When we wanted to get a third dog, the breeder did warn us that a third “changes the dynamic – they become more of a pack.” We looked at little Picchu blinking her big, brown, homeless eyes at us and thought, “Pack problems? Naaahhh.”
Sure enough, with just C-Biscuit and Picchu, all was well. Biski has always been shy on the street, Picchu is much more social. We enjoyed going up to other dogs for a change, because Picchu made tons of friends. Even when a new dog lunges at Picchu and barks in her face – something that sends Biski flying backwards into our legs – she ignores it, sniffs, and miraculously the other dog turns friendly. Until we added Sesame.
Our boy Sesame isn’t the problem, exactly, because he’s the shyest of them all, and completely well-mannered. The problem is a pack mentality. Last week I came home and told Bob I’m done walking all three together. They’re too much of a handful, causing too many scenes.
Our social little Picchu is, unwittingly, the instigator. She sees another dog and thinks, “Playmate!” She perks up or jumps, or sometimes barks out of excitement, which Sesame reads as, “The pack is under attack!” Seemingly out of nowhere he lunges and WOOF-WOOFs. He’s not as delicate a little whippet as the girls, and his bark means business. That sets off Picchu, who goes from “I want to meet you!” to “I want to eat you!”
Even that would be manageable if it weren’t for wallflower Biski springing to life. Whereas alone she would avoid conflict at all costs, with Picchu and Sesame out front, she’s happy to provide back-up: rrrRRROOUROOUROOU!
Three well-behaved whippets turn into a barking, snarling, three-whip-power lunging machine, while other dog owners scurry away and I become that woman who doesn’t have any control over her rude dogs. I have been frustrated at those people for years – Control your dog! – so I know exactly how bad this is.
Bob and I started to anticipate trouble, took the dogs to the curb, and stood body blocking them from a passing dog. This worked – they wouldn’t bark or lunge – but you wouldn’t believe how bad some dog owners are at reading body language that unquestionably says, “Stay away. Our dogs do not want to say hi.” Several times, they let pooches on illegally long leashes prance right up to our Packette, setting them off. Then, of course, we’re the bad guys.
However, no cause for alarm. I ordered the booklet Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog from trainer Patricia McConnell. We love her training resources, and have several of her books and videos. She says that leash-lunging is a very common problem and that it is not difficult to solve.
Our first training exercise is to work with each dog individually on the “watch” command, so the dogs look at us rather than an approaching dog. That means no more group walks for a while. But it’ll be worth it once our pack is back under control. Hopefully in time to model their matching fall outerwear.