For the past few weeks I have been working with a busy couple in a situation where one person is often out of town, leaving the other to take care of both of their large, energetic dogs. The goal is for each person to be comfortable taking the two dogs for a walk at the same time without being dragged down the sidewalk. Both dogs walk very well on leash when they are one-on-one with a person, with the exception of when they decide to chase a squirrel or get excited when another dog passes close by. However when they are together and one person is wrangling two leashes, they tend to set each other off and pull the person in different directions. So why doesn’t the stay-at-home half of the couple simply walk the dogs separately and skip the extra training? It would be easy for me to suggest this, but I know from having two dogs myself that there are times when you just need to be able to walk more than one dog at once. With summer upon us, there is often just a short window before it’s too hot out in the morning or it gets too late in the day and a thunderstorms is about to roll through the neighborhood. Let’s face it: sometimes you are just too busy for multiple walks.
We started out with management: there was a window of time when both people were home and the dogs could be walked at the same time with each owner holding a leash. If only one person could walk the dogs that day, the dogs did get separate walks or a friend helped out.
Next, on these walks each dog learned to give their attention to the person holding the leash when they heard the cue “Watch” (for this behavior and others in this exercise, we have detailed instructions at www.la-spca.org/trainingresources ). They were also taught “Leave It” and how to sit calmly and observe certain troublesome things like other dogs, joggers, and cyclists go by without overreaction. One important step was teaching the younger dog that pulling toward interesting scents like trees or telephone poles got him nowhere, but turning away from them, he was rewarded with the cue “Go sniff!” and allowed to explore the fun smells on his walk with the handler’s consent. These “life rewards” were more motivating to him than food much of the time.
All of these measures added up to some nice practice walks with one person holding both leashes in a safe area where I could monitor distractions, but they did take a commitment from the dog owners to train the dogs separately. There was no shortcut when it came to this part of the equation. Because they put in the work, both people are much more confident that they have a better handle on walking the dogs together when the time comes and the training experience now to deal with any problems they might encounter.