Polar Trex Dog Boot Review

In a recent post, I told you a little bit about how much of a pain the dog boots I first got Gwynn were.  I also explained why the weather in Toronto last winter was such a bizarre combination of abysmal (seriously, SO. MUCH. RAIN.), and lacking in severe weather conditions.  I got new boots… Gwynn got new boots… it’s a miracle winter came this year, frankly.

Ruffwear was nice enough to send me a set of their Polar Trex dog boot.  What most interested me about their boots was that they don’t use velcro.  The boot is held on with (and I quote, here) a Cam buckle ankle strap and cord loop closure system.  My hope for this was that, if snow did get into the system, it would still function.

winter evenings... not ideal for photography.  deep snow... not ideal for showing off boots.

winter evenings… not ideal for photography. deep snow… not ideal for showing off boots.

The next thing I noticed was that the rubber sole of the boot is by the same company that produced my toe shoes.  That isn’t what you’d call ‘pertinent’ information, but it is information.

I’m going to break it down into aspects of the whole boot experience, so bear with me.

Ordering:

If you’re not in the United States, trying them on in-store won’t be an option.  That being said, they go into great detail about the sizing online, and I chose the right size pair for Gwynn based on the measurements of his paws.  DO trace your dog’s foot and measure it – I think they quite purposely didn’t mark their sizing down as small, medium, large, etc – because your large dog might have medium sized feet.  Gwynn looks like a ballerina in his boots, his surprisingly dainty feet usually covered in a thick muppet-like coating of hair.  4/4 paws!

Donning and Fitting

The back ones are easy – he practically puts them on himself by trying to put his foot down.  The front ones require a bit more shimmying around, but with practice, it’s getting easier to do – basically, his wrist gets in the way.

They have some good tips, and a video talking about how to adjust the boot properly, which I found very helpful.  The strap needs to be pulled tighter than I did the first few times, but I’m getting better at it.

I am very happy with the buckle closure, and with the additional strap and loop closure at the top of the boot.  The only way I could think of to improve that would be to make it a plastic snapping-buckle with adjustable strap (like on many collars).  Then I could, mostly, keep each boot at the correct tightness for fore- and hind-legs.

I’m not entirely happy about the way the boots fit on his front legs – they come up over his Carpal Pad, which I think is a big part of why the front boots don’t stay on nearly as well as the back boots.  It doesn’t seem to make him uncomfortable, but it’s not ideal.  They should consider selling the boots with a shorter front-set.  If either of their other types of (non-winter) boots had the buckle closure, I’d consider getting two of those to use on his front legs, since they’re a lower boot.  Velcro+snow, however, generally means rummaging through snowbanks, trying to find that boot.  Based on some of the reviews on their site, I wonder if Gwynn might need a different size of boot for his front paws.

Gearing up and Fit – 2/4 paws!

The front boots had a tendency to work their way down, until they eventually flew off when he put on a burst of speed.

The front boots had a tendency to work their way down, until they eventually flew off when he put on a burst of speed.

Quality

The boots have held up quite well to a few months of off-and-on usage.  They don’t seem to be getting salt-damaged, and all the seams are solid.  After they’ve been out in fresh snow, they look just as good as when I took them out of the box.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Just based on the construction of these boots, I wouldn’t have any concerns with ordering other products from the Ruffwear website.  4/4 paws!

Wear

The first time I put them on him, I held in so much laughter that my stomach hurt for days.  Want to see a dog act like the ground is lava?  Yeah.

He got used to them within short order – just get the dog moving around outside, and they’ll tend to forget about the boots.  Both Ruffwear and I strongly recommend tightening the boot after you’ve been walking for a while.

Additionally, I’d suggest checking/tightening the strap every half hour or so, if your dog is off-leash and running around in the snow.  We had a beautiful snowfall last friday, and spent 2 hours out walking in the woods, with Gwynn off-leash and running like a madman.  By then, I’d had much more practice with getting the boots tight enough, and before letting him offleash at the park, I retightened them.  An hour later, he still had the boots on.  Downside – I didn’t check them and retighten at that point, and I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find a lost boot (soon followed by the other front boot) in the snow at dusk.  They stay on as well as I think is reasonable to expect – but all that running around does loosen the straps a bit, so tighten them on a regular basis.  While I wish I could just put his boots on at the beginning of a few hours of off-leash hike and forget about them, I think the only way that would happen is if his boots were part of a full-body snowsuit, or were attached to each other in a harness over his back.

