Friday, September 2, 2022
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
The challenge of walking an adolescent dog is struggle that most owners face at some point.
- The environment is majorly exciting to all the dog's senses which almost immediately sends the adolescent into a higher emotional state simply by entering a new environment.
- Due to hormonal changes and the natural desire to find a mate, other dogs often become a huge distraction. This is even true for altered dogs without hormones getting in the way as the brain is still driving this motivation.
- With the rewiring of the brain, the dog often seems to have forgotten basic training skills that they previously new well. This often makes it seem like they are suddenly stubborn or defiant but really they are simply experiencing a stage of forgetfulness that is pretty close to what we've come to call brain fog in humans.
- With all the changes the dog goes through periods of higher fears and lower ability to control or self regulate their impulses. This means they are prone to repeating the puppy behaviors of jumping, pulling, being vocal, and other habits we've been working on for months.
How do you set up for a sniff-a-bout?
Stay with your dog to supervise!
**Safety First means knowing your dog's abilities, your abilities as a guide, and your environment and making any adjustments you need to stay safe!
Train Smarter, Not Harder with Sniff-a-bouts
- Notice the gear used in this walk is a harness and longline and the environment we are in is a large open yard where distractions are somewhat predictable. Gear designed for giving the dog freedom while maintaining safety is essential to all sniff-a-bouts. Longlines are great for giving the dog freedom to make choices and move at a pace that is natural to them in the moment.
- Choose the right location! When you're first starting out, try a large open field where there are few things to get tangled on and you can possible triggering distractions before they come close. Very early on, I want to take my dog away from any triggers to prevent them from going over threshold but as your teamwork skills improve on sniff-a-bouts you can slowly add in distractions at a distance and slowly decrease the distance as your dog becomes more comfortable around that trigger.
- Time of day is super important! Not so much per your routine in your household, but the routine of the distractions in the environment you will be doing the sniff-a-bout in. Avoid the busiest times of day for any environment avoiding popular dog walking trails early in the morning and later in the evening when more people are walking the dogs. If you are doing the sniff-a-bout near a playground, go during the school day when there are less kids playing.
Until you're very comfortable using a longline, practice sniff-a-bouts in a large field or open area at a park. The fewer things to get wrapped around or tangled in the better. Allow your dog to engage with the environment, going in any direction they choose unless their choice leads to a hazard such as a pond, sidewalk, parking lot, or anything that is dangerous.
Walk with your dog or sit down and relax depending on how quickly they move from spot to spot. Walk peacefully, only giving cues that are necessary that guide your dog down the path of making good choices. For example: if my dog gets near the opposite end of the longline, I'll cue "This Way" to get them moving back in my direction without fully recalling them.
Have some treats available to reward your dog for making good choices along the walk. Sometimes I even take my dog's meal and scatter it along the ground for them to enjoy hunting for it. At the end of your sniff-a-bout be sure to reward your dog for re-engaging with you as you walk back home or to the car.
Be sure to reward yourself too! Taking a snack, beverage or other treat for you can make this slower paced walk more enjoyable which in turn makes you want to repeat it more often.
The more often you go on sniff-a-bouts and practice using the longline together as a team, the more distracting environments you can enjoy together! You can even add in some doggy parkour to your sniff-a-bouts to make them more fun!
You can watch lots of videos of Azul taking a sniff-a-bout on a longline on this playlist on our YouTube Channel.
Sunday, August 28, 2022
How do I take a morning walk with my Service Dog Azul?
Very much like any other dog and human would do. You see, some SD Handlers believe that a dog can't learn the difference between a working heel and a free sniff-a-bout kind of walk where the dog is allowed to walk in front, behind, beside you...where ever they want. This video is to demonstrate that dogs can generalize these cues to the environments you train them in.The key is consistency in your set up.
Here are my simple criteria that tells Azul what to expect. Azul always wears a harness and a short traffic lead attached to his harness no matter what type of walk we are doing. Some handlers will use different gear, an exercise harness for sniffing and a working harness for heeling and increased focus. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact I do this with my younger dogs. But I hate switching gear out so I end up phasing out that gear change.My walking style predictor is the leash I use, or more specifically the length of leash I use. Places where Azul is free to sniff around I use a 6 ft or longer leash, quite often my homemade 10 ft leash. Places where I want Azul in work mode, I use a leash that is 4 ft or shorter, often an 18-24 inch traffic lead. And no matter where we are walking, my leash is almost always attached to a waist belt or shoulder strap as my hands would frequently drop the leash. The other set of criteria that I train is environmental. Most often outdoors walks are meant for Azul's enrichment and he is free to sniff, while indoor walks are meant for work and he should stay close in his loose heel. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Outdoor places such as exhibit space at an arboretum, conservatory, or memorial garden are working environments with a short traffic leash and heel required. There are also a few pet friendly stores such as the pet store where our main goal is to allow Azul to smell, so here we use a 4-6 ft leash and I follow Azul around unless I need to ask him to avoid a certain aisle or animal. Azul also knows that he has lots of friends at Tractor Supply, Home Depot, and our local library so the chances of me giving him permission to socialize is much higher in these locations then other places. So you see, I'm pretty far from having exact established criteria for walking. I make exceptions all the time! For the most part Azul knows those exceptions in our local environments. But that is also where verbal cues and hand signals come in to play. If I need Azul to do something other then what the leash predicts, a simple cue tells him what I need from him in that moment. Because Azul is a Medical Alert & Response Service Dog, he has to be ready to work pretty much 24/7 no matter what environment we are in. Azul is trained for some light mobility tasks including forward momentum and counterbalance to help prevent me from falling. Due to multiple issues with my disability I fall often which can lead to further complications and his tasks help to reduce that risk.
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