I’m a big believer that if one of us has a question about something, chances are others do too. Going forward I’m going to be sharing answers to questions I receive, perhaps something will be valuable in your relationship with your pup.
Help! I adopted a dog a few months ago and have been making great improvements regarding his confidence and dog reactivity but we’re having a new issue. Juno absolutely loves eating grass to the point that I’m left with saying “let’s go” every minute on certain stretches of road. He now even eats it even when he is confidently walking and is not stressed at all. He does get plenty of time to sniff around in grass and brush but isn’t understanding that walks are not an all you can eat buffet. We maintain a fairly quick walking pace and he still tries to dive down and eat while walking. I used to say leave it over and over but he stopped listening to me. What do I do?
This sounds like a coping mechanism that has grown and morphed into a pattern of behavior. And when we (our dogs or ourselves) find behaviors that work, we often stick with them – even if they hurt us.
In order to help him break the pattern, I’d recommend a couple of strategies:
- Walk in a different location – ideally somewhere where there’s no grass. If I’m working with a dog who is obsessed with shadows, we often have to work them when there’s no shadows available – same is true here. Hard to stop doing something if it’s right in front of you, so for the next 2-4 weeks try walking in a different location, ideally where there’s no temptations.
- If that’s impossible I’d recommend walking him in a Gentle Leader head harness. These work very similar to harnesses for horses; instead of trying to handle your dog’s body, you’re managing him through his nose – a way easier feat whether it’s a horse or strong dog J You’ll have a lot more control over his mouth and his digging-in. It’s a management tool but it can work to break the pattern and show him other options that are available for him.
- Then as you’re walking him next to you keep his attention with a wonderful smell. For these dogs we have to use something strong. I often will put liverwurst in a large-mouth, travel tube and have it open by my leg. And I’m generous, I have to be initially to get them to stay with me and not revert back.
- The key is to give them other options – don’t expect them to find them themselves, they’ll just revert back to what they know works. I often will start with food and a constant feed situation; if the dog is in position next to my leg, they get a lick of a tasty treat. And I walk…..no pausing, no slowing….keep it moving.
- Once the pattern has been broken I’d give the dog an alternative coping mechanism. If the dog needs to focus on grass then he’s still nervous, run him through confidence building exercises to help with that and ensure he always has a puppy pacifier on – a stroller toy hung from his collar – his wobbie so-to-speak, to engage with when he’s nervous, upset or anxious.