On-leash, I didn’t bother tightening them at all, and could forget about them entirely.

Wearability – 3/4 paws

Price: 89.95 USD

The price seemed kind of steep, especally compared to the 40 I spent on the frankenboots (pre-modification).  The frankenboots were terrible quality, however, and the Polar Trex should last me quite a few years without any modification or repair.  You really do get what you pay for.  One nice feature of the product is that, if you do lose a boot, they sell individual replacements online.

Great for on-leash walking.  Good for off-leash, with a bit of vigilance.

Great for on-leash walking. Good for off-leash, with a bit of vigilance.

Overall:

+ great quality

+ helps a lot to keep our walks enjoyable with snow and salt

+ stays on perfectly while on-leash

– have to tighten straps regularly if the dog is running around loose

– The boots are too high to fit the front paw comfortably, based on my dog.

+ easy to order spares

– boots will fall off

– definitely requires practice putting them on.

Would I recommend them?  Depending on their purpose, yes.  On-leash, they’re wonderful – they’re sturdy, protect Gwynn from all the things that ruin our walks, and Gwynn doesn’t seem bothered by them at all.  They aren’t a perfect product, though, and I do have to spend a bit more time than I like counting red-feet when Gwynn is bounding through the snow.  If your dog spends a lot of time out of your sight when they’re off-leash, that could become a particularly big problem.

Gwynn and I are giving them a 70%.  Slightly less than 3 paws!

**The company gave me a pair of boots to review, but the opinions are my own, and not influenced by Ruffwear.**

Advertisements

Square 2

This winter’s theme, training-wise, was mostly nothing.

Ugh, it’s raining, let’s get this walk over with.

Ugh, it’s really that muddy… fine, go have your fun, smelly, black dog, but know that there will be consequences.  And those consequences involve you and me in a certain large oblong porcelain-coated-metal bowl, along with lots of room temperature water and something foamy.  Your black and tan will return to orange and white.

Ugh, I give up, you will never not chase cats.  I am the where’s waldo master, if waldo is a cat, and tends to hide in shadows, under shrubberies, on decks, or mockingly in the center of an empty driveway. 

Better to just get from point A to point B on-leash, and try not to think too hard about what you were rolling in just now.

I’ve been inspired, though.  Jodi has been working with Delilah after a bad incident left her feeling like she wasn’t doing so well at dog parenting.  Instead of expecting everything to come at once, she’s gone in stages, and Delilah is back to having freedom to run around, except in areas where Jodi knows there’s too much chance of failure.

That, combined with recently seeing a video on how to store your long-leads so they won’t get tangled (genius!), and a bit of inspiration of my own (use that shortened long-line as his regular leash for the walking portion of the walk = one less thing for me to carry around in my bag), has Gwynn and I back in training mode.

I tie it a bit tighter, and stop knotting it when the total is as long as my usual leash – tucking the long strand through that final loop ‘locks’ the leash in that length while freeing up the clasp for Gwynn’s collar.  It creates a bit more of an elastic version of a 6 foot leash.  for storing the leash, it works amazingly well – you entirely skip the part of pulling a long leash out of your bag when you have to untangle it.

I commented in a recent post that Sadie has a great recall.  Like – whistle her whistle and she will run to you.  All out, legs wind milling, ears flapping, giant grin, run. 

Gwynn… not so much.  Kind of silly when you consider the fact that I have him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and only walk Sadie twice a week, for all of 2 hours each walk.

I generally just make sure to not let him off-leash in danger zones.  The big ones?  Near a muddy pond that I really don’t want him in.  Near the beach/creek when I don’t want him in (or at this time of year, when the beach is littered with dead things).  Somewhere cats might be.

