Follow The Leader
Now that Peterborough is planning an off-leash dog park, it’s important for everyone to play nice, says Ontario Dog Trainer, Karen Laws
With more than 30 years experience in obedience training, Karen is known as The Ontario Dog Trainer. She offers tailor made ‘Take the Lead’ programming and workshops in training and obedience. For the most part, people come to Karen after they’ve been just about everywhere and are pretty much ready to ‘give up’ trying to train their dog. After spending just one hour listening to her and watching her with Lally, I know that my beagle and I need to participate in some serious obedience training with Karen in order for both of us to be happy.
“A dog needs boundaries and rules, just like children do,” Karen says. “You have to be consistent and persistent about how she is behaving, and that includes the times when she is off leash.”
Now that Peterborough has its first, designated off leash dog park at Farmcrest in the east end of the city, Karen is concerned people may have some romantic notion of dogs frolicking happily together while their owners chat with friends over steamy cups of morning jo.
“You control the space,” Karen Laws tells me as I walk Lally, my two-year-old beagle around the fenced in field of her property in Bethany. “You want to be calm and assertive. Don’t yank the leash. You want Lally to make a good choice. Lead her with presence.”
“Dogs are, by nature, social, migratory predators,” Karen says. “The social part means they thrive in a structured hierarchy, with clear rules and boundaries set and maintained by their leader, making them very similar to us. While dogs might play happily together in the park, they still require leadership to give them confidence. Dogs need to know their environment is safe for them.”
Balanced, well- trained dogs will enjoy time with other dogs while keeping an eye on their owner or ‘pack leader’ so they don’t get left behind. If you have a balanced and respectful relationship with your dog, he will keep an eye on you as you stroll around the park.
“Your dog will move so as to always be in your general vicinity. If you don’t move, or stop moving forward your dog will, if he is a true follower, stop at the same time. If there are dogs in the park who do not respect the leader-follower relationship, problems may arise,” Karen says.
When dog owners stand around, their dogs tend to ‘pack up’, either away from people, or under everyone’s feet. They will establish their own set of leader-follower rules, often resulting in chaos and/or fighting. The best experience for dogs and their owners occurs when people enter the Dog Park with their dog under control beside them, release their dog from the confines of a leash and then keep moving until they are ready to go home.
“The dog will move in the same direction as the owner and will remain aware of his owner’s location throughout the visit,” Karen explains. “If the dog and owner have a balanced leader-follower relationship, the dog will be at, or close to the exit gate, when the owner is ready to leave.”
Most dogs just want to get through the day without conflict. If everyone enters the dog park as a calm, assertive leader and keeps moving for the entire time they are visiting, their dogs will happily follow and will enjoy meeting new friends along the way.
“Have your conversation with people as you walk around the park and be aware of your dog and his behaviour. But don’t nag him, touch him or constantly talk to him,” Karen says. “Let him be a dog with his friends and everyone will be tired and happy at the end of the visit. A good dog is a tired dog.”
‘Take the Lead’ and have fun at the dog park. And don’t forget to clean up after your dog.
For more information on Karen Laws, The Ontario Dog Trainer and her Take the Lead programs, check out www.theontariodogtrainer.ca or Ontario Dog Trainer on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/OntarioDogTrainer.
On Saturday, May 26 & Sunday, May 27, 2012 Karen is presenting a workshop at her Bethany Facility called “Pack to Basics” with Chad Mackin.
Carol Lawless is a writer and editor with more than 25 years experience. She lives in Peterborough with her daughters Grace and Joan and their beagle, Lally.