to house several times a day. This house has a fenced backyard; the front yard is unfenced. The street is about 30 feet from the front door.

Why all the trivia?

Because it might help you visualize what happened to me just the other day. I clipped a leash onto Otto’s collar, grabbed a few things, and then we walked out the front door of the new house/office onto the porch; we were about to go home for dinner. Otto had just woken up and was yawning and stretching next to me on the porch, dragging his leash. I turned around to lock the front door behind us, and suddenly Otto roared and launched off the front steps at high speed, headed straight for the street. And in the same moment that my brain registered the fact that Otto was running toward the street, I also heard a car or truck approaching. I screamed, even as I was turning around, “OTTO OFF!”

Why “OFF”? It was instinctive. I thought that he must be chasing something – which turned out to be the case. And we’ve worked on “off” a lot: “Off” the cat, “Off” the chickens, “Off” the cat food,” “Off” the UPS driver, “Off” the plate of food sitting on the coffee table.

As I finished my turn toward the street, my brain registered the sight of Otto flying down the last step before the sidewalk, dragging his leash behind him. And a strange cat, fleeing, but hovering right at the curb. And a pickup truck traveling from our left to our right, fast.  

And then my “OFF!” registered in Otto’s brain, and he screeched to a halt, practically in mid-air. And both the approaching truck and Otto’s halt registered in the cat’s brain, and the cat turned left, hard, and raced up the sidewalk. I don’t think the truck driver’s brain registered any of this. We were about one second away from a dead cat for sure, and surely a badly injured dog, if not a dead one.  And a massively regretful, sorrowful person (me).

I was frozen for a second, and then Otto turned and bounded back toward me, tail high, eyes shining. “Ha!” he seemed to say. “Didja see that? I showed THAT cat what’s what,” he bragged, all puffed up.  And I burst into tears as I buried my face in his fur, patting and hugging him. “Good boy, Otto. GOOD dog. Wow! WHAT a good boy!” I was still shaking 10 minutes later.

So I learned a lesson. Even with a quiet street, and a great dog, I can’t take anything for granted. I need to hold that leash as we walk out the door -- or at least scope out what is going on outside before letting the dog through a door that leads to the street. And we’ll keep practicing “OFF!” Every day, folks, every day. Training pays.

Comments (15)

What I guess many people do not realize, think about? Is like with children, they, dogs are always learning from us, even when we do not realize we are teaching... What blew my mind was how the owners let a 14 year old take their dog out not warning at all, " oh by the way be careful when cars pass as she tends to try to chase them"
As well as their giving up on her. Friend sent a pic of us with Kip sitting just above me on a step looking at me like "ok boss what's next?" she was my favorite to walk in mr and HS, as she was so reliable off lead. The pic of us made me sad though, I know she's long gone, but I am sure she wondered why I suddenly disappeared when we moved to CA.

Posted by: Cheryl A. | May 12, 2011 11:19 PM    Report this comment

My first dog as an adult was a friendly, fun, active Australian Shepherd. I got him at 8 wks, did a basic obedience class with him, and had started doing agility. He knew all sorts of tricks, was easy to train. I had him off leash on hikes and trail walks and he was very responsive...UNLESS there were deer or cats around. His prey/herding drive would take over - and as a new dog owner, I didn't know how to train him out of it.
We lived on a very busy road, but we always walked out the door and immediately went around the corner to the back of the house, where there was over 100 acres of woods, trails and fields. Taking for granted my routine and my responsive dog, I never leashed him leaving the house. One night I got home late from work, brought him out for a quick bathroom walk (off leash).Coming back from our walk, we faced the road before turning the corner to the front door... I saw Macy freeze and lock in on something across the road... rather than immediately calling him and running AWAY from the road (12 yrs of hindsight later), I turned to see what he was looking at. I saw the sillohette of my landlords cat in car headlights... by the time I yelled Macy Stay! Macy COME! it was too late. The cat made it, he did not.
I now have 11yr old and 9 yr old Australian Shepherds, and while they are not perfect, and I'm not perfect, I try to balance trusting my dogs (in dog sports, that is very important) with being conservative and never taking things for granted. Being aware of our surroundings to keep us all safe, but not coddling them or living in a bubble. If you see a weak area in your training, seek out a positive reinforcement trainer and practice, practice practice! You can't practice in the moment - you practice FOR the moment.
I work and play a lot with my dogs, and am involved in a lot of dog sports, but I always remember, that like us, they get distracted, they make mistakes, they have their "oops" moments - I just have to be ready and prepared to act to keep them safe and bring them back.

