Friday, February 5, 2010

Pulling down the house

  There we sat on the coffee shop patio, me enjoying the warm cup of java in my hands and Scoop laying next to me enjoying a bone. The sun was shining, the temperature was a near perfect 78 degrees and I thought I could almost hear blue birds starting to sing a Disney tune.
   I looked up and saw a woman trying to make her way down the street, about a block away, with what appeared to be a small tornado on the end of a string. The tornado darted this way and that, pulled forward and back, darted between the woman's legs and looped around as if trying to tie her up.
   Scoop stopped chewing his bone, observed the same commotion I was taking in and looked up at me questioningly. I'm not sure if he was trying to ask if we should help the woman with tornado on a string, if I could believe what I was seeing or if he could have extra dog treats for putting up with me and not acting that way.
   While alternating between the sidewalk, the curb and the edge of the street, among cries of, "no," "stop," "Rufus please," and "come here," the pair made their way toward the coffee shop — the woman holding the leash in both hands so that it couldn't get away from her. Who knows what damage a four-pound tornado could do when left to its own devices on a busy street?
   Scoop had become disinterested, having seen this many times before, and went back to chewing his bone. I pretended to read the magazine in front of me so that I would not be tempted to offer unsolicited advice.
   "Rufus, no," I heard and looked up from my magazine to see the pomeranian tugging his way toward Scoop and his bone.
   I leaned forward and put my hand into the potential path and wiggled my fingers. The cute ball of fur took the bait and diverted his attention from my dog and his bone to my hand, licking my fingers and wagging his whole body. I told the small dog what a good boy he was and scratched under his chin, then told the woman how cute the orange-colored fluffball was.
   Her shoulders dropped and she explained she had rescued him from someone selling puppies on the street corner, and that the pomeranian was only about 16 weeks old. She also said she was at her wits end because he didn't know anything, including how to walk on a leash. The dog not responding to her was driving her crazy and she was afraid she was not going to be able to keep him.
   It was obvious I was not going to be able to ignore the problem, so I pulled out one of my cards and handed it to her. Then I asked if I could pick her dog up, so I could pet him while I passed on a few tips to her.
   So many times people get a dog, or puppy, and expect it to know what the new person wants without the benefit of being able to speak the native tongue of the person, ask questions or experience new things. Dogs experience things differently than people, and sometimes get excited at new surroundings. Like a human child, dogs and puppies need boundaries set and reinforced.
  If a dog pulls, it's because he or she wants to go in a particular direction and is putting what he or she wants to do ahead of what the person wants to do. Like a child, it is up to the adult to provide instruction, boundaries and direction.
   So, I asked why it was that she let the small dog pull her down the street, when it is obvious that with the size difference, she could stand her ground and cause the dog to pay attention to her and what direction she wanted to go. If you want to go the same direction, great, but if the dog decides he or she is going to pull, you can just stop, or you might need to change your mind and go the opposite direction — if only for a few steps before changing your mind and going the original direction.
   It won't take long before the dog learns to pay attention to what the person is doing and want to stay with you. You don't need any special collars, equipment or super human strength, just stop and hold the leash firm. When the dog gets to the end of the lead, he or she will stop and most likely come back to you to find out what the problem is.
   The woman took a coffee to go and the scene as she headed back up the street was a completely different one than only a few minutes earlier. She would stop when Rufus got in front of her. Rufus would come back to her. Away they walked until she stopped again a few more times.
   The barista asked if that works on any dog, no matter how big it is.
   "It does as long as they were born with more than two legs and a tail," I said, and sipped my coffee.

Blake Ovard is a professional dog trainer and a top-three finalist in the Extreme Mutt Makeover. He can be reached via e-mail at

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