FAD2 Day 1 - Environmental Processing
What is Environmental Processing?
Dog's naturally process any environment they use, looking at things, sniffing things, listening to the sounds, etc. While this is a natural occurrence, some dogs do a better job of environmental processing than others do. We tend to focus so hard on teaching our dogs to walk nicely on leash, ignore distractions, and focus on us as handlers that we often don't take the time to let them process their world as a dog. And this seems to be the #1 thing I see in any dog that struggles with fear, anxiety or a lack of confidence...they simply never learned to process new environments or changes in the environment. This leads to being easily triggered by new things coming into the environment such as that person who is approaching or that dog on the other side of the park. And this leads to the behaviors that we as people don't appreciate our dogs repeating; barking, lunging, jumping, pulling, etc.
One of the reasons I like to meet with new clients at or near a local park is so that I can see how their dog processes the environment we are meeting in. Does the environment stress them? Do I stress them? What coping mechanisms have they developed? And many other questions like this. Then the first thing I want to teach them is how to process new environments safely and effectively as a team. AKA - Take a sniff-a-bout at the start of the training session and slowly work up training new behaviors.
Choosing the Right Leash for the Environment
There are several key factors to consider when it comes to choosing the leash to use on your adventure.
What type of environment will you be in?
What type of distractions do you anticipate?
What level of training does your dog have?
How busy is that environment at that time of day?
What reinforcement do you have available?
Environments play a huge roll in determining the proper leash. The more distractions, the more crowded, the more unpredictable an environment is will shorten the length of your leash. The skills your dog has mastered partnered with the value of reinforcement you have to offer that day will increase the length of leash. Obviously you can only go so short of a leash before it starts to cause other issues such as leash frustration, but there really is no limit to the longest leash you can use other than the handler's ability to manage the extra amounts of leash. A general rule of thumb is to learn how to use a 15-20 foot longline successfully by both dog and handler as a team before growing that leash longer.
Understanding the Dual Clip on a No-Pull Harness and Choosing the Leash Set Up
Using a dual clip harness or a back attached harness with a head halter can be an effective way to manage a highly aroused dog. The harness allows the handler to weight the back end of the dog while guiding the front end and preventing injury. When choosing a front clip harness, a Y front harness that does not tighten when the leash is held firmly.
Choosing the right leash comes down to personal preference. I have leashes of varying weights and lengths that I use for different occasions. If you like the leash you have, adding a carabiner to the handle of the leash is a simple way of converting the leash.
When using a head halter, the dog should be conditioned to wearing a halter. The halter you choose should not tighten when the dog pulls. The halter and harness are management tools to be used until the dog is fully trained. The goal is for the leash to be a connection, not a correction.
Putting Gear on Gear Shy Dogs
Any dog can be gear shy or become gear shy. With little effort we can prevent this or overcome this. Most dogs don't like things that go over their heads. Using a harness that buckles at the neck as well as the belly strap can be a big help. Unfortunately, the snapping sound a buckle makes when closing can be a problem. to overcome this, I use high value treats when applying the harness, collar, or halter.
For gear that goes over the head, I teach the dog to put their head through the opening by putting my arm through the neck opening and having my dog target my hand several times, gradually moving my hand so it is not through the opening. I do this for several days.
Games & Exercises
Longline Walks with Penny
The number one reason our dogs need to go out and about is to explore the environment and sometimes moving around makes that too challenging. When we set out on the mindset of we need to walk a certain distance or be gone a certain amount of time or accomplish x,y,z on this walk, we set ourselves and our dogs of for failure. The main goal of our walk should be to create a pleasant experience for both us and our dog.
From experience I can tell you that a dog who thoroughly explores the environment for 20 minutes is typically more content to go home and nap than the dog who walked for 30 minutes non-stop. Leash manners do not happen overnight! It takes time and patience with a ton of practice for both person and dog. By taking more Slow Sniff-a-bouts & Go Nowhere Walks and less focused walks with our adolescents we prevent them from practicing the behaviors we don't want such as pulling, barking or lunging at a time in their life when their brain is changing so rapidly that they simply can't control themselves. That doesn't mean you shouldn't work on training heels and loose leash while walking with your dog. That means you need to keep those training sessions short and in environments where you know you have a greater chance for success. Make your exercise walks be about the dog and your training sessions about training without mixing the two together for an exercise walk.