Posted by: PAMELA B | May 11, 2011 9:13 AM    Report this comment

My GSD can be seriously obsessive about anything moving-the eyes see, the brain freezes and
the ears hear nothing. For 2 years I've been training with treats in the back of the SUV and "car" as the cue. It paid off the day he forced his way out the front door as I was leaving. He dashed to a neighbor's yard and she called to let me know. Without being able to see him, I yelled Jett...CAR. He came at a run and hopped in the back of the SUV to get
his treats. We've also been working on "street" as a cue to sit immediately; as we cross lots of streets on our walks. I try to raise my voice in an excited tone, so it won't sound so different if I have to yell "street" if he escapes again. It's been my experience that there is no such thing as "just a walk"! It's ALWAYS some kind of training.

Posted by: Andrea K | May 11, 2011 4:12 AM    Report this comment

Years ago I had trained a neighborhood dog not to chase cars, again years ago, and I was a teen, used a sharp leash correction, and she learned well. The owners deemed her untrainable, supposedly had "tried". It was our first walk and she knew sit stay, but with appearance of a car she took off and tried to chase the car. I went back to the house and asked them if that was unusual, and to their answer asked if I could try to correct it as knew she often was out on her own off leash. A year or so later was crossing the street (small town not much traffic as not near main street even ) and she stopped to sniff, I heard a car screeching around the blind corner and saw her on the edge of the road at a dead run to cross, I just automatically screamed Kip FREEZE holding my hand up. I had never used that command but always gestured as well as commanding, the car screeched in sight, around and kept going, I was afraid to look but finally did to find the good girl frozen, one paw up right where I last looked. I praised and told her ok come and she bounded to me.

Posted by: Cheryl A. | May 10, 2011 7:54 PM    Report this comment

congrats on calm thinking for you! we had a similar incident ... my husband who does not hear well, failed to realize a gate did not close behind him when he went out of it ... doing somethng in the front yard he suddenly saw 3 of our 9 house dogs standing at an open gate ... where were the other 6??? i was in the house and heard him whistling, but it was a shrill, random whistle, not one that we use for anything ... i got up and went outside thinking he must be trying to whistle for me [he IS a heart patient]. found 'the dogs are loose and up at the road' which struck terror into my heart. the road is a county highway full of traffic at all hours, about 150 yards up the driveway hill ... i raced to the base of the drive and certainly saw at least 3 of my beloved labradors IN the road! somehow i remained cool enough to sound their 'COME WHISTLE' which is 3 short and 1 long tone all on the same note [sort of like morse code]. we practice this COME Whistle every day when I call them in from the far fenced paddock where they exercise. Even the girls who are traditionally loathe to 'come' came at the full run, my heart racing madly as I looked for my 1 remaining great-granddaughter-non-spayed-female among them, and there she came... I asked them to 'chase me' [another game we play] around to the open gate, and they all came thru, whereupon i put my knee on the ground, buried my face in each neck in turn and just shook like a leaf for at least 10 minutes.... Thank you Thank you Thank you for ALL your articles thru the years on the importance of teaching a solid recall. I whistle since I learned years ago as a musher that a whistle sound will carry further than a voice ... my darlings are all safe, what a miracle..whole dog journal rocks

Posted by: Unknown | May 10, 2011 1:36 PM    Report this comment

A trainer I knew used the word "Freeze". It was very helpful & better than "No". It saved my dog once in a similar situation.

Posted by: Unknown | May 10, 2011 1:36 PM    Report this comment

A trainer I used to work with used the word "Freeze". It was very helpful in a similar situation I had.

Posted by: Unknown | May 10, 2011 1:34 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the great comments and Nancy - your recommendation of the archive article. I've got it in hand now for an evening conversation with my wife. I'm new to WDJ and I'm glad I signed up!

Posted by: Tourman | May 10, 2011 1:18 PM    Report this comment

We used "no" for anything I wanted them to stop, and "OK" meant that they could proceed. This saved my two Bouviers' lives one day. They were both off-leash, hand signal trained, the male (alpha) even more than my female (who followed me first and him second). Squirrels just pushed his prey drive buttons, and heading out for our afternoon walk, he surged toward a busy street after a fleeing squirrel. She followed in hot pursuit. No hand signals going to work here, they were headed away from me. Traffic was loud, but my desperate scream was louder.
"Tar, NO!" I yelled with all my might. It was like a light switch, he stopped just short of the curb, and she stopped right behind him. Thank God for training. I used the tiny chicken squares from chicken noodle soup to train Tar to accept our cat, too. From being a cat killer, it took 6 months of daily careful work, but I could come home and all three would be sitting in a row at the gate, or lounging on my bed saying "Oh, did you leave?"

