Dog parks can be a wee bit controversial — Barbara and I talk about how to keep things as safe as possible, why many trainers don't like them, and the key pieces you should train if you plan to use them.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today I have Barbara Lloyd here with me to chat about dog park etiquette.
Hi Barbara, welcome back to the podcast!
Barbara Lloyd: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. To start us out, can you just remind listeners a little bit about who you are and maybe share your background?
Barbara Lloyd: I'm a Canadian. I live up in the north in Canada. And I'm a dog trainer and a behavior consultant. I've been in the business for about 20 years. I primarily have mutts, and I do a lot of activities with my mutts.
I have five mutts and I have one real Border Collie, and it's like, "How is that? Why do you have a bunch of mutts and a Border Collie?" Well, it's because I have become acutely interested in herding. I live in a hotspot for herding. Some really, really good people that live around here do really good, high-level herding. And then, of course, as you know, Fenzi has Helene, so I've also been in contact with her and I'm going to be starting up with her new program in herding so I can learn a thing or two. So that's my big thing.
And then, of course, I do rough and tumble, I do parkour, rally, agility, all the standard things as well. But really where my heart is right now, today, is in herding and rough and tumble.
Melissa Breau: Fun. We were just talking before I hit "record" about how the weather is not warming up there. It has actually just dumped a ton of snow on you. But hopefully in the near future, even by you, but down my way, the weather is starting to warm up. So in general, people are starting to get out and about more with their dogs, which often can include heading to the local dog park. And I know, especially among trainers, dog parks can be a little bit controversial. So can you share a little bit on, from your perspective, why that is, and maybe the pros and cons of going to a dog park?
Barbara Lloyd: Oh, that's really good. Thanks for asking me about that, because there is a lot of controversy with trainers and dog parks, how we feel about them. We don't feel the same that pet people do for many reasons, and I think it's the misunderstanding of pet people on what socialization is and what it will do.
I think that's the biggest bone of contention or misunderstanding, because oftentimes I'll have people contact me and they'll say, "I have a reactive dog," or "I have an aggressive dog," "I have a serial dog," and "Can you help me work with the dog?" And I say, "Oh, absolutely," and I tell them what the format is going to be, which is always one-on-one work. And they say, "You don't understand. My dog is reactive, it needs to be around other dogs, so I'll just go somewhere else." They're not even open to the concept of listening to the rationale of every time the dog has a reaction, it reinforces the unwanted behavior.
Some people do, though. Some people are very good, and they say, "What should I do?" I explain to them the process, that it really has nothing to do with other dogs for a long, long time, and that I will teach them management techniques for when they run into a jam. But really, in the beginning, what we want to do is we want to build up the relationship between the dog and the person and introduce a lot of joy into the dog's life.
And if going to the dog park is not associated with joy, if it's associated with fear, reactivity, uncertainty, even just over-arousal — because dogs that are over-aroused are not having fun either. They really aren't. So that's where I think some of the biggest misunderstandings come in is that you don't take a dog that's prone to over-arousal, or a dog that's fearful, or a dog that's reactive, or a dog that's slightly dog aggressive or people aggressive. Those are not the dogs for the dog park. The dogs for the dog park are pretty much the happy-go-lucky dogs that already have good social skills.
That's one thing that I think between trainers and the pet population there's a big miscommunication about that. As trainers oftentimes we'll say in a blurb — I know I'm so guilty of it too — whatever you do, don't take your dog to the dog park. Especially if it's a young puppy, a young, happy-go-lucky dog, I tell them, you don't want to take your puppy where I live to the dog park, because they're just oversized school grounds. There's no calibration, so therefore all the puppies are with all the older dogs, and all the little dogs are with everybody too. There's no separation between small dog, puppy, big dog, and that kind of a dynamic. So I am guilty, I think, of not explaining things properly sometimes to people, so I'm probably part of the problem as well.
Melissa Breau: That said, I know you were talking about this a little bit on Facebook the other day and put up a post about some basic etiquette that people can use to make the experience better for everybody. Do you want to share those tips, what people who do want to take their pups to play can do to set them up for success?
