Sunday, March 14, 2010

Walking with Willy

One of the reasons why it's been so tough losing Argos is that walking him was part of my every day routine. I don't think that there were many days out of the year when I didn't take him, and I knew when I lost him that I would definitely feel different if I stopped going for walks. After all, when he was out of commission after getting his toe removed, I continued to go on walks all by myself. Still, those walks didn't feel quite so depressing because I knew that eventually he'd be rejoining me.

Of course, one of the things that I've considered is getting a new dog to be my new walking partner. I haven't completely (just mostly) ruled that out due to the fact that I still have a dog, and that's Willy. I've actually written about him before on this blog, as it was a bit of a trial getting him and the cat, Oliver, to get alone. (They're still best buddies, and you can often find them making out with one another as the Westboro Baptist Church protests their unnatural and ungodly ways.)

The thing is, Argos was the outdoor, walking dog, and Willy was the indoor dog. Kirsti and I had to keep them separate after Argos was about two, due to the fact that they got in a really awful fight with one another. Since it took too much time going on two separate walks, Argos became the default walker since Willy got to hang out inside with us all the time. Not only that, but Argos clearly enjoyed walking more than Willy. Willy's a bit of a nervous walker, and he would sometimes bark hysterically if he saw another dog. (It wasn't an aggressive bark. In fact, he's really eager to meet new dogs, as he would always do when I'd take him to the groomer to get his nails trimmed. He'd just get frustrated when he wasn't allowed to check the other dog out.)

(Special note: Oliver is licking Willy's face as I type this sentence.)

With all this in mind, I figured that I'd still try and give Willy a chance. After all, I have had a bit of success with another supposedly difficult dog, Molly. I was told by my in-laws that it was impossible to walk her, but I actually got her to heel and walk better than I even could with Argos. I also have had pretty good luck walking the two little poodles of my in-laws. In addition, when my friend Jeff leaves his dog with me while he's out of town, I can get her to walk and heel just fine. If I could handle all of these, why not Willy, too?

The first few attempts met with the typical results. He'd bark hysterically when he'd see other dogs. He wanted to pull ahead and go off into five different directions at once, feeling the need to sniff out everything he saw. If I tried to give him a correction using the prong collar (which worked like a charm with Argos) he'd start to get even more panicky and protest even louder.

This just wasn't going to work, and I had to try a new tactic. I mean, going for walks isn't exactly fun when it's such a stressful ordeal. He gets stressed and it psychically goes right through that leash up to me. I figured that I'd do a little research, and I found one site that was pretty even-handed when it came to the usefulness of prong collars. Sure, you get some people trying to tell you how "inhumane" they supposedly are. Well, if you put one of those on a person, it would be pretty awful. Dogs, however, aren't built like us, and it doesn't feel the same on their necks as it would with ours. Not only that, but it only looks draconian, and it does a lot less damage than a choke collar - or if you just attach the leash to their regular collar and let them pull on that like crazy.

So, this site acknowledged that it was foolish to call the prong collar inhumane. At the same time, it noted that the prong collar is not the right solution for every dog - especially nervous dogs like Willy. It suggested using the collar but turning it inside-out. I gave that a go, and he'd protest much less when I'd correct him. Still, I wasn't quite satisfied, and then I remembered that I had long ago bought one of those "Gentle Leader" collars for him. The basic premise behind this one is that if the dog does something he's not supposed to do, you just gently lift up and it forces him to look straight ahead instead of off to the side.

How's that working? Well, he still whines a little, and when we came face-to-face with a couple of dogs that were barking hysterically at him, he went crazy. Also, he tries desperately to get the thing off, and starts to wear himself out pretty early. Still, we've passed by other dogs, and with a gentle pull, I got him to look the other way and not bark like a mad dog. Also, when he starts to whine, a gentle pull gets him to stop and redirect his focus.

It's still early to say, but I'm noticing a bit of slow, but steady progress. If things go well, maybe I'll take him on a hike in the Crockett Hills. Argos loved it up there, and considering that there aren't a whole lot of distractions with other people, cars, and other dogs, I think that Willy just might love it too.

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