We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Leashes: An Article about Off-Leash Training – By Debbie Kendrick, ABCDT and VP of ABC

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 : 4:49:21 PM
As an ABC Certified Dog Trainer, you may be offering private lessons as well as group classes. As you know, on-leash obedience can be obtained through group classes; however, many dog owners are desperate to get help with off-leash training. This article is written to provide you with information about off-leash dog training when teaching private lessons.

One of the biggest challenges an owner faces is getting her dog to do what she wants when he is off his leash. Clients who request private lessons from a professional dog trainer typically do not want to be dependent on a leash for things like getting their dog to come when he is called or to stay in one spot when asked. I am not suggesting that owners walk their dogs down public streets without a leash. This is not only dangerous but illegal in most communities. However, I believe it is critical that dog owners establish some off-leash control of their pets. The reason for this is that nobody's pet lives on a leash. We have all seen dogs that are perfectly obedient on-leash, yet when the leash was removed, they didn't listen nearly as well and often didn't listen at all.

One of the advantages of private lessons is that training can start off the leash first. There are several reasons why this is beneficial.

First, dogs learn by association. If the only time you ask a dog to do something and consistently make sure he actually does it is when he is on-leash, you will wind up with a dog that only listens when he is on the leash. Please understand that I am not suggesting that on-leash obedience training is unnecessary or that on-leash control of your dog is undesirable. I am simply saying on-leash training is not where most owners should start in their quest for off-leash control.

Second, probably the most important thing owners need to understand is that by the time a trainer comes to their home to help them, they have already spent weeks, months and sometimes years conditioning their dogs not to listen. This happens when the owner gives the dog cues off-leash and then does not follow through. Stop and think about it. When an owner tells her dog to "Come" and the dog doesn't listen, what do most owners do? In most cases, they repeat the cue even louder or may even allow the dog to walk away. When owners repeat themselves, they teach their dogs they don't mean what they say. This frequently goes on for months before a professional is called in to help. In a sense, the owners have trained their dogs not to listen off-leash long before we arrive. Many conventional techniques call for starting the dog's training on-leash. Yet, as you can see, all that typically accomplishes is to bring out a contrast between on-leash control and the lack of control that the owners have already instilled in their dog when not on a leash.

Third, there is a big difference between using the leash to manage a dog or puppy and using the leash as a training tool. You may need to use a leash to prevent the dog from running off into another part of the client’s house while you start to train him to willingly work for praise, petting, attention, toys and treats. You may also need to prevent the dog from running into another room until the client learns how to use body blocking and how to position the dog without using a leash. It is a good idea to explain this to the owners when you first start a private training lesson. Explain that if they do their homework correctly so the dog wants to work with them, they will achieve off-leash compliance.

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