Every so often there comes along an idea that is so simple in concept, yet so effective, one is forced to say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Such is the case with the solid leash. At every dog obedience training clinic I have attended, there are usually one or two ideas that stand out head and shoulders above the others. Thank you, Bob Self, for introducing me to the solid leash.
The solid leash is a conventional snap attached to the end of a dowel. Let ingenuity be your guide to construction. In Bob Self’s training manual, DOGS SELF TRAINED, he shows the construction by drilling a hole through the end of a ½ inch by 30 inch dowel rod. The snap is fastened to the dowel by passing a piece of wire through the hole and the eye of the snap and then twisting the wire. Tape covers the sharp ends of the wire. Another method is by stapling a cotton web leash to a ¾ inch x 3-inch dowel. Both methods of construction prevent the snap from being rapidly attached to the rod.
A good instructor knows when to modify his usual approach to teaching an exercise to suit the temperament and capabilities of the individual dogs and handlers. This becomes more of a challenge when instructing a handicapped handler. The solid leash is an invaluable training device for handlers with a limited range of motion or limited dexterity. It allows the handler to give a verbal command while physically prompting the dog into position with little or no assistance from another handler. This does much for the morale of the handler as well as helping the dog regard his owner as leader.
When a student brings his dog to class, the main reason is to be able to control his dog and have him “mind.” More specifically, to be able to have his dog do what he asks him to do. This simply means having voice control. All of our exercises are taught with this goal in mind. We stress that students should not rely on the lead or physical manipulation to control the dog. In order to do this the sequence of name, command, movement, praise or correction must be properly carried out. If not the dog becomes dependent on everything but voice.
The foundation for this is found in the basic principals of classical conditioning. A dog can be taught (conditioned) to salivate by associating a light or buzzer with the presentation of meat powder. The sequence is light (buzzer), food powder, salivation and reward. Since the food powder is always presented following the stimulus, the dog learns to salivate at the sight of the light or sound of the buzzer.
With heeling, what we want is the dog’s attention on us when he is in a certain position at our left side. Should the dog begin to leave that position, his name is called followed by the command to “heel.” If the dog does not respond by looking at us or stopping his movement away from heel position, he is given a lead correction or as we prefer, a reminder, to once again get his attention. The reminder is not such that the dog physically pulled into position since, if timed properly, the dog is never really out of position. It should be quick enough to startle the dog and divert his attention to the owner. Once his attention has been regained, the dog is praised. It is stressed that the lead never be used unless the dog’s name has first been called and he has failed to respond. Through the constant association between the name, his attention should be on the owner. To point out the need for voice control, we stress that if the dog cannot be controlled with the lead on with the voice alone, never having to use the lead, it is not reasonable to expect to be able to control the dog when he is off-lead.
We also suggest that the dog’s name never be used unless we are going to have the dog do something. For this reason the name should not be used with stays. The practical application in every day life is simply that the dog becomes more responsive to his name and controllable off lead. If the name is used constantly when the dog is around, never expecting him to respond to it, the name becomes a part of the background noise of everyday life. For those competing in trials, it teaches the dog that when he hears his name, he is going to be asked to do something and his attention should be on the owner.
Problems arise when the lead is over used or corrections have been more forceful than needed to get the job done. This usually occurs when students and/or instructors fail to understand why the lead is used and the corrections are given regardless of how the dog is responding to the command or his name. What most often happens is that command and lead correction are given simultaneously. The dog learns that both must occur and both are needed for him to respond. Since in heeling there is movement, the dog is given a chance to respond to this movement before a reminder is given. We find that stressing the proper sequence of name, command and reminders helps eliminate many of the problems associated with basic training.