5 tips for successful trail encounters by Liz Stinson
Often I have been asked by others what my favorite season is for walking dogs. When I reply, “winter”, it comes as a surprise. The warm summer days, green grasses, flowing river, and, endless amounts of Tahoe/Truckee trails seem like the obvious answer. But I prefer the winter months with its little distractions, such as the usual prey (birds, squirrels, mice, etc.) are usually tucked away in their winter homes while the humans, their toys, and their animals are sparse – especially on storm days. With spring time fast approaching though, I am reminded that the opportunity of having these luxuriously less distracted outings are coming to an end. That said, I thought I would share with you some of the most successful tools I use on my Buddy Dog Pack Outings for successful trail encounters that require little expense, with high reward.
EYES: Now, I know this may seem obvious but, this is by far the best tool I have with me on each and every outing. The perception of what I do is that I leisurely walk around, watch the birds or look at the flowers while I am out with the dogs. Elements of that do exist, certainly, but when I am out with animals my main objective is to keep them, and others, safe while providing the best environment for their success. So my eyes are imperative to this goal. I am always observing beyond where we are walking. I am looking for movement, people, animals, objects my dogs may want to put in their mouth, etc. I do my best to see things before the dogs do because that offers the ultimate arena for a stress-free outing. When I see ahead that someone is approaching with their dog I look for a leash. Is their dog leashed? If it is, I begin to leash mine or walk the pack into a different direction, if available. My eyes observe the body language of the animals, giving me further insight on what may be needed to avoid any stresses in their greeting together.
TREAT BAG: I always, always, have treats. Treats can be used in a variety of ways, as I have learned over the course of time working with Buddy and Lilith. I will usually begin an outing asking the very excited dogs to sit down. Upon completion of that ask, I reward them with a treat to remind them that I have the good stuff. Then, I’ll continue to use treats when we are out together to reinforce the behavior I want to see, such as a dog checking in with me or stopping ahead without me asking. I tend to avoid sharing my treats with other dogs that we meet to avoid any type of food guarding behaviors but if the dogs are being especially well behaved in their greeting together, I will always ask if I can give another dog who is not in my care a treat.
“FIND-IT”: I use this technique, or game, over and over again. When I see someone ahead with their dog and it is off-leash and my dogs become interested and begin to pursue, I pull out a handful of treats and begin throwing them behind me saying loudly, “FIND-IT”. It is a game used to distract the dog from the behavior you do not want to see, such as running ahead to meet the other dog without you. This brings the dogs back to my attention and close proximity and I have more control over the environment of which these animals will meet each other. I can put a leash on any of my more excitable dogs that could elevate a meeting together, for example. “Find-it” has helped me distract a pack of dogs while bicycles flew by us unnoticed. I have used it successfully to bring back dogs with a high prey drive that tend to wander off a little farther than the rest of us. Our Buddy Dog Care website hosts further information about how to use this very helpful and very effective tool along with booking a training session with Lilith.
SQUEAKY TOY: Another super helpful tool I use is a squeaky toy. Right now I am using a hand sized snow penguin that I carry in my front jacket pocket. This simple and cheap toy saves me a ton of stress. When it is just me and my pack, I use a quick squeak when I see the play begin to escalate, breaking the moment up just long enough to avoid an incident. The same goes, too, for when the doggies will meet other people and pups. Once all of the factors have been taken in (seeing if the other dog is on or off leash, leashing my reactive dogs first, moving away from meeting together) and meeting together does occur, I hold the squeaky toy in my hand while the dogs greet each other. At the moment a behavior takes place that could lead to an uncomfortable encounter, I squeak that toy and both my dog and the other dog will stop what they are doing, distracted by the sound. That gives opportunity to lead into the next best scenario such as leashing, walking away, etc.
PET CORRECTOR: This is another noisy tool that I have used with success and I carry it with me on every outing. It is a small canister filled with compressed air. I have one in my other jacket pocket, or in my fanny pack – easily accessible. It makes a loud sound when pressed, louder than a squeaky toy. I have not had to use this one very often and have found it to be most effective in the types of meetings we all try to avoid: when a greeting of two animals gets out of hand quickly and a fight breaks out. We never want to break an exchange up with our hands to avoid getting hurt ourselves, or, potentially creating deeper wounds for the dogs fighting. Once it has begun, the pet corrector can be pressed close to the angry animals and it startles them out of tussling with each other. That is when you can move the dogs away from each other and de-escalate the situation. I have been walking dogs professionally for almost two years now and I have had to use this tool only once and it was extremely effective and preventative to further, more damaging, scenarios.
The safety, stress-free, happy, and, successful meet and greets are a reward to me over and over again by making use of these tools regularly. I share them with you hoping that you will find similar success and enjoyment from watching your dog flourish in new encounters with others and obstacles.