Reasonable Expectations – 4-27-2017

There is a quote that I like:  Expectation is premeditated disappointment.  (I would love to give credit to whomever said it first in that way, but I can’t find that source.)

This quote reminds me often that I must have had unreasonable expectations because I am frequently disappointed.  Oh, yeah.  Oops.  What was I thinking?

I want to walk and my neighbor wants to walk and Sophie, the dog, likes to go for walks.  But I’ve discovered that our mutual interest doesn’t actually overlap very well.  My neighbor and I like to walk fast – we’re trying to lose a few pounds and get more fit.

Unfortunately for Sophie fast-walking humans makes it harder for her.  Trot ahead, walk, lag behind.

About three years or so ago I started trying to change how I walked Sophie.  For one thing, I didn’t want her pulling; I wanted her to walk on a loose lead next to me.  We started slowly and only went a few feet at a time down my 200-foot driveway.  Sometimes we went down the driveway and back and that was it.  We gradually worked our way down the street.

However, in this process, I learned that Sophie is highly reactive – to everything!  People, dogs, kids, bikes, dogs, skateboards, scooters, dogs, ATVs, strollers, dogs, you name it.  That rather stunned me.  When I got her four years ago at age six, I would have said that she had no issues.

We went even more slowly.  The lungeing, barking, growling was rather alarming.  She hadn’t shown this kind of behavior when I first got her.  Sometime in the meantime a neighborhood dog had attacked her while she was on leash and that seemed to begin the downhill slide into reactivity.

A year or so ago, I though we were doing pretty well.  I had done what I thought was a fair amount of counter conditioning – feeding when a trigger was spotted.  Then things went downhill again just when I thought we had the reactivity beat.  Silly me.

My goal at the time was to still be able to build duration on a loose lead and non-reactivity so that we could walk for three miles or so.

Then I read a blog by someone else (sorry, I can’t remember who nor find it) who said that reactive dogs don’t need more walking; they need less.  If they’re reactive, they don’t need the stress.  And it’s the trigger stacking that does them in.  Oh, duh.

After that I reeled ourselves in quite a bit.  My goal was to have no more than two triggers per walk, preferably zero.  But I have a neighbor dog on one side of that long driveway and she’s behind an invisible fence (I hate those things!) and runs that line barking and growling with hackles and tail high.  Sophie, obviously, reacts to that.

But that also means that we have to walk by Cocoa in both directions going out and coming back.  If we turn left at the end and walk in front of Cocoa’s house and she’s inside, she starts barking frantically and the clueless owners let her out to run the invisible fence line barking and growling with her hackles up and brow furrowed.

Because of that, we turn right at the end of the driveway and go past two houses on the left (four on the right).  We only go two houses down because there are two more dogs behind an invisible fence at the third house.  If they’re out, they bark and one is a Great Dane – big and loud.  Sophie and I turn around before that house.

And now the first house on the left has both a physical fence for the back yard and an invisible one in the front yard.  They’ve gotten a new dog and he stays in the back and barks.  And they’ve put out new flags for the underground fence so I’m sure they’re planning to train the dog to it and let him out front.  Sigh.

Added to that, another house on the right, maybe the third or fourth house down got a new puppy.  And they have small kids.  Sometimes the kids playing alerts Sophie.  I don’t know what will happen when the puppy grows up.  That house doesn’t have a fence at all that I’m aware of.

Our space for non-triggered walking is shrinking.

Recently I realized that my goal of walking on a loose lead for three miles was unrealistic.  I can’t control the triggers.  If I want to walk that three miles, I’ll just have to do it alone or with my neighbor.  My goal for Sophie, if we go out, is to aim for no more than two triggers, preferably zero.  If that happens, it’s a good day, even if we’re out there for only ten or fifteen minutes.

I have five acres.  I can easily walk her around my own place.  In fact, it’s a good idea if I do.  Then I might come across that riding arena again and realize that the weeds in it need to be pulled.

Previous blogs on Sophie and loose-lead walking:


About Laurie Higgins

I play with clicker training - with my horses, dogs, and cats. I also attempt to grow vegetables with the hope of one day being able to feed my family from my garden. My daughter and I are learning ballroom dancing. Well, we were. But she left me for a paying horse job, so now my husband and I are learning ballroom dancing. I'm also now helping Peggy Hogan, of Clicker Training Horses (and The Best Whisper is a Click) to teach people how to train their own horses using "clicker training".
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