Part One discussed the more common introduction to the leash as having one basic commonality—the leash or lead is in the handler’s hand or hands from the very beginning of the training. This has been an accepted tradition for years and, in most cases, serves the purpose of getting the dog to walk with the handler on a loose lead (without dragging in any direction, forward, sideways, or backward). In so far as this is an excellent skill for the dog to master, however, there is another way to introduce the leash control that is different in that the handler does not hold the lead in their hand in the beginning.
Dogs learn quickly to distinguish when the handler has or does not have the leash in their hand. Many dogs learn quickly that the handler can neither stop nor control them with the magic line (the leash). Once they realize this, many problems, some very difficult to overcome, often present themselves. Plus, 80% of all real obedience use whether in or out of the obedience ring calls for off lead (no visible lead) work.
When I trained my horse to come when called and walk on a line to her halter without pulling, I used basically this same concept: the animal must give to the collar (or halter) with no force. It is much easier with the dog. Using a secure, well-fitted plastic snap collar, attach your 6-foot lead. Place it on the floor and stand on it. If the dog runs, he will be stopped (remember, you are standing on the lead). If the dog is too big for you to hold (best reason for starting training with 2-4 month-old puppies), hook a long line about 10 foot long to something solid that will hold the dog. You are still going to stand on it, the tree, fence, whatever, is going to do the work.
Walk up the line until you are close to the dog and show him a piece of food. When he eats it out of your hand, say “Good.” Using another piece of food in your hand, walk back, calling the dog to you with “Here.” Many dogs will start to jump on you. Just stand closer up the line toward the dog until when he jumps, he is jerked down. The length of the line from the dog’s collar to the floor where you stand on the line is worked out by moving back and forth on the line until you determine the exact spot where the dog starts to jump, but is pulled down through his own actions.
Ignore the dog until he no longer jumps up. Then, using the food as a point of focus, lead the dog around. At this point place a short line on the dog’s collar. Give a gentle tug, show the food and lead the dog around. Anytime he starts away, put no pressure on the line in your hand, instead, step on the dragline to stop him. Then give a gentle tug on the short lead you are holding, and guide the dog showing the food. Pretty soon, he catches on. Gentle tugs mean come with you, trying to go away doesn’t work.
I use “Let’s Go” for the walking on loose lead command at this point. As soon as the dog gets the idea of not jumping up and following my hand, I start the rest of the OPT training sequence.
However, if you are going to progress from simply taking the dog out, on lead, for a walk, you will find that things can start to get progressively difficult with some breeds and a few individual dogs within almost any breed. It would appear that there is more going on with the learning of the skill to heel than is covered in most obedience material. After considerable research, a few interesting observations have come to light.
My final observation concerns the acceptance that some dogs are not as apt or as willing as others, but because they are dogs, they still possess the potential for doing all of the required basic obedience at much better levels that is generally seen. This potential appears to be better realized through the process of communication rather than coercion. And communication is greatly accelerated through the correct use of food.
©2012 Dr. Mary Belle Adelman