Sunday, October 12, 2008

From Heal to Heel

While Baxter was subjected to obedience training as a youth, little Kirby managed to get a pass. For one thing, he was always so good at mimicking whatever Baxter was doing, he learned most of his commands without a whole lot of effort from us. But the one thing that a good obedience class helps a dog (and their human) learn is how to walk at heel or close on a leash without pulling hard. Of course, whether or not said dog chooses to pay attention to the command is another matter and mostly the fault of the human methinks).

Baxter is fully aware of the command to walk at heel or close. With biscuits in my pocket he's capable of near-perfect execution of any command. (Sans biscuits he prefers just a slight bit of tension on the leash, but he's been pretty good lately.) Of course, no dog is perfect, and with or without biscuits at stake, the sight of a cat running across the street will send Baxter into a lurching frenzy that ends up bringing my shoulder to the brink of dislocation -- thus the Gentle Leader.

Kirby, on the other hand, is smaller and much easier to control, so the pulling has chiefly gone unchecked. He can run full speed out to the end of his leash without so much as dislocating one of my fingers. Over the past 10 months we haven't been walking very long distances, but if we don't put his harness on him and just go with the collar, the gagging, wheezing and constant pull at the leash is even more unnerving. Shame on us for not ever teaching him to walk at heel or at least close (heel is actually a bit unnerving, I find, with a little dog...too close to being under foot).

So today we took advantage of the nice, cool, sunny morning to try to give Kirby a lesson. He is a quick learner. He's so responsive to any sort of harsh tone or movement, the mere act of barking a command along with a quick snap of the leash (no chain collar required) pretty much stopped him in his tracks. It took a few blocks for him to realize these were not just a chain of random jerking events, but once he made the connection, he was really quite good at checking himself when he got a pull going.

I know, this will take consistency and effort on our part to instill the importance of not choking himself every time he's out for a walk, but I think Kirby gets it. Now if big brother Baxter can set a consistently good example, we'll all be having a much better time on those long walks to come.

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