~Why we don’t use a harness
One of our greatest frustrations is reading or seeing that a Weimaraner is out of control. A lot happens on to the way to developing a problem–typically, those who get into the biggest mess, are the same ones trying to do everything perfectly–in the correct manner. (Deep breath.)
Yes, the best intentions can lead you down the path to problems–serious issues. The little things that people want to dismiss might grow into something disruptive or even worse. When we talk about not liking harnesses, head halters, prong collars, etc.–we have a reason. In our experience, the use of the devices typically means the Weimaraner is not compliant. Somehow, you have to go from forcing control, to evoke their desire to want to please. This process is easier said than done.
Raising the well-balanced (obedient) Weimaraner can be tricky. Even with a lot of socialization, things can go sideways. This type of issue can lead to frustration–frustration is like throwing wood on a burning fire. Folks they (the Weimaraner) read us–they know how to play us, and they are out to get their way. Sometimes this is cute, and other times not so much.
If you are an off-leash advocate, be careful. Some of you tell us your Weim only behaves when they are off leash. What does that say? Honestly, it means they don’t want to be under your control. Once the Weimar gets the upper paw, things can become scary–lunging, pulling, and going after other dogs, or sometimes certain people. These behaviors are ones you want to avoid. Can we suggest that you get the Weimaraner compliant on the leash?
We have helped a lot of people who found their self in this type of dilemma–Cliff taking the Weim getting compliance in short order. However, when the leash is passed back to the owner–things quickly go sideways. Letting your Weimaraner win this battle is not a win for anyone.
There is one exception to this thought. That would be one designed for a Service Dog or when it is used in a particular discipline–like this one Loki uses. There are times when a harness is a must.
~Who is in the lead?
A lack of respect (for your authority) often shows up when the Weimar is walking on the lead (or leash). Go anywhere there are dogs, and you will see dogs lunging and yanking on the leash. You see dog owners pulled down the street. This scenario is scary stuff for a public venue. Some owners gain compliance early in their morning walk only to find when they turn for home it is almost impossible to prevent the pulling. It is as if to say, “I know where we are going, and I can get us there.” It’s true. Maybe this is a horse-thing–heading for the barn syndrome. Nonetheless, it is smart for you to be in control and for them to defer to your pace.
Loose is Important
I understand how much fun it is to have the off-leash freedom. I say go for it when it is appropriate and once you have this skill mastered. There are places where being off-leash is safe. Otherwise, you need to reel them in, and to get them to comply by walking on a loose lead at your side. Pulling, lunging, and dragging you where they want you to go is not Okay. When faced with this scenario, many people turn to a front-clip harness or a head-halter like a Gentle Leader. Yes, these get you away from the behavior, but they don’t change the underlying cause of the problem. I urge you to master the loose-lead walk. I see it as a necessary skill and a sign of respect for your leadership.
Gatsby, the challenges and the reward.
Hello Shela & Cliff:
I wanted to share an update with you. As you are probably fully aware, teaching a Weim to obey off leash is the ultimate challenge and yet, with their energy level, nothing tires like a great off leash run. And a tired weimie is a happy weimie. Gatsby is our fifth Weimaraner over the last 30+ years and definitely the most willful, but we have been patient and did not expect him to fully register the training until he was two or three years old!
Gatsby turned three earlier this year and because we divide our time between two residences we are able to really see the progress he makes with each trip.
For example, we routinely walk in a large (several hundreds of acres) off leash area, but there are roads at the perimeter so it is very important to work to obedience.
As a young dog Gatsby was very interested in everyone and everything, he loves people, he LOVES children, he LOVES other dogs, he wants to love the cat a bit too enthusiastically, he is gregarious. He still loves all those things, but I clearly remember when he figured out that we are his family and meeting another dog or human on the trail doesn’t change that and that he should come with us not leave with the other family. That was pleasing.
Then he matured to the place where, if we see people coming, pull off the trail, he sits to allow people to go by, he will often not even attempt to engage with the passerby – does not even try to follow them, once they have passed by, he just comes along with us. Yay! This was real progress.
In the place we visit for a few months of the year, we daily walk by a house with a huge yard surrounded by a block wall of varying heights 4’-5’-6’ and Gatsby being a professional jumping weimie (he easily jumps upon things that are 5’+) had always jumped up onto the wall and down into the yard to see the fun dogs there. By the time he turned two, I could actually keep him from running hundreds of yards to jump on the wall and into the yard. Now that he is three, he does not even try to jump into their yard if we pass by quite closely.