Barbara Lloyd: Absolutely it. It was really one of those things that when I wrote that post, I thought, "Oh." It was prompted by a picture that I saw, and the picture was taken in a dog park. It looked like it was a reunion of a specific breed of dog. There was a path, and there was all these dogs in the middle of the path, and there was a bunch of people standing around, just standing totally static. Nobody was moving. Everybody was just watching their dogs.
And I thought, you know what, Barbara Lloyd? You might not agree with dog parks because of the things that can happen in them. But there's a lot of people that don't have the options that I have for exercising my dogs, and their only option is the dog park. So instead of just condemning it, why don't you just post something that tells people what they can do. So that was why I did the post in the first place. I was trying to be nice and not judgmental. I was trying not to be a dog trainer. I was actually just trying to be a good community person, and hope that if I can give people these three things, that maybe it's going to keep them and their dogs safer.
It was three simple things. The first one is, don't take toys into the dog park, because they're a source of potential conflict. And again, I want to qualify that by saying that the size of the dog park matters, and where I live, and in most of the places that I've been, they're very small dog parks. So by introducing a toy, what ends up happening is you could have maybe five dogs that are interested in that same ball. Well, that can be a recipe for disaster. It can start a dog fight. So just avoid the whole thing. Don't take the toy.
The other thing too that I've found, because I've periodically gone to the dog park, and I have dogs that like to retrieve, and they have pretty good toy drive. So we go to the dog park and somebody's got a toy and they throw the darn thing. My dog, because of the amount of real exercise my dog gets, she can outrun anybody, so she's at the ball first, and then she brings it to me and I give it back to the handler. Sometimes the handlers get really upset and they say, "Your dog took my dog's toy," and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and then there's that element of human conflict as well.
And so just to avoid conflict between dogs, conflict between handlers, don't take the toy. If you want to play ball with your dog, go to a playground or go to a fenced-in tennis court. Go somewhere else. Go to a ball diamond that's fenced in. All of our ball diamonds are mostly fenced in, and if you can take your dog to a dog park, you can take your dog to a partially fenced-in ball diamond and they're not going to run away, if they're ball motivated.
So that was my first thing was please don't take toys, because they're going to become community toys real quick and it could cause a dog fight. So that was that one.
Now the next one: Do not take food into the dog park. Because, of course, this again is another big deal. You get a dog that's slightly food aggressive, and you could have a fight on your hands. The other thing is that I'm not saying that everybody that takes food into the dog park is doing this, but I've also seen a lot of it where somebody is taking food into the dog park, and they love dogs, and they hand out treats willy-nilly to everybody's dog. That's not good, because then again you could start getting that circling, which can cause a dog fight, or just from the health standard of the dog, what if the dog is allergic to whatever it is that that person is handing out? My little dog could suffer from pancreatitis if he gets something with too much fat in it, and he's only eight pounds. So a normal dog treat, if it's like a biscuit, that's got way too much fat content for him and that will set him off on pancreatitis.
So that was one of the other things is please don't take food into the dog park, because it's probably going to cause a dog fight, or potentially it could, and these things can be avoided. Or it could cause some kind of a reaction in a dog. Honestly, I'm not an uptight person, but I really don't want a stranger feeding my dog, either. I just don't think that's a good precedent for dogs. I think that when dogs go to the dog park, I think it's good if they go and they play with other dogs and they're social like that. But at the end of the day, I think it's really my responsibility whether or not I want to give my dog something, not a stranger's. So no food in a dog park because of aggression. That's number one.
Number three, this is a big one too, and again it all comes down to what can possibly happen and avoiding a bad situation. So the third thing that I recommend is keep moving. Don't stand around in the middle, don't pool by the gate, don't stand around and visit. If you want to go there and meet somebody and you want to visit with them, walk with them, because if you're in constant motion, the dogs aren't going to pool in one little area and get stuck in that area.
Again, there's a huge potential for conflict, because you get all these handlers standing around, and some dogs might be owner-possessive. They're not truly aggressive, but they might be owner-possessive. So another dog goes over to say hi, and they're all in this little pressure cooker because nobody's moving, and that dog has a reaction, and then that could spark another thing.
