Wednesday, 11th May 2016

Building Off Lead Reliability


One of the most common statements you hear when talking to people about their dogs is “oh, he’s fine until he sees another dog but then he just has to go and say ‘hello’…”


If you are blessed with a friendly and outgoing dog you are fortunate indeed and may not see any harm here but for anyone that has ever worked with a reactive and fearful dog these words send a shiver down the spine.  An equally spine-chilling phrase tends to be “don’t worry – he’s really friendly!!”


Until you have done a very significant amount of training with your pup / dog you will not have reliable control when your dog is off-lead. In many training books (and classes) though, it’s not always clear how you transition from all the on-lead work you’ve done to the off-lead work. 


The good news is that your dog CAN become reliable off-lead through the proper training and step number one, is buying and USING a very long training lead.


Whenever you train with your dog (and remember ALL of your interactions with your dog are training – especially walks and playtime), you can use a long training lead.  I’m a fan of a soft, round braid 10m line, these are manageable, don’t retain moisture and don’t get tangled as easily as the flat lines.


Generally you can just let the long line trail behind the dog on the ground.  In other words, you don’t even hold it (especially during training and play-time).  


After you’re used to using such a long lead, you’ll see that the length actually gives you quite a bit of time to react if your dog decides that they’re going to take off and you can spend most of your time and energy focusing on the interaction that you’re having with your dog and not worrying about lead management.


Here are some more benefits:


You can teach your dog to sit, lie down, stay, walk close with you, and come to you without there being any lead contact between the two of you.  What this means is that there is NO transition when the dog is off-lead, because they LEARNED all of the behaviours in an environment that simulated being off-lead (the long lead trailing behind them on the ground).  The lead is there for the techniques that REQUIRE a lead and the occasional emergency (dog decides that an approaching dog is much more interesting than you).


Using a long lead gives you a method of controlling your dog when they are at a distance away from you.  For instance, you’re having a wander at the local park, and it’s time to go.  All you have to do is pick up your end of the lead, and coil it as you walk towards your dog (or you can use it to encourage your dog to come with you as you walk AWAY from your dog, coiling the lead as they approach).  


Having your dog on lead DOES help you be a more responsible dog owner. You set an example for people who have no control over their dogs, and whose dogs really SHOULD be on a lead.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen problems when out walking where the situation would have been totally avoidable if the dog had been on lead.  


You can relax much more on your walks knowing that your dog has the freedom to move, and knowing that YOU have control over them at all times.


A proper long training lead is way easier to manage (and grab, when necessary) by the way than a retractable lead which rewards your dog for pulling away from you (the last thing you want).


A few things to bear in mind:


Use a harness and attach the long line to that and not the dog’s collar.


Work on your lead management skills.  Practice holding onto one end of the lead when you walk with your dog through the woods or a park, letting the lead out when your dog wants to run, and then coiling it up, as you walk, when there’s less distance between you and your dog.


Pay attention to what’s going on and keep a look out for other dogs which gives you time to pick up the lead.


NEVER try to stop your dog short from a full run at the end of the lead.  ALWAYS move a little bit in the same direction that your dog is going so that you can GRADUALLY slow them to a stop.  Stopping your dog short could cause serious injury (or worse) to your dog, so go easy!


Only use the lead when you are there to supervise.  In other words, don’t use it to tie your dog to a post or tree somewhere.



So… the key to teaching your dog what to do when they’re off lead is to simulate, as much as possible, the feeling of being off lead when you’re training them.  


The best way to do that is to use a really long lead – and let it just trail behind your dog as you work with them.  


In the future, when people ask you how you got your dog to be so well-behaved off lead, you can tell them your secret!