Working on Walking Calmly

Note: As I look back on this journal entry, I see that my future probably is not in dog psychology. A.J. is a very energetic Springer Spaniel who needs tons of exercise and interaction. So while some of what I was guessing at in this entry was probably accurate, a lot of it was just me desperately trying to figure out how to communicate with this crazy young dog.

September 16, 2013

I came up with a new idea as to why A.J. turns into such a monster when he’s on his walks. Maybe he’s overstimulated. His paperwork said he spent all his time in the backyard with no walks. Now, the fact that he’s completely housetrained, wants to spend his time on couches and beds, and wants to walk on my left, all say otherwise. But what could be true is that he spent all or most of his time outside the last couple of months before he was turned over to the shelter. That means he was pretty isolated before he was even a year old. So getting out into the world could really be overwhelming for him, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it.

I tested the theory out this morning on our walk. We would stop, but his nose never did. At one point I started walking him in circles around a small island in the parking lot. We had to have gone around a dozen times, but eventually he lost interest in the island and anything around it and just walked nicely. Every time something caught his interest, he pulled and lost focus. We did a lot of circles. He did do better at looking and me and responding to me when I told him to sit, I think because I kept doing the circles and bringing his focus back.

Note from today: Nope, he was just bored, looking at me to see if we could do something besides go around in these dumb circles.

We came home, ate breakfast, and I took a shower. Around 10:00 or so I decided to take A.J. to the park. We drove into the parking lot and I opened the back of the car and just sat in back with A.J. while he was able to look around and smell this new place. It started to get hot so I couldn’t wait for him to calm down completely, but he got reasonably well-behaved and was listening so I let him out.

We started walking through the parking lot towards the park. We got about two feet when I turned him around back toward the car. Every time he started pulling hard on the leash trying to charge ahead or veer off to smell something we turned around and took a few steps back to the car. He walked nicely when we turned away towards the car. It took us at least 10 minutes to walk the 20 feet to the park entrance. We got into the park, I asked him twice to sit and gave him a little tap, but he refused, so we turned back out of the park again. The next try we got in and he sat nicely. There was a shaded area another 15 feet away, so we headed for that. Progress was a little more quick there because he put his head down and sniffed, but without really pulling.

There was a nice flat rock in the shade, so I sat down. A.J. sniffed around and looked around. He would get to the end of the leash and pull hard. Eventually I’d call him back and he came right away. He got a lot of praise for that. Eventually he’d again reach the end of the leash, then turn back on his own, again getting tons of praise. A few times he came back and just sat down next to me. He even climbed onto the rock and sat next to me on the rock, it was very cute. After about 15 minutes at the rock I decided he’s had enough for the day and we went back to the car. We had to do a couple of turn-arounds on the way back, but it wasn’t bad. While we were there he was able to watch birds, cars, and a lot of bikes go by. He was very tired when we got home and slept a lot.

So I think my theory is panning out, he just needs to get out more, take it slowly, and figure out he doesn’t need to go crazy and react to everything. It’s going to take a long time, but I think it might work. I hope so anyway. I’ll try to get him to the park at least three days a week. If we can eventually calmly walk the 20 feet into the park I’ll know we’re making some real progress.

We capped the day off by making another trip to the vet (cheat grass abscess still not healing). There was another dog in the lobby and A.J. went nuts. Sigh. Someday.

On the bright side: The vet tech is crazy about A.J. When we picked him up from the vet, she was excited to tell us something cute he did. While he was coming out of anesthesia, she was scratching him and before he even started to open his eyes his little stumpy tail started thumping.