So keep moving. I always look at it as if you're going to the dog park, you should be going to still interact with your dog, except that it can be off leash. So you don't stand around. You don't go to the dog park to stand around and visit. You go to the dog park to go walk your dog and stay active.
So that is another great big deal. I understand some people maybe can't walk on the terrain or something like that. And those are truly the exceptions. I'm not going to say, "Well, then, don't go to the dog park." But for those of us that are more than able-bodied and willing to walk, just keep moving. It's better for the dogs, it's better for you, it gives your dog a focus. It also teaches your dog to come and find you instead of you always hunting down your dog.
So those were my three things that I put in that post, and that post blew up. I was shocked, because when I wrote it, I was thinking about the community that I live in and how small the dog parks are. So it's really writing it for that, and then it got picked up. I write for the Total Rottweiler magazine, so it got picked up by that, and then it exploded from there and just went everywhere. I was really surprised, and I thought, "Wow, I guess maybe this really does need to be talked about. I'm not the only one that feels like this, and I'm not the only one that thinks that maybe this information needs to get out."
After the post came out, City Hall contacted me here in Regina and said, "We're going to have two dog park events on a weekend coming up. Could you please come and talk about that post that you wrote and why it's important that these rules be adhered to?" I said, "Absolutely. For sure, I'll do that." So it really went so much farther than I anticipated. I really didn't expect it.
And so many people were grateful. A lot of the comments that I got were people saying, "Thank you for bringing that up." Because they've had experiences in dog parks that could have been so much better if these things had been adhered to. So it was good. I was really happy. So when you and I connected about this podcast, I thought, "That's great." I think it's a wonderful topic.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, it's an important thing to have a conversation about, for sure. You started to get into this a little bit with your last answer when you were talking about moving around. But I absolutely think a lot of people are going to hear what you just said and go, "But Barbara, if I don't have toys, I don't have food, what if my dog won't come to me when it's time to head home?"
Barbara Lloyd: Well, isn't that just the question of the day. So you know what you do? You think like a trainer. You prep the dog. You work on the dog's recall so that the dog will actually come to you, and you start working on delayed reinforcement.
For listeners that don't know what that means, what that means is the dog understands that it's going to do a behavior, like come to you, but it's not going to get paid until a little bit later, like maybe ten seconds later. That's what's going to buy you the time to get the leash on and walk to your car. Because if you make a practice of calling your dog, even in the backyard, you call your dog, the dog comes, you give it a few treats, you put the leash on, you give it a few treats, you walk to your car, and it gets a jackpot of steak or whatever its favorite food is, cat food is another great one. Dogs love cat food. Canned cat food, oh my God, it's like puppy crack. If you
train the dog that this is going to be the process, and if you only allow the dog to have a drink of water back at your vehicle as well, that's the resource.
The dog is going to be way more likely to come to you.
But that is a training issue, and it shouldn't be bleeding over into the dog park. You shouldn't have to have that on you in order for your dog to come to you, because if you aren't valuable enough to your dog, maybe you shouldn't be in the dog park. I know that sounds harsh, but if you aren't valuable enough to your dog that it's going to come to you, you really need to work on that recall, which is somebody else's dog, I'm sure.
But what do you think, Melissa? Honestly, does that sound harsh or does that sound realistic?
Melissa Breau: No, that sounds pretty realistic to me. I like your idea, too, about practicing the exact scenario at home so that the dog knows they get back to the car, they get back to that jackpot.
Barbara Lloyd: Absolutely. That is really the essence of training that I think oftentimes gets overlooked is the fact that people believe that the training is going to occur when you need the behavior. But the training has to occur way before, so that when you do need the behavior, it's there and it's available.
And for us people who train dogs all the time, I get a charge out of that stuff. I love the training aspect of it. I know that a lot of handlers want to do the fun things, but they don't want to do the mundane little things like that. But it's those mundane little things — you call the dog, you give it a few treats, you put the leash on, you give it a few treats, take it to the car, jackpot —those are all the little things that are going to make everything else so much easier. And at the end of the day, you're going to allow that dog to have the freedom that you want it to have, and you can trust your dog. So I think that it's a realistic expectation to expect people to work on those things before they get to the dog park.
Melissa Breau: That totally makes sense to me.
