We had the pleasure of watching Duke, a beautiful two year old English lab, on a long term house sitting and dog sitting engagement in Louisville. What a great personality! Duke was still very much a puppy (who doesn’t love puppy sitting? 🙂 ) and we loved watching him joyfully learning about the world.
Our time with Duke included highly structured walks. The owner had recently decided to work with a trainer on Duke’s leash reactivity and, asked us to incorporate the trainer’s techniques on our daily walks with Duke.
As a two year old, besides leash reactivity, Duke also was dealing with impulse control — his motto, ‘stop to smell…the mailbox pole, the tree stumps, the garbage cans, the candy wrapper…’ 🙂 . Being very food motivated, it was really easy to get his attention and focus, and we really enjoyed developing better communication with him as we practiced (and practiced!) ‘leave it.’
Leash reactivity is an interesting situation owners find themselves dealing with. We’re certainly not experts, but it’s always interesting for us trying to decipher what’s going on internally for the dog. In Duke’s case, while there seemed to be some component of intuitively reacting to the leash holder’s anticipation of an encounter, there also seemed to be an element of fear, although the owner didn’t specify any previous, traumatic dog encounters. For Duke, a big factor was the unnaturalness of the “meeting” environment — not being able to approach in a natural way and particularly direct eye contact, seemed really frustrating.
At least for the time we were with him, we were able to get Duke to sit and look at us when trigger stimuli were in view, and choose to pay attention to treats as we would walk past other dogs (at a distance), so good progress for the month we were with him! Because working dogs love to learn and “work,” we also taught him “shake” and “back” to reinforce the structure of how we were asking him to learn (pay attention, make an association between a word and the response we wanted from him, get a treat for success or a good effort!)
Duke, as are many labs of any color, loves ball — you could say perhaps he was even a little obsessed with it. He’s a terrific athlete, and it’s a joy to watch his elegance and coordination catching a ball careening off a slope. Here again, we always wonder what he’s thinking — he had an interesting quirk in his play expectation, if we were holding only one ball, he would catch the ball, sit down and chew on it! It took having a second ball in hand for him to return the first ball — you didn’t have to release the second ball, but having it in hand was somehow an incentive for him to bring the initial ball back to be thrown again.
Duke’s open heart. and loving, affectionate nature made him such a joy to spend time with! At two, he was still puppy playful, and loved physical contact — happily for us, this owner was comfortable with him curling up on the couch and sleeping in bed with us, too. (To be clear, we understand both sides of how close do you get to the dogs — dogs do get dirty on the one hand, and on the other hand, they are social “pack” animals that establish bonding with contact. Our rule — just keep it consistent!)
As always, we were so pleased this owner decided long term house sitting and in home dog sitting, was the best solution, for Duke — we loved our time in Louisville, and hope to reconnect with them again!