One thing we do in this area, due to the plethora of temptations & dangers, from bunnies to chase, to coyotes, to dogs, to horses. to roads, we have had Gatsby drag a line. In the vein of the training of Don Sullivan, whose DVD you recommended our first year, we initially worked on the off leash walks WITH a 20’ line clipped to his collar, it definitely made a difference in his responsiveness and assisted in the off leash training.
Another off leash training factor is the whistle, we use an REI whistle and trained him to ‘come’ to the whistle blow. It has taken a while for him to realize that means now & not when he is ready, but he definitely knows what the whistle means. Another example of his innate intelligence is that in the middle of our whistle training, it, rather than coming to the sound of the whistle, he would instead stop and search all around to see what fun things I wanted to prevent him from chasing. I had to outsmart him by making sure to blow the whistle often and randomly. He is too observant for his own good. When we walk along a road, he must sit when a car or bike approaches, in time I had to re-train on that as he began to know the routine and would stand on his own, not waiting for release, because he ‘knew’ why he was sitting.
As I said, Gatsby is our fifth Weim and seventh shorthair sporting dog – we love him dearly, but my husband will agree when I say that he (the dog not my husband) is probably the most alert, naturally inquisitive, and at times most headstrong dog we have ever owned! This was initially discouraging given that our last Weim was darn near “perfect” after being loved and trained for ten years. We repeatedly reminded ourselves that it takes a couple of years for a Weim’s brain to become “fully wired” and for them to learn how to listen to, respect, and react consistently to their master’s voice. This certainly appears to be the case with Gatsby who, over the past many months has really matured and is developing into a truly fine companion much valued and loved member of the family.
He still needs his late evening “chomp” on his favorite bone, chewing whilst sitting with Dad who holds the bone seems to satisfy and tire Gatz at some deep level.
As a long-time Weim owner I would offer this simple bit of encouragement to any other owner – especially those who are not experienced with the breed: Don’t become discouraged. Every time your dog causes you to become frustrated, just love them more – show them more affection – give them more training – demand more discipline – in short, just love them more and more and more…. and magically, I can promise you that one day your beloved companion will change – for the better – and all of the pieces will start coming into place and you will suddenly realize that you have been blessed with the opportunity to raise, care-for, and love a truly exceptional animal who will fill your life with joy in a way that nothing else can.
Gatsby has a very large personality
Gatsby is maturing into a wonderful young dog, 2+ now, he is almost showing occasional signs of maturity. 😉 I can see him becoming much more responsive on our off leash dog walks as each summer passes.
He had a big adjustment this summer, Matt & I went to Europe for a month to visit our daughter who lives there. Because my Mum lives with us, it was easy for Gatsby to stay in his own home and I brought in some one each of the weeks to care for Mum & Gatsby. The daily dog walks were handled by my daily walking buddy, she and her Vizsla are our near daily companions. The first block of time was handled by my local daughter & her husband, two of Gatsby’s favorite people. Though they work long days, having them arrive each evening was all he needed to feel safe and secure. The next block was as exciting as summer camp when his walking buddies stayed at our place for a few days transition! The arrival of my sister, who did not really know Gatz well, was of some concern, but she fell in love with the little guy in no time at all and they had a fantastic time. He was very well-behaved for her J and she still talks about how much she likes/loved him.
It was pleasing to know that he could handle all that change and remain emotionally stable, such a long time for us to be gone, especially since Matt & I both work from home and he is accustomed to having his people around all the time. I think it was helpful that he was in his own house and that he had his usual walks with his dog buddy. I was pleased at how well he adapted to the various people to sleep with, especially happy that he made a new love buddy of my sister!
He has a rather willful personality, definitely has his own ideas as to what he wants to do, especially off leash. The first year of off leash training was a challenge, but he has gotten so good with time and practice. We walk on a semi-logged 700+ acre area near our home, it is easy for the dogs to run far ahead or out of site, but he always comes back to the whistle. It took a lot of consistent work to get to that point and initially seemed hopeless. He has the spirit of a wanderer, where our previous weim did not even require a fenced yard, Gatsby will take any opportunity to sneak out and cruise the neighborhood, he never digs or tries to get out, but if he spots a gap in the fence or an open gate, he is out looking for his neighbor dog buddies. The whistle works well in these settings, too!
He still needs a major chomp each evening around 9-10PM (a bone or your arm!) and he is quite funny about food. Very disinterested, he will eat when hungry, but not a food desperate dog at all, which is nice, though he responds quite well to treats.
Regarding water, Gatsby is not thrilled by swimming, but loves wading and is quite interested in things below the water, he easily puts his head under & blows bubbles whilst inspecting sundry underwater critters, whether in the low tide pools or the fresh water pond. The little tadpoles are now fascinating to him
All in all he has matured into a splendid dog, we adore him. He has a very large personality.