Barbara Lloyd: Good. I'm glad to hear it. I have an advocate.
Melissa Breau: To go back to one of the other things that you were talking about earlier, about what dog is a good fit or is going to have fun at the dog park, I know that most trainers would probably say some dogs just aren't going to enjoy it, even if their owner had good intentions. Do you have any tips or any thoughts on how people can tell if their dog is one of those that might enjoy doggy playtime, and one of those dogs who wouldn't so much enjoy it?
Barbara Lloyd: Absolutely. I think that … to give a stereotypical … the perfect dog park dog is something like … I'm not saying these are the only ones, but just to give people a mental or a visual aspect is just a goofy, happy-go-lucky Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever that loves everybody and everything, but doesn't jump up. That's the other thing. You better train your dog not to jump up if you're going to take it to the dog park, because lots of people get upset about that.
If you start from that premise … and that can go to any dog. It can be German Shepherds, it can be Rottweilers, it can be herding dogs, it can be sighthounds. What I'm going to tell you as well is that taking a sighthound to a dog park, of course they like to chase. That's their deal. And herding dogs, they like to chase. So when you get a mixed group of dogs, you can be really, really lucky if there are dogs, like the herding dogs or the sighthounds, that like to chase and the dogs that like to be chased. When you get that mix, that's an absolutely wonderful thing.
But when you get a dog who's frightened, and it's running because it's frightened, and you get a tow of sighthounds and herding dogs chasing it, that's not so good for that dog. So you need a dog that speaks dog really, really well and can make educated decisions.
Now one of the things that I always tell my clients about, sometimes you don't know if something's going to happen. Something might scare your dog. Being in the dog park could scare your dog and you didn't expect it. You just didn't expect that to happen. And so what I teach my dogs is to come between my legs. We call it "peekaboo" as a trick. Some people call it "middle."
Basically what it is, is the dog comes between your legs. I teach all my dogs that, and I teach all my clients' dogs that as well, because in a frightful situation, if you've trained that behavior and the dog enjoys that behavior, it's the perfect cover, because your legs are on either side of that dog, it's back is covered, because it can be up against your legs, and that can be a real life-saving thing so that you're not even worried about the dog running off. Because if it's afraid, it's going to come run to you and come between your legs, and you're going to save it. You're going to protect it.
And if that's your dog and you're like, "Ooh, that didn't work out so good at the dog park," well, then, don't take it, because it's supposed to be a fun place. If it's not fun for the dog, why are you going? Why would you take the dog there?
It's kind of like when I was growing up, all the kids, every kid I went to school with, everybody I knew loved hot dogs. They were a treat. Hot dogs and Kraft Dinner. I hated hot dogs. I didn't like the taste, I didn't like the texture, and it didn't matter how much people would try to say, "Oh, look how good they are," and try to make them enticing to me. It was a punisher. If I ever had to eat a hot dog, if I was somewhere and I had to, it was a punisher. And for some dogs, going to the dog park is a punisher.
The other thing I think is, I've talked about dogs that are afraid or maybe a little aggressive or reactive, and they shouldn't be in the dog park for good reason, for their own mental health. But then there's dogs that are completely over-the-top in love with life and everything and everybody, and they fit into that arousal category. They're over-aroused.
A dog that is that over-aroused isn't having fun either. They might go to the dog park and run themselves crazy, but they're not having fun. And they're also probably upsetting a lot of other dogs, because those typically are the dogs that don't take social cues from other dogs. You'll see them, they're the ones that are going up and they're jumping on them. Or they're going into another dog's face, trying to bark at them just to get them to move, because they want to play. The other dog is doing everything within its power, it's turning its head, or it's trying to walk away, and it's doing all kinds of things to avoid any kind of conflict, but it does not want to play with that dog. But this over-aroused dog that's lacking social skills doesn't understand that. So that's another dog that shouldn't be in the dog park either.
Just because your dog loves everybody and everything, that doesn't mean that it's a green light, either. You need to have that dog understand social cues from other dogs, social cues from people. Not everybody that goes to the dog park wants to say hi to your dog. When I go to the dog park, when I travel that's usually when I do it, because I don't know where else to go. And I'm going in the dog park to have quality time with my dog. If my dog wants to play with somebody, that's great, that's fabulous. But I'm not there hunting other people's dogs down to give them attention either. If a dog comes up to me, I'll give it attention if it's asking for it politely.
