Puppy Training 101: Part Three.
Since training our new Pet Circkles Mascot Maya from 8 weeks old, we thought this would be a good way to walk people step by step through the process, techniques and tips for successful puppyhood for dog and owner. Maya is currently an 8 week old English Mastiff, and because mastiffs are known for their stubbornness and difficulty in training, she makes a good example of the right and wrong way to train a willful pup, because mastiffs are nothing if not willful. Incidentally, the mastiff breed is not recommended for just anyone, because of their nature, they must be trained properly from the puppy stage or they can become too difficult to handle as adults.
Training a dog to walk on a leash can often be the most challenging task of training. You always see examples of owners being dragged down the street while “walking” their dog on a leash. Teaching a dog to heel is the profound wish of most any dog owner, but it is the most difficult to get a dog to understand why they need to be on a leash and cannot just roam free all the time like when they are at home.
If you are starting a puppy, get them used to the feel of a collar right away. Even if you are not taking them anywhere, let them wear a collar around the house at least once a day to get them used to the feel of it. The reason many dogs fight leash training is simply because they do not like the feel of something restricting around their neck. It is in their nature to fight to get free of anything that is restricting them physically. It’s a matter of life and death to them. Keep this in mind and you will have a better understanding and compassion when it comes to asking your companion animal to be tethered to you on occassion.
You would be surprised how much animals learn from other animals. Often a puppy will vigourously fight a leash until they see other dogs on one and how they behave. After your pup seems comfortable wearing his collar around the house withoug scratching to try and get it off, put a leash on them and walk them around the house and yard and see how they behave. Start out leash training in an environement they feel comfortable in first, to see how they will react before you get them out in public. If they pitch a fit over the leash, find a way to reward them for being on one, such as taking them outside on a leash – if they like to be outside – or for a walk, then take it off right awayas soon as they get outside. The idea is to let them know being restricted is only temporary and for their own safety, and they will have their freedom back quickly. Gradually build up how long they are on the leash.
If you can take your puppy to a dog park that requires leashes, or the vet, or some public place where dogs are allowed only on a leash, let him see how the other dogs are acting nice and calm on a leash, and your pup will quickly see that it is not something to fear but is normal practice in the dog world.
If you are trying to get your dog into a car, a building, or some other place they have never been too and are scared of and you are doing it by putting them on a leash, they will associate going some place they don’t want to with being put on a leash. You don’t want them to associate the leash with fear or being forced to do something they don’t want to or they will definitely fight it. This is why it is important to get them comfortable with a leash and collar before you ask them to do something they don’t want to . Give them many rewards and praises for doing what you ask on a leash or for just putting it on to begin with. If the only way your dog can go for a walk is on a leash because you live in the city, this part of leash trainging will be made easier for you because the dog will want to be on a leash so they can go outside. It is the second part of this article that will be your challenge.
Once your pup gets comfortable with a leash, the next step is teaching them that they cannot drag you everywhere they go. This is the hardest for them to understand because you are trying to teach an animal that is used to going pretty much anywhere they want, when they want, and how fast they want, that they will have to have patience while waiting for you. Patience is not a puppy’s strong suite. In fact, it is not even in their vocabulary.
Often a pup will be more willing to stick close to you in a strange environment they are not used to. This is when taking them to a public place that allows dogs on a leash may come in handy. A new place, with new smells and sounds can be a bit intimidating to a puppy ( or not, it depends on the pup), and if they are acting more cautious and sticking to your side, this is a good opportunity to take advantage of and teach then to heel while you are walking around this strange place with them on a leash. If they cling to your leg, even better. Walk them around slowly, get them to focus on you, tell them to heel and when they do it naturally, praise and reward them. Keep doing this until it wears off and the pup is no longer intimidated by his surroundings. Then try it again very soon after this experience in another strange place. The goal here is that he pup will associate security (being close to you) and safety while being on a leash.
Chock chains are now a big pet No-NO! Veterinarians claim they can cause neck damage and damage to the throat. If a dog pulls hard on them, they can choke themselves, hence the name, so now many conscientious pet owners use a harness. Harnesses are very comfortable and safe but do nothing to help train a dog to heel. They actually give them more leverage to pull and struggle against. So….you have to find a more creative way to get your dog to stick by your side and heel. Pulling them back constantly and saying “heel” is not the answer; a dog can do that all day long and you will end up with a very sore arm and shoulder.
To teach a dog to heel, you first will have to teach then to sit on command. Once they have the sit command down, put them on a leash, walk a couple steps with a treat in your hand holding it just out of reach in front of their face to keep their attention on you and so your hand positioned in front of them keeps them from bolting off. They can only go as fast as you go with your hand in front of their face.
Go a few steps, tell them to sit, give them a reward. Walk a few more steps, tell them to sit, give them a reward and repeat this process until they start to sit every time you slow down and face them with the treat. Do not bend over while doing this, but try to stay in an upright walking position and just bend at the knees to reach them with the treat so they know you are not just stopping but plan to continue forward movement. You don’t want to confuse them with every other time you make them stop to do something, the goal is to keep them walking but right by your side. They will pick up on your body language before anything that you say to them.
Next, go a few steps, act like you are going to slow down and give them the treat and tell them to heel. Keep them walking slowly at your side while giving them word-association by telling them to heel. When it looks like they are automatically slowing down every time you do, keep saying heel and eventually they will get it. Don’t expect a dog to heel forever though. Walks should be fun and if you ask your dog to heel all the time, they will not want to do it. So…get them to stay within shouting distance, call them back when they get too far ahead of you then make them heel, but set them free again as soon as possible. If you are walking on a road with traffic, this is a good beginning to getting them to come to you and heel whenever a car is passing you. Eventually they will associate the sound of a car coming down the road to running to your side; which is what you want.