Arlo can be anxious when he meets other dogs, especially ones he doesn’t know—I think he’s conflicted: he wants to meet them and he doesn’t. This is not a huge problem, but it is something I’d like to change so that both of us can relax a bit when we’re out in public. We started inside (with help from our trainer) with CC/DS to a stuffed dog, then reinforcing him for check-ins, then CC/DS with real dogs outside but at a distance, then reinforcing for check-ins with actual dogs first at a distance and then gradually a little closer. He’s been doing well on walks in our neighborhood, so for the past two weeks, I’ve been working with him at the Farmer’s Market, where there is always a good chance of seeing other dogs. We don’t actually go in to the market area—he’s not ready for that. Instead, we stay in the area across the street so he can see other dogs, but we have good distance and plenty of room to get outta Dodge if necessary. And because it’s a new environment, I’ve gone back to just CC/DS.
The first session went well. The most recent one was less successful, possibly because there was another dog there who was very stressed and barking at all the other dogs. Arlo heard the other dog before he saw him and immediately started whining and worrying. Then he barked at an adorable little dog coming toward us who didn’t even give us a second look. (This kind of escalation is also known as trigger stacking.) I needed to get him out of the situation ASAP, so he and my husband took a walk around the block, well away from the stressed out dog and all of the commotion while I did some quick shopping. Interestingly, although they ran into other dogs on their walk, once Arlo was away from the stressed out dog, he was ok. Our walk home was uneventful, so in spite of a rough start, we were able to end on a good note.
I felt sorry for the little dog, though. His owner was oblivious—even laughing at his dog’s stress. He probably didn’t realize the dog was uncomfortable. At least I hope he didn’t.
I love that people can bring dogs to the Farmer’s Market. It’s lovely to see dogs enjoying an outing with their humans. It’s lovely that people want to have their dogs with them, not to mention that we have a dog-friendly Farmer’s Market. But not all dogs enjoy these outings. And I say that as a person with a dog for whom the Market is overwhelming. I hope that with support and training, Arlo will improve, but I also realize he may never be comfortable there.
Another thing I observed at the Market—dogs on choke chains and prong collars. I hate those things, and I wish people would stop using them. Fortunately, there is a lot of information available about the dangers of these devices, and I’ve included some resources at the end of this post.
But if you only read this post: understand that if pinch and prong collars “work” (prevent a dog pulling on the leash), it’s because they hurt the dog. Period. And what concerns me about dogs on these collars in a public space like the Farmer’s Market is that the collars are adding pain and stress to dogs in what is already a highly stressful environment. So dogs who tolerate the environment are actually learning to associate something negative (pain around the neck) with the environment, and especially with meeting new people (including children) and dogs. And of course dogs who are already anxious about the environment are being made to feel even worse about it. For either kind of dog, these collars are not, in the long run, doing any kind of good. They may make it possible to take a dog to the Farmer’s Market on a given day, but there are costs: pain and the possible association of people and other dogs with that pain.
Also understand that most dogs do not “naturally” walk politely on a leash, especially in a place as distracting as the Farmer’s Market. Neither of my dogs initially had great leash manners—I had to teach them. And that’s how I know that there is better equipment available for teaching leash walking and that doesn’t harm the dog. Two of my favorites are the Freedom Harness and the Ruffwear Front Range Harness.
Apparently when A. was walking Arlo, a woman stopped and asked lots of questions about his harness (he was wearing the Front Range harness). I hope she was convinced to try it out, or one like it.
Sources and Resources:
“Choke and Prong Collars,” positively.com
“Fallout from the Use of Aversives,” eileenanddogs.com
“Prong Collars,” Glasgow Dog Trainer
Steinker, Angelika and Niki Tudge,“Choke and Prong Collars: Health Concerns Call for Change of Equipment in Dog Training,”