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The Pet Pals Program: Back to School!

It doesn’t matter what the calendar says, or the scientists with their equinox: it’s fall. Kids went back to school this week, and right now, there’s a massive downpour of rain keeping Danny and I inside for a while, the first we’ve seen in months.

Kids aren’t the only ones getting schooled, though. I’ve started the Pet Pals training program at the Oregon Human Society. In this class, Tanya from the behavior department trains us, the humans, how to train the crazy dogs that find their way to the shelter.

There were only three students in class, so orientation went pretty quickly. We are all regular dog walkers, and we all had different reasons for taking the class. I want to help the more rambunctious denizens of the kennels put their best foot forward — politely, like in a “shake” — when potential adopters come to meet them. I’d also like to help with the Reactive Rover class, since it made such a difference for Danny and I.

Tanya gave the three of us a tour of the Pet Pals supply closet and the drawer where the dogs’ paperwork is kept, then sent me to fetch Bella, a lovely two-year-old red pit bull mix that none of us knew. We learned how to determine what commands Bella already knew — sit, down, and shake! — and how to deter her from struggling against the leash. She figured that part out really quickly. Here’s the trick:

  • When the dog strains at the leash …
  • Stop for a sec  …
  • Then start walking again as soon as the leash is slack.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Seriously, this is going to take a while for some dogs to get, and you have to be consistent. If you get lazy, the dog figures he just has to outlast you with the pulling. And he will. Unless you are consistent.

When you stop, you can say something a bit negative but not harsh, like “too bad.” I say “uh-uh” or “no pulling” to Danny if he’s over-eager on his afternoon walk. He remembers how to walk nicely after about four blocks — something that used to take him a mile and a half to remember.

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