Friday, August 8, 2014
You may recall my recent fruitless attempts to teach Bisou to give up her sled-dog ways and walk nicely on leash (http://mygreenvermont.blogspot.com/2014/06/country-dogcity-dog.html ). The only weapons in my arsenal were: 1. treats, which I would administer during those fleeting moments when I could catch her being "good," and 2. stopping dead in my tracks whenever she pulled (every minute or so) and "ignoring" her.
Weapon #1 worked from time to time, but was no match for the lure of a robin hopping on the grass, or a whiff of rabbit. Weapon #2 just made her laugh.
For the first time in my five-year love affair with Bisou, I was starting to feel seriously annoyed by her. I found myself putting off our training sessions until it was almost dark, and looking for excuses to avoid them altogether. And yet, because for very good reasons dogs cannot run free at Wake Robin, Bisou urgently needed to learn to walk on leash.
When my German Shepherds reached adolescence, our obedience teachers unhesitatingly recommended a prong collar. If you are using a flat collar, a big, powerful dog suddenly taking off after a chipmunk can easily knock you off your feet or pull your arm out of socket. So I learned to use the collars properly, and none of my dogs ever gave signs of physical or emotional damage (needless to say, the prongs are blunt, not sharp).
After weeks of frustration, as Bisou pulled me up yet another hill and I began to run out of both patience and treats, trying a prong collar on her began to seem like a possible solution. Given her sweet and gentle looks (Bisou is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel), very few people realize what a tough little customer she is, driven by her spaniel genes to run like the wind and hunt the scurrying denizens of woods and fields. This is a dog who, when she came to us at eight weeks old, met our two German Shepherds without blinking. And when Lexi and Wolfie would get into one of their sparring matches, standing on their hind legs and flashing their teeth, Bisou would run smack into their midst, play-growling with all her heart.
After much thought, I decided that it was important to put an end to the vicious cycle of her misbehavior and my frustration, and to make it possible for both of us to enjoy our walks together. Confident that I could adjust my use of the prong collar so as not to traumatize her. I went to the pet store and bought a small one. At home, before putting it on her, I slipped it around my forearm and gave it a good yank. I didn't feel much, but then I realized that Bisou would have the collar around her neck, so I pulled my hair out of the way, clipped Wolfie's prong collar around my neck, and yanked hard. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't awful, either.
I knelt on the ground and called Bisou. "Sweetie," I said, clipping the collar on her, "I'm doing this for the sake of our relationship."
The minute we stepped outside, Bisou, as was her wont, catapulted to the end of the leash. The collar did its work. "Yikes!" she said, "What was that?" and ran back to me. I took a step and she charged forth. "Yikes! It happened again!" she observed. I took another step, she charged. "Yikes! etc."
And that was that. After the third time, she figured out what was happening and made sure that the leash stayed loose as we walked. I watched her carefully for signs of upset, but she was stepping jauntily, head up, tail high. She was enjoying her walk, and so was I. Since I didn't have to stop every time she pulled on the leash, we covered a lot more ground than on our prior outings. I can hardly describe my relief at no longer having to constantly monitor her, to give or withhold treats, to control my urge to yell at her.
I stopped at a spot with a view of Lake Champlain and gave Bisou permission ("Smell it!") to sniff around. The sun was setting in a clear sky behind the Adirondacks, and my heart felt as placid as the surface of the lake. Having deciphered the messages on the grass to her satisfaction, Bisou looked up at me. "What a terrific dog you are, Bisoulette," I said, meaning every word. And she wagged her tail and trotted happily beside me, all the way home.