Lagging is an intriguing phenomenon, particularly when it is considered that most dogs start out in training by forging. By the time they get into the ring, however, many of these dogs will be heavily penalized for lagging. About a year ago, I mentioned this incongruity in a column and since that time have had the chance to discuss it with trainers and instructors, as well as having received a flood of correspondence.
Many causes are assigned to lagging. Pulling a dog along instead of heeling him on a loose lead, practicing ring routine without enough variation and encouragement, not walking quickly enough or with sufficient animation are some of the more frequently mentioned causes. Perhaps the most serious cause, however, is confusing the dog as to what is being taught. To illustrate this point, let us take a look at what might happen to a handler and dog in a typical training class.
The handler will be instructed that in order to teach the dog to heel he must maintain a loose lead and every time the dog deviates from heel position he is to bring the dog back to heel position by means of a jerk on the leash. He is also told that right turns and about-turns, combined with a jerk if the dog moves ahead, are particularly effective in teaching the dog to heel. As the training progresses, other exercises are added such as standing and downing the dog while heeling, and the come-fore. Turns are being perfected and the dog is started off lead. By the time he is ready for Novice his only serious problem, all of a sudden, is lagging. What has happened in the preceding 20 or 30 weeks to produce this result? My theory is that the dog has never been taught to “heel.”
Let us take a second look at how the dog started out and the purpose of the instructions the handler receives in the beginning. The intent of the turns is to bring the dog under control and teach him to pay attention. Once this goal has been achieved, the dog must be taught to heel which is best accomplished by doing just that. Practice should focus on keeping the dog at heel position and any other aspect of heeling, such as the sit or turns, should be de-emphasized while the dog is learning to heel and even once he “knows” it. Turns can be particularly troublesome. Since they are effective control- getting maneuvers, they inherently have the tendency to slow the dog down. For the forger, this works well, but for the potential lagger, turns will aggravate the problem and for this reason are best kept to an absolute minimum. Turns are an inhibiting influence and once they have achieved their purpose, should be practiced sparingly! For example, when the handler is practicing footwork, he should do it without the dog and only test for results with the dog.
Equally treacherous are other maneuvers which break the free flow of heeling such as standing or downing the dog while heeling. According to Konrad Most’s “Training Dogs” (Popular Dogs, 1954), interruptions in heeling have the tendency to cause apprehension about heel position. In short, they cause lagging and this innocuous obser- vation may well be the real key to lagging. My own personal observations suggest that it is. The exercises such as downing and standing the dog from the heel position and the come-fore can just as effectively be taught from the stationary position, thereby avoiding the possibility of slowing down the dog’s heeling. It is much easier to prevent the creation of a lagger than to cure lagging once it has become a habit.
©1975 J. J. Volhard