We had lovely, unseasonably warm weather this past weekend, which was very welcome. The dogs got a ton of exercise, and they were very calm and content. They seem to enjoy each other’s company more when they get lots of exercise; both of them were getting along beautifully, initiating play sessions appropriately, with no disagreements to be had.
On Sunday, we took them on a long walk by the river near our house. As I’ve mentioned before, on the busy stretches of the trail, our strategy is to have Guion walk Eden in front, and I walk Pyrrha behind, working on our classical conditioning protocol the whole time. Because of this, I get to enjoy the walks less, because I’m constantly on high alert for her two triggers (other dogs and small children), but I think it’s been a good strategy.
There were LOTS of dogs out on Sunday, as I expected, and Pyrrha did pretty well, all things considered. She only had one outburst, when two women with four dogs came close to us and let all the dogs stop and stare at Pyrrha, and I had nowhere to turn (except into the river!). (The dogs were friendly, but Pyrrha just can’t handle the proximity.)
I’ve been taking the clicker with me when I’m working with her on walks, and I think this has been helpful in signaling to people that I don’t want them and their dog to approach us. I hear people say, “Oh, she’s working with that dog,” and then they keep moving. Sometimes, when we stop to let dogs pass, some people seem to assume that we’re waiting for them and their dog to come greet us. The clicker seems to be helpful in communicating that this is not the case, and that we are training here.
Pyrrha’s anxiety lessened as the walk went on, too, which I was glad to note. Even though we kept passing dogs, near the end of our long walk, she was far more relaxed about them passing and was accepting treats a lot more gently and readily.
Eden continues to be unfazed by everything! She met kids, a man in a wheelchair, other dogs, and other people on the walk. I’m thankful for the abundance of good experiences she’s had so far, as they continue to increase her confidence and her already firmly held belief that the world is FUN and AWESOME and EXCITING.
I confess that I sometimes get jealous of these two, Guion and Eden, who get to lead the way and have happy interactions with people and dogs. I get stuck behind with Pyrrha, trying desperately to keep her from reacting. And if she does react in fear, she just looks like “another aggressive German shepherd.” Sometimes I want to wear a signboard on walks that says, in big letters, “SHE’S JUST SCARED; SHE ISN’T A KILLER.”
I try to look on the bright side. At least she’s not reactive to adults or teenagers. Pyrrha loves being outside and taking walks. And she actually loves other dogs — just not when everyone is leashed. And at least we have one shepherd who can be our breed ambassador, the friendly, goofy baby who loves everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to stay encouraged, when Pyrrha’s progress seems so microscopic. But I just have to keep believing that she is getting better. And take a deep breath. And just enjoy walking the dog.
I am not a very big or strong person (I have weighed about the same as some of our male foster dogs, for example), and so walking two dogs solo has always been a challenge for me — especially if the dogs don’t have impeccable leash manners.
Pyrrha is good on the leash, but I wouldn’t say that’s because we trained her well; she’s never really pulled much, and she just wants to walk slowly and smell everything. However, if she’s scared of something (or about to have a reactive episode), she will lunge. Introduce: the Freedom No-Pull Harness, manufactured by 2 Hounds Design. Our trainer told us about this harness, and I am SO glad she did.
The harness has a front and back clip, with a slight martingale-esque/cinching action from the back. The straps under the dog’s front legs are made of velvet (yes), so there is both a cushion and a reduced likelihood of the straps rubbing or burning the skin. And the harness comes in a veritable rainbow of colors! (I wanted to buy Pyrrha the pink one, so that she’d look less scary to people. Guion balked at this, but I think it’s been helpful for her public image. We bought Eden a standard black one, however, to appease her dad.)
The harness is also very easy to put on the dog, which is a big bonus for us. One of my least favorite activities at the SPCA, when I volunteered there, was trying to put a traditional harness on a dog who was about to explode from excitement. Lots of scratches to the face. Not so with the Freedom Harness!
As you can see from the following photos from our recent walk, I’m able to walk both of the girls by myself with little struggle.
Obviously, no product is a substitute for good training — and we’re working on that too. But this harness is a great place to start — there’s no yelling, pulling, or bribing involved! The dogs just figure it out.
When I walk the girls solo, I clip the leashes to the front of the harnesses, because this offers me the most control. Eden is still getting used to it — when she tries to pull and feels the resistance, she starts to pick her feet up high and prance like a pony; it’s adorable and weird — but she’s figuring it out very quickly.
The Freedom No-Pull Harness is available on Amazon, as well as through other smaller retailers. We bought ours through our trainer at Canine Campus. The harness, along with the two-ended leash, will set you back about $35-$40, depending on the size of your dog, but I think it’s worth every penny!
What makes walking your dog(s) more bearable?
Disclaimer: I was not provided with these harnesses for review, nor was I asked to write this! We bought these harnesses with our hard-earned cash. 🙂 I just love this product and wanted to spread the word.