Big-dog-little-handler: First week of obedience classes.

I have a very large baby: My mastiff-cross-Rhodesian-Ridgeback is approaching 6 stone, very muscular and pretty long! I am not the biggest person in the world at a just bellow average 5ft2 weighing in at over 9 stone.

The most common, unsolicited, comment I receive is regarding my dog’s size in comparison to mine. They often go as follow: “that’s a big dog for a little girl” (oi I’m 25 years old, that’s not condescending at all!”, “I bet he pulls you over”, “I bet you struggle to control him”, “can you hang on to that lead?” ( YES I can, tried and tested), “that’s a big boy he will take you over one day”.
Yes my upper body strength has increased greatly since we rehomed the gorgeous 8 month old Duke but I wouldn’t walk a dog I couldn’t, if needed, keep tight hold of. Dukes excitable and young. So like many dogs his age he can act as boisterous as any teenage dog would and, like most rehomed adolescent dogs, he was stuck in many puppy behaviours when he first came to us. He has greatly improved with lots of time since first coming to us. But there our some behaviours I would like to stop:

1. He does still jump up.
2. He doesn’t listen while out on a walk (although he use to!).
3. His recall isn’t perfect.
4. Dogs, bikes, tractors, cows are all things that cause great excitement and pulling.
5. He doesn’t follow commands around other dogs or big distractions.
There are also some key commands I wanted him to learn and learn reliably:
1. A strong recall.
2. A stay (when around other dogs he will stay while in the house).
3. An effective “leave it” around plants that he likes to munch.
4. To bark and stop barking on command.
5. And to stay CALM.
6. An Emergency stop.

This list is just to start; you gotta start somewhere.

Now that we have had him over 6 months and he is settled in our home and family we decided to take him to obedience classes and after the initial comments being centred around my size it did make me wonder: is it any different being a smaller person with a big dog? Does my size really matter?
Now I wouldn’t call myself small, thin, frail looking or even slim; but apparently my size causes great concern for other people when I am holding on to the lead. My husband is 6ft and I quite often find myself handing the lead over to him when people are around to avoid concerned stares! But does my size really make a difference to the amount of control I have over the hound?

We turned up to the obedience classes as nervous as can be our hound on the shortest lead we could find. He doesn’t pull any more on a lead unless he sees other dog or exciting looking people; there was of course an abundance of other dogs. Straight away It was suggested by a gentleman that we invested in a different type of lead as “Your partner is going to get pulled over by a dog his size” (he addresses my husband of course and I had successfully kept tight hold of the lead despite all the excitement). Internally I’m laughing. I’ve had 6 months of holding him in the midst of a crazed moment of excitement; I know I can keep hold of him when I need to. I often feel a bit self-conscious as soon as people seem to mention my control of Duke is limited by my weight of height. I tried to look positive and like I wasn’t offended or taking it personally; perhaps it wasn’t meant the way I was taking it.

Our biggest battle is keeping Duke’s attention on us while other dogs are around so of course there was much pulling and not much following of commands (even the ones he definitely knows). But it’s his first time in that situation and he was ultimately very well behaved. He jumped at one of the trainers a bit when he took control of the leash to demonstrate how he would do an “off” command. Duke started to understand what was expected of him pretty swiftly and started to pay less attention to other the dog (only alittle less attention but it was all new). Of course after the trainer had held dukes real weight he commented that I must be relatively strong.

This was our first session, my husband and I plan to do two a week for as long as it takes. We will share the handling responsibility as he is both of our baby. But it’s important for me to show that Dukes size, given the right training and direction, means nothing. I also walk Duke the most as I love being outside. I am going to take in all the training gather as many training tips as possible and prove: Little handlers work great with big dogs!

Wish us luck…. And we will pass on any gems of knowledge!

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