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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When You Need Physical Control

My friend Mac called me in tears.

"I think I'm going to have to get rid of Sheena," she said, referring to her 60-pound puppy who's an Irish Setter mix. "I just can't control her, and she's getting into everything."

Mac has mobility problems following a bad accident many years ago. She has some strength and balance issues, but she's a tough lady who's not afraid to take on a challenge. Sheena was an adorable little three-month-old when Mac adopted her from the local shelter. Now, predictably, Sheena is at that problematic and awkward age (about 10 months). She's digging, jumping fence, knocking Mac over, and pulling hard on the leash.

This is a scenario I've dealt with countless times in the past 18 years. Someone gets a really cute puppy, and the dog grows into a difficult-to-control bundle of energy that seems like too much for the owners to handle.

If Mac were elderly or severely disabled, then re-homing might be a good option for both her and the dog. But she's neither. She can handle this rambunctious puppy, given the right tools and a little guidance. If you're having similar difficulties with a good-natured but strong-bodied dog, take heed. This is a fixable problem!

First, understand what the dog needs MOST: EXERCISE! No, not the kind they get running around a back yard by themselves. They need sustained exercise like you get on a treadmill, or like soldiers get in a forced march in basic training.

"What's the farthest you are able to walk right now?" I asked Mac.

"Maybe two blocks," she answered.

"Can you do that twice a day?"

"Yes, I think so, but she's so strong she'll pull me over."

"Not with a Gentle Leader and a short-handle leash," I replied.

The Gentle Leader is a head halter. It works the same way a horse halter does. Horses are easy to lead and turn if you have a rope attached to a halter ring under the chin. The Gentle Leader works exactly the same way. The leash attaches under the dog's chin, rather than around his neck. So you control the dog's head, and thus the direction of his body. Even the strongest dog is unable to pull away on a Gentle Leader. He may fight the device for a few minutes, but ultimately the dog will settle down and accept the fact that you have control of his head. This device is virtually pain-free, so the only discomfort it causes the dog is in his mind.

The short-handle "Mongrel" leash made by EZDog is the other half of this control system. Mac's dog is fairly tall, so this leash works out perfectly for her. The leash attaches to the underside of the Gentle Leader. The padded rubber leash handle provides such a firm yet comfortable grip that it's secure in Mac's hand, even if Sheena tries to pull away. Mac is now able to walk like a leader, comfortably and safely holding Sheena's head at her left leg.

Each day following their walks (which, hopefully, will lengthen in time), Mac will conduct some "home schooling" with Sheena--teaching her some basic commands and tricks, and doing mind exercises with her to keep her thinking. Sheena is best able to think clearly just after an exercise session, so this is the optimal time for training.

Cesar Millan prioritizes the dog's needs this way: FIRST, exercise. SECOND, discipline (home schooling), THIRD, affection. After all, a dog who's mentally and physically tired is irresistably lovable.
Mac, and a whole lot of other folks out there, just need some good tools, guidance and resolve to see their dogs (and themselves) through these rambunctious puppy phases. Sometimes there's just no substitute for aging. By the time a dog is three or four years old, she'll likely be pretty mellow and laid-back. The trick is to get both the dog and owner to that point, without giving up on each other!

1 comment:

sharwid said...

i have a retriever and put a halti collar on him and he went crazy to the point I thought he was going to hurt himself. I have trouble when other dogs are around as he wants to play with them and now we are doing this with ccars. I have even gotten a broken shoulder as he is harf to control. No I refuse to get rid of him as most of the time he is well behaved. I hate gentle leader as it can cause a sore on the nose because its too thin across the nose. i want to try a regular harness but my husband says no. I have no idea what to do as I am not strong enough when he gets like that. I take him out around every 2 hours or so at which time most of the time he is just fine.But the few times he is not I do not know what to do I have a special leash that connects at his collar wraps around the belly the handle feeds through a special ring and when he pulls it tightens around his abdomen and suppose to make him stop but he does not stop. I have his brother who minds much better hardly ever misbehaves. I do not know how to keep choo in hand so he does not turn into the wild guy. At home i keep a fire screen by front door to keep him from running out the door as he is afraid of it and it does work.I have a back injury and do not need him pulling on me. What else can I do ? Ty Charlotte Wideman