I was at a new Home Dog Training client in Canton last Monday working with him, his family, and their wonderful Bernese Mountain Dog named Randy. Although Randy was still a puppy, being only eight months old, he was already humongous and full of “puppy energy”. The great news is that Randy was very focused on the training and quite willing to learn and behave. We ran through all the normal obedience and behavioral issues during our four-hour session. Randy could come and sit. He stopped pulling on our walk after we started using the front-loaded Easy Walk Harness. Our correction and redirection techniques quickly quelled his incessant barking and inappropriate jumping. All was going great, and my clients were ecstatic with Randy’s quick progress from “crazy” to “wonderful”.
As I was finishing up, I asked if there was anything else they could think of that Randy was doing that annoyed them. They thought for a moment and then said, “Oh, I remember one more thing. Randy goes nuts in the back yard and we often can’t make him come back in the house.” With that said, I put my bag down and said, “Let’s fix that now!”
We walked in the back yard and let Randy loose. Since we had already been practicing “come”, we worked on it out there. The strange thing was that Randy would come to us every time we gave him the command. “So, what’s the problem?”, I asked.
My client turned to me and said that Randy would be fine except when the neighbor dogs were out. It seemed that he had neighbors on both sides of him and behind him that had big, energetic, and “barky” dogs. Whenever they were out, Randy would run the fence, focused on them and them alone. No amount of commands, yelling, etc. would get Randy’s attention away from the other dogs. Sometimes the kids would turn the hose on Randy to try to get his attention. This worked sometimes. It would mostly get the yard muddy and Randy muddy and wet. This always made it a “real party” when Randy finally decided to come inside.
I reminded them of today’s lesson and “the most important thing”. Before any of their commands or directions with Randy will ever work, they must first get Randy’s calm and focused attention. This is true of anything, and especially true when Randy is misbehaving, adrenalized, and completely ignoring them.
In today’s lesson, I had first taught them how to get Randy’s attention through a straight correction method. This is pretty much of a “Hey, stop it! OK, I will!” process. It works most of the time and is the standard process that most dog trainers employ in their training regimen. I then reminded them that I had also taught them a secondary correction method based on redirected focus. This is the method that we were going to use when Randy is in the back yard with the “crazy, neighbor dogs”.
The first thing we did was to call the neighbors and asked them to let their dogs out in their back yards. This established the environment of inappropriate focus for our training exercise. Before we let Randy out the sliding glass door to the back yard and the craziness of the barking canine neighbors, we put a leash on him. Just to be safe, we attached a second leash to the end of the first so that the leash was really twelve feet long (you will understand why we did this in a moment). We let Randy out through the sliding glass door. Within a few seconds he had “locked on” to the barking and running neighbor dogs. They were barking and running up and down their fence lines and he was barking and running the fence line too.
At that point, I showed my clients what they must do. I explained that they should not try to chase after Randy. In fact, they shouldn’t get excited or overly animated.
I told them to observe Randy to see the path he was taking as he was running the fence line in response to the neighbor dogs’ actions. Now I told them to remember that Randy is trailing a twelve-foot leash (a.k.a. target) behind him. I also reminded them that since Randy was so focused on the neighbor dogs, he was paying absolutely no attention to that leash. I then calmly walked over near the fence. As he went by, I let him pass and then I put my foot on the leash.
Bam! I caught him. His focus had broken from the barking neighbor dogs and he looked back to me. At that moment I had gained his complete attention. He looked at me and observed a calm, steadfast, and dominant figure. This is “doggie body language” for “I am the boss, young man!”.
At that point, I calmly picked up the leash, called him to me, and had him walk with me back to the porch. I had him sit and then praised him as a “Good Boy”.
After another moment, I let go of the leash. Guess what? He didn’t run back to the other dogs. He stayed with me on the porch. Being calm and forthright are the qualities dogs expect in their leader and the one they will respect and obey. That is all I did and all that was needed to have him obey my command.
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 seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.
One more thing: Remember that I had mentioned that I was using two leashes, so I had a “twelve-foot leash”? Randy was very quick and ran the fence line like a racehorse at Churchill Downs. If the leash was only six feet, I wouldn’t have enough time to react to him passing by me and my putting my foot on the leash. The extra length gave me time to properly react as he ran past so that I could get my foot on the leash trailing behind him.