Saturday, July 14, 2012

Elvis the Walker Hound

As I mentioned in a previous post, we live with a Treeing Walker Coonhound. For why the breed is called a TREEING walker hound, watch this incredible Youtube video. We got him from the SPCA of Northeastern NC in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

 My Walker's name is Elvis, after the old Elvis Presley song. Like the song says, he does whine a lot at times, mostly when he is bored, which is a lot of the time, despite our best efforts to exercise, socialize, and play with him.

We have purchased four high-quality, durable dog beds for Elvis and our two other dogs, but Elvis likes to spend much of his indoor time curled up in a lawn chair. How he manages to fit, or to climb in and out of it, I don't really know, but he manages.

Elvis, the Treeing Walker Coonhound, relaxing at home
I am proud of Elvis for learning how to walk nicely on a loose leash when he is wearing a buckle collar. We will often put a martingale collar on him, instead of the buckle collar, when we are out walking, though. He can and will back out of a regular collar or even a harness if he smells game nearby. Walker Hounds have no sense around cars at all when they are on a scent, so we try our best not to let him get loose. We also have him micro-chipped to aid in recovery efforts.

The difficulty with teaching him to walk on a loose leash is that Elvis pays humans almost no mind when he is outside. Around the house he is an athletic, energetic doll, but outside he is an athletic, energetic hunter. Period. All he's interested in is his environment and "sniffies" and finding potential prey. After all, he's bred to hunt.

I train my dogs using positive methods. I refuse to use prong, pinch, or choke collars for reasons that have been outlined in many places on the web. But the #1 tool in my positive-training arsenal, food, has no effect on Elvis when he's outside. So what did I do?

I used the environment itself to train Elvis. When he acts in a mannerly fashion and keeps the leash loose, he gets to move forward, sniff, and move in the direction he wants (within reason). When he pulls forward, we stop. If he pulls like mad toward a sniffy, I immediately drag him in another direction so he can't have it. I walk in tight circles with the dog on the outside, almost like lunging a horse, and then resume the walk with Elvis in the proper position when he calms down again. I also walked him a lot in the (boring) middle of the street and only let him over on the nice, sniffy grass when the leash was loose. (Just be cautious not to walk your dog on hot pavement on hot, sunny days. You'll burn the pads of his feet!)

I also used a lot of "micro-stops" to discourage him from getting into a pattern of starting up, pulling to the end of the leash, stopping, then starting over. I can't describe the micro-stops very well, but Ian Dunbar has described something similar in some of his books. The basic idea is, when I start up again, I barely do so--maybe leaning forward or taking a step of an inch or two. Elvis will tend to immediately get excited and pull to the end of the leash, causing me to stop completely. After a series of these false starts, he'll start to hesitate or wait when I lean forward. BINGO! We move forward and keep moving forward at as fast a pace as I can walk comfortably. When and if he gets to the end of the leash, we stop immediately and restart the process of micro-starts. After a while, Elvis will be very careful not to tighten the leash and stop the process of moving.

The most important thing is that I am also VERY consistent about never allowing the pulling. This required a lot of patience on both our parts at first, until Elvis, who is very smart, figured out the rules. Now I can take him anywhere on a collar.

Elvis having fun at the dog park
 Today was Elvis' first visit to the Dog Park at Chesapeake City Park. Recently, when we've been walking, Elvis has been straining to the end of his leash, barking, play-bowing, and acting like a madman (maddog?) when he sees another dog. Since he gets along with other dogs, I took him to our veterinarian for the required kennel cough vaccination, got him a city dog tag and then, with the tag and his immunization records, I got him a  tag for the dog park. I figured if he got some off-leash playtime with other dogs, it would satisfy a need, and he would be calmer around other dogs when I walked him on his leash.

The Chesapeake Arboretum
So far, it seems to work. He enjoyed the dog park, met some other dogs, ran around a lot less than I expected, and sniffed a lot. Then I took him to the nearby Chesapeake Arboretum for a walk on the trails through the woods, which he seemed to enjoy even more than the dog park.

Probably better sniffies!

Anyway, we met some other dogs on-leash on the trail, and although he was excited to see them, he acted within limits I could live with: no lunging, barking, etc. I don't have ESP, but I predict more trips to the dog park in Elvis' future!

The Chesapeake Arboretum is pretty, but the SNIFFIES are wonderful!

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