My training goal for the spring is to improve Gwynn’s recall and walking at heel position.

some work on the long line... it is actually longer than it looks in this picture

How am I doing this so far?  If I’m somewhere I really don’t trust him off-leash, I put him on the long line, and practice sit-stays, sit at a distance, recalls, and just plain encourage him to walk near me.  Once he’s good and focused, he gets time dragging the leash.  It isn’t perfect.  For one thing, if he takes off quickly enough during ‘drag leash’ time, he can get out of leash-stomp range very easily (my leash isn’t too long… maybe 15 ft total?).  For another thing, re-knotting the leash into short-form requires a bit of focus/time.  But it’s working, and using the long line in short-form reminds me to take the time on walks to work on these things.

Wish me luck!

Rules to live by

I think it’s great when a whole family piles out of the car with their dog (or, even better, walks the three blocks to the park), ready for a few hours of fun in the great outdoors.  The amount of time children spend not-playing-and-running-around is something I find disturbing.  Any family time spent in the great outdoors is a huge plus in my opinion.

However – the dog park is for dogsOn a gorgeous sunny spring day, it might just have 20+ medium-to-large sized dogs running around and wrestling and chasing a ball and sniffing things.  They are excited.  Super excited.

You then put a kid (short, high-pitched, very energetic person) into the equation.  Given the choice, I would require people to be over the age of 10 if they’re going to be inside the fence.  The ones who are well behaved and pleasant are far outnumbered by the ones causing a ruckus.

We’ve had some great weather, so everyone’s emerging from winter hibernation.  Forgive the rant, but I’m about ready to explode, and I need to vent.  Blame it on having been stuck without my dog-walking time for the past week, due to a nasty ankle-roll that still has me hobbling.  We’re back to making trips, but my ankle still hurts too much for me to do much more than walk to the dog park and back.  If I could go somewhere else, I would.

In the name of not making me angry, some rules – for parents, for people under the age of 15, for whoever finds themselves at a dog park:

ONE: Don’t run.  Don’t run screaming, giggling in your high pitched voice,  waving a toy (or something that could be seen as a toy) over your head, don’t run at all.  Go outside the fence if you need to run so badly.  Do you know what an excited dog does when they see running?  They RUN.  A dog running after a child could easily catch that child if they wanted to.  They probably don’t… it’s just a game to them.  Having a dog chase them at high speed makes kids yell in their high pitched voices, and run more, making all the dogs in the area worked up.  So, when I yell across the dog park at your screaming kid to “STOP RUNNING”, don’t give me a dirty look.  Watch, as your child obeys the order, and the three or four dogs that were chasing him (leaving a good 10 ft space) stop running, and wander off.  Yes, I should have been able to grab Gwynn and make him stop following that kid (and yes, the other dog owners too), but I’m still lurching slowly around like Igor from a badly rolled ankle, so anything I do, I do slowly.

why are we running? Doesn't matter, I like it!

TWO: If you wave something excitedly over your head, dogs will try to get it.  Especially if you’re squeaking it while trying to get your own dog’s attention.

THREE: Kids like sand.  But this is sand in a dog park.  It has only been open for about 6 months, but it is still Dog Park Sand.  Please stop your kid from rolling in it.  Please?  Not only is it unhygienic, but a kid lying (or sitting) on the ground is in a position to get hurt if a pack of dogs come running through.

dogs who are not paying attention to where you are...unless you're running, that is.

FOUR: If your child is scared of dogs, DO NOT bring them into a dog park to cure that fear.  It won’t cure it.

FIVE: Don’t give your child the leash, don’t let your child leave the dog on leash in the park, and don’t let the child pick up the dog.  If a small dog is a bit anxious of bigger dogs, you can bet he’ll be more anxious when the other end of the leash is held by a very excited little girl.  If that little girl then picks up her fuzzy bundle (holding the anxious, squirming dog at large-dog-face-height), those dogs will think that dog is super neat.  When you see your child hysterically screaming for help while holding Fluffy up and being surrounded by young large dogs trying to jump up to meet Fluffy, DON’T just stand 20 ft away, laughing.  There are so many issues with this situation.  Where are the big dog owners?  Why aren’t you helping your child?  Yes, your kid shouldn’t have picked up the dog, he was fine on the ground until she shortened his leash so he couldn’t go anywhere, but now it is your problem.  Why did I end up holding your dog so that the little girl could escape the four dogs (thankfully NOT Gwynn) trying to investigate her small dog?  EDUCATE your CHILD in dog safety.

