Ironically, pretty and animated on leash heeling is one of my favorite things about competition dog obedience.
I will admit, it isn’t “easy”.
But the best things in life aren’t “easy”, they take some effort.
So there are a couple “Tricks of the Trade” that I will share with you so you can get started.
#1 Make sure you are Marker Training
I am an avid clicker or marker trainer!
Without training with a “marker” how can you express to your dog that what he just did was what you wanted?
So often, we are busy to correct behavior but many people never ensure clear communication by marking good behaviors.
This is like going down a one lane highway with no exits and no way to turn around.
Good communication needs to be a 2 way street. Sure, we often need to correct bad behavior, but it is even more important to give the dog the information about what we do like.
Imagine going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.
Every time you do something wrong people will hit you with a fly swatter.
There is little to no communication, except the fly swatter.
After a while, you would be a little timid and scared to show any behaviors, for fear that they would be wrong.
Wouldn’t you rather have people kindly show you, and help you and reward you for good choices?
Again, you are probably going to make mistakes but if communication is effective (even without speaking the same language) then your mistakes will be much less and you will learn what behaviors get you rewarded or paid.
If you haven’t jumped on the clicker/marker band wagon, please join us! This is the best way to communicate with your dog!
#2 Always Use the Same Leash
I am a leash hoarder. I will admit it. I have more leashes than I know what to do with most days.
Personally, I prefer leather or fake leather leashes because they are soft on my hands.
And, although I have 6 ft leashes and 4 ft leashes and 10 ft leashes as well as tabs, I want to be consistent.
If one day I use a 4 ft leash and the next day I use a 6 ft leash to teach leash manners; it isn’t fair to my dog.
As I am changing my direction and trying to teach my dog about how long his leash is, and not to pull it is essential that the leash remains the same length.
Typically, I use a 6 foot leash for most training. I want my dog to know that he has 5 and ½ feet before he pulls me.
#3 Use the hand Opposite the Dog to Hold the Leash
Being an obedience instructor, I have always taught “heel” on my left side with my dogs’ shoulders parallel to my leg.
If the dog is on my left, my right hand is on the leash. The handle goes over my right thumb and I either let the leash slack across my thighs or I gather it up a bit in that right hand.
KEEP YOUR LEFT HAND OFF OF THE LEASH!!!!!
There is a little known phenomenon in dog training called opposition reflex. If you pull, your dog pulls back harder!
It’s a vicious cycle. The dog pulls, you ball up the leash shorter and wrap it around your wrist and pull back, to which, the dog pulls harder.
Stop pulling back!
Let that leash hang slack. You will notice if the dog moves out past heel position and may begin to pull and this gives you time to lock in and brace for the pull or impact.
As you notice the dog move out past heel, you should change your direction to help him pay more attention to your body. I think of it as a game of keep away… if you aren’t paying attention to me; I am going the other way.
#4 Use Your Body to Your Advantage
The older I get, the less I like to feel physically exhausted.
When I was younger, as a vet tech, I used to physically get down and bear hug all of the dogs that came into the clinic.
Now, at 43, I do things like use walls and my knees and thighs for restraint. It is less physically draining.
I have learned some of these things about dog training too! I want to do the most, with the least amount of effort.
Put your arm out in front of you.
Now ask someone to push or pull your arm down.
Because the arm is weak, it doesn’t take much to push or pull in around.
Now, lock your fist into your stomach, flexing your bicep and now ask someone to push or pull it.
Chances are it takes WAY more effort to move your arm and hand if it is locked into your body. Your core does the effort at taking impact.
Remember this! If you want to be strong, use your core and lock in before the dog thinks about pulling.
Sling the Leash Behind Your Butt
When I have a dog that is an adamant puller, I sling the leash around behind me.
For instance, my right hand would be on the leash and the leash would go around behind me and hook to the dog on the left.
Then, if the dog pulls, he is pulling my core and my body.
Again, I want to refrain from opposition reflex and pulling back on my dog.
The difference here is that your backside can’t grab and pull the dog, it only pulls back when the dog pulls… effectively teaching him that he won’t get anywhere when he pulls.
Take the time that it takes to teach this very important skill!
Your dog, your friends and your family will thank you for it!
Don’t skip steps, invest in your dog’s leash manners!
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