Okay, get your mind out of the gutter—this isn’t about some new-fangled technique where you strip down to your underwear in an attempt to distract your dog into behaving better. What I mean by training (almost) naked is that this morning, Bodhi, who normally wears a front-clip body harness on our walks, graduated to wearing just his flat buckle collar.
Let’s face it: whatever you choose to use, whether it’s a head halter, body harness, choke chain, pinch collar, flexible leash, leash with handle—the list goes on—it all comes down to being management. Granted, for a small person with a big dog, or someone with arthritis or other physical issues, management might have to be a permanent solution. But if you’re working on training your dog and improving the connection between you, eventually, heavy equipment shouldn’t be necessary.
With Bodhi, one of the main things we’ve been working on over the past year is “With me,” meaning that when I utter that phrase, Bodhi will place himself into position by my left side. Although not required, he will then look at me—mostly because he knows a treat will be forthcoming. (Sometimes the reward is just a smile and a “Good boy,” but a dog can dream.) “With me” has come in handy not only for times such as this morning when a maintenance truck came barreling down a narrow park driveway, but for those times when we pass other dogs. As some of you might remember, Bodhi was quite dog-reactive when I first adopted him from the shelter. But he’s come a long way, and now most times when I call his name as we walk along, if he’s out front, even without the “With me,” he’ll voluntarily walk next to me as we pass other dogs.
The other thing we’ve worked on long and hard is loose leash walking. Have I mentioned that Bodhi is part malamute, a breed bred to pull? It seems his former owner may have taught him that if you just pull hard enough, your owner will come along and you’ll get to go wherever you want. Re-educating Bodhi to walk on a loose leash—I don’t care whether he’s next to me or in front, as long as he doesn’t pull—has definitely been a project. Because of some physical issues involving my back, I couldn’t chance him lunging, so management was necessary. We started out using a head halter, which he didn’t love but became accustomed to. We quickly graduated to a front-clip harness, which he didn’t mind. Although I prefer front-clip harnesses over head halters for my own dogs, I’d still rather not have to use them, either.
It took a lot of trust in our relationship and training history for me to transition Bodhi to just his flat buckle collar. First, there was the chance that he might lunge and thereby injure my back yet again. But also, when he’d first come to us, we quickly realized that any pressure on his throat triggered a round of wheezing and coughing. I don’t know whether this condition is due to former “training” using harsh corrections around the neck, or some physical issue, but Bodhi lunging with a leash connected to a collar around his neck would not be a good thing. We’re at the point where we’ve mastered passing other dogs, and, believe it or not, even bunnies and squirrels. But how would he do when there was less physical control?
As it turns out, we got the chance to find out. This morning, I removed the body harness, attached the leash to the buckle collar, and off we went. Bodhi was nicely responsive whenever I gently reminded him to stop pulling by using a tiny leash flick or an “Eeaaasy.” Then, on a hilly, narrow dirt trail overlooking one of the main park pathways, it happened all at once: a bunny darted across the trail in front of us, at the very same time a dog and owner passed on the lower walkway. Did Bodhi freak out? Did I end up face-down, eating mouthfuls of dirt? Nope, and nope. I called Bodhi’s name and, like a champ, he placed himself calmly into position next to me. (Did you see the sky open and hear the angels sing? I did.)
Training completely naked would entail Bodhi being off-leash, and we don’t have a proper location to do that, other than the fenced dog park. We make use of that area early in the mornings to practice recalls, but I’m not about to let him off-leash in the main public park. We do practice with long-lines now and then, and will begin to do more of it. I’d like to think that if he ever got off leash, or if we took the dogs somewhere we could have them off-leash, he’d be as responsive. In the meantime, training (almost) naked works for us.