On Wednesday, at the end of a long walk that included some beach time, some time in the woods, lots of time playing with dogs, and a bit of re-training the come-command, I had the wind punched out of my sails.
I’ll admit… I’ve dropped the ball in terms of training Gwynn for the past month or so. Things have been getting in the way, and I’ve focused instead on making sure he gets enough exercise, stays cool in the heat, and gets a chance to play.
At some point, in the past month, the ‘come’ command dropped by the wayside. I still used it (or tried to)… but I wasn’t exactly getting the right response. Check out this link for a post about why this ISN’T my dog’s fault. And I believe this to be true. It isn’t his fault that he does EXACLTY what I expect when I let him off-leash – he runs off away from me and finds something gross to eat and ignores me.
In response to this indifference to the command that was once so effective, I started using the long-line in parks. I’ve been… foggy. Muggy… blurry, exhausted, apathetic. Whatever the word, it translates to this: too blah to actually try consistently to fix the issue. I’m sure it’s partly to do with general tiredness, both mental and physical, but I just haven’t been able to muster the necessary… anything… to get my act together, get in gear, DO something. And, like a complete dunce, I’ve gone on almost an entire walk without letting him off the leash – long or short – and then, in a spurt of “what a good puppy you are!”… I let him off-leash, at which point, he does exactly what I was preventing by keeping him on leash. And further use of the come command would just reinforce that he doesn’t have to listen.
Back to Wednesday. Nearly two hours into a walk in which Gwynn actually got a bit of time dragging the leash to frolic in the waves with a beautiful weimaraner (and then ran off and tried to eat an old animal skull… shocking, I know… who could possibly have predicted that?), we were on our way out of the park. Just to be clear – I NEVER let Gwynn off here. When he was good and listened to the come command, I’d still leash him up just before entering this part of the park. Partly because this is where 99% of the goose poop is (and he luuuuuves it), and partly because it’s a big field-ey area with lots of non-doggy people, and NOTHING between that big fun-to-run-in field… and a road.
I was kind of surprised to see a man and his two (gorgeous, red) golden retrievers playing fetch on the far side of the field, right next to the road. These dogs, however, were perfectly in tune with this guy… they were listening beautifully and running around, having a great (and obedient) time.
Gwynn flipped. He went nuts, struggling against his leash, desperate to go play with these dogs, desperate to run straight towards the road, to chase the ball, to frolic in the grass. Having just pulled a rodent-skull of some sort out of his mouth, I wasn’t buying it. Especially not when he was dancing on two feet at the end of the line, lunging and making mad-dashes in an attempt to break free. It was like having a mad gorilla on the end of a leash. This is not how Gwynn usually behaves. Then again, he also answers to the come-command, so, really, how could I be surprised at this new and highly uncharacteristic behaviour?
Since the man and his dogs are on the other side of a soccer field, I tightened up and shortened up on Gwynn’s 6 ft leash, and kept walking down the path. He’s had lots of exercise, and play today… and he doesn’t earn anything by behaving this way.
Summary to this point: Mentally dead Alex knows that she needs to work more on training, knows that this isn’t appropriate behaviour for her dog, and really doesn’t feel capable of doing much more than just get home, and try practicing ‘come’ off-leash, in my fully enclosed backyard… and then sleep. Yes this post is biased to my side… it is, after all, my blog.
Man with really well-behaved, really pretty dogs, from across the field – “Does your dog bite?”
Frustrated at Gwynn trying to pull my arm off – “Nope, he’s quite friendly, just not good off-leash near roads” (yes, fibbing… the truth: right now, not good off-leash, at all)
Snarky wannabe Dog Whisperer – “You should try training your dog”
At this point, Gwynn is still crying and lunging, but from a very short leash being held onto for dear life by his owner who is having a mental breakdown. I realise what it looks like, from a distance, and from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen how Gwynn usually is. I couldn’t muster the ability to deal with this comment, so I didn’t respond… just smiled vaguely (from across the field, which he is now crossing with his perfect freaking dogs… the perfectly groomed dogs he’s walking with, over to me and my scruffy looking, sand covered dog that smells of swamp from his time in the lake) and kept walking.
The guy laughs (like the snarky snark he is) when he sees that my answer is a non-answer, and jogs to catch up to me. His dogs come up, the dogs all exchange sniffs and Gwynn calms down immediately. Friendly to them, but not the demon-spawn I had hooked to the end of my leash a moment ago. As the other dogs tried to initiate play with him, while he’s on leash, he considered it, and then went “meh. Not now, guys. I’m not supposed to pull on my leash.”.
The man dog-whisperers (yes, it’s a verb, now… one I clearly don’t deserve to conjugate in the first person) both dogs into sits (literally, touches the one dog on the muzzle and does a very Cesar-like doggy-mind-meld thing to make her sit), and repeats, “You should train your dog – then he’ll listen to you.”
Miserable, embarrassed, pissed off-but-too-polite/ashamed/embarassed-to-actually-tell-him-what-I-want-to-say … and jealous as HELL that his dogs are so prettily trained and not satanically posessed – “He did listen, but he’s not right now, so he’s on-leash until I can work out his come command enough again that he responds.”
Satanic Dog Whisperer wannabe says, condescendingly – “How old is your dog?”
Wants to go home and sleep and maybe cry for a bit (yes, this is an over-reaction, but I’ve been having one of those… months… since about mid-June, and at this point, I’m really frustrated and exhausted, and my hand
smells like dead thing and fish) – long pause to remember what month it is and what month my dog was born in…because I’m a terrible dog owner…“A bit over a year”
Which gets me a kind of pitying superior look from him, as if to say, “over a year old, and not perfectly trained? What a failure.” “Also, how do you not know your dogs’ exact age, right now?”
I bet his dogs were born house-trained (he trained them while they were in the womb as well), and this obedient by the time they were 6 months old.
I’m not even sure if I said anything else, to be honest… I just left. I spent the remainder of the walk home stewing over this guy, thinking of snappy comebacks that I can never think of when actually faced with someone who is making me upset. I am more of an angry-cry-er than a snappy come-back-er. And, in the midst of my stewing, ridiculously upset that this stranger had, from what I could tell in my highly emotional state, hit the nail on the head.
How could I be such a terrible dog owner? I take him to classes… I try to practice… but I don’t have a wonder-dog of any kind, and what the hell other explanation could there be for the brief appearance of hell spawn at the end of my leash just a few minutes before. I’m just a terrible dog owner, ruining the life of my beloved pooch. I should give him to someone who can properly train him and make his life fulfilling. Like I said… it has been that kind of a month, and I am over-emotional.
Meanwhile, Gwynn walked calmly and loose-leash beside me, even when we walked past some other dogs on the other side of the road from us. Apparently ‘good dog’ fought off the attempted possession of Gwynn by Hell Spawn. Not in time to stop me from moping and being generally down in the dumps for the rest of the evening, unfortunately. And, with my walking buddy embracing her inner wolf-child for the summer, working in the Great White (or Green, since there isn’t any snow in the summer… or black, what with all the mosquitos) North, I had no-one to vent to, or practice training with. MISS HER!
Also… love LOVE LOVE the whole Dog Whisperer thing… I am quite positive that Cesar Milan wouldn’t have been so condescending and jerk-ey… he’d have given suggestions beyond “don’t be a loser- try not to suck so much at life”. This guy was a false-whisperer, and clearly a wannabe… and a hater.
Also also… the title is from the song “New Low” by Middle Class Rut, and it is a great song, very catchy 🙂