In case you were wondering what I was doing on Pit Bull Awareness Day, I was attending the annual Association of Pet Dog Trainers' annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a fantastic experience, and I picked up a lot of new training techniques, many of which I'm sure will make it onto the blog as I get a chance to try them out. Of course, I also brought home stuff.
I love stuff.
I admit it, I'm a total gear hound, and the APDT conference was like dying and going to heaven for me. I bought boring things like nylabones (at half price!) and coprophagia deterrent. I picked up some new collars, a couple of new leashes, and a few t-shirts. I also got the new Kong Wobbler, a bunch of free treats, and, much to the herd's delight, a few free stuffies (I long ago stopped buying stuffies for them). I also got a new product out on the market called a "Lickety Stik." It's a liquid treat in a bottle with a roller ball top, and it reminds me a little of my mom's roll-on deoderant. The idea is that the dogs lick the treat off the roller ball, thus sparing the owners fingers. I'm not sure yet if the treat is high value enough to use for reactive work with B, but I'll give it a shot. I'd really like to stop losing skin.
I love books, and I think I probably increased my dog book collection by a third at the conference. I nabbed some tricky to find titles, and also grabbed a few just for fun. The highlight of the conference for me was getting to meet Karen Pryor. If you only ever read one dog training book, read her Don't Shoot the Dog. It's not even about dog training. Karen Pryor signed a copy of Reaching the Animal Mind and then clicked me for buying it. I got clicked by Karen Pryor. I'm still grinning.
But instead of telling you about all the books I got, I'll just show you a picture. And Allister.
Before I go on, I want to describe what I currently use for training Rubi. Treats and a clicker, obviously (anybody need a free clicker? I think I got about twenty of them at the conference). A sturdy, well fitted collar. I use a six foot leather leash - leather is very nice on the hands - but I'm having second thoughts about this. I want to get a shorter leash for B so that she has to stay in closer to me. It would mean less freedom for her, but also less room to get into trouble and less stuff for me to juggle when I'm working with her. So I got a four foot leather leash to try out.
In a perfect world, that's all I would need. Of course, in this perfect world, Rubi is not reactive. In the real world, Rubi is sixty pounds of pure reactive pit bull muscle. And I am less than 140 pounds of scrawny human with one bad arm and a tendency to wheeze when I get worked up. There's no shame in admitted that you need help. I use a gentle leader with Rubi when we're out and about. This gives me the extra leverage I need to control her. It also gives me control of her head - I can even close her mouth by pulling up on the leash. I don't do that often, but it's nice to have the option when we get jumped by off-leash dogs.
The gentle leader isn't for everyone. Maus's reactivity, for instance, seemed to get worse when I tried the gentle leader with him (he gets trained on a regular flat collar and leash, but he's not the powerhouse that B is). I don't think that there's any one training tool for every dog, and my goal is always to wean them off whatever I'm using anyway. I tend to recommend the Easy-Walk Harness a lot to people who don't want to use the gentle leader. I learned at the conference that a lot of reactive dog trainers are starting to recommend the Freedom Harness, owned by the same people who own 2 Hound Design (check out their collars, if you get a chance - very nice!). I picked up a Freedom Harness at the conference to try out with B. Here's Piper modeling the new harness (she stands still better than B does).
I have to admit, my initial assessment is right there with Piper's. It was kind of tricky to figure out how to adjust the harness for the best fit. I think if I didn't already know how to adjust tracking harnesses, it probably would have given me a lot more trouble. But the plus side is that it seems a lot more secure than the Easy Walk - there's no way a dog it going to squirm out of this harness. I'll let you guys know how it goes as we use it more . . .
And here's Rubi getting her butt handed to her by a stuffie: