Sunday, June 9, 2013

River's Impressive New Good Manners

This morning River and I took our daily morning stroll. As usual, I used it as an opportunity to practice some of his commands.  We’re working on “heel” which is walking at my side without any tension in the leash.  He’s really gotten good at that. Especially considering when I first got him, he’d pull on the leash as if he were trying to drag me.
After working with a trainer and using food as a lure, I got him to the point where he’d respect the leash. He wouldn’t pull the leash taught anymore, but he did know how long the leash was and would feel free to play within the radius of it. I wasn’t completely happy with it, but it was an improvement over pulling. We're also working on "stop" which includes an automatic sit, and "come" which entails him turning around to follow me when I change directions.

Recently, I had been observing signs of River coming into his adolescence and exploring the boundaries of his acceptable behavior. I understand it’s a normal phase for a two year old dog to go through, but I wanted to take this opportunity to re-introduce him to my authority and discipline. 

So I signed us up for a series of sessions with a new trainer, who specializes in the strong breeds and who’s technique doesn’t use food, but rather relies on the dogs natural desire to connect to and please his human.  I found Stephen Walter and Nitro K-9 Dog training through a search on the internet and I couldn't be more pleased with them.


As you can see in this video, he is such a champ. He blows me away with how fast he adapts. 

This morning was no exception. There is a neighborhood dog that is somewhat of a nemesis of River's. A big, furry female Bernese mountain dog named Saffron.
This isn't Saffron, but this is what she looks like
For whatever reason, right from the moment they first met, they decided they don't like each other and they fight. 
River tends to like the challenge of getting into scraps with dogs much bigger than he is.

Today, as we approached the mailbox on the corner where I was going to drop off some Netflix DVDs, we saw Saffron sitting at the corner cafe with her human. The cafe is about three storefronts down from the mailbox. Close enough to activate their magnetic attraction in the past. But this morning, even though they had locked eyes, I was able to get River to sit at the mail box with Saffron in full view. He was obviously intrigued and wanted to go start something with her, but instead he sat obediently at my command.


My favorite part of this new technique is when I say "OK." When he hears that, he knows it means that I'm releasing him from my control to do whatever he wants. It's so delightful to see that realization register in him and how he perks up and starts exploring the area. He usually makes a beeline for the nearest grass or bush. 

So this morning, I was curious to see where he'd go when I released him; Saffron, or the grass....

To my amazement, he ignored Saffron and headed in the opposite direction to explore the grass on his own, peaceful terms. Never giving Saffron a second thought, he worked his way down the grassy parkway until he found the perfect spot to make his own. 

As we headed home, I was impressed and beaming with pride at River’s newfound manners. I rewarded him by stopping at a patch of tall grass. I know he loves to run through tall grasses, but these days, he’ll trot right past his beloved grassy oases unless I tell him it’s OK to go romp in them. So I stopped and told him 'OK," and he happily explored the grass. 



I noticed a man walking a small dog working their way up the block towards us, so I saw another opportunity to practice with River. As they approached, I told River to ‘sit’, and not to follow his impulse, which was to run up to the dog and sniff her. It took a few requests before he obeyed. He wasn't charging her but he also wasn't sitting right away. He stood in frozen non-action. But after a couple of 'communications' with the leash, he ended up sitting and watching as the strange dog walked by. This would have been unheard of three weeks ago! 

After they had passed by, I gave River an “OK” and he instantly got up and walked into the area where the dog had passed us. I guess he was picking up the scent trail she had left. Whereas the old River would have most assuredly attempted to pull me toward the dog, instead he was content with picking up that scent and then looked to me for further instructions.
"OK. what's next?"


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