Posted by: Sharon S | May 10, 2011 12:48 PM    Report this comment

I started crying just reading this! I've had my own close call (and also totally my own fault) with my dog. It's kind of ironic that a danger like this is most apt to arise with a really, really well behaved dog! You just get kind of complacent. At least that's my experience. My cardigan welsh corgi is so good about just lying on the front porch, never wandering off, and I'm usually so good about watching him from my office chair, which is about three feet from the front door, which I keep propped open when he's sitting there, and everything is just about always really, really good -- until I get absorbed in what I'm doing and he decides to just wander across the driveway for a second to sniff a dandelion and the lawn mowing guys decide to drive up at that moment in their big truck. I'm trying hard to remember how that moment of total terror felt. I bet the combination of complacency and a really good dog add up to a lot of heartbreak in the world. (We use "Wait" a lot, too, and I highly recommend it, but I'm afraid that time I panicked and yelled what you're NOT supposed to yell, his name! He stopped and looked at me like, For heavens sake, WHAT?)

Posted by: Layne E | May 10, 2011 11:44 AM    Report this comment

See Pat Miller's article "Teach Your Dog to 'Leave It' on cue" in the August 2008 issue; that's the same method I used to teach Otto.

I like the word "off" rather than "leave it," but obviously any word you want to use will work. I don't like "No," though, because most people sound mad or stern when they use "No," and that's not helpful; no cue should be loaded with negative emotion! Even if it's an emergency from our view, the dog should think you are just super-enthused. Loudness and urgency should translate to them as, "SUPER YUMMY TREAT AVAILABLE IF I RESPOND IMMEDIATELY!!" rather than "Shoot, I'm in trouble."

Also, in response to Daniel E, if you reward the dog every time he turns away from something (anything: food, cat, squirrel, etc. -- on cue, he'll quickly learn to both look back at you, turn toward you, and/or come to you to get his reward. It's part of the behavior that we want, but we don't have to cue the "look at me" or "come back to me" -- it's a natural consequence of the dog learning that he's got to turn back to you to get his high-value treat. Make sure when you DO ask the dog to "leave it" or "wait" or "off" that you consistently have something terrific to reinforce this behavior. If you overuse it and/or under-reward it, it won't take long for the dog to figure out that it's more fun to KEEP chasing the cat or squirrel or grabbing at the chicken bones or whatever. -- Nancy Kerns, Editor

Posted by: Nancy K | May 10, 2011 11:36 AM    Report this comment

The method I use to train my dog is "clicker training". Books are available on how to do this: search dog clicker training on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Here is the basic method: when the dog does something you like, you click a small device (available from PetCo and others for a few dollars) and IMMEDIATELY give the dog a treat. For training not to jump on people, say "OFF" sternly and when the dog has four feet on the floor, click and treat. Clicker training has been used for many types of animals and, for dogs, it only takes a few trials for them to learn it. When the behavior is well learned, you can phase out the treat every time but you should give it intermittently to ensure that the behavior is reinforced.

Posted by: margeam | May 10, 2011 11:10 AM    Report this comment

I use the word "Wait" - I use this anytime I want my dogs to stop moving forward... on our walks, I'll say "Doggies, Wait" and they will stop dead in their tracks as I untangle leashes. Once, while hiking through the woods, off leash, one of my dogs scared up a deer and took off running as fast as he could. I screamed "Kobe, WAIT!". Kobe stopped dead in his tracks, "Kobe, Let's GO!!", and he turned and ran back to me. I almost dropped to my knees and said "Hallelujah!!" He has done that many times (after turkey and rabbit!). I believe it is because I use "Wait" multiple times a day, anytime I need my dogs to stop. Doorways are great practice for this! Keep practicing and practicing and make it part of your everyday language with your dog.

Posted by: cburger2@gmail.com | May 10, 2011 11:09 AM    Report this comment

"Off" is an AWESOME prompt/cue/command and thanks to Nancy for reminding me! I use "off" to get my dogs to move their nose/head away from something. It's kind of like a "back up" prompt: I use it to stop them from jumping or to ask my little piggie dog to stop trying to hog the other dogs' food bowls. I love the idea of using it mid-chase. Time to work on some training!!

When I first learned it, the trainer told us to hold a treat in our hand, let the dog sniff the treat, then give the cue "OFF" low and a little growly. This usually makes the dog move his/her head back away from the treat. The key is to NOT move the treat from the dog. Rather, his/her head needs to move back. If they do it right, click and treat with a treat from your OTHER hand (not the one you first offered to sniff).

I'm sure Nancy has a better, easier to understand description of training this cue. :) Good luck!!

Posted by: liz_hughston_RVT | May 10, 2011 11:07 AM    Report this comment

I would love to hear how you train for this! I am failing my 14 month old British Lab on this right now. That said, my wife and I are committed to getting this done ASAP. Also, I haven't heard "off" used. What does it mean for you - stop? Any resources you can point me towards would be very much appreciated.

Posted by: Tourman | May 10, 2011 10:46 AM    Report this comment

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