SIX: Not just for children, and I actually think the worst offenders are the adults.  Don’t give my dog a treat without my permission.  I don’t understand why you think this is a reasonable thing.  It IS NOT.  What if that strange dog has allergies?  Not to mention that you just rewarded him for shoving his nose in your pocket, jumping up and barking.  And, lady who gave Gwynn two whole chicken-jerky-strips (probably the same brand as got him terribly sick in the fall) – seriously, I will BREAK YOU.  You have no idea the wrath that is currently hobbling double-time towards you, and no, you don’t get to act all ‘wounded innocent’ because you ‘didn’t know’.  Of course you didn’t know, you didn’t ask.  Of course he likes it, he’s a dog, and it’s food.

All I ask is that people teach their children how to behave around dogs that are not their own.  Do you have any rules you think should be initiated for people in general who are at the dog park?

A New Reaction…

Gwynn has decided that children are super exciting.  I was walking down the sidewalk towards a woman and her son a few days ago.  Loose leash, Gwynn is sniffing things and entirely indifferent to them.  I moved myself and him onto the road but kept walking, so that I’m probably about 10 ft away from the sidewalk, because not everyone likes dogs and I don’t really like standing on someone’s soggy lawn in the dark while waiting for people to cross my path.  Everything’s fine (why wouldn’t it be?) and then they get to be about 20 ft away from us and he lunges towards the pair (to the point that he lifts his upper body up a bit), tail wagging wildly, and woofs.  Just once, but it was a big woof, not one of his sissy high-pitched ‘I see a dog’ woofs.  And the poor kid bursts into tears.

must.. get... to... child!

I apologized and got the hell out of dodge.  I bit my tongue on the urge to say “It’s ok, he’s friendly!” or “He’s just really excited about kids!” or some other “I’m sorry, but here’s how we really didn’t do anything worth apologizing for” un-apology.

And then it happened again, but with more barking, at some random person the next morning.  And suddenly every non-dog-person absolutely needs to be greeted and he tries to drag me to them. Awesome.

So – Gwynn is overreacting to the stimulus of ‘kids’, and, from what I can tell, sometimes ‘people who don’t have a dog’.  And it’s like this issue appeared overnight, though I’m sure I was missing signs of impending doom.  The dog didn’t wake up one morning and think to himself, “Gee, those kids… they’re so neat, I should jump at them”.

After that incident, Gwynn and I spent about half an hour practicing some combination of ‘eye contact’ and ‘heel’ going up and down the busiest non-main-road in my neighbourhood.  I usually just ask him for loose-leash when walking, but now I have a new goal: I want to say heel, and get him to stick close to me (preferably while giving me pretty consistent attention) when walking past people – all people.  And dogs.  While we’re at it, let’s add cats to the list too.  And the stump in that guy’s yard, because Gwynn acts like it’s secretly a living garden gnome every time.

What I’m doing as a starting point is this: when I see people/dogs/movement on the other side of the road, I stop, get him to sit, and every time he gives me eye-contact, I reward him.  I’m doing the same at intersections, and randomly on the walk.

Anyone have any thoughts or opinions about this plan?  Suggestions for a better plan?

We had the most perfect training opportunity once this week, when we waited on the driveway for a doggy friend of ours to come up the street.  She was with a trainer, and working on basically the exact same thing, so we stood on opposite sides of the street from each other, each practicing rewarding eye-contact for a few minutes.  It is unlikely that I’ll find someone with a kid willing to do this, so that’s about as ideal a training situation as I can think of.

Now I just need to go buy a new clicker, since I have lost a second one to the great outdoors, and muttering “YES!” to myself over and over again is making me sound like a crazy person.

