Hedge Your Bets

“Wow I’m impressed he behaved himself with such a crew!”

Is a response I received from the owners of a dog, Rascal, I have staying with me currently after I sent her some video clips of our group walk in the woods this morning.

Video clips where he was among a group of dogs, doing his own thing, having a good time sniffing and wandering in the fields and pine forest.  Video clips where he wasn’t barking, lunging, dragging or otherwise upset.

Her surprise doesn’t surprise me as her dog is often upset and reactive around other dogs.  The owners have done a fantastic job getting Rascal to where he is, able to walk on leash passing other on leash dogs, but they are afraid to let him really engage with other dogs because ya there are many he doesn’t like.  Don’t blame him, he thinks young dogs especially are rude little snots.  He’s right much of the time.  LOL.  Like many of the dogs on my overnight string at any time, he needs support to be successful in social situations.  Often a lot of support.  Which is one of the reasons he comes to me when his owners are on vacation.  Because, I hedge my bets.  (and because his owners are awesome and they love when he’s happy)

Before gearing up for our walk this morning even began, I thought through what, if anything, would make this outing so the chance of success for Rascal would be near assured.  And I mentally went through a plan, with plenty of bail points in it should he tell me he really wasn’t ok with this.

Some key areas of my plan:

I know he trusts and is completely comfortable with my 2 dogs.  He is more likely to be ok with another dog if he feels Tom and Zora are ok with that dog.  They would both be on the walk.

I know he trusts me to keep him safe and is usually willing to defer to me for safety.  I of course would be on the walk.

I know he is highly food motivated, so I packed some extra awesome treats.

I know he is never trustworthy completely off leash (hound dog mix, he will follow his nose completely), so had my trusty easy to handle 30′ long line.

I also know having him with complete 30′ range to start to walk would be much harder to manage his initial introduction to the setting, so started him off on his regular walking leash and gentle leader that his owners use with him for daily walks, switching him to the long line only after I saw he was chill and happy with the environment and goings on.

I also knew because he’d be on the 30′ line and I’d be holding it the entire walk, having Tom in harness likely would massively complicate things with a hound mix zig zagging around Tom’s feet, so the trusty cane was brought out and used instead of the trusty guide dog.

I know he’s most likely to be comfortable around other dogs if he feels he has an escape route.  So we planned the walk at an area that starts off with huge wide open fields where the dogs all have plenty of room.

Video from the start of the walk in the large open green fields.  Zora and Rosie fetching the ball, Tom at my feet, and Rascal and Ted watching the 2 girls retrieve the ball:

I carefully planned what dogs he would be around.  Making sure they were all dogs that a. prefer to ignore other dogs if the other dog shows no interest in playing, b. have solid relationships with both myself and my walking friend and are willing to respond to what we ask quickly, c. all prefer to play with us humans and/or fetch the ball over playing directly with each other on the walk (meaning most likely dogs to ignore Rascal and give him whatever space he wants) and d. are all rather tolerant of some rudeness (ie not likely to react if Rascal showed some posturing)

I also planned and orchestrated the system for getting him most comfortably to and from the walking area in my friend’s car.  Loading all of the other dogs into the car first, leaving Rascal in a room in the house.  Then bringing him out alone, and keeping him at my feet during the ride providing him high rate of reinforcement and reassurance that all was well.  This also gave him space and time (on the 12min drive) to figure out the other dogs in the car had no interest in him at all, and he could relax (which he did), as the other dogs were in the car rows behind where he and I were with no chance of them encroaching on his space in the car.

My bail out plans included: assessing the arousal level of the regular group of dogs before getting Rascal out of the house.  If any of the usual walking group seemed atypically wound up or aroused, I would have left Rascal in the house and gone on the walk without him.  Then of course observing and monitoring Rascal from the time of putting his leash on in the house, through the walk to and loading in the car.  We sat in my driveway for an extra few moments, to double check that Rascal was settling in.  If at any point then he had shown he was uncomfortable, he would have gone back into the house and not gone on the walk.  If, while on the walk, he started to have trouble coping with the other dogs, I would have split off from my friend and walked just Rascal, Tom and Zora while she took her dogs to give Rascal more space.

Video from about 1/2 through the walk in the pine forest:

All of these pieces I thought about and planned long before my friend pulled into my driveway, and even before I put leashes on the dogs at all.

All of these pieces were key in setting Rascal up for success.

Had I not thought through the parts of a successful group walk for Rascal, chances are he would have had a miserable time as would we all have.  It would have been no fun, very stressful, and further reinforced for him that other dogs are scary and to be barked and lunged at.

Instead, all of these pieces were why Rascal had an awesome time on the walk.  Sniffing, romping, coming when called, getting some treats, and appropriately engaging with the other dogs.

All in all an excellent time was had by all!  Success!

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Post walk Rascal wagging his tail till it blurs and Zora sitting looking happy & tired in my kitchen nook


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