Sunday, December 27, 2009


(While this is not a TAG or Clicker post, it is one example of turning a negative situation around quickly using a positive distraction.)

Heading home after a training I was coming down a pathway by a community center and saw a man jogging along with his golden retriever on leash. The golden looked fairly young, I would estimate two years or under. Upon seeing me in my power wheelchair the dog lunged, hackles up and began barking. (I would gather possibly first encounter with a powerchair?) I'm used to that and have a strategy, until the handler began jerking on the leash, and striking and screaming at the dog, which clearly was escalating the situation.

I only had a split second to change things, and our placement in the environment made it such so that there was not a good quick out for me to make. There were quite a few people in the area, and I'm grateful that my reflex had me reaching for a tennis ball. I used the emergency "STOP!" yell. As the handler abruptly stopped and looked up, I yelled "I'm TOSSing the ball behind you, be ready to turn and chase it!" With the ball in air, the two turned to chase, while I quickly ROLLed away.

I turned back to glance after a few seconds to see them jogging calmly with the dog carrying the ball. whew! Saved by the ball!

Being in my neighborhood I was only about 50 feet away before someone approached me, inquiring as to why I would reinforce that dog's behavior. We have had long dog conversations and observations several times over the years. It was a great question! I proceeded to explain...

There are times to train and their are times to act quickly for safety sake. This was definitely a safety situation. It's important to respond quickly and hopefully in a manner that will diffuse the reactionary behaviors. My screeching verbal "STOP" really was for the handler. I was not trying to correct him for what he was doing and go into a lecture on why what he was doing was increasing instead of decreasing his dog's reaction, I needed to get his attention so that I could give him a direction and it indeed did cause him to stop and glance up. The encounter actually felt rather long, however after talking to the neighborhood gentleman he said it was probably about 10 or 15 seconds.

Hopefully that brief yet very vocal and visual experience will leave those who were in the area with an image of a simple solution instead of only the fearful few moments.

I knew there was some reason to replace the tennis ball that I'd used a couple of months ago. While I'll admit that sitting with a tennis ball partially under me, is not an easy egg to hatch, it has on more than one occasion saved my behind!

Never hurts to be prepared for a positive way out of sticky situations.
(Be right back!) Just went and replaced that tennis ball!

(Thanks to Dr. Mary Lee Nitschke for teaching me that tennis ball strategy years ago!)


  1. Wow! Mara this is BRILLIANT!!! I am going to give this to my studetns with dogs with serious behaviour problems....and pass it along to anyone else I can think of. Not just for wheelchair users anymore! Well done.

  2. I learned it before I was a chair user. I was needing a strategy originally in dealing with off leash dogs when out with Freely and learned this. I have probably only had to use it about a dozen times, but it's never failed me.. yet!

  3. Thanks for sharing that! It's the first time I've heard of that strategy for dealing with off leash dogs. I think I'll keep a ball in my scooter basket.