Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Using the training lead

One of the most frustrating things I've had to master with Polly's training, is teaching her to come back to me when I call.  Recall training has been hard work and took loads of time and patience to cement.  We were taught how to train for this at obedience school and from that, I added methods that seem to work for Polly.  I hope the information below might help other owners of young lively dogs who despair of ever being able to let them safely off lead!

To teach Polly how to recall safely during walks, I made sure to always give her a good lead walk first to tire her, before taking her to our local playing fields or similar 'safe' area (woods don't work with training leads, too many trees and bushes to get tangled in!) to train.  We used a 10 metre training lead fixed to a harness, a bag of special treats like cooked chicken, sausage or cheese and her favourite rope toy.

To start with, I kept hold of the training lead, gradually letting Polly have more length to explore with, but calling her back to me regularly for treats and games - especially if I spotted potential distractions (trying hard to make myself more interesting than the distractions wasn't always easy though!)  I soon became quite adept at scanning an area to spot distractions before Polly did and if I did spy a potential problem, used the opportunity to try to engage her with her favourite game of tug or fetch using the rope toy and rewarding her with a happy voice and a tasty treat (or several!) if she stayed focused on me. Polly is always excited to play with other dogs so there were occasions when I inevitably failed to maintain her attention and on those occasions I tried everything I could to encourage her to perform a task I knew she could do well, preferably something that would root her to the spot, like a 'sit stay' or a 'down stay', until that distraction passed, rather than allow her to drag me across the field to whatever caught her eye. 

When she became used to the format of wearing a long lead to explore and return to me and only if the area was quiet, I tried discreetly dropping the lead and encouraging her to jog alongside me with lead trailing, or walk alongside me, interspersing the movement with 'sits' and 'downs' etc., and rewarding her with treats - all the time trying to keep her focus on me before she realised she was free, rather than allowing her time to dwell on the fact her lead had dropped. I also instigated games of chase ... her chasing me that is!

Once she would perform with the lead trailing reliably, I began to allow her to explore a little further afield, calling her back before she ventured far. If the worst came to the worst and she raced over to say hello to another dog, I followed hot on her heels, took hold of the end of the training lead and gently but firmly pulled, turning her towards me whilst calling her to 'come' to me, as I moved backwards. She eventually got the message that when I called, it was time to leave her fun and move towards me to be rewarded either with a treat, or a game with her rope toy ... or both!  

After much practice, I discovered I could at last drop the lead, give Polly a 'go play' instruction, then recall her after a short run, praising her massively each time she returned to me willingly with the lead trailing behind her.  Teaching her to play fetch at home also helped tremendously with this when we used it as part of recall training on the field ... she thought it was great fun to run after the ball and bring in back to me in return for a treat and as far as I was concerned, it was a fab way to keep her focus, give her exercise AND encourage her to return to me with her ball.  We've been training for over a year both at home and school and I am delighted to say Polly can now be let off lead in relatively quiet areas and I am confident she will come back to me, even if she does occasionally run halfway across the field!  By practising like this a little each day when our local fields weren't too busy with other dog walkers/children playing, gradually building up distance, time and distractions, using rope toy/ball games to help, the long lead has at last been virtually dispensed with and Polly is allowed more daily freedom to exercise and sniff.  Thankfully she now returns to me promptly most times when instructed and even when she's not quite as speedy as I would prefer, she does at least, always return!

Polly isn't perfect yet by any means, but her recall has improved considerably thanks to weekly obedience training at school and its implementation during our daily walks in a consistent, controlled, yet fun way, using the long lead, toys, treats and whatever else it might take for me to convince my intrepid explorer I'm well worth hanging out with!   In my experience the more effort I have put into engaging with Polly during our walks, the more effort she has put into listening to my commands.  We practice recall and keeping focus every single day and even though I am still conscious Polly might decide to race off to play with another dog, I am now confident that even if she does, she does actually want to come back to me when she's said her hello.

And interestingly, I have noticed recently when Polly does starts to run towards another dog, she usually pays more attention to my recall than she used to and has on a couple of occasions, even turned back before completing her mission to play!!!  This return is a very recent development and is still very fragile, but I am hoping it might mean our recall has the potential to take another step further forward.

Incidentally, when we visit local parks on busy days, or go to places I am new to, I still use a training lead to allow Polly freedom to explore and walk at her pace, rather than mine.  We much prefer it to a retractable lead (Polly hates the noise of the retractable and I don't like the heavy mechanism).  There are always situations when being off lead just isn't appropriate, so the long training lead is handy to keep in our ever expanding collection of doggy paraphernalia!

1 comment:

  1. Great read Paula you are doing a grand job. Wish more owners were the same, you are certainly in the minority. ZIVA and I are forever pestered by small yappy little dogs ZIva has learnt to ignore them now however if she was off lead she would be off after them looking at them as prey. Met a collie dog the other day, it only had to see ZIVA and it had these huge boggling eyes foaming mouth and snarling. Never seen a collie do that before, the lady had a struggle holding it. I sometimes dread to think what would happen some days because with ZIVA there would only be one winner.
    Think all dogs and owners should attend dog training classes, it's good for the dog and good for the owner although I imagine like me you have seen plenty come and go in your group. Love your blogs paula, enjoy being a grandma it's wonderful, shall miss our grand daughter Talitha, my son, Claire and Tali are moving to Dubia ��

    Love to you and Pol x


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