Team Ups: Alyosha & Bayou
Morning Trip Report 10/4/2019 — Alyosha & Bayou Team Up
We (the dogs and I) walked alone today, and a good thing. There were no witnesses to the circus and acrobatics.
The only way I have found to teach loose-leash walking is to have no ambitions for getting anywhere. If the leash is tight, my feet stop forward momentum. If the dogs don’t get the concept, I reverse directions. Every single time there is tension on the leash, I say an automatic OOPS.
(It’s so automatic for me, when I saw a kid yanking his mother along by her arm in Walmart, I said it outloud. Then I had to bite my lip so I didn’t tell her — the mother — to make him stop!!!)
I consider tight leashes RUDE and dangerous. For me and the dogs. Considering I have Alaskan Malamutes who have been bred to PULL for upteen-thousand generations that may seem contradictory, but it’s not. Sled dogs don’t pull by their collars, they pull by their harnesses. The collar puts pressure on the neck. The harness puts pressure on the chest. Two vastly different situations because the chest has BONE to pull against and the neck has a WINDPIPE. Think about what you are doing to a dog who is allowed a routinely tight leash. And a dog who constantly puts pressure or yanks on his leash is going to eventually knock me down. I don’t bounce like I used to. Besides that our conditioning is for backcountry hikes, so a dog who yanks me off my feet may do so in an untenable situation, even if I did bounce, I may not be able to get out of wherever I ended up after I regained my footing.
When I train a sled dog for team pulling a sled or cart or scooter, I start with groundwork, just like you do with horses. If you think of your cute little puppy as a 1200# stallion, you have an idea of the potential for problems down the road. I want to have reliable commands on FOOT before I add SPEED in the form of wheels or POWER in the form of teammates. And if there is an ounce of instinct in your Malamute, as soon as you add a teammate and they are leaning shoulder-to-shoulder into their harnesses, they are gonna wanna fold those ears back, block out everything else in the world, and pour on the power. Which is where it gets dangerous if there is a human on the other end of all that power and not a vehicle with darned good brakes.
So you create the ACTIVE leash walking response while you’re on foot and you have their attention. And ACTIVE leash walking means the DOG is monitoring the leash more than you are. The DOG is maintaining a loose leash while you focus on your forward momentum. It is the DOG’s responsibility to do his part with the leash while you do your part with navigation and looking out for possible dangers. This is the first phase of teamwork, not the teamwork of a sled team, but the human-dog teamwork that translates to every aspect of their lives with you.
So our conditioning plan for backcountry backpacking starts with loose-leash walking. Solo.
Then we team up.
My original plan was to add backpacks next, but it’s still “big-tongue weather” here in the balmy South. The cool front won’t hit until the end of the weekend. So with some trepidation, we started Team Ups today.
And remembered the ZERO AMBITION for distance. However many steps we make, they 100% will be on a loose leash. That’s my ambition, not distance covered. But success for loose-leashes.
Which means we walked in circles in the driveway for about 10 minutes, me constantly going OOPS and reversing directions. The dogs not understanding because:
We’re supposed to go on a walk, aren’t we? We have leashes, it’s early in the morning, you’re wearing your walking shoes, we’re wearing our collars. Why aren’t we GOING somewhere!?!Alyosha & Bayou this morning
The first 100 yards and the last 100 yards are the most challenging. Followed closely by anytime an unexpected critter jumps across our path and scurries up a tree. That’s always exciting.
So we start out and I make sure they get a good zoom around the yard to burn off the initial spike of energy. I kept sending them round and round. Finally they returned to me, tongues lolling. Time for leashes. Out the gate we go, and BANG they hit the end of their leashes. Forget pictures, I’m trying to stay alive here on grass with two demon dogs at flank speed!
But round and round and round we go and besides monitoring leash pressure, I’m monitoring WHICH one I have to correct with a leash in each hand. And verbal praise for when she is good and he’s not. And patience, patience, patience.
Maybe we’ll get to the end of the driveway and maybe we won’t.
Which is a mental game we play, because of course they WILL figure it out. Malamutes are some of the smartest dogs in the world, but we meager humans have to figure out how to motivate them. And this morning their motivation is beating feet down the path. So 100% of the time when their leashes go tight, I stop forward momentum with an OOPS and but on the brakes… or the Keens, but you get the point.
So they figure it out.
They figure it out so well, I feel we can cross the highway and OOPS!
I will not be dragged. I will not be dragged. I will not be dragged.
I don’t care who is watching. And yes, people were watching. They slowed down to watch the crazy lady spinning in circles with her arms flipping around overhead as dogs went in two different directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise. Oh, well. I’ve been the crazy dog lady in my community for a while now.
But the dogs did figure it out and we did get loose leashes and we did get forward momentum. And we did get across Clacks crossing and down Old Dixie Lee and they were doing so well, we stopped for a breather and some pictures.