So over-aroused dogs can also very much be the cause of a dog fight in the dog park. Those are the dogs that shouldn't be in there. The ones that should be in there are basically just the happy-go-lucky. Even if your dog doesn't enjoy playing with other dogs, but you want to go there and exercise your dog, but it's got good social skills and reads social skills of other dogs, that's a great candidate. And then, of course, there's dogs that just love to play with everybody, and if they've had the opportunity in small doses to learn how to play appropriately, and not bully other dogs or be bullied, they can be great candidates for dog parks. I think that there are a lot of dogs that are wonderful at dog parks, and I think that they work out really well for them.
Melissa Breau: Once you are there, you have a good, dog-park-appropriate dog, what kind of interaction should we be watching for what? What will a good dog-dog play session look like, versus one where we should intervene before it goes off the rails?
Barbara Lloyd: I think that's a really good question. I think that a lot of people don't understand the whole butt-sniffing ritual that goes on. A lot of people think it's rude, and they think that it's inappropriate, because they're comparing that to a human standard. However, that's how a dog will shake hands. Most dogs accept that and they think that that's a good thing.
Now, when that goes too far is when the dog is doing the sniffing and it's literally lifting the other dog's butt off the ground. It's really getting up in his or her junk and that's making them uncomfortable. Or if it's sniffing the butt of another dog, and that other dog doesn't like it and turns around and says, "Hey, enough," or walks away, and it's giving an appropriate social cue to the other dog: "I don't want you to do that."
If that dog that's doing the sniffing doesn't walk away, you've got to get out of there. You've got to start moving. You've got to get your dog out of there, because then again that's a situation where something can happen. It's not that the dog that was sniffing did anything wrong. But maybe the dog that's being sniffed has a sore back end. Maybe it's got compacted anal glands. Maybe it's arthritic. Pain does weird things to people and animals, so we have these reactions that are out of the norm. So that is one of the things that you need to watch for is when those greetings can go a little bit south, even if when they start out appropriate.
The second greeting that can go south is the over-arousal greeting. We just talked about those dogs, the dogs that are way too over the top. When they go in to meet a dog, they go in and a lot of them will literally chest thump a dog or they just slam into the dog. They have no concept of personal space or how to neutrally meet a dog. They just think that they're going to go in and everybody's going to love them, and they're just going to be able to play. And of course there's a lot of dogs that are like, "Whoa," and that can start a fight, because the dog that got bumped into could say, "Hey, that was inappropriate, bugger off." And then the over-aroused dog says, "No, no, no, you're going play with me because I said so," and then maybe starts barking in that dog's face, and then it escalates and we've got a problem. So that's another thing. It's not like, "Oh, look, isn't that great?" It's like, "Oh no, that's not so great." That is not an appropriate greeting. That's a greeting you've got to be aware of.
Now another greeting is the standoff in two dogs. And there's a difference between the standoff … oftentimes dogs will do a standoff. I see it often in herding and working dogs, where they do a standoff where they're maybe twenty feet apart or more and they look at each other, they drop their heads, and then they start running. That can be a play thing. But their body language is different than when they're doing something aggressive. The difference is that with the herding dogs that I've seen do it, and mine included, they're standing apart, they look, they drop their head, and their tail is neutral. Those are the defining factors: the head dropped and the tail neutral. That tells you they're more in prey drive playing drive.
The other side to that is you can see them have the exact same interaction, but really what it is, is tails are up and head are straight up and the chests are forward. Those are dogs that are like, "Are we ready to rumble?" There could be a conflict there, and it has nothing to do with play. So that's another distinct greeting interaction that we need to be aware of. Look at the tail and look at the head set. Where is the head? Is the head above the body, or is the head low between the shoulders. Generally, low between the shoulders means "We're going to have a lot of fun here."
