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Real-Time Dog Training: A Rant

Last Friday on Twitter, I posted a Mini-Rant that prompted a few people to ask what on earth had happened. There is NO way to tell that particular story in 140 characters, so here is the full-sized rant.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of well-planned dog training that takes place in a relatively controlled setting so that we afford our dogs every opportunity to succeed. These scenarios form the critical foundation for the behavior modification work Lilly and I undertook all these years ago.

However, I am also pragmatic, and I understand that training in the “real world” remains both important and useful.

Indeed, I often use (or am forced to use) myriad of scary realities, including encounters with other dogs, as training fodder as Lilly makes her way in the world.

For example, when we go for walks and dogs race out to their fence lines or property lines to bark and jump and make scene (which all the dogs up here do, including mine), I work to counter-condition those moments (with food) so that Lilly is less afraid and can cope with the noise and proximity of other dogs.

I typically cross the road (or get as much space as possible between her and the barking dogs). I hustle Lilly along with purpose and a certain speed so that the encounter is as brief as I can make it. I put myself between her and the other dogs, and we work hard to appear as non-threatening as possible.

While I’m tending to my sensitive and fearful girl, I take into account the other dogs’ behavior. I do not talk to them. I do not look at them. I tip my shoulders away from them, and … again … I give them some space (by crossing the road with Lilly). In other words, I do my best not to make things worse for any of the dogs in the encounter.

So, last Friday, when I saw some guy I’ve never seen, with two dogs I’ve never seen, spend a good 10-15 minutes standing on the road right above our fence while Lilly and Ginko flipped out, I was pissed.

While cleaning house, I kept an eye on my two monkeys out various windows. I actually saw this guy and his dogs coming up the road, so I immediately went out to round mine up:

a) because I really don’t want Ginko hurting his knees jumping and running around

b) because I don’t want Lilly getting all stressed out

c) because I do my best to keep the dogs from getting the chance to practice this particular behavior (I want them to see dogs and think, “Where’s Mom with the food or toy?”)

I grabbed a squeaky toy and high-value treats and made my approach. My goal? To get them away from the fence and as close to me and engaged with me as I could before the guy and his dogs got to our house.

No luck.

So, I got closer and closer until Ginko, at least, could hear me and respond.

It’s something Gigi teaches, where you cannot just stand in one spot and holler at your dog to COME despite the distraction.

When I got Ginko to move toward me, and he realized I had the REALLY GOOD treats, getting him back to the house was pretty simple.

At this point, Captain Brilliant is standing right there at our fence, while Lilly barks and leaps and generally freaks out that he AND his two dogs are basically staring at her. Full-on, frontal facing, staring at her while she has a fit.

I’ve already gone out and back and out again on our long-ass driveway, so several minutes have passed, but I literally have to walk all the way up to Lilly at the fence before she calms down enough to “hear” me.

Once she does, she follows me back toward the house without issue.

I say to the guy that I’m sorry my dogs caused a scene, and I kid you NOT, he replied, “That’s OK. I’m using them to train my dogs.”

Really, I do NOT mind people using my dogs in real time to do a little training, but … seriously … standing there and baiting my dogs to misbehave so that you can teach your dogs God knows what? C’mon, man!

What? Did you attend the Jack Ass Academy for Canine Drama?

Clearly, they were barking at YOU, so how about you move you on down, move on down the road?

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Lisa - March 11, 2010

What!? Oh my. I truly don’t understand how some people’s brains work.

Hilary - March 10, 2010

This Capt. Brilliant gets around. He was at MY back fence “training” his dogs with mine, while mine were fiercely barking telling him and his dogs to leave. Unfortunately, my dogs were not as good as yours! Thanks for this (and so many other) wonderful post!

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell - March 10, 2010

People are idiots.

Roxanne Hawn - March 10, 2010

I didn’t say anything to him. ( feared what I might say, so I just turned my attention to Lilly and walked back toward the house.

Susan - March 10, 2010

What on earth did you say to Captain Brilliant after *that* response????
What a total jackass. I’m so sorry.

Allie - March 10, 2010

Oooh, I can see why you were mad. How annoying! Your dogs were clearly stressed out, but he apparently didn’t care about that. Sheesh.

KB - March 10, 2010

I think that I would’ve said even more than you did! Better you than me!

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