The Doggy Gauntlet

Snuggling on the couch for warmth!

Jazz and I snuggling on the couch for warmth!

I refer to walking my dog Jazzmin as “Jazzercise” and while there isn’t any up tempo dancing music playing while we walk, it’s definitely exercise! I live in a rather rural and hilly area of Upstate NY and our daily walks are wrought with the usual perils of squirrels, birds and of course, other dogs. There are no sidewalks where I live so we walk in the shoulder but thankfully the town has made the shoulders rather wide. That comes in very handy when a driver isn’t paying attention and Jazz and I have to veer way over into the ditch or shoulder to remain safe. We haven’t had to go ditch diving yet but the way some people around here drive their pickup trucks way too fast, it might yet happen.

As I stated in my earlier post, I equate walking Jazz around here to running a Doggy Gauntlet. My country neighborhood is filled with dogs and if they’re outside the house, they’re rarely on any sort of leash. Then there’s the added excitement of the people who actually walk their dogs…or rather are walked BY their dogs. When I walk Jazz in the snow and cold of winter I never encounter anyone else walking their dog but the moment it warms up they all crawl out of the woodwork!

Jazz likes to pull and until I’ve thoroughly established my calm assertiveness, I walk her on a Gentle Leader. Any other collar I’ve tried, even Cesar Millan’s Illusion collar, doesn’t deter her from pulling. I can’t rely on a collar to control my dog anyway, I’m the one holding the leash, I’m the one who has to be controlling my dog. Yesterday’s running of the Doggy Gauntlet had its ups and downs, and I don’t just mean the never-ending hills. I purposely walked her by houses I know have loose dogs and I even walked by the local kennel. Jazz did quite well walking by the homes with the loose dogs. I had to keep correcting her but we walked by without the dogs running at us and only emitting a couple barks from a fair distance.

I was feeling rather proud of us until we encountered an older woman walking some little puffball white dog. Or rather, being dragged along by her little dog. Jazz gets extremely excited when she sees other dogs on leashes and it doesn’t matter what size they are. We walked by the woman with the dog with more than a few corrections and something of a power struggle but I considered it positive progress. We were almost home when I saw the little Jack Russell Terrier from down the road dragging along its owner. Jazz got excited the moment she saw it and wanted to run over and the little thing started barking at us and Jazz and I failed miserably at getting past with any sort of calm and control. I made the mistake of stopping and trying to make her sit and that didn’t help in the least because she was totally ignoring me. I then had to drag her away as she fought against the Gentle Leader. Once the other dog had continued down the road barking and fighting against its owner and was out of sight, Jazz calmed down and we made it the last stretch home without further incident.I was somewhat discouraged by our failures but encouraged by our successes and my mind was already going over what I’d done wrong.

I walked Jazz tonight in gale force winds and that was extremely distracting for both of us. We encountered one loose dog, an older black lab named Molly and while Jazz got excited, we kept moving and Molly only gave us a couple passing barks as she hung out by her owner and house. In almost the exact same spot we encountered the Jack Russell last night, we came upon a woman walking her Irish Setter and the only difference between it and the Jack was the size. That big fluffy red dog was pulling at the leash and dragging its owner and barking and Jazz was pulling frantically against the Gentle Leader trying to get free from me. I didn’t make her sit this time though, I kept pulling her along and fighting to regain control of her despite the other dog’s continued barking. To Jazz’s credit, she hasn’t barked at any of the dogs we’ve encountered and I consider that a good thing! We made it home safe again and were both happy to get in out of the whipping winds.

I don’t know what the trick is to snap Jazz out of her fixation on other dogs. I’ve tried correcting with the collar, giving her the little side tap Cesar demonstrates and distracting her with treats but nothing is very effective. I do realize that I get tense when I see other dogs and I’m trying really hard to stop doing that but it’s a work in progress.

I do wish I could see her interact with other dogs in a friendlier manner so I knew it was possible but as I can’t possibly afford to pay Cesar Millan to come out here, we’ll continue to muddle through until we get a handle on things. From watching The Dog Whisperer and just from encountering other people walking their dogs with absolutely no control, I know I’m not alone in my struggles and that I’m not a failure.

My goal is to someday be the role model walking pair in the neighborhood. A beautiful woman and her adorable dog walking confidently down the road without any leash pulling, barking or power struggles. The pair that other dog owners around here point to and say to their dog “See?! That’s how you’re supposed to act!”

Leading the Pack

My dog Jazzmin “Sundance” Corbin is an adorable and loving mutt, just like me. I adopted her from a local shelter in January 2012 and my life has never been the same. I wasn’t a strong leader or an alpha dog when I adopted her. I was lonely and wanted a dog to be my companion when my daughters were with their father. Jazz happily took on the role of mama caretaker and pack leader because she sensed weakness in me and thought she needed to be in control. I only know all that now that I’ve started reading Cesar’s Way and watching The Dog Whisperer on Netflix. I can now see everything I’ve done wrong with Jazz and I’m working diligently to fix things.

I should have started reading Cesar’s books last summer when my close friend recommended them. He’s had dogs for most of his life and knows far more about them than I do. I grew up with dogs but I was never solely responsible for one until I got Jazz. My friend has met Jazz and while she dragged me along when he and I walked, the moment he took the leash from me, she was a totally different dog. Calm, obedient, attentive and eager to do whatever he asked.

In truth she was still the same dog but the energy my friend emitted was far more in control and “calm assertive” than my usual tense, worried and uncertain energy. That day he showed me that Jazzmin could be the dog I wanted her to be. Did I run right out and get Cesar’s books that moment because he suggested them? No. Why? A mixture of stupidity and stubbornness I suppose. But that was then and this is now and as Jazzmin lives in the now, all she cares is that her mama is finally fulfilling her as a dog.

While watching The Dog Whisperer I see a lot of dogs with behavior issues similar to Jazz. What that really means is that their owners are emitting the wrong energy and those dogs have become the pack leaders. I’m working really hard on improving my energy. I can be an overly perky and optimistic person sometimes but I have trouble believing in my own strength. I need to focus my positive outlook on myself and stop doubting my abilities. Becoming Jazz’s pack leader is extremely beneficial for both of us. Having more confidence in myself and taking on the role of pack leader allows Jazz to relinquish the role she never really wanted. It also improves who I am as a person and how I function in every aspect of my life.

I’ve been working on asserting myself as the pack leader for almost two weeks now. I get up early on the mornings I have my girls and walk her around the yard and driveway for 20-30 minutes. When I don’t have the girls I take her for longer walks after work. Jazz and I have greatly improved on the walk. She’s not pulling all the time and she’s less distracted by every bird, leaf, stray breeze and particle of dust we walk by. We’re still working on how she reacts to other dogs but we’ve made great progress! Last night I walked the “Doggy Gauntlet” with her. The Doggy Gauntlet is how I describe purposely walking by houses where I know the dogs are allowed to run free and it also includes walking by a local kennel. I walked Jazz with a Gentle Leader and an Outward Hound backpack weighed down with a couple of water bottles. (The Beanie Baby cargo in the pictures was just to get her used to the backpack and to make my youngest daughter smile.)

How did our walk through the Doggy Gauntlet go? Well, we lived to tell the tale but that tale will have to wait until the next post. Stay tuned!