Lovely Lead Walking!
by Charlotte Board // July 2018
One of the most interesting things we get to do in the early stages of our partnership with puppy and owner throughout their Dog School experience is having that initial chat over the phone to find out exactly why they want to attend classes with their dog and what they most want to achieve.
If an owner has a young puppy then we usually find that they are looking to socialise them – we have small sessions of play throughout class but also teach the importance of making the owner valuable to the puppy so they are able to get them back after quick play sessions!
Among our adult and rescue students, we find that almost all of them struggle with walking on the lead. As owners, we accidentally teach our puppies to pull from the get-go by following them when they first start exploring out on walks and growing in confidence. Following your cute puppy then often turns to being dragged by your substantially larger teenager – I speak from experience!
One of our students, in particular, struggled with walking on lead - or rather their owner was struggling to contend with the sheer volume of fun and exciting things to see and smell out and about.
Our first sighting of the pair was as Buddy was pulling his owner down the slope towards the barn! Whilst Buddy’s owner David had done such a good job at raising him to be confident and social, this did not make his life easy when it was time for walks. David was used to being dragged in all directions; whether Buddy wanted to see a person across the street or a dog in the far distance!
Buddy and his owner needed help on his focus out and about
Knowing that this was the major issue that he wanted to overcome, we put a plan in action of how best we could help.
The key to success when teaching your dog to walk nicely beside you is focus! Without building that first, most owners will find themselves struggling. For owners of dogs that are super friendly and distracted by the slightest thing, it is even more important to initially spend time on building their focus before even worrying about taking any steps.
On week two, it was time to introduce the basis of loose lead walking to the owners in class. While it is normal for most dogs to find it hard to focus around lots of distractions in class, Buddy found it particularly difficult, so we helped him and his dad out by popping them in the quietest end of the barn, where there was a bit of space between them and the other dogs and owners.
With the help of the space and some tasty high-value treats (Buddy’s favourite was Frankfurter sausages!) David got him focused in no time. By the end of the lesson, they were taking slow, small steps in a circle, all the while maintaining lovely concentration.
The homework that week was to go home and practice the loose lead walking – initially in the house and then building up to the garden if they were doing well. It is really important for us as Coaches to get the message across to owners that this behaviour is one of the hardest to change with their dogs and any progress, no matter how small, should be celebrated.
Buddy was always happy to come to class!
By the next week, Buddy was still extremely excited to be coming to class, but while still pulling David to get to the barn, there was a definite improvement in his focus on his owner in comparison to before. We weren’t expecting perfect heel work within a week, so any improvement was a good sign!
In class, we practised again, this time coming out of the bays a little. For Buddy, however, who loves to greet every dog he sees, we helped him and David out by extending his bay so he could concentrate more. This way, he was able to focus on his owner and the pair had a chance to show us what they had been practicing at home! It was lovely to see Buddy’s focus on David while walking next to him on a nice loose lead.
It’s important to identify how to help our dogs and owners out as much as possible to enable them to achieve what they want, but taking it at their pace so they have as many chances to get it right as possible. For Buddy and David, this meant leaving other dogs out of the equation at this stage as they were just too distracting. After only a week of practice, even the tastiest sausage wouldn’t compete with the chance to make some new friends and play!
By week 4, Buddy’s bay was shortened slightly so he could see some of the other dogs. After another week of practice, he was definitely improving at giving his owner focus when asked for it. By the final week of classes, the pair were able to walk around the barn and try out our different circuit stations, without David being pulled around everywhere!
While Buddy’s owner understood that he would need to continue practising before Buddy was able to walk on a loose lead in the park around other dogs, he could see the progress they had both made and was feeling inspired to carry on! As Coaches, we could see how much work he had been putting in between classes and felt sure that they would crack it in no time.
Like butter wouldn’t melt!