Failure to Man-Up

I clearly lack protective instincts.  I am no momma bear.

We’re having issues issue at Dog Class.  Yes – the dog class we love, the dog-sport class.  But we’re having an issue.  And that issues name is Rex.

One of the things the instructors in this class say regularly is that, when you’re doing training, you should be entirely focused on your dog.  If you aren’t, you’re likely to miss a reward-worthy effort on the part of the dog.  And timing of rewards is key.  Great lesson.  And I’m following it, both in class and in the real world, which is great, but also relates to our issue.

Rex has issues of the dog-aggressive kind.  I don’t know if it’s just when on leash, if it’s a didn’t-get-early-socialized thing (that’s my guess…), or if he got bitten as a puppy.  I don’t get the impression that he’s a rescue or the product of a puppy-mill.  I don’t know why he’s like this, but I DON’T BLAME HIS BREED.  Gwynn’s favourite neighbourhood buddy is a German Shepherd that’s got about 50 lbs on Rex. 

The first class, he freaked out.  He burst out in loud barking every few minutes, the entire class.  He lunged on his leash, he cried, he kept trying to get to the other dogs.  This set all the other dogs on edge.

First class:  One by one, we’re testing our stay command and our recalls (come command).  Great, this is something Gwynn can do.  Unless, of course, there is a dog going ape$%*# right near him.  In which case, his response to me putting him in a sit and saying “Wait” and walking away is, “Wait for me!”

Second class… same thing.  Rex hasn’t recovered from the barking frenzy, and if any dog gets within about a 10 foot radius of him, or the wind goes the wrong way, he freaks out.  We are asked to do the same stay-recall thing, and Gwynn and I have been practicing all week at various distances in various locations.  We’re on the opposite side of the line of dogs from Rex.  But Rex freaks out as soon as I start to walk away from Gwynn… Hey boss, wait up!  Don’t leave me here! 

Rex is also lunging and snapping at dogs (mostly Gwynn, I know not why) if he is walked past too close to them.  Rex is moved by the instructor into the far corner of the room for when we all spread out along the walls of the room to practice our own thing.  He gets to go in the supply cupboard whenever he starts freaking out. They’re really working on getting him to focus on his owner, and really encouraging her to practice that a lot at home.

Third class: Half the class is walking around the room practicing Heel Position, the other half (my half) is practicing the “It’s Yer Choice” game.  Gwynn and I are on the floor up against the wall, while I add treats to the piles on the ground around him, he ignores them, and then he gets a treat.  I’m entirely focused on him, because I have to treat-reward him any time he looks away from the treats, and I have to be ready to prevent him from getting any of the treats from the floor piles.  And then Rex is there, growling and snapping at Gwynn’s face (right next to my face, not that this is the most important part.  But, speaking of teeth… have you ever seen all of a German Shepherd’s teeth at once?  I don’t recommend it.), having wrenched himself away from his owner long enough to make a beeline for Gwynn.  Owner gets him back under kind-of-control and takes him to the closet to calm down.  I try to find something to entertain Gwynn in a play-type way, to distract him from cowering behind me.

... out of nowhere

The instructor ‘reminds’ everyone that they have to pay attention to Rex, because he has some issues.  I question how I’m meant to pay attention to him and my own work with Gwynn.

He tries to get Gwynn again when we’re practicing on the small teeter totter thing, and his owner is, bafflingly, walking him down right near it, going away from her closet-corner and towards… nothing in particular.  Apparently she just felt the urge to meander.

Instructor reminds everyone to pay lots of attention to Rex.  I seriously question how I’m supposed to keep track of him, when his owner likes wandering aimlessly while waiting for her turn on the other equipment.

Most recent class: half the class is practicing dogs walking across a ladder on the floor.  The other half (my half) is taking turns running through the tunnel.  Yay, Gwynn loves the tunnel, he’s doing awesome.  Except that Rex’ owner apparently felt that this would be a good time for Rex to walk through the ladder without her holding on to the leash(?), so Rex felt the urge to meet Gwynn just as he was coming out of the tunnel.  Darting around me to get there, and trying to savage Gwynn’s face when he arrives dragging his leash.

