Country Living – and Teaching Walk Away!


Welcome to Peaceable Paws!

We’re in the second week of May and wind chill was in the 20’s last night. Seriously??? I might as well be back in Wisconsin!!! But back in the 60’s today, phew! I just got done brushing Mikey (our driving pony), combing out his mane and tail and trimming bridle path – so nice to be standing out in the warm sun!!

I hope you are well and staying sane during the shut-in. We are hoping to be able to start up our group classes in June, beginning with outdoor classes… but we’ll see. One day at a time… I must say, I am triple-counting our blessings for having the good fortune to live in the country during these corona-days. I can go outside and play, take the dogs for a hike on our 80-acres, without wearing a mask or worrying about social distancing. We are here by design, of course – we looked long and hard to find the right rural property here in Fairplay, Maryland when we moved here 16 years ago. Of course, I have always much preferred living in the country – and yes, I have also lived in the city and in the suburbs. My family lived in Chicago when I was in 1st and 2nd grade – East 57th Street (Obama country!), within walking distance of the wonderful Museum of Science and Industry. City activities were “interesting” (at best) for a kid – I had a butterfly collection made up of dead butterflies we pulled from car grills – and when the apartment behind ours was being torn down by The Harvey Wrecking Crew, we would go over there after the crew went home at 5:00 PM, throw rocks through the windows and pull bricks off the walls, proclaiming ourselves “The Junior Harvey Wrecking Crew.”

We moved every two to four years when I was a kid, and I continued that tradition as an adult, sometimes finding country homes to rent, but more often suffering through houses in the suburbs. When we bought this property, the day we moved in there was a rainbow over the old barn below the house. I turned to Paul and said “We are never moving again!” So here we stay. (And yes, we have discovered how much stuff you can collect in 16 years…)

I was reminded, recently, of how much I don’t like cities, when I stumbled across a green three-ring binder containing the works of a writing group I was part of at the Marin Humane Society called “Write-On.” We had a book of writing exercises, and we met each week to share our creative results of the prior week’s assignment. Assignment #1 was: “Imagine that you are downtown in a major city during rush hour. Suddenly a woman walks toward you holding a bag. She meets your eyes, smiles, hands you the bag and says, “Here you go.” Before you can say or do anything, she turns and walks off.”

Here is the story I wrote – it epitomizes how I feel about cities:

(If you want to skip the story, just scroll down to read about teaching your dog to “Walk Away” – one of my all time favorite behaviors to train!)

THE LAVENDER BAG

The cacophony surrounding me was deafening. Horns honking. voices shouting, doors slamming, radios blaring… everywhere I looked I saw people, cars, buildings. I shrank back against a brick wall, trying to be inconspicuous, but as I did so I stumbled over a soft mound on the sidewalk. I thudded to my knees on the pavement, across the inert figure of a man. My stomach convulsed as I breathed in the foulness of his whiskey-laden breath and urine-drenched clothing. As I violently shoved myself away from the unconscious wretch, my hand slipped in a pool of vomit. I gagged, struggled to my feet and staggered back, the image of the derelict’s spittle=flecked beard and ravaged face burning itself indelibly into my brain.

I felt my heart pounding in my chest, adrenaline coursing through my veins. This was insane! How had I come to be in this alien place? I frantically searched for something familiar – a tree, a bird, a patch of blue sky. But the air was a gritty brown; unrelenting as far as the eye could see, and there were no birds, no animals, only the surging mass of human flesh that streamed past, uncaring, inches from where I stood. I could feel the panic screaming silently behind my fragile facade of control I wanted to run, to hide, to escape this world gone mad.

Suddenly a young woman stepped from the throng, dressed in lilac and bathed in a golden light. Her thick dark hair flowed softly to her slender waist, and her deep violet eyes, as they met and held mine, offered a promise of sanctuary.. She approached, holding our a lavender bag. As I reached to take it from her, she spoke to me in a soft velvet voice.

“Here you go…”

“Wait!” I called after her, but I was too late.

The city continued to twist and writhe just inches away, but I ignored its convulsions. An envelope of calm surrounded me. I was no longer afraid.

I looked down at the bag in my hand. It was soft; softer than any material I had ever felt before. Just the touch of the cloth against my skin gave me comfort. I closed my eyes and rubbed it gently against my cheek, I could hear it singing to me with the whisper of the wind in the trees, the melody of the meadowlark, The song was so familiar I could even feel the lush coolness of the grass beneath my bare feet. How I longed to be back where I belonged…

I opened my eyes to the vision of a red tail hawk soaring effortlessly across an endless expanse of blue sky. Stately oak trees swayed above my head, leaves rustling in the breeze. a meadowlark was trilling from his perch on the ceanothus bush beside my cabin door, and the friendly brook bubbled his merry way out of the oak woods and across the emerald meadow. Whatever the strange nightmare had been, it was over. I was home.

