Even in her most reactive moments, Barley doesn't actually pull to get at the other dogs. She stays beside me and just jumps and makes rabid Old Yeller noises while maintaining no tension on the leash.
So imagine my surprise when in late October, I'm taking a leisurely stroll with my dog and all of the sudden my arm feels like it's being torn from my body. I squealed out of shock, more than from injury, and all of the sudden Barley was sitting at my side. I looked around and realized there was a big, fat squirrel chirping at us from a nearby tree branch.
|This was taken at a time we could stop and look at squirrels without fear I'd lose my arm.|
When that happened, we started doing reaction to distraction practice with our "what's that?" game any time we saw them. Barley had no trouble walking by squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks, or any other critters we saw on our walks. Occasionally, if one was exceptionally close to us, I'd reinforce her good behavior with a treat and she'd continue to trot along with a nice, loose leash.
|Squirrels like acorns--maybe if I sit here long enough, one will appear.|
Beginning in October, she started lunging and pulling every time she saw a squirrel. She also started doing that on certain streets where we regularly saw squirrels, even if there weren't any out and about, to charge ahead to certain trees along the sidewalk.
|Barley is confident she can capture any squirrel that crosses her path.|
We've had to go back to square one to practice ignoring squirrels on our walks--and it hasn't been fun. As much as I love loose leash walking, I hate training it. When she gets too busy staring, I've refocused her attention and switched her from using her nose to using her eyes by tossing treats ahead of us on the sidewalk. When she refuses to acknowledge my existence when I say "what's that?" or "heel," I put on the breaks and stop and wait for her return to my side. Sometimes, we have quick direction changes, such as doing a circle around a telephone pole or a tree before continuing back in our original direction.
It's been a long, slow process and we've been working on it consistently for the last two months. Despite the fact that I'm sure my neighbors all think I'm crazy for stopping and circling and all of the other weird things Bar has me doing on walks, the training has paid off and she's back to ignoring the squirrels that we pass and we can focus on just enjoying nice, long walks together.