Awesome.

And now Gwynn pauses at the mouth of the tunnel every time, before cautiously turtle-poking his head out.  I would, too, if sometimes the tunnel leads to terror and teeth.  Especially full in the knowledge that the boss can’t protect him.

It’d be like getting in the swimming pool when nine times out of ten, it’s fine, but that 10th time, there’s a hungry shark that you don’t see until you’re in the middle of jumping in.

Later in the class, the instructor tells me that I’ll get a lot better responsiveness from Gwynn if I am really enthusiastic/happy during practicing, and intersperse with play time.  Too bad that my dog can read my body-language, and isn’t focusing on the training because I’m on super-duper-hyper-alert, because my dog nearly got a chunk ripped out of him by a dog that is still in the damn class.  No, I’m really not this wooden most of the time, it’s just that a dog just ruined (hopefully temporarily) the tunnel for Gwynn, and took about 10 years off my life, having proven that I can’t protect my dog.  It’s either ‘be wooden and appear to have no connection with my dog’ or ‘sob hysterically on the floor’.

In summary:

I really like this class.  The instructors are starting to piss me off with their failure to handle the Rex issue  effectively.  He and his owner should be uninvited.  They have full reason to tell her that this is not the appropriate class for a dog-aggressive dog.

I don’t blame German Shepherds – I blame the owner of this particular German Shepherd.  Though I had never noticed before just how much more wolf-like they are than Gwynn is.  That face-to-jaws encounter, with the big shoulders and black face and deep growls… scared the crap out of me.

I don’t think Rex should die (except for the few minutes right after he attacks Gwynn, and at that point, I want to snap his neck and use his pelt as a doggy bed.), but I also don’t think Rex should be in a class where dogs are going all over the place, and dogs sometimes are off-leash, especially not with a ditzy owner who apparently can’t keep a strong hold on the leash.  Does she really think he’s got a chance at participating in dog-sports right now?  There are DOGS around for all of the sports.  Maybe more obedience focused classes where he can learn how to interact with dogs in a more structured environment.

I have no spine.  What should have happened after this Monday’s incident, and after I’d run Gwynn through the tunnel a few more times trying to get him over his spookedness:

Me: “Get him out of here.  And give me a refund.”

Instructors: “… um, but… you should have paid more attention to Rex?”

Me: “HIM.  OUT.  MONEY REFUND!  NOW!”

make the mean dog leave my dog alone, or i'll cry on you!

What would have happened midway through any argument along these lines:  Me crying in rage and upsetness and fright and ‘omg confrontation, waaaah’.  Like I said, I have no spine, and I am a coward.  But at the first sign of anything next class, screw it – I’ll tear a strip off them, while crying and hyperventilating and snotting all over the place.  And if it doesn’t prove effective, I’ll unleash my Momma-Grizzly mom on them.

Also, a few of the other people in the class have asked if Gwynn’s fixed.  One – he is fixed.  He is entirely ball-less.  ‘Dominance and alpha behaviour’ isn’t the issue either.  And Two – that’s like trying to figure out why an abused child deserved the beating. My dog isn’t the one running across the room to snarl and snap and growl and try to bite.  It isn’t his balls that are the problem, whether they’re present or not.

Sorry for the long, long rant.  If you all have any solutions or suggestions, please do leave a comment.  Also, do you think I’m reasonable in thinking this isn’t the right class for Rex?  The entire scenario stresses me out.  Three days later and I’m still halfway to tears (the rage-ey kind.  Dammit, I hate how non-confrontational I am) just writing about it.

It’s a Catastrophe!

When I first got him, he wasn’t like this.  Then again, for the first week of walks, he kept his head glued to the inside of my knee, the ultimate in walk-like-a-cowboy training.  But after that, when he came out of his paranoid-that-I’ll-leave-him shell, he wasn’t like this either.

