Leo vs. the Track Team

Leo vs. Joggers, May 2014
Leo vs. Joggers, May 2014

Leo redirected on me last week during a walk. Things had been going just smashingly and we hadn’t had a reaction worth reporting in a long time. On this walk, he was triggered by a pedestrian and a bike on the other side of the road. He barked, lunged, and redirected twice on my leg. His teeth didn’t break the skin, but the experience is quite like getting bitten. It felt like a setback.

One bike. One (admittedly sketchy) pedestrian. One after another. I thought I could manage the situation by hiding behind a partial wooden fence, forgetting that this technique has backfired in the past. I have turned “Quick, Leo, let’s run and hide!” into a cue something scary is coming.

A couple of preceding events may have helped push him over his threshold:

1) I came home smelling like three strange dogs from the Humane Society.

2) Minutes earlier, Rob and I saw a deer. I do not think the dogs saw the deer, but they definitely smelled it.

Whatcha gonna do? It happened and it was a bummer.

Walks around our neighborhood are challenging because it’s tough to escape an oncoming trigger. The secret to a successful Managed Training walk (I just coined that term) is visibility. I need to be able to see the bikes and the sketchy pedestrians coming in time to decide whether to manage the situation by preventing Leo from seeing the trigger at all, or whether this is a training moment when I can counter-condition him to the thing by feeding him cheese as we pass it.

That’s why I like to drive my dogs to their walks. This time of year, we’ve been having a great time parking by a baseball field, walking up a hill toward a sports stadium, and circling the neighborhood. Even though we encounter some bikes, even though there are people playing on the fields, and even though last week a toddler ran straight toward us – I’m able to see the triggers in time to manage or train.

The hill I speak of is just camera-right of the photo below from May 2014.

On our most recent walk, we’d gotten about as far as the grass in the background when I saw a man jogging toward us. I didn’t have time to race ahead and get away, and since I was armed with at least eight sticks of cheese, I veered off the path to counter-condition Leo.

So far, so good.

As soon as the man headed down the hill, I looked ahead and saw a little kid running toward us, with an adult just behind him.

Argh. Oh well, let’s see if we can keep the cheese party going until they pass.

Miraculously, he continued to take the cheese calmly.

Once they passed, I looked ahead again and saw …

TEN more people about to run past us. The whole damn track team!

Feeling doomed, I considered asking the joggers to stop, but instead pulled out more cheese.

It cost me four or five sticks of cheese, but Leo did not bark! Nor did he take the cheese particularly hard.

This might have been my proudest moment.

Leo biggest achievement here is that he counter-conditioned me. Next time the Track Team heads toward us, instead of cringing and bracing for the reaction, I’ll remember how it felt to stand next to a calm Leo as joggers pass.

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Published by Kari Neumeyer

Writer, editor, dog mom, ovarian cancer survivor

12 thoughts on “Leo vs. the Track Team

  1. Ouch! I’m sorry he redirected on you. That sucks. Have you ever thought about ccing him to a basket muzzle and having him wear it when you walk? That is really scary.

    1. I have considered it, and if he were at risk of biting anyone else, I would, but it happens so rarely that I haven’t thought he needed it. Actually, it’s better when he redirects on Mia. Her skin is tougher than mine.

  2. I wasn’t really aware of redirects until reading your post. The shepherd cross we are fostering for the summer does it occasionally by taking my hand, but she does it gently and rarely even leaves a dent. We are very rural, and walk her with two other dogs (a Large Munsterlander, also fostered, and Trevor, our JRT). Because of her ‘thing’ about moving cars, we keep road work to short stretches of country lanes. She is making slow progress.

  3. We have our triggers for different things too, but almost always, Mom decides to face it and learn to deal with it. If we avoid the problems we face in life we will never overcome them, so as hard as it is sometimes, we take them on. We deal with the critters and not chasing them, and I can be reactive with other dogs sometimes, but we don’t cross the street or pull over and stop, we keep going and sometimes it works, sometimes we need correction, but it is all good practice.

  4. Wow, you and Leo are heroes! That track team had no idea that they would be creating such great things for you and Leo–respectively, a great deal of satisfaction and an enormous pile of cheese. 😀

    My trainer has told me about a million times–progress with behavior is never linear, and a single trial won’t break a behavior. It sounds like overall, you’re doing great work with Leo to manage and prevent the redirected biting, and I really appreciate and find helpful how honest you are about the fact that setbacks happen and it’s not the end of the world–just a sign of what we need to be aware of in the future when planning management or training (in this case, trigger stacking and a poisoned “run away!” cue).

  5. I gotta admit, i’ve been really lazy about walking the dogs recently. We’ve just been playing and practicing flyball, so they are getting plenty of exercise but I know i’m going to have to rework on Ziva’s triggers too and Dante’s excitement, he really needs to work on his distraction training…and then their is Jack.. Oh my.. it just seems like a lot at the moment. I guess I need to get my big girl panties back on and just do it, right?

  6. You did a great job. It is scary when you see people/triggers coming at you from all sides. I often times plan escape routes in my head and really need to schedule some time to work the dogs individually. My big goal is to be able to walk past a dog that is walking on the opposite side of the street without my two dogs losing their minds and dragging me.

    I had never heard of a redirect either. I’m not actually sure what I’d do if my dog did that to me. I’m glad I know about this now!

    Thanks for joining the blog hop!!

    1. The redirected bite was more frustrating than scary. I knew he wasn’t going to turn and attack me; more like my leg got in the way of his barking.

      Even though I had a moment when I thought he was going to bark at the track team, once I realized we were getting through it, I was so happy, I mentally composed this post the rest of the walk. I’m so proud of my sweet boy.

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