A conversation with my dog #4
Dear Mr. Skai,
I’ve talked to many dog lovers and it seems we all worry about our dogs. We worry about you from the day we bring you home and continue worrying until the very last day of your life. Today, my plan is to focus on this topic and how to keep our dogs safe in this world.
There are many ways we worry about you dogs. We worry about your diet and we worry about what supplements and vitamins you need. We worry about unnecessary vaccines, drugs and chemicals and do our best to protect you from getting sick or injured.
Another fear that always hangs in the back of our minds is that you could go missing. When a dog gets lost, it’s the worst feeling ever. You, Mr. Skai, were pretty good, but you did give me a scare a couple of times. One time in a park you didn’t notice where I went and continued in the wrong direction. I was lucky to find you, but you were in obvious distress, running around frantically trying to find me. Unfortunately, some dogs get lost forever and that is the worst nightmare for any dog lover. Here are two important pieces of knowledge that may prevent that from happening.
This exercise can save your dog from getting lost
One way of preventing your dog from wandering away is to practice a good recall, the command COME.
What I did when you were little, Mr. Skai, was practice recall in a room. I called your name and when you looked at me, I’d give you a treat. I repeated this exercise until you knew your name was Skai.
The one thing I learned was to never call your name repeatedly when you weren’t paying attention. Most dog lovers don’t realize that repeating a dog’s name when they aren’t coming back makes the dog eventually ignore the recall, especially when they are outside and are easily distracted by all the smells, other dogs, people, traffic and noise.
That’s why I recommend practicing recall in an undisturbed environment, such as a room or a hall and then increase the degree of difficulty. If a dog doesn’t come, it’s better not to repeat the name, instead ask your dog to stay and go and get them.
This command can prevent your dog from being hit by a car
That gets me to another even more important command - STAY. If a dog knows how to stay and wait, one can prevent serious accidents or death, like being hit by a car. If you’re able to signal your dog to stay, your gesture may save his or her life.
The way to practice the STAY command is quite simple. When I trained you, Mr. Skai, I used an entryway, such as a door. I put you on one side of the door and went on the other side and closed the door.
When I opened the door, you’d try to come in, but I gently stopped you by pushing on your chest. At first, you made several attempts to enter because you had no idea what I wanted from you, but after a few unsuccessful efforts, you’d stop when you felt my hand pushing against you. That’s when I added the verbal command ‘STAY’ and gave you a reward, like a healthy, natural treat. I definitely didn’t give you a Milk Bone or other processed junk treat. When it was time for you to go through the door I would just say ‘ok’ to give you the signal that you can now walk through the door.
As time progressed, I started increasing the difficulty of this exercise and used the hand command from a distance. I was very grateful that you listened so well because it helped you stay out of trouble a few times when I needed you to stay still.
Once again, one should never repeat ‘stay’ too many times when dogs don’t listen because they get immune to the command. If it fails, the best thing to do is start from square one and practice from a closer distance.
There is one more life-saving tip
Using a leash and a harness can be a life-saver. It is easy for dogs to get distracted by a squirrel or another dog, bolt into traffic and get hit by car. Many people make the fatal mistake of not keeping their dog on a leash when walking near the street and suffer from that mistake terribly when their dog gets hit by car.
I am a big proponent of off-leash activities in safe areas, but unless your dog is super well trained, an average dog is safer on leash when walking near roadways. In recent years, I have noticed that many people use safer front-clip harnesses instead of collars, which can cause a lot of damage, especially in dogs that pull on their leash. Here are my suggestions on how you can keep your dog safe, prevent neck injuries and also protect your shoulder if you dog is a puller.
I trust, Mr. Skai, that you are happy with me passing your message on. I know you were the best behaved dog off-leash, but not all dogs are as street smart as you were. Thank you for inspiring me to write this blog.
Wondering what safe collar and harness options I like?
Click to see the safe collar and harness page here.
To read more conversations with my dog click below:
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM