Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Long Leash Training Akita Service Dog

Here is an updated post on long leash training my Akita Service Dog.
Most of the time Coco is on a six foot leash.  Most of the time she is working when we are out and she is at heel.  Some times I put her on the long leash to give her some freedom of movement, especially on nice days in the park and it also had a result in our training I didn't anticipate.

I used to tug on the leash and couldn't even process the timing of giving her verbal cues before giving her a correction, like changing directions when she wasn't paying attention to where we are going.

This wasn't just obedience training but necessary because I have peripheral blindness from a Traumatic Brain Injury and Coco is trained to keep me from walking out in front of cars.  Something that I rely on her to do and something she does diligently, even when I am distracted and don't see a car coming.

The long leash helped because I had more time to think.  It is a 33 foot long leash and it only cost about $15.  A GREAT investment!

In an earlier post I showed what it was like from the first day Coco and I used the long leash throughout the summer of that same year.  I'm going to put that here for a reference.
Now, a little more than a year later, watch how Coco keeps a watch for me usually before she gets to the end of the long leash and when she feels the slightest resistance.  How we got here was so natural.  I had time to give her a command or a sound to let her know she needed to watch me to see which way we were going.  If she ignored me because she was distracted by looking at another dog I just calmly went in the other direction and she figured it out all on her own.  Her focus has to be on where we are going at all times.

Here is the video I took of her recently.

As you can see Coco is so sensitive to my every move.  One technique that made a huge difference occurred completely by accident.  One of Coco's rescue commands is follow me.  Some times I need her to go first, most of the time she is by my side and on a rare occasion she needs to follow me.  Maybe it is getting on a train or through an area where we can only go one at a time, so it is an important command.

So Coco started letting me know what she wanted when she wanted me to follow her.  Here is a video of her doing that.  Its too cute.
Now we have a specific language.  Coco lets me know if she wants me to follow her because she forgot her toy in my bedroom or maybe she wants to go outside or maybe she wants to show me something in the park or maybe she just wants me to sit with her while she's eating.  She has done this a few times and I went into the kitchen and sat on the floor by her while she ate her dinner.  She doesn't do this often but now and then, she likes the company and maybe she just likes it that I understand what she wants too.

So I decided to let her know I was going to follow her at the park when she was on the long leash.  And off she'd go and I'd say Mama following Coco.  And she was constantly checking to make sure I was still following her.  It was so interesting because I noticed right away that when she was following me we walked on the trails and when I was following her she always walked on the lawns.  She liked smelling everything.  She like walking along the fence line.  She was communicating to me what she liked as well.

Now we are in concert.  I can tell her left or right or forward and she goes in those directions.  If we haven't done this in a couple of weeks she may start to wander and I'll tell her watch me and give her a hand signal.  I rarely give her a command.  Our language is more unspoken these days.  Its more by feel or a sense about where we are going.  There is no more tug of war, regardless how long the leash is that I'm using, because we want to go with each other.  And it doesn't matter if there is another dog around or people around she behaves exactly same way.  Its a beautiful thing.

One last thing, it always bothers me when I see dogs off leash. Especially, in a public park that we all share. I don't care if the dog is large or small, well behaved or not. Most people think they can control their dogs off leash and they are wrong. Dogs are dogs. They see other dogs and they want to run and check them out. I had Coco on a long leash this past month and didn't see anyone in the park. It was getting cold and so I was zipping up my coat and wasn't holding onto the leash with two hands, like I usually do. I looked around and thought oh, its okay. I didn't see any people or dogs around. But Coco saw a couple of Lhasa Apsos on leashes with a man and she wanted to go say hi. We have a neighbor who has one that she loves to play with. It all happened so fast.

