Tuesday, March 3, 2009

To Pinch or Not to Pinch.

Chris and I have made a somewhat controversial decision in terms of our doggy parenting. At approximately 90lbs of pure muscle and instinct Indy can be somewhat...ahem...of a challenge at times. We've worked so incredibly hard to train him and tame the supposedly domesticated beast within him and I think we've done a damn fine job of it. He knows a variety of party tricks ranging from "boxing" to "bowing" to a nice solid "high five". He waits for the OK to eat his food and if I tell him to leave it while he's eating, he'll stop and look at me for permission to continue. On walks he trots mostly right by my side trying hard to resist the urge to sniff and pee on every passing leaf, blade of grass or lamp post. The one thing we haven't seemed to conquer is his crazy behavior when encountering other dogs on walks. He used to be just fine.

When he was a puppy he was overly excited when he would see a dog, but with very little real FREAKING OUT involved. Last May(ish) when we had moved to the apartment Chris and I were taking him out for a walk when we were standing near a man with poor hygiene and his large german shepherd. The german shepherd took one look at me and Indy and started going NUTSO. No exaggeration this dog was incredibly aggressive and it was directed towards either me or Indy. Indy snapped. At the time we had just started using a choke collar on him and as he strained and snarled against the collar while Chris pulled back his eyes bulged and I saw a side of my sweet little shmoopy head that I had never really seen. The owner of the other dog mumbled something about that being typical for his dog and walked across the street. This was not typical for Indy. He was clearly provoked and being protective. I'm not 100% sure this is what triggered his recent behavior but after that incident I noticed a change. When we walk by a house and a dog starts barking and going crazy behind a fence Indy lunges and barks back.

If we pass a house with a passive quiet dog he's fine...he may be interested in playing but he'll stay cool. We've seen an in house trainer (who came to the house, stayed for 3 hours, did not take Indy out and then charged us $75. awesome. thanks.) and have taken him to group "Good Citizenship Training" class. He did really well and was even mostly fine with the other dog in the class, but we decided to postpone the final test until this spring.

So back to my point...we made the decision this weekend to try using the prong collar with Indy. 

We started off with just the traditional leash and collar for him and had a lot of success with traditional training methods when he was a smaller puppy. Then as he started to pack on the pounds and became much stronger than me we decided to try a gentle leader. I highly recommend the gentle leader for people with strong dogs since it takes the power out of any pulling they do. We decided for a brief while to try the simple slip/choke chain collar but when Indy saw a squirrel or another dog he wanted to play with he could drag me around wherever he wanted...resulting in some pretty gnarly injuries and me crying like a child while Chris cleaned gravel out of my gaping wounds and scraped knees.

Needless to say I went back to the gentle leader.

Over the weekend a good friend of mine brought her dog and her husband over for a play date and recommended the prong collar. I've been opposed to this method for a long time, but everything else we've tried doesn't seem to get through to our mutt. He's responsive until he sees another dog or feels threatened. So far I have mixed feelings about it. The collar makes him MUCH more responsive and most of the time he just needs to hear the sound of the chain and will move back in line. Not to mention he's much calmer. 

We had a big test last night as we were about 30 minutes into our 40 minute walk we passed a house with a guard dog who started barking his ass off the minute we walked by. Indy lunged and growled. I corrected him and he still pulled. I'm not afraid of me hurting him. I'm afraid of him hurting himself. The collar is just supposed to pinch their neck, but as he pulled against the collar and let out a whimper, my heart broke in two. But I didn't back down. I gave the collar a firm snap and told him to heel. He obeyed. He wasn't pulling as hard as he would with any other collar and I had much more control. His neck didn't even show a mark and with all that extra skin and fur he wasn't hurt, but I'm sure he felt it. I know the point is to simulate the firm "you better behave" snip of a mother, but when I heard that little guy whimper as he pulled I cringed and when he finally fell in line I scratched his neck and chest and showered him with praise.

I have confidence that this may be the key to communicating with him and correcting his behavior and we're using it correctly and conservatively, but I can't help but hold on to those feelings that a metal chain with prongs all over it is just cruel and I hope we're doing the right thing. Ick. 

"I don't understand what all the fuss is about." 


Megan said...

I cannot really comment on this because 1) I don't have a dog, and 2) I took the cloth collar off my CAT because I thought it was going to choke her...so...ahem. Yes. I am a total push-over.

I think you have to do whatever you need to do for your dog. He knows his parents adore him!

And awwww!! Cute family photo! :)

Jackie said...

I don't have any experience with those pinch collars but do with a fence fighting dog and that is a pain in the patuty(sp?). I agree with Meg, that you have to do whatever you must to keep you and Indy safe. If the pinch collar is it then so be it. I just know that you and Chris are such incredible dog "parents". Just wish that more owners loved and cared for their dogs as much as you two do. You know, you could always call The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan! He might be able to help. Maybe you and Indy could be on his show.


Oh, do you do play dates? Since we had to put Kobe down because of his cancer Holly has been a little lost. He was always with her. Maybe we could get Indy and Holly together for a day of fun. What do you think? :o)

Mom said...

Indy is a very smart dog and all it's going to take is a few pinches and he will get the message. However, if he doesn't... sounds like a great challenge for Cesar Millan.

Awww.. a play date. They might fall in love! Long distance romance. :-)