Learning the art of “Queen of my World” Walk
I was surprised at one of our first training sessions when our trainer, Ms. Charlotte, said to stand without slumping, shoulders back, head up, like you are Queen of the World! She wanted us to pick a destination like a tree or fence post and walk our dogs to that destination with a walk of pure confidence, even if we didn’t feel confident. Well, I wasn’t feeling confident at all. My 90 pound pocket puppy, Nea was misbehaving while Ms. Charlotte talked. Really???? I’ll be honest. My first thought was, “Are you crazy!?!?” I was concentrating on keeping my unruly toddler under control. Nea was barking her big bark and lunging at Ms. Charlotte when she came near. I felt I barely could keep my feet on the ground because I was literally leaning backward with the strain of controlling Nea’s mammoth strength. Nea appeared to be intent on threatening everyone and everything in sight. I was afraid; really afraid. I had a horrible mental image of Nea actually getting away from me and harming a person or dog at class. My nerves were frayed to say the least. It seemed out of the realm of possibility to comply with Ms. Charlotte’s request that I be aware of my body posture when all I could focus on was keeping Nea’s body close to me so that everyone was safe. I now know that my Nea was more afraid than me! Ms. Charlotte says it’s not misbehaving to Nea! She says that “good” and “bad” are human concepts and we force them upon our dogs.
But ok, I thought. My mother always told me to stop slumping, stand straight. So I did it. What could it hurt? And it doesn’t cost anything. Nea seemed to do better…but was it just that she got tired of barking? Ms. Charlotte asked us to please just give her 48 hours of holding our bodies that way when we were with our dogs and that didn’t seem impossible to me.
A little later, I had a chance to talk with Ms. Charlotte about my fears. She said something that really got my attention. She said that I was thinking negatively and I needed to stop it or “You’ll get me hurt”. Whoa!! I’m trying hard to keep everyone safe including my precious dog. And MY negative thoughts and fears are going to “cause” trouble?!? She also told me that if I thought Nea was going to hurt someone, she probably would. She said that everything we think and feel travels down our arm and down the leash, straight into our dog’s mind. I was setting Nea up for failure and that was the opposite of my goal. I wanted her to succeed with all of my heart.
Two days later, I was pondering all of this on my drive to work. I pulled into the parking lot and sat in my car a moment with the Monday blahs! I wasn’t looking forward to the week ahead because the prior week had been extremely stressful. I really didn’t want to be there!! I hear Ms. Charlotte’s voice in my head: “Negative thoughts = Negative results” or something to that effect. Fine! No more “Negative Nancy!” I squared my shoulders, held my head high and put on my positive attitude face as I got out of my car. I was thinking “Okay, here we go!” I walked with purpose. Not hurried; just focused on the goal/destination. Like Ms. Charlotte said. Queen of my world! Queen…not prissy princess…Queen! Two of my co-workers literally chased me down wanting to know whether I was okay. They had noticed my newly found confidence and I can only assume that it worried them. Ha! I laughed and told them about the training class. I now have a new nickname…yes…Negative Nancy! But I don’t mind. It reminds me to Walk my new Walk!
That evening, I decided to put Ms. Charlotte’s theory to the test. I began my walk with Nea just as we always did … sloppy, slumped and no real direction or goal. It was AWFUL. I was not walking with Nea at all, rather she was dragging me! She stopped at every tree to sniff and pulled me everywhere she wanted to go. Finally, I just stopped, took a deep breath and stood still for a long time. Eventually, Nea got bored because and sat down to stare off into the woods. I looked at my wonderful dog who I love with all of my heart and said “”Nea, this isn’t how we walk. You heard Ms. Charlotte.” So, [deep breath] we began the walk again. This time I walked with squared shoulders and my head high [more deep breaths]. I chose a focal point as our destination and started to walk, just the way Ms. Charlotte said we should. I didn’t make a sound or give Nea any command. I just walked. Halfway to the destination, I started to panic just a little. I couldn’t feel any resistance on the leash and for a few seconds thought that Nea had slipped out of her collar and was gone. Then I realized that she was right beside me. We were experiencing our first real “loose leash” walk. I had to fight hard to resist the urge to drop to my knees and cry!!! We finished our journey to our destination and had one of Ms. Charlotte’s silly puppy parties and Nea got lots of treats and praise!
Feeling pretty bold, I decided to play Ms. Charlotte’s “crazy lady walk” game with Nea and it made me laugh … a lot. That night we had a great walk and were both feeling pretty happy. We played games until dinner time.
We are still working on the loose leash walk, as well as lots of other new skills. My training and Nea’s training will take some time to perfect but we are committed! Nea has days when she tries to buck the system and control the walk, and some days she is just distracted. But I am confident in my ability to get her to focus on me and listen to me while I let her know, in a way she understands, what I expect and actually get that behavior from Nea. My beautiful, head strong, somewhat anxious and insecure, dog and I made a huge leap forward that night. All because we listened to a trainer named Ms. Charlotte, who walks a crooked and confusing crazy lady walk!!
~Susan and Neakita