Coco started to run and the leash popped right out of my hand. With my brain injury, when things happen fast my ability to process what is happening slows down. I couldn't think of saying stop or heel or even my good old standby hey! She ran over and was doing her cute moves and wanting to say hi and the man was fantastic but my heart was pounding. I was so afraid of her being loose and so afraid something bad would happen. Now Coco is beautifully trained and loves dogs and people and she didn't try to run off. In fact, she was waiting for me to come and see the dogs. But for me, I was a mess. My heart was racing and I couldn't hardly speak. I was glad it all worked out okay. But what if it was an aggressive dog? What if it was a sick dog? Or the owner of that dog had heart problems?

When we are in the public domain we share that space with each other. And it is absolutely crucial for everyone's safety that we keep our dogs on leashes. If a person wants to work their dog off leash, great. But as soon as they see someone else in the park walking in their direction their dog should be brought back to a heel and put back on a leash. Because, even the best trained dogs can get all excited and we don't know anything about the other dog or person involved.

Last year I was walking Coco over to our favorite park.  It has a nice sized pond and it was just a pleasure to walk around it.  People were good about keeping their dogs on leashes and we had many lovely days walking to the park and back.  But one day a young man had three dogs.  One was a Leonberger and one was a Belgian Shepherd and one was a brown dog.  They were all off leash. It is important to remember that all dogs are dogs.  And multiple dogs have a pack mentality and this can make them dangerous.

Coco and I were leaving the park and we were close to road and the man kept coming over toward us.  I said, please get your dogs, I have a heart problem.  Coco had her service dog vest on and because my eyes are sensitive to light I had my dark glasses on.  But he did nothing.  So the dogs swarmed us.  I fell down, which is incredibly dangerous for me with my brain injury.  Coco was standing between these dogs and me and when I fell down she turned and laid across me.  She was looking into my eyes and protecting my body and my neck.  These other dogs grabbed at her and left wet marks all over her but she never once turned to look at them.  Finally, a neighbor boy that came to the park with us and his little sister got between us and the dogs with his bicycle and he told the man to get his dogs.

When I got up I was so dizzy and my heart was pounding so fast I couldn't breathe.  Every breath was a gasp, an audible gasp.  I went maybe twenty feet and fell.  I couldn't see.  Everything was spinning.  My neighbor called his Mom and she called an ambulance and when it came Coco allowed them to put me on the stretcher.  A policeman took Coco and put her in his back seat.  My neighbor was going to take the policeman to our house and put her in the yard and call my daughter.  When Coco saw me going into the ambulance and she realized that we weren't going together he ears went down.  She was so sad.

Because of my brain injury my speech was very slurred and I was having a hard time understanding what the EMT's were asking me.  So when we got to the hospital they ran all kinds of tests on me.  My niece went to get Coco and bring her to me and my daughter got there quickly too.  When I was okay we went home.  That little trip to the hospital cost about $5000.  The man disappeared when he saw the police come.  He lived in one of the nice houses along the water.  And I had heard since that he often still let his dogs run loose there.  Coco and I never go to that park anymore.  And it took me at least six months to work her out of being distracted when she saw other dogs anywhere.  All could have been avoided if that man had taken responsibility for his dogs.  And no, I never sued anybody.

Now I know one thing.  If a person is a good trainer/handler they are also responsible about making sure their dogs are not running loose when other dogs or people are around.  I often see good trainers in the park and they are always aware and act responsibly with their dogs.  Its people who think they know what their dogs will do because they listen to them in their house or yard that cause a lot of problems.  So remember, dogs are dogs.  They can be threatened by each other with a quick glance.  They are going to want to protect you and they may see a potential threat where there isn't one.  You are the one walking your dog and you are the one that is responsible for the safety of your dog and your own safety.  Assuming a dog won't run or act or react like a dog is a silly as, always assuming you can roll a stop sign or run a yellow light or text while you are driving.  You may do those things a million times and nothing bad may happen and then bam, you may do it and cause a serious car accident.  Being responsible isn't a penalty, it is an honorable choice we all can make everyday.

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