By Scott Rall, Outdoors Columnist
Last week I shared what a dog owner needs to be prepared to start a formal obedience training program. If you missed that column, try to look back and read that one first. If you can’t find it reach out to me and I will send it to you. It sets the proper foundation for the work you will begin today to start training your own dog.
The most basic of training tools and the ones all of my dogs start out their young lives with is a 4-foot non-stretch leash and a slip chain collar. I don’t use a retractable leash except for a few very special circumstances. Every command you will ever give your dog in their entire lifetime will evolve around only three basic commands. They are here, sit and heel. Even the correction for digging in the flowers will be a version of one of these commands and you will see the connection as we progress.
Every breed of dog is a descendent of wolves. I read that every dog breed from the biggest to the smallest evolved over the past 10,000 years. This history is why we use wolf pack mentality to train our dogs even yet today.
Let’s start with heel. Start out with the dog at your side on the leash and as you step forward give the heel command and then give the leash a fairly stout tug at which point you repeat the command. The three-step process of command, light correction and the repeat of the command reminds them why they got the tug on the leash in the first place. The tug on the leash does not overwhelm the dog but is a correction none the less.
The definition of heel is not as finite as the other commands. A dog that is heeling in the proper position can be anywhere from about 12 inches ahead of you to about 12 inches behind you. Obviously, the goal is to have the dog right next to you at your side. As you walk any dog, they will all have the tendency to pull on the leash to get out ahead of you. They do this because the leader of the pack is always out front. All dogs, no matter their size will try to be the leader of your pack. This is a vital time to show the dog that you are the pack leader and not them. The reason most dogs don’t listen to their owners is they have not yet learned that the human is the pack leader. They consider themselves the leader.
If the dog pulls on the leash, then you repeat the command heel and give the leash a stronger pull while at the same time repeating the command heel. I always train that you use the least amount of correction possible to get the outcome you want but you will need to be prepared to increase the level of correction until you get the compliance you demand. Dog commands are not recommendations or requests. They are demands, and the dog has to see them as such. Until they do, you will never be successful in having a dog that listens reliably.
You might need to use some pretty stout yanks on the leash initially but they learn very quickly when you mean business and when you don’t. This is why dogs often listen to one member of your family and not others. Every human in the house has to occupy a place in the pack higher than the dog. They will challenge the pack hierarchy on a regular basis to see if they can move up in the order. This is why refresher obedience training needs to be a constant thing in the dog’s life.
I have taken dogs that were 2-3 years old that would not go for a walk with their owners and in a period as short as 10 minutes they will walk with me as though they have been doing it for their entire lives. They quickly learned I was the pack leader.
The slip chain collar will allow you much more control than a traditional web collar. Owners will tell me the dog pulls so hard they start to choke. This is mostly for show. I will set my feet and command heel and give a stronger snap on the leash. This will work. Again, these more substantial corrections normally only need to be completed a few times and the dog will soon get the message you mean business. Remember that when in a training session use a strong low dominant voice. As you train lean over the dog looking down on them. This is a dominance posture and the dog will understand more quickly where in the pack he belongs.
In the next column we will move to the other two basic commands. Getting a dog to heel reliable usually takes the average dog owner about one week.