I was at a new Home Dog Training Client in Snellville last Tuesday working with his two young Whippets named Bones and McCoy (He is a big fan of Star Trek…). Most of my client’s issues with Bones and McCoy focused on things in the house like jumping, stealing stuff, and not listening. I started out by teaching my client what he needed to know in order to teach Bones and McCoy the “house rules”. Once that was done, the dogs quickly responded and gave him the focus he needed to correct their inappropriate behavior and actions.
My client was very happy with the results and was excited about continuing the exercises to make them even better. As we were finishing up, I asked my normal question, “So, can you think of anything else that we can work on today?”. He thought for a moment and then a light bulb seemed to come on in his head.
He said that he was so worried about getting the boys well behaved inside the house that he forgot about their walking issues. Since they weren’t big dogs, my client always tried to walk them together. That was almost always a complete disaster. If Bones wasn’t barking and pulling on the leash to chase after a passing car, McCoy was jumping on Bones and wanting to play. It was just a catastrophe from the front door forward. It would be great if he could get that fixed too…
I told my client that the problem was not that Bones or McCoy were “bad walkers”, they just were not given the appropriate direction and instruction regarding his rules for walking. In the same respect, whenever he had previously tried to “fix their walking”, he was doing it in a way that was not teaching them. I referred to the lesson we had just completed with Bones and McCoy. He became successful in getting them to obey by gaining their focus and respect. At that point he could direct them to the correct action.
I decided to give him a very simple example using my school days. I loved math and always got A’s and B’s in my classes. There were times when something just stumped me and, no matter what was going on in class, I just couldn’t get it. My problem was normally caused because the teacher had to continue with the class and couldn’t focus only on my problem. She had to answer the problems of the other kids too. When that happened, I would normally seek her out after school for some one-on-one help. She could focus on my problem and I could get instant feedback to keep me on track during the learning process.
It wasn’t that “I couldn’t get it”, it was that my issue could not be resolved in a one-teacher-to-many-students teaching environment. I reminded my client of a phrase of used during our training session; Teach what you have the ability to teach that day and what your dog has the ability to learn that day.” In his case, he was failing at teaching both dogs to calmly and respectfully walk at the same time. He needed to “back up” until he found a point of traction and learning.
Successful teaching is based on discovering what your student knows and to take them to a point that they don’t quite understand what is coming next. In our youth, it was the point where we could add two, small numbers and our teacher started to ask us to add three numbers that might be a little larger. That is where my client needed to start his leash training.
The first thing my client needed to do was to have each dog properly walk with him, one at a time. This will allow him to properly focus on ONLY Bones’ or McCoy’s mannerisms. Only them will he be able to instantly correct and direct them to the appropriate behavior. Dogs learn through consistency and that is what one-on-one training is all about. Let’s start with Bones. I suggested the following:
- Start the process by walking in the house. Make sure that the environment is quiet with no distractions (no crazy kids, loud TV, and McCoy is somewhere else).
- Put a harness on Bones. The harness should have a hook on the front (under the neck at the chest). We use the Easy Walk Harness when working with “excited and pulling walkers”.
- Set the proper rules for walking. I reminded my client that rules are normally focused on “don’t bug me”. His rules for walking Bones and/or McCoy are to have a walk and not have them bug him. I suggested that his rules should be that Bones not pull on the leash, walk at a distance he defines, and gives him respectful focus when requested. This would be the same as “two friends walking down the street together”.
- He should start the walk by giving the leash a slight tug, patting his leg (if needed) and verbalizing a “walk command”.
- Bones should walk by him, obeying the rules. If Bones is breaking his rules, he should give him a slight tug on the leash.
- Initially, he only needs to walk about ten feet in one direction, turn around, and walk back. When they stop, he should issue a SIT command and then praise Bones for properly walking.
- This needs to be repeated until no corrections are needed. When that takes place, he should extend the walk around the house into different rooms, up and down the stairs, around tables, etc.
- I told him to work with both Bones and McCoy over the same period, just not at the same time.
Once Bones and McCoy can individually walk appropriately in the house, I told my client he is ready to move on to the next lesson; Walking them individually outside. As with “adding more and bigger numbers”, I am having my client add more and bigger distractions.
- As before, he should only walk one dog at a time. He should have the harness and leash on Bones. He should walk Bones up to the front door. He should now put Bones in a SIT as he opens the door and steps through the door. Once he is on the outside, he can invite Bones through the door and have him wait with him on the outside of the door.
- Once he checks the vicinity to make sure that all is safe and calm, he can start his walk with Bones. He gives his walk command and tugs the leash in the exact manner that he had done when walking Bones inside.
- As long as Bones is obeying his rules, all is fine. If Bones starts to break a rule, he needs to tug the leash slightly to have Bones focus on him. Once he has obtained calm and respectful focus, he can continue the walk.
- As with the “inside lesson”, he should start off with short walks. Only go a hundred yards or so and come home. This allows him to be consistent with his observations and corrections. It also allows Bones to “get used” to the new teaching environment and build up his need of focusing on my client for direction and leadership.
- As Bones remains well behaved and focused on the shorter walk, extend the distance. Once Bones can be well behaved on my client’s “full outside walk”, he can switch and work with McCoy.
When Bones and McCoy can walk wall by themselves outside with my client, he can move on to the “group class”. I told my client that the next step was going to be more of a “hybrid process”. It was going to involve having Bones and McCoy outside on a walk, but there were going to be “two drivers”.
- He needed to bring Bones outside into the front yard ready for a walk. Next, a family member will bring McCoy outside into the front yard ready for a walk.
- If either dog starts to jump or bark at the other, the dog’s handler should correct them and redirect them away until they are calm.
- Once they are calm, both he and his family member should start walking Bones and McCoy down the street.
- They may need to initially keep them separated until they get used to being together on the walk. Remember that we have already determined that they know how to properly walk outside, we are now introducing the other dog’s presence as the final distraction.
- If either dog starts to break the rules, that dog should be corrected and properly directed.
- Continue the walking process until both dogs can be beside each other.
- My client and his family member should repeat this process until they can go for “an entire walk” without any inappropriate behavior. Remember that “life happens” and a small number of small corrections should be expected with any “outside excursion”.
Once Bones and McCoy can walk well together with two handlers, it is time to “take off the training wheels” and only have my client walk both of them.
- As before, I want my client to bring Bones outside followed by a family member bringing McCoy outside.
- They should start the walk, as before, in tandem.
- Once all is calm, the family member will hand my client McCoy’s leash while still walking next to them.
- If McCoy starts to act up, the family member should immediately take the leash and appropriately correct.
- Once McCoy and Bones are both with my client and being good, the family member can slowly walk farther and farther away.
- If either now starts to act up, my client will need to correct them by himself. Although this is not as effective as the scenario of “one teacher per student”, the consistency and repetition displayed through the previous lessons should mitigate and minimize issues.
- As the process proceeds, the walk should slowly start closer to the door and finally inside without the need of the family member becoming involved.
My client can now walk “two crazy dogs”. I emphasized with my client that, if at any time, things started to get out of control, he should move the process back to the prior lesson level. That allows him to quickly regain control, establish the appropriate teaching/learning environment, and effectively proceed.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.