I glanced down and realized I was holding a lavender bag in my hand. Curious, I started to open the bag and look inside.

Just then I heard a cry of terror from the woods. I hurried toward the sound, then stopped in my tracks as the scream came again, a few yards in front of me. I peered cautiously from behind a broad oak tree. Kneeling by the stream was a bearded man in ragged clothes. His eyes bulged from his head and his mouth was open, working soundlessly. His face was vaguely familiar but I didn’t know why.
Suddenly he screamed again, and snatched up a stick from the ground, brandishing it at something across the creek. I looked to see what was causing him such terror, and could only see a harmless coyote, gazing curiously at this strange apparition from the shelter of a patch of willows.

I stepped out from behind the oak tree, The man spun toward me, and the fear vanished from his face. I walked toward him, holding out the lavender bag. As he reached to take it from me I spoke softly.

“Here you go…”

Then I turned and walked back into the woods.

WALK AWAY

(Adapted from Kelly Fahey’s Resource Guarding protocol, adapted from Chirag Patel’s “Drop” protocol)

Being able to teach your dog to move away from something when asked is an invaluable tool, both for your dog’s safety and for your sanity. It has become one of my favorite behaviors to teach, and to use.  Note: Be sure to repeat each step 8-12 (or more) times, until your dog is eagerly responding to the cue before progressing to the next step. 

  1. Say “Walk Away” in a cheerful tone and toss several treats on the ground 6-8 feet behind the dog. Turn and move away with the dog to encourage him to move quickly. Note: you are trying to get the dog to do a 180-degree turn to treats behind him.
  1. Place a neutral (not valuable to the dog) object on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and toss several treats on the ground 4-8 feet from the object, behind the dog. Turn and move away quickly with the dog. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the object in response to the cue. Practice this step with a variety of neutral objects. Note: you are trying to get him to do a 180-degree turn away from the object to the treats behind him.
  1. Repeat Step #2 8-12 (or more times) but begin hand-feeding the treats to your dog instead of tossing them on the ground. Continue to move away from the object as you feed.
  1. Place a low-value object (something your dog is mildly interested in) on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and feed treats from your hand as you and your dog move away from the object. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the object in response to the cue. Practice this step with a variety of low-value objects.
  1. Place a medium-value object (to your dog) on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and feed treats from your hand as you and your dog move away from the object. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the object in response to the cue. Practice with a variety of medium-value objects.
  1. Place a high-value object (one of your dog’s favorite things) on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and feed treats from your hand as you and your dog move away from the object. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the object in response to the cue. Practice with a variety of high-value objects.
  1. Place your dog’s empty food bowl on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and feed treats from your hand as you and your dog move away from the object. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the bowl in response to the cue.
  1. Put a handful of low-value food (dry kibble) in your dog’s bowl and place it on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and feed treats from your hand as you and your dog move away from the object. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the bowl in response to the cue.
  1. Put a handful of mid-value (dry kibble mixed with a little canned) food in your dog’s dish and place it on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and feed treats from your hand as you and your dog move away from the object. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the bowl in response to the cue.
  1. Put a handful of high-value (canned food or meat) in your dog’s bowl and place it on the ground. When your dog sniffs it, say “Walk Away” and feed treats from your hand as you and your dog move away from the object. Repeat at least 8-12 (or more) times until your dog immediately moves away from the food bowl in response to the cue.

You can use “Walk Away” in a wide variety of situations – not just for food. When your dog is moving toward to dog you don’y want her to greet. When you are concerned she’s going to jump on the little old lady with a walker. When she’s headed for a skunk, or a porcupine, or a rattlesnakes. I’d love to hear your other examples – share!!

I LOVE “Walk Away.” When I first learned about it, I taught it to our Corgi, Lucy. Lucy already knew “Leave It,” so I did a test. I put down a bowl of high value food and told Lucy to “Leave it!” She kept eating. I said “Walk Away” and she whirled away from the bowl and ran to me.

There are, of course, still times when “Leave It!” might serve you better than “Walk Away” – but think of it this way: When we say “Leave it!” we are saying “Don’t do that!” When we say “Walk Away” we are saying “Do this!” We say this all the time in positive training – we do far better telling our dogs what *to* do rather than what *not* to do. “Walk Away” is the perfect example of this.

Until next time… Stay Safe, and Stay Well!!!