Last Monday I was at a Home Dog Training session in Buford with a new client and his four-month-old German Shepherd, Tison. The big things that we focused on during our session were potty training, proper focus, not jumping, and calm walking. Being a shepherd, Tison caught on quite quickly and we saw excellent improvement by the end of the lesson. My client was thrilled over the results and was quite pleased with the lesson. As we were finishing up, he mentioned that he had one more dog training problem.
He told me that the “dog problem” he was experiencing was not with Tison at all. He said that he loved taking brisk bicycle rides around the neighborhood every evening when he got home from work. Every time he took to the road on his bike, the neighborhood dogs would chase after him and try to snap at his heels. He would attempt to pick up the speed, but the dogs were “really fast and relentless”.
He heard about the “bear thing” about waving your hands and shouting to fend the bear off, so he tried that with the dogs. All it did was to get the dogs to chase after him even more. He really enjoyed his evening bicycle rides but was at wits end on how to stop the neighbor dogs from running after him on his bike.
I have always loved taking a calm and enjoyable bike ride. But, to tell you the truth, I used to have the same problem with the neighborhood dogs as my client. The difference is I am now a dog trainer, and I know what to do.
Although I had instructed my client on all the aspects of canine behavior, communication, social interaction, and trigger engagement; my client had failed to take that knowledge and apply it to the situation of him on his bike and the dogs in the neighborhood. The excellent news is that the answer and subsequent plan of resolution are quite simple.
In the “World of Dogs”, all dogs must determine who is the leader and who are the followers. The “short answer” is there is only one leader (dominant). Everyone else in the group are the followers (submissive). Dogs practice this principle by “playing games”. They start playing these “dominant/submissive” games almost at the moment they are born and continue through the rest of their lives.
Probably the most common “dominant/submissive” game that all dogs play is “follow the leader”. We all played this game when we were kids, so we all understand the “rules of the game”. The one running ahead of everyone else is the leader. Everyone chasing after the leader are the followers. The followers want to catch the leader and the leader wants to stay in front.
My client would always bike past the neighborhood dogs at a high rate of speed. At that speed, his bicycle made a sound that the dogs could easily hear and focus on. With the dogs focusing on him, the distractive sound of the bike, and the visualization of his darting past, a natural “follow the leader” scenario was introduced to the dogs. Since he took up the lead, the neighbor dogs naturally knew what to do and began the chase.
The dogs chased after my client with one goal. They were going to follow and catch the leader. My client’s attempts to allude the dogs simply encouraged the dogs to place more effort in catching him. When he tried to yell at them and wave them off with his hands, his visualized display of increased adrenaline only made matters (for him) worse.
I explained that he needed to remove the “follow the leader” picture from his bicycle ride. To accomplish this, I reviewed the process I successfully used years ago to “get the dogs off my tail” and have an enjoyable bike ride:
- Before I begin my ride, I “mentally map out the doggie houses” that I will pass while on my bicycle trek through the neighborhood. I don’t have much trouble doing this because all the chasing and jumping has been “burned into my memory”.
- The next thing I do is to perform a little maintenance on my bike. I make sure that everything is tightly attached, and I liberally apply my three-in-one oil to the wheels, chain, peddles, and anything else I think may squeak. (I am trying to remove anything my bike may do that would make a sound when I am riding it.)
- As I start to get close to a “doggie house”, I decrease my speed to a pace that would be the same speed of someone calmly walking down the street. Making sure that there are no cars approaching, I adjust my position so that I am riding my bicycle down the middle of the street. If I see the dog on the front porch or in the yard, I calmly and quickly glance at him from the corner of my eye without engaging in direct eye contact.
- I maintain my “slow peddle” down the middle of the street and past the dog’s house. If possible, I try to coast the bike so that I don’t have to move my legs. Once I am out of the dog’s eyesight, I begin to return to my normal speed and move back to the safety of the side of the road.
- Every time I approach another “doggie house”, I perform the above procedure.
- Over time, the dogs will become more accustomed to my “uninteresting passing” by their houses. They will see me as “no big deal”. As this begins to become apparent, I can slowly increase my speed as I pass by. It is important that I do this really slowly. If I observe that any of the dogs starts to focus on my passing with too much interest, I will slow back down again.
- At the same time, I will slowly decrease the distance between the dog and my passing by their house. This means that I won’t go all the way to the middle of the road as I pass by. As before, if I see the dog begin to focus too intently on my passing, I will return to the middle of the street as I pass by.
- I repeat this process on every bicycle ride until I can ride past all my doggie friends, and they no longer see me as their “follow the leader”.
The process I just discussed is great and will always work. But “life happens” and there will be times when that dog will get off the porch and run after me. The single thing I must never do is to speed up and try to “get away”. As soon as I see the dog starting to engage in their “follow the leader” game, I must stop and dismount the bike.
When dismounting the bicycle, I should place myself so that my bike is between me and the approaching dog. My disengagement as the “chase me leader” will naturally terminate the “follow the leader game” and deescalate the situation. The neighbor dog will instantly realize that “I am no fun” and will turn around and head back to his house. I will remain calm and still until he has returned to his “starting point” of the front lawn or front porch. I will then slowly walk my bicycle several house-lengths down the road. Looking back to make sure that the dog has decided to focus on something else, I will get on my bike and continue my ride.
As you can see, we naturally encourage our neighbors’ dogs to run after us as we take our neighborhood bike rides. Once we comprehend what we are really telling them, we can easily reverse the process and resolve the problem.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.