happy black & white dog sitting on snow covered ground looking upYears ago I suggested my sister let her two min pins off leash as we headed off for a walk in the woods near her home. Ooops, my bad. I’d been walking dogs off leash since I was kid. It never occurred to me that someone’s dogs would not just go for a short walkabout on their own, but would not come home at all! I’ve learned a lot since then.

When I was younger and would head off for a walk through the woods and cranberry bogs in southern Massachusetts my mother would remind me to ‘take the dog’. This was when boogey men were rare and a mother could relax knowing that the family’s fat fox terrier was protecting her child.

Nowadays when I head out for walks with dogs, my own or other people’s pets I often carry a variety of kibble, dried liver, chunks of cheese or chicken. I’ve never found it to be a burden. Anytime a dog looks at me, comes to me, or stops and waits for me the chances are good they’ll receive a treat. I do most of my ‘training’ on these dog walks.

Because of my lifestyle and expectations for my dogs I don’t worry about getting most behaviors ‘under stimulus control’. This means-a dog only performs a behavior when asked for it. You don’t want a dog going into the obedience ring deciding to ‘sit’ or ‘down’ to take a load off when they feel like it, but in my life, it doesn’t matter. I want my dogs to; look at me, trot back to me, walk jauntily by my side, wait for me, without having to ask for those behaviors. And they do. A lot. That’s the monster part.

Most days on our walks I want to think grand thoughts, talk to myself, to come up with ideas for blog posts, but there they are, a dog or two or three walking along next to me in position for a nice loose leash, were they to have one on. To them it’s a game and they want to play it. They wander off and come racing back and look at me as though we were long lost friends. I have to shoo them away, go on, explore, sniff, be distracted! Surely there’s a chipmunk out there that needs harassing.

It’s my own damn fault and I know it. If you consistently reward a dog for a behavior the behavior gets stronger. If you reward a behavior intermittently, it becomes less likely to go away. Do the former for awhile and then switch to the later and you’ve really gone and done it. I don’t always give my dogs food when they look at me or come back to me. Sometimes I tell them what absolutely amazing dogs they are or nod and smile and give them a wave to get back to the business of sniffing out wildlife poop, and preferably NOT rolling in it.

I guess I have to live with the check-in monsters I’ve created. As for my sister’s dogs- we found them, eventually.