Another thing that is a red flag is when the dogs first meet … not once they start playing; sometimes once they start playing, they'll do this, but by then they've already accepted one another as a playmate, so it's not usually as big of a deal. But if it starts out like this, it can be a really big deal. And that's when you have the dogs and they're saying hi, and then one totally puts its head and neck completely over top of the shoulders and the neck of the other dog and get stiff. They're trying to figure out who is going to be the boss, and that just oftentimes doesn't end well, because you can get two dogs … sometimes they can go fine. The other dog says, "I don't care, you can run the show, I don't care." But there's other dogs out there that are going to say, "Hey, you're in my personal space, and this is inappropriate." They're going to give cues back, and then that original dog … maybe there's going to be a fight.
So if you see anything like that, don't grab your dog, because of course as soon as you go to grab your dog, you're adding energy in and they're more likely to actually have a fight. But that's where your movement really comes in handy, because you can be like, "Hey, come on." Clap your hands, start running in the opposite direction, and get your dog away from that dog. And so those are the things.
The other thing, too, that I think is really important to point out is in any one of these interactions, how a dog interacts, except for the over-aroused dogs. They just do it to everybody. But some of the other stuff is very dog-specific. So just because your dog was involved in an incident like that, that doesn't mean that they're not a good dog park candidate. It just means that there's going to be some dogs that you need to be aware of that your dog is going to have that reaction to.
That's again where the handler awareness comes in. When you're going in there, it's like taking your kid to a carnival. You don't take your eyes off. You keep moving. And your main focus and your main priority is keeping an eye on your dog. So I think those are the big do's and don'ts of who should go in and who shouldn't.
Another one who shouldn't go in is if that dog is pulling on the leash to get in there, that dog should not be allowed to be let off leash and go into the dog park, in my opinion, because it's already in an aroused state. It's so amped up and it's just ready to burn. If the dog can't enter … the dog can be excited, but not be losing its mind and barking its head off and pulling at the leash to get in. And again that's where the training comes in as far as the loose leash walking, calm behaviors, gaining things. So I think that's another thing.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. That brings us right up to what I was going to ask you next. Assuming you do have a dog that learns the dog park is lots of fun and starts to get a little excited on arrival, and does start to pull or even bark and maybe lunge towards the park a little bit, how do you deal with that? How do you work on that so that you can take your dog to the park?
Barbara Lloyd: How I would start that is I would start teaching the dog very early on that a tight leash, other than in tracking … of course when you're doing tracking, there's going to be a tight leash. That's necessary for good tracking. For regular dog walking and dog interactions, I always teach the dog that a tight leash never gets them anywhere or anything. It always ends up in the opposite.
For instance, if the dog is pulling towards the park or pulling towards something, I would be backing up. But truly again, to be honest, I'm not going to put my dog in that situation either. I'm going to have trained the behavior so well before I ever get to that point that it's not going to happen. But let's say you really want your dog to go in the dog park, and it's figure-eight-ing and all kinds of stuff, trying to get into dog park. Rather than letting it blast in there on a tight leash, pick your dog up, if you really have to go in because you're on the road and you've been traveling. If you can pick your dog up, pick your dog up, take it into the dog park, release it, because then it's not at least pulling you in.
But really where the work starts is at home. How I start that with my clients' dogs, where I start it, is I tie the dog to a doorknob or a tree, because it's always about the dog wanting to get to something. So first I create the handler as the resource, because a lot of dogs don't. They kind of see a handler as a resource, but when they're attached on the leash, too oftentimes they see the handler as an anchor. It's something that's back there that's just holding them back that they're trying to get away from.
And so I reverse that, and I tie the dog to a tree or to a doorknob and I start to walk forward. And if the dog starts pulling and jumping, I just reverse my direction. Once the dog has the four on the floor, I keep going forward.
What the dog is going to learn is that if it has self-control — and at that moment the only self-control I'm looking for is a slight little bit of give in the leash and four on the floor. The dog can be wagging its tail. It can be as happy as it wants to be. It can't be barking at me. The leash has to be a little tiny loose, even if it's just by the clasp and the clasp is hanging just a little bit, that's loose for me. Four on the floor.
So I start training that, and then all of a sudden what you start to notice is when you start doing that, the handler value in the eyes of the dog goes way up and they start to appreciate that more as the handler is actually being a resource and not just the anchor.
