Monday, February 8, 2010

Little Leash Work

A friend of mine recently took a very brave step. Or maybe was very brave after a bit of a shove.

My friend is married with three teenage boys. The boys have been begging for a dog for a long time. Actually, as long as I've known her. Unfortunately, she had a pretty big fear of dogs. Fortunately for her boys, she was willing to confront the fear with cuteness. Cuteness in the form of a little mutt pup named Lenny.

She's surprised me, I have to say. I thought that the boys would be the primary caretakers of the pup. When she told me they were adopting, I imagined her making a kaper chart connecting each boy's name with dog duties on a certain day. I imagined her holding a coffee mug in her hands, watching the boys play with the puppy in the living room, smiling at her family bonding over the dog from a position of observer rather than participant. Instead, she is the primary caretaker, intensely bonded complete with silly nicknames and dog voices narrating his thoughts.

Not. What. I. Expected.

With my friend in mind, I wanted to post a few additions to my Leash Work post. That post is focused mainly on young adult to adult dog leash work.

Here are some tips for littles and puppies.

Try a harness rather than collar

Some puppies like Marshall learn quickly that pulling means an icky feeling around the neck. The Marshalls of the world are the easiest to work with because they naturally want to be next to you rather than pull. They are rare. Most pups will flop around at the end of the leash, pull and yank, and seem oblivious to the fact that they are tethered to you. A harness will protect the pup from a hurt throat and neck while you have leash time. It also protects you from accidentally hurting your pup as you train yourself to resist jerking the leash as a correction. Only use a harness for leash work and walking-- don't let the dog wear it all the time.

Keep a loose leash

When we want to control something or keep it safe, we tend to instinctively hold it tighter and closer. This is a problem for leash work. Keeping a short, taut leash keeps the puppy feeling constant tension on the lead and he won't realize when he's pulling. In some working dog breeds-- breeds like huskies, mastiffs, and Bernese Mountain dogs designed to pull carts or sleds-- the tension activates the instinct to pull and will encourage pulling. If the puppy is at your left, the leash should be long enough for you to hold the loop in your right hand, hold the leash about 12 inches from the loop in your left hand, and fall loosely to puppy with enough lead for the pup to go about two feet in front of you.

Gentle Crazy Lady

The Crazy Lady method works well, but remember to be gentle. As pup passes you, turn and walk the other direction. If the pup rushes to the end of the leash, call him back to you and start walking the other way rather than turning on your heel and jerking the leash. Remember not to use the 'come' command for this. Whistle, click your tongue, or snap your fingers to get pup's attention so he sees you are changing direction.

Timing, Timing, Timing

Leash pops and corrections (tightening the leash and then releasing) should last less than half a second. They should not be hard enough to move the dog along the sidewalk or take the puppy's feet off the ground. Corrections should be within two seconds of unwanted behavior. To put this in perspective, that is four to six steps at a moderate pace. Try to use 'uh-uhn' instead of 'No!' so that 'No!' is always a command.

Make it Fun

Practice walking around the house and yard. Practice dropping the leash and then running in the opposite direction, calling the puppy in a happy voice. Give puppy a treat when he follows you and comes. Use a squeaky toy to get puppy's attention when he starts to get ahead of you. Use calm praise when puppy is following the rules and 'You Won The Lottery!' praise when you're done with your session.

Know When to Stop

Keep leash work less than ten minutes at a time if there is a lot of pulling. If puppy is overexcited and not listening after a few minutes, it's time to stop for him. Go do something fun and wear him out a little before trying again. If you feel yourself getting frustrated and find yourself losing your timing on corrections or wanting to shout or yell at the puppy, it's time to stop for you. Go do something without the pup to give yourself some time to remember why you are training in the first place: to be able to spend more time with your dog.

1 comment:

  1. "Your friend" thanks you! For the advise, and more for not believing that I wouldn't become a snout kissing mess under the right Modus LennonShnizzleNess.

    I've not yet yelled at the boys or husband "Nooooo! Don't touch him! He's MINE, ALL MINE" yet...but, I'll admit. I think it sometimes.

    Thanks Melissa for the winning nudges.