I walk a German Shepherd client named Angel. It used to be that when she saw other dogs while on her walk, she’d have a barking fit bouncing around at the end of the leash. She was so stressed she wasn’t enjoying her walks, nor was anyone who was walking her. My goal was to help change that.
I first tried offering her Redbarn every time we encountered another dog, but just like with a person, her stress left her with no interest in food, plus, she was on the heavy side so food in general wasn’t a high value item.
Luckily Angel is pretty ball obsessed. She loves her tennis ball, so I started using the ball as a reward for sit-stays. When she performed the sit-stay well, I’d release her and toss her the ball. When she understood this routine, I started taking the ball on our walks.
When I saw another dog approaching us from down the block, I’d lead Angel up a nearby driveway to increase the distance from the passing dog. I’d pull the tennis ball from my pocket and ask for a sit. At first it was hit and miss, but as Angel learned that nothing bad happened on the walks and her level of stress decreased, she started sitting and waiting for the ball toss fairly consistently. She didn’t become a trained robot, but the walks became manageable, and the tone of her barking shifted to one that was more about stirring the pot than being truly stressed. Another sign her stress was less was that she started eating the Redbarn on her walks.
When I walk her now, the ball is part of our routine. When she starts to get stressed, she lets out a couple barks and looks to me for her ball and I toss it to her. She’ll carry it for a while, then get wrapped up in sniffing something and set it down, forgetting to pick it up when we move on, so I pick it up. Or maybe she has me trained to carry it at this point.
This leads to a very gooey ball by the end of our walk. I wear a fly fishing vest that holds all the tools of my trade, clicker, treats, baggies, etcetera, and it has a special pocket for Angel’s ball. Fleegle comes along with many of my client dogs. He’s been good with the dogs that have socializing issues, including Angel, but he usually sits out my walk with Angel and naps in the car.
There’s always a half dozen tennis balls rolling around in the back of the Element, my work car, but when I climb behind the wheel after being with Angel, Fleegle always makes a go for her ball in my pocket. All that goober sauce makes it a high value item.