We’ve had a couple of weeks where most of the emphasis has been on teaching dogs recall and walking politely on a loose lead. The dogs in Life Skills classes have been learning how important loose lead walking is, so there has been a lot of walking backwards and forwards, in between doing fun bits of Bodywork.
In fact we’re finding that Loose Lead walking can be the solution to a lot of behaviour problems when you’re out and about with your dog. A pulling dog is either over-excited or stressed, and unable to focus on anything other than the ‘I wanna get there!’ feeling. A lot of owners come to us with a sense that their dog really doesn’t care if there is anyone on the other end of the lead or not. And they’re probably right! The smell of the Great Outdoors matters a lot more to many dogs than the person on the end of the lead …
We spend a lot of time creating the Feel Good space around each owner, which is about a diameter of 3 metres. Making this area feel really good means that your dog focuses on you when you want her to, and is also able to happily sniff about on walks and investigate within this Safe Circle as much as she wants. As long as it’s all on a loose lead. Our dogs spend a lot of time in their early walks with us doing Ping Pong Puppy – they don’t actually get very far on a walk, because it’s all about creating a Feel Good space and learning to refer back to their owner.
Once this is really firmly programmed into the dog’s brain, owners find that their dogs tend to react a lot less to things that may have bothered them in the past. Every time the dog feels any pressure on her harness from her lead, she knows that she needs to turn back into her owner and change direction – which means that she’s thinking more about the Feel Good of walking with her owner than the Feel Bad of whatever may have worried her.
Having established this sense of enjoying being together, both owner and dog tend to be a lot calmer and happier on walks (which is a big plus if you’ve been used to having your shoulder wrenched out of its socket by a tugging hound …) Once we’ve reached this state, we can start working on Recall.
As you can see from the pics, the dogs here love running between, and being around owners and trainers. We don’t use any words at first – we just Click and Treat the dogs wildly when they get to us. We soon have them pinging between us – even if they get distracted by a smell, they’re very quick to fly towards the nearest owner or trainer. It’s all about the Feel Good – it means that our dogs no longer get the urge to wander off and get that sudden big of deafness they used to when they were called. We still use a long-line, these boys aren’t ready for complete freedom yet, but they’re getting there.