When I first met Kelsey the Doodle, she was out of control, never came when she was called and was THOUGHT to be dog aggressive. Reina, Kelsey’s human, mentioned her big goals for Kelsey to be off leash reliable but also make sure she could be trusted around dogs. Well, Kelsey proved to be a quick study and Reina and Lynn were great clients who followed instruction very well.
Check out Kelsey’s first session results
Kelsey progressed fast. Her remote collar training proved to be one of the best experiences for her, her fulfillment and her humans.
The problem that still remained in Kelsey’s training was walking at heel. Any time they were walking on the side walk, Kelsey could not seem to maintain that heel position beside Reina as she and I wanted. If I were to take the leash, she did fine and didn’t forge at all but when Reina had the leash in her hands Kelsey would start moving ahead almost right away.
Now, a number of trainers might have suggested being more assertive, making pops on the leash more firm or even restricting Kelsey’s freedom. My advice to Reina shocked her and it would have shocked anybody else as well…
Drop the leash.
Now, it’s not just as easy as dropping the leash. I’m not advising you take your pulling dog and drop the leash and hope for the best. This was strategic and done after a high level of reliability off leash and fulfillment was achieved.
The problem with the way most dog owners use the leash is even if they become half way proficient in pressure/release handling, the tendency is still to joystick and attempt to physically manipulate the dog rather than teach through the leash and allow controlled freedom and limit the ability to make mistakes.
What dropping the leash did for Reina, and what it does for the other clients that I’ve done this with is insist on other things to develop attention and engagement and only rely on the leash as an airbag if a big distraction were to come around or if Kelsey started veering drastically off course. By focusing on being more interesting and working for Kelsey’s engagement, within a few minutes Kelsey was walking down the road with the leash dragging in a nice and polite heel and only minimal amounts of feedback were required to correct her movements.
She did so well, we started to up the pressure and add me pulling her away and having her exercise active temptation resistance, a concept that was brought to my attention by Jay Jack (www.nldogs.com). Though normally this is applied with play in his approach, it works well in this context as well.
It was a great example about how sometimes you need to let go of control and expectation and just roll with the punches with a dog for a few minutes. By letting go of control, the dog has more freedom… even if that means freedom to make a mistake or the wrong choice which if your goal is to educate the dog on what you like and don’t like is a good thing. If mistakes are made, we can educate the dog on what we’d rather they do and then we have what we want with the same lack of control. Everybody wins.