Today, I’d like to talk about an experience I had with a client from six or seven years ago. This incident was brought to my memory today because it displays a very important concept.
This client was a husband a wife with no kids, and their dog was a big-time chewer. And he chewed expensive stuff: leather, television remotes, cell phones. Nothing cheap, just top-shelf stuff! When the owners went to work, however, they weren’t able to leave the dog in a crate. He would just break out. They found themselves in a very difficult position. They only had time to do a few sessions with me because they were moving soon.
I went over to the house and put together a big list of what I wanted them to do regularly. I wanted them to sneak up on him and correct him with the e-collar anytime they saw him chewing, to make sure he had plenty of toys to chew on, to create something called a surrogate (which I’ll address in another post.) The last thing I told them to do was take him on focused walks. They were already walking him every day for 30—40 minutes, but he pulled. We taught him how to walk properly in that session, and I made sure they understood to walk him in a focused manner—right next to their side—from that point on.
I came back a few weeks later, just as they were getting ready to move, and asked them how they’d done on the list. Rather sheepishly, they said that they hadn’t done much of it. I was shocked, because he had been destroying thousands of dollars of possessions and they had seemed highly motivated earlier. But they did do one thing: the focused, 40 minute walk every day. “Okay, good,” I said. “Tell me about the destruction—what do we still need to work on?” Their response?
“Oh, he’s not chewing any more.”
Think of the scientistic method: you look at one variable, change it, and measure the results. I gave them plenty of things to do, but they didn’t have time for all of that. In fact, they didn’t have the time to do anything differently, just to change the way they were doing something. By changing just that variable, they got him to stop chewing. These owners actually moved back to Utah a few years later and hired me for a few more sessions. To this day, chewing hasn’t been an issue for this dog. So this was a long-term solution.
Now, why would that happen? We’re talking about a difference of six to eight inches; he was walking ahead of his owners, and we taught him to walk properly by their side. How can such a small difference make a dog stop chewing? Why does walking at the hip rather than up ahead make such a huge impact?
In short, because it engages the dog’s brain. When he was walking up ahead, he was just pulling on the leash. He wasn’t paying attention; there was no mental engagement or leadership present. By walking further back, he had to engage mentally. This has a number of consequences, the first of which that it makes a dog tired and fulfilled. That was a huge deal for this dog, because his destruction was a result of excess energy. Even though he was now walking the exact same distance, he was getting more tired because his mind was involved.
That mental engagement also created a good relationship with his owner. The fact is that dogs who are respectful of their owners don’t generally chew on their stuff. They see objects more as “things that Mom and Dad own” rather than “things that are here for me to chew on.”
To this day, I call this the “collateral effect.” If you do one thing correctly, it can affect everything else. That 40 minutes of walking affected this dog even when he was alone in the house. Bear this concept in mind. It will help you in everything you do with your dog.