I have a feeling that part of this is because we visited friends who have cats.  The kittens were intrigued by him that first visit, and I’m confident that, if we’d been there an entire day, they would have eventually let Gwynn sniff them, interacted a bit, and that would have been the end of the cat obsession.  Instead, what happened was that they got fairly close, Gwynn would get too excited and try to approach them, and they’d run away as fast as they could, while Gwynn remained within leash-radius of me.  We were there for less than 2 hours – he didn’t have time to learn polite cat-approach behaviour.

6 months later, we’re there again, only the kittens are cats now, and more skittish of him, because he just can’t calm down enough for them to get anywhere near them.

just... let me go! I MUST GO TO KITTY!!!

Now, his reaction to cats we see out of doors is ridiculous.  He goes apeshit, bananas, completely flips out.  He lunges with all his might at any cat he sees, wheezing and whimpering and crying and going up on his back legs, trying desperately to GET TO THE CAT.  Meanwhile, the cat (up to a block away from us) is frozen in fascinated terror, watching the bizarre antics of the giant slavering beast that is gyrating and crying at the end of his lead.

I don’t think I’d be willing to trust him near a cat, even a dog-friendly cat, right now.  There would need to be protective measures in place.  I believe that he isn’t in a hunter-prey type mode when he gets excited about them.  But he’s TOO excited about cats for me to trust him with them.  I think that’s how he’d act about dogs if it weren’t possible for him to ever meet dogs, just to smell them from a distance.  When he gets that excited about dogs, I wait for him to stop pulling, and then walk towards the dog, if it’s friendly.  I can’t do that with cats.

I’m pretty sure that if he could just meet a cat, spend a few minutes doing the sniff-sniff-ignore routine, that it would prove that he wants to be their friends, not eat them.  It would probably cure him of the excited-leaping-crying-mess reaction to cats.  But I’m not willing to risk a cat, based on my slightly biased opinion of my dog.  And I really, really want for him to be ok around cats.  And functional in the outside world when cats are near.

And the worst part is, if it were dogs he were reactive about, I COULD SOLVE IT.  Dogs are on-leash.  they are
visible, generally, coming down the street towards you.  I could use one of the many reactivity-solving techniques I’ve read about.

But how, exactly, do I ‘treat with a high-value treat starting from an unresponsive distance’ … from a cat… that I never see first.  It’s like playing Where’s Waldo.  But Waldo varies in size and colouring, can show up anywhere without warning, moves around, and likes to sit in the shrubbery.  And I don’t know anyone with a dog-friendly and leash-friendly cat, so that I could work on it with the cat and Gwynn on leash at a distance from each other.

If I carried hamburger or hotdogs or steak or a brick of cheese every walk, I’d still find myself too close to the cat
before I could start giving him treats.  They’re like Ninjas.  And once he’s seen them, even walking past as quickly as possible, he’s completely indifferent to treats and anything else for the next block or so, prancing and looking back at where he thinks the cat was, peering under cars and between houses nearby in hopes that the cat is following us in secret.  If I try waiting it out and just stand there, braced against the leash, he gets more and more worked up, barking frantically and lunging more and more against the leash.

So, I ask you – any ideas?  And which is better – continuing to walk like the cat isn’t at all interesting (and like having a berserker on the end of the leash is fine and normal), or waiting to see how long it will take for him to calm down while going berserk on the end of the leash (it hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve never fully waited it out.  Once he starts barking, I abandon the attempt and leave)?

I’ve Been Up but Mostly DOWN

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.

"Is the boss calling for me? more importantly... is this something dead that I can eat before listening to her?"

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.

Inhabited by evil spirits… he went from sweet puppy to this!

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.

Doodle could very well be pondering on what to do to exorcise Gwynn’s demons, right this moment. Or she could be cleaning out-houses… one never knows.

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!

Before I leave off with this ridiculously over-long post:  Yes, I’ve recovered from this wallowing in ‘failed dog owner’ misery, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write this as coherently as I did (cue laugh reel).  I’ve got a post on a timer for sometime this weekend for the upward trend part of the story.  A sneak prevue – I totally kicked Debbie Downer out of the drivers’ seat of this mental rollercoaster.

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 🙂