I practice that in many different venues, do it in the house, do it outside, do it tied to trees, tied it to park benches, and once I get the behavior that I really want, then what I start doing is I start adding in other people or dogs. Or I can do it by myself, because if I have another dog, I can have the one tied up and I can have the other one with me, walking towards that dog, and chances are the dog wants the other dog as well. So I use that as another way of teaching the dog that in the presence of another dog you can still maintain control.
I do those kinds of things to teach the dog about a loose leash, that it's its responsibility to do the loose leash, and then when I do walk the dog on leash and we are out, it's always just a red light/green light game. You're going forward, the dog pulls on the leash toward something it wants to sniff or get to, I start going in the opposite direction until the leash loosens, immediately I turn around, and if that dog wants to go sniff a hydrant, if it can get to that hydrant, I will let that dog sniff that hydrant.
The other thing, too, is that when I'm doing these training walks or these training sessions, I'm not going on a destination walk. I'm going on a training walk. I'm really training the dog what I want it to be like on leash. Especially up where we live, half the year it's pretty cold, so it's really hard to train with food outside. So I always encourage my clients, "Figure out what it is that your dog wants in the environment, use that as your target, don't go on destination walks. If you want to go on a destination walk, go by yourself. Leave your dog at home until it's completely leash trained."
I'm a firm believer in the leash training has to come first before the dog park, because if that dog is pulling and figure-eight-ing before it's getting into that dog park, that's a really, really bad type of precedent to be setting, because what you're teaching the dog is that the more out of control it is, the more it gets what it wants. I don't want my dogs to learn that, and I don't want my dogs to be around dogs that act like that either, because my dogs would be very, "That's inappropriate behavior."
I've got mutts, but most of them have some kind of herding dog in them, they're all herding dogs from one form or another, and the herding dogs and the working dogs in particular, I think, are such sticklers about rules. They have pretty strict rules about stuff, and I can't tell you the number of times my dog has looked at a dog that was out of control and did the whole up and down and, "Well, this is inappropriate." All she's missing is the head shake. And you can really see her eyes, because she's shaggy, so her eyebrows move up and down.
That's my spiel about the dog pulling and overly excited to get in there. And again, there's a big part of me that says, "You know, Barbara, of course you're a trainer and you have unrealistic expectations about what a dog should look like when it's going into the dog park." However, the other part of my brain says, "I have seen so many well-behaved dogs walk into a dog park on a loose leash."
It's possible, and it just comes down to the difference between the people who value the concept of training the dog beforehand and they want a dog that is self-controlled. Because that's the other big thing in my life with dogs is, and I always tell my clients this, I am not interested in controlling a dog. I want to teach them self-control. I want them to understand what they can and cannot do.
I have enough self-control issues myself. Honest to God, Melissa, you should see my shoe collection. It's ridiculous! I get way too many speeding tickets, then my husband says what this? Well it's one of those things. So clearly I have impulse control issues myself. I need to manage those. I don't want to have to worry about managing my dog's impulse control. I want to teach my dog impulse control.
Yesterday on the Clubhouse talk about the conference, we were talking about some impulse stuff or whatever, and I said, "Two of my dogs can clear my six-foot chain-link fence and be out of the yard in a heartbeat. But they choose not to because they know that's not an option." That's not in our rulebook. It's not because they've ever been punished for doing it. It's because they understand that's a perimeter that shouldn't be breached. And yet both of those dogs can pretty much do an eight-foot straight climb up a wall.
So I'm all about teaching that impulse control, and loose leash walking is one of those components. It's an impulse control thing. So if you start teaching it and you have expectations of it, then you can get that, and you get it within reason. It doesn't mean that the leash has to be completely like a noodle. But there has to be some semblance of control on the part of the dog, because if it's not controlled going in there, potentially you could be running into a lot of problems once you do get in there. So that's my spiel on that part.
Melissa Breau: I have one last question for you, Barbara, and it's the question I've been rounding out all of my interviews with lately. I want to know if there is something that you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to training.
Barbara Lloyd: I think the biggest shift in my training over the last little while is really moving into a more active-based training. What I mean by that is letting go of "The dog needs to be able to do this."
