Often, once we have taught our dogs a command, the temptation to use the lead to implement it seems to become overwhelming. The lead becomes an encouragement, a reminder, a nag, a brake, a compulsion device and heaven forbid but it happens, although never in my classes, a sharp punisher. Hand signals painstakingly taught, and which command word to use, so carefully thought out, fade in favour of lead – lead – lead.
If it were always possible to use no leads at all, this would solve the entire issue, but context generally precludes this, such as everyday life when not in class. How can we overcome this issue as trainers and dog owners ourselves? It’s actually as easy as ‘think ahead – signal – manoeuvre’. Yes that’s right, back to driving lessons!
Did you actually decide to organise what your dog was about to do, or was the lead used to attempt to alter an action once it had happened? Remind yourself that anticipation is absolutely key to successful control. Think a few steps ahead of your dog, and use your command toolkit to pre-empt and direct.
Whether you use your voice, or a hand signal or body gesture, don’t neglect it. This may seem obvious to a trainer but frequently, owners fade this out or forget. Accuracy is so important in training, as well as keeping commands ‘clean’, but in the melee of a dog walk it gets lost. So remember to give those familiar, trained signals. That is what your dog is looking for (and very good he is at doing so, too). Someone’s coming? Ask your dog to sit. Dog spots a rabbit on the horizon? Step back and call him to you. With a trained command, your dog can then choose to follow, and hopefully succeed – without you needing to use that lead.
If you have instructed your dog and for some reason he doesn’t act, firstly you probably need more practice. This being reality, however, new eventualities crop up all the time and we can get quite impatient to advance to bigger and bigger distractions. At this point, you may need to use the lead to steer your dog out of trouble, move him away from a tempting fox-poo roll, or simply break his eye contact with an approaching, staring dog. Nevertheless, you are only using the lead to back up your previous instructions. Back away, call your dog, and if he doesn’t follow you, steer him closer.
This is not the best nor the first option, but it can sometimes be the only one. If you need to move your dog around, keep your hands low and try to steer the dog in a circling movement away from his intended target. Never lift the lead as this can result in you ‘lifting’ the dog, very uncomfortable for him and for you. Keep the lead coming from the side of his neck, or step to the side yourself. It is so much easier and gentler if you steer your dog in a way that just helps him to turn steadily towards you.
If you’re a trainer in class, take a look at your handlers. Have they got the above sequence the wrong way round? If so, start teaching them to think about the order in which they are operating.
And whilst walking your dog, work out what you do first. If it is that twitchy lead hand, stop yourself! Your dog will thank you for it.
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