Imagine you & your puppy are enjoying a wander on a lovely sunny morning… In the distance, you note someone who appears to be walking four dogs off lead. The dogs appear to all be running free and they are moving in your direction. You don’t recognise the person or any of the dogs – is this situation safe for your puppy?
Rather than moving forward into a very uncertain situation (who knows if these dogs would play nicely with a puppy and even if they would just the fact that there are multiple dogs and your puppy is on lead could easily be an overwhelming and frightening experience for your pup) you are going to train your dog to turn 180 degrees and walk the other way with you. Your turning and moving in the opposite direction will cue your dog to turn and move with you, regardless of which direction you take.
If you practice this exercise to the point of fluency, not only will it do wonders for your loose lead walking, you will also be able to easily choose to avoid situations like this one and be proactive about preventing problems rather than placing yourself and your dog in a crisis situation. As a result of your efforts, your dog will see a clear path to safety; following your cue to turn and leave. You will give him the training and leadership necessary to keep him safe in what could have been a dangerous situation and this will not go unnoticed in doggie eyes – your status as head of the family pack and cool, calm person who can be trusted to deal with everything will be greatly enhanced!
Teaching a Right About Turn
As the behaviour becomes more reliable, you can begin to fade using treats and think about if you want a verbal cue. Turning of your body is a cue itself, but an additional verbal cue may provide your dog with helpful information and will likely come naturally to you.
As always, initially practice in a distraction free environment. Your initial goal should be working towards a high rate of reinforcement, where your dog is getting many clicks and treats per minute and is working with you enthusiastically. Only at that point should you begin introducing low level distractions.
You will need to train this behaviour in many environments and situations. You want your dog to turn in any direction, at any speed, in any environment. With practice your dog should be able to perform this behaviour at a variety of paces, from a quick sprint to a walk even a tortoise might find too slow!
Change of Sides Exercise
Anyone who has done some dog agility training will recognise this exercise. In agility it’s known as a front cross, but it’s also a fantastic tool to use during your walks.
As you're walking along, you ask your dog to "Change!" from one side of you to the other while facing you and without breaking stride.
This is a great tool to use during walks for several reasons. Firstly, it brings the attention back on you. You're asking your dog to do something interesting, and you're also having the dog face you as he does the turn. Secondly, you can use it to keep yourself between your dog and possible problems you may encounter without having to pause your walk or even slow down.
You can teach your dog to do this move by starting when you are walking slowly or even at a sit.