Hi! This is Tracy Krulik, the founder of iSpeakDog. I wanted to introduce you to my pup, Emma the Beagle, and share how learning to speak Dog has helped me transform Ems into a confident, happy girl.
When most people think of Emma, they go straight to separation anxiety, because that has been our greatest hurdle to overcome with her. But I'm going to share a story today about our challenges getting Emma to walk politely on-leash.
The busy streets of our old neighborhood were overwhelming for Emma when she came to live with us in 2014. She'd simply shut down amidst all the hustle and bustle of cars, bikes, buses, kids, dogs, strollers, etc. But when we moved out to the quiet suburbs in June 2015, our little girl walked like a champ.
So, a month later, I was stunned when Emma stopped in her tracks out the front door and refused to walk down our peaceful path. One day she walked fine, and the next day, no budging. I was so frustrated and even embarrassed that we were the ones with that "stubborn" dog who had to be "bribed' with food or carried to go on walks, so I turned to a trainer for help.
This woman, a certified professional trainer with more than 20 years of experience, told me that I was being too lenient with Emma. She needed to learn boundaries -- that was why she "misbehaved" when we left her alone and why she wasn't properly walking. The trainer then took us outside and tried to walk. Emma held her ground. So the trainer took Emma's leash, looped it around Emma's neck, and started to walk again. This time, when Emma didn't move, the trainer pulled hard and dragged Emma down the street.
I was in shock. It took me about 10 seconds to snap to, at which point I kicked the woman to the curb. I figured I'd just have to load up with food to entice Emma down the street or carry her to her preferred starting point.
Is this dog upset?
Emma was upset! She wasn't being stubborn or in need of a lesson for misbehaving -- Emma was scared.
Vote With Her Feet
So I decided to let Emma "vote with her feet," as Jean says. Whatever Emma wanted to do was fine by me. She could head back inside, sit on the path and ponder life, or she could move -- whatever made her feel comfortable.
At first we sat there -- nothing moving except Emma's nose, which was taking in all of Nature's perfumes. Then after about 10 minutes, Emma got up and headed into the mulched plant beds for a sniff. Her nose led her along the perimeter of the house and under the bushes, and she zigzagged and circled around. After Emma got all of her sniffs in, she headed back to the path, and then she and her waggy tail led me down the street for a long walk.
My husband and I had never given Emma the opportunity to get to know her new environment. Whereas we explore with our eyes, dogs explore with their noses. Emma clearly needed to investigate to make sure her surroundings were safe. Once she did, she had no problem walking down the path again.
iSpeakDog Three-Step Formula
To show that I practice what I preach, I use iSpeakDog to help me remember to ask the "Is this dog upset?" question. The moment I become frustrated because Emma has stopped walking, and that niggling voice in my brain screams, "She's being so stubborn!" I remind myself that I need to be empathetic and answer the three How to Speak Dog questions.
Interestingly, by using the formula, I was recently able to solve the puzzle of why Emma suddenly stopped walking on our front path:
That path might have been peaceful in the day, but for many nights in a row, it was like a war zone to Emma. We needed to be patient with her and help her learn that she could feel safe there again.
How I Help Emma Walk
So that's my tale of Emma the Beagle's walking conundrum. Today when she freezes, I have a variety of games that we can play to get her moving again. If she makes eye contact with me, I say "yes" and she walks to me for a treat. Or we play the hand-touch game, or the perimeter game, where if she walks within two feet of me, I say "yes" and give her a treat. It's so heartwarming to see Emma forget why she was scared and instead wag her tail next to me.
Good Help Is Hard to Find
As a side note, it's crazy to me that a certified trainer with 20 years of experience immediately jumped to blaming me and labeling Emma as "difficult," rather than evaluating Ems to see if she was upset and then helping her overcome her fear. That's why we provide information on iSpeakDog on how to choose a dog trainer, so that you can find a truly qualified trainer who will help you rather than make you feel bad about yourself and then scare your dog. (Was that too harsh to say? Nah. I'm sticking with it. I've seen too many dog trainers do the same thing.)
Share Your Story!
How has iSpeakDog helped your relationship with your dog? We'd love to hear from you. Fill out a form on our Share Your Story page, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What's Up With All That Sniffing?!?
Read the article by Marc Bekoff that inspired this post.