Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Akita Leash Training - The Pivot

There is one thing I learned when I was looking to guy a horse for my daughter.  Every time we went to go see a man about a horse, that horse was the very best breed of horse you could buy.  Along the way, I asked lots of questions.  And I realized that actually the best horse we needed for our gravel road and for the trails and woods she would be riding in was... a mule of course!  A sweet, big ol' Tennessee Walker mule!

So when someone asks questions about training, we all share different experiences.  We see life through the lens of our own experiences. 

I loved raising my children on our farm.  Having the comfort of my farm around me; my Akitas and llamas and donks around me was wonderful.  But when the kids were grown and gone and finding their own lives I knew I couldn't take care of the farm and my animals alone.  And I couldn't afford to pay anyone to do it.  So with the help of my sister, I made the best decision and sold the farm and moved close to my sister.  It was the best decision without a doubt.

Five years after the move my second Akita Bear died and I thought, I'm not going to make it.  I started fostering and put my name on the list for a service dog.  I knew I couldn't function without one any more. And then someone decided to donate an Akita to me to be my service dog.  Wow.  Did I have it in me to train one to be a service dog?  I started fostering and reading and watching DVDs and asking questions and talking with trainers I met online and getting advice. Coco and I did fine that first year.  Socializing her and applying everything I understood from large animal training and the things I had learned prepared me for just about everything.  But leash training.  I didn't have the strength or understanding to control that.  And I use that word intentionally.  Because I found out, control was not the issue.

I was watching a special on wolves and I noticed when they were hunting, and one fell behind or was attacked, the others fell into a formation.  A loose formation that created an eventual circle around their prey.  And it dawned on me... the leash wasn't my tool to control Coco.  It was our link, our pause to a better understanding of what we needed from each other and how we understood life around us. 

I tried every technique to conquer the problem.  Every collar.  Oh man.  I wondered if I had made a great big mistake.  And I loved her so much that I just gave myself over to the idea that I wouldn't be doing book tours or art exhibits.  My life would be small but I would still write and paint and love my Akita (and don't tell anybody but my dingbat cats too) and accept it.  And then I learned that a the vying for control wasn't really a control issue.  It was a checking in with me issue and me not getting it.  We went through a service dog training school program and it was intense.  We were in training for a total of 2 years and 3 months.  And it was amazing and hard and some times I didn't know if we'd make it and then we did.

Then loose dogs attacked us twice in a couple of months and Coco became very dog reactive.  Not good for a service dog.  With my Traumatic Brain Injury, peripheral blindness and balance issues; it was crucial to my safety that Coco was always alert.  Watching for a car in a parking lot instead of a dog could mean life or death for me.  It was not a problem that could be compensated for.  We had to find a way through it.  Again I asked trainers and read more books and tried everything and we got back to where she was, not being dog reactive.  But it took about 9 months.  And it was hard and my shoulders hurt and I still didn't have it right.

And then I went to a two collar situation.  One that fit comfortably at the base of her neck and a wide one that fit snugly at the top of her neck that was more snug, with a large D-Ring.  We refined our walk, with distractions.  But the frosting wasn't on the cake until I adopted this little mixed breed lost cause dog, Rider.  Who has been a HUGE challenge! When we went on our first walk in the park it became clear that this little guy had never been on a leash.  The pulling and constant tugging was really painful.  And then it hit me.  Actually, after watching videos of blind dogs walking their dog partners.  There was no vying and there was no fear.  Just gentle trust between them.  And that's when I decided to do leash training specifically to address tugging.  And I combined my llama and donkey training with leash training.  We walked and as soon as I felt a tug in another direction I turned away from it and either stood there or kept walking.  Whichever was necessary to keep their focus on me and where we were going.  And it worked.  If we don't go together then we don't go at all.  No lunging.  No struggle.  No sore shoulders.  No aching back.  No need for super human strength.  Nope.  Just we don't move unless we move together.

Akitas are great thinking, problem solving creatures.  They are capable of thinking independently that is truly remarkable.  And when we get in sync with each other there is an ability to work as teammates that is unparalleled. 

So all that good stuff being said... when you are facing a challenge with your Akita, there may be, no there will be a  variety of techniques people will share that work.  And what works for one person, may not be the best approach for another.  Keep an open mind and try different techniques until you find those that work for you and your Akita.  We don't need to defend our reasons or criticize anyone else because they use different techniques.  Its all good.  It is all good. 

Here is a rough video of  The Pivot leash technique.

Alrighty, its time for our walk and it is going to be a pleasure.  The sun is out and I've got some great boots so here is to hoping I don't fall on my ars along the way.  Have a great day everybody. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for your video. I have such a hard time with my girl being so dog reactive that I have stopped taking her on walks. I am looking forward to trying all that you talked about. I miss having my girl by my side. Again, thank you.