Staying Positive with Your Pup – Part 1

Words of training wisdom from Get Leashed’s in-house dog walker

By Lindsay Shostal

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I will never forget the struggles I had walking Logan when he was a huge-pawed, strong, pulling puppy. Logan had quickly grown to over 80lbs in a matter of a year. While his body looked like an adult, his brain was still the size of a pea! What a lot of people don’t know is that the larger the dog/breed, the slower they mature.

Logan was my first large-breed dog, and while I thought I was prepared for the challenge, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d never seen a dog rip apart a pillow before Logan came into my life. Or, while in a crate, move it halfway across a room or, fully swallow an entire ball! The worst times to be outside with him were Saturday and Sunday mornings when Logan would pull me into the bushes to retrieve pizza crusts and half-eaten shawarmas left behind from the previous night’s club goers. His all-time favourite finds are pizza dipping sauce containers. To this day he can pick those out a mile away!

I felt like I tried everything from flat buckle collars to Martingales and then I eventually crossed over to the dark side of choke chains, prong collars and even dove into the wild world of shock collars. I was desperate! And the more online research I did the more confusing it got.

Getting dog training advice is the equivalent of a new mom getting unsolicited ‘new mom’ advice. It’s conflicting and it never stops! Oh, and everyone is a pro (ha!).

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Then it happened. The winter of 2010. I met Caryn, the owner of Whatta Pup.

This one day is pretty much engraved in my brain. I remember her casually asking me how the prong collar was working on Logan. In retrospect I’m sure she could see me struggling with his strength, total frustration on my face. I quickly admitted it wasn’t working. Without another word she pulled a weird looking harness out of her bag.

A few things were running through my mind, “Why does she carry harnesses in her bag?” and “Does she really think that stupid looking harness will work on this giant puppy from hell?”

She unclipped the snug fitting prong from around Logan’s neck and handed it to me. She then slowly and quietly placed the harness over his upper body. I instantly saw Logan take a yawn; in his case, an obvious sign of relaxation. His ears flopped over to the side and he went into a non-forced, calm sitting position. His body language went from being on high alert to super-chill mode in a matter of moments.

She then asked if I had ever tried a front-clipping harness. I was pretty quick (and slightly) embarrassed to say no, mainly because I didn’t like the way it looked. It didn’t make him look tough. I’m as embarrassed to admit this to you today.

Caryn just smiled and said, “Well why don’t we give it a try, plus, this won’t hurt him” and gave me a quick wink.

That was MY aha! moment. Those were the words I had to hear. Every training method I had been using with Logan during his first year with me involved negative reinforcement or pain. This also explained why he stopped running to the front door with excitement when I asked him if he wanted to go for a walkie. Hell, why would he? The collar I was using was inflicting pain. He was now associating walkies with pain. I felt like a failed dog mom. I knew it was time to learn about positive reinforcement training and change my way of thinking.

Stay tuned for the follow-up story on staying positive while training your pup.
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