I always think that with people, if you're having fun, you're going to learn more, and you're going to retain it, and you're more likely to repeat the behavior. So I think the biggest thing that I changed over the last while is really, really, really asking the dog, "What do you want to do?" and providing more of that within a structured framework, where I get what I want and they get what they want, instead of having these hard and fast rules about what every dog has to know.
So I think I'm giving dogs more and more autonomy in their lives than I ever did before. And I'm encouraging my clientele to do that as well, because I think what I've noticed is the shift since I started doing that, since I allowed my dogs to be more autonomous, is that my relationship with them is so much better and so much stronger, and they're making so many more choices that are very, very good choices that I didn't even necessarily train them to do, but they're doing it because the relationship is better. They feel like they have more autonomy, so the fact that they have so much more control over themselves gives them the ability to give in on other things much easier, because I think that does build up that trust.
I also want to clarify that doesn't mean that I don't crate train my dogs, because I'm a huge crate-training fan and my dogs are crated or they're in x-pens. When we're in the car, they're all in their crates. They are crate trained and they are in crates, and that is the one thing that I do.
But in other areas where I can give them autonomy, I really do, and I love that. I'll give you an instance of where I give them autonomy. I'm pretty extreme in the things that I end up doing with my dogs as far as climbing eight-foot walls and things like that. I let them do that, but I also physically train them to be able to do it safely. But the other thing is that when I'm going out on my ATV and I'm going to run my dogs, if the one dog says, "No, I'm going to stay back here and sniff this hedge," I'm like, "Yeah, you can do that." I don't insist. It's not a forced march. We're out here for your enjoyment, and you get to do what you want to do. Probably about five years ago I would have been a little more insistent about, "No, you've got to come. We're doing this now."
So changes that I've seen in my dogs and in the dogs that I train is they check in much more frequently, they don't feel compelled, they get out of the truck when I let them out in the field, and they get out and I'm going to ride or walk, the first thing they all do is they all check in one by one: "Are we doing something together, or am I free?" And the answer ninety-nine percent of the time is "You're free. This is what I'm going to do, and you're welcome to join me, but you're really free. You can chase the rabbit, you can kill the gopher, you can go sniff in the tree line, you can go in the dugout and swim, or you can run with me."
But it doesn't matter, and because I give them that choice, more often than not, they choose me. So I think that maybe is the biggest shift is just my understanding and my concept and my delivery of allowing autonomy for the dogs and freedom. It's just so much more and so much better.
Melissa Breau: What a strong reminder after what we were just talking about, about dog parks and things like that, that sometimes the important part is learning what your dog actually really enjoys.
Barbara Lloyd: Oh yeah, absolutely. Isn't that the thing. I think the other big goal that I always have with my dogs is I really want my dogs to choose me. I want my dog to want to be with me because it enjoys itself when it's with me, and it knows that fun things are coming and we're going to have a good time. I want to be that fun aunt, that fun dog owner that the dogs are like, "We want to go where she's going because we know she's going to have a lot of fun," and so I cultivate that a lot.
Again, I have access to space and things like that with my own dogs, I can run them off leash in open fields and I can walk them in open fields. I know a lot of people don't have that that opportunity. And second, I also have a huge outdoor training field. It was an old pasture and it's fenced, so dogs that don't have the greatest recall, that's where we start. We start in that fenced area.
So my clientele gets a lot of opportunities that other dogs don't get as well, because they get to experience these things and then they see it and they think, "I want that for my dog. I want that with my dog." So much of it is so much easier because of just allowing them to be dogs, and that is the biggest thing. Find out what they love, let them do it, and if you're a part of it, your status goes up way high. If the only time your dog is having fun is when it's running away from you, you know that's not a good sign.
Melissa Breau: Not so much.
Barbara Lloyd: Exactly.
Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Barbara.
Barbara Lloyd: Thanks for having me. It was so nice to talk with you again, Melissa, and I'm so pleased that we were able to present on this topic, because like I say, when I put that first post out on Facebook, I was stunned at the reaction that I got. And it was all positive. It was really, really good. So I'm so happy we talked about it, because it's that time of year and I think people need that information.
Melissa Breau: I totally agree. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it!
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Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.
Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!
Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!