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Training dogs to walk to heel

Some time ago, I asked the RSPCA why they have still not banned the use of chocker chains as these obviously created pain for dogs and in particular, the way that many people misused them. I am not alone in condemning them but the reply I received was that if used correctly they were an acceptable method of training.

Their question to me was is it not better to train a dog to a reasonable level of obedience using chokers than not train them at all. They say that the majority of dog owners found chocker enforcement training easier to learn and to use than many of current forms of painless training. Going by the number of e-mails I receive many people are actually looking for ways of painless training.

Whilst to teach dogs to the highest degree is only possible without inflicting pain, I do agree that not everyone wishes to train to this sort of level. Bearing this in mind I received a request to help with a dog that pulled on its walks, jumped up at people when they came into the house and went to the toilet in the house only after returning from a walk.

When I was a child I use to have to walk our dog and I treated it like a chore. Once Quiver had gone to the loo, I would then take him straight home. I felt certain he actually tried not to go to his toilet for as long as possible as he knew his walk would be over.

For this dog, I suggested compressed air for the jumping up at people and this was certainly effective. For the house fouling problem I recommended a special cleaner you can obtain from the pet shops that usually repels dogs and cats from using the cleaned area again.

It is possible that the dog does not like to go to the toilet whilst on the lead and prefers off the lead on some rough ground. The problem is that living in the middle of an urbanisation there are often few such areas. Before going to the loo most dogs like to have a quick run about first to get things moving so it could also be that movement for this dog only starts to occur when it returns home and once off the lead it looks for a suitable place to go inside the house.

If you have similar problems then try to go to a spot, your dogs has used before and wait patiently. You could create such a spot by taking some of your dog’s excreta to the site and leave it there so the smell will encourage your dog to go. If you can wait, nature should take its course and then give your dog loads of praise plus another little walk as a reward before going home.

First thing in the morning, Winston is usually pestering me to go out because he needs to go to the toilet. Once he has been, we can then go off on our walks, which usually last about two hours.

For the pulling, we took the dog for a walk and I demonstrated to the owner how to walk their walk not follow the walk of their dog. The owner was allowing the dog to go where it wanted to go, sniff, or urinate or what ever.

If your dog pulls and you simply follow it will always continue to pull. It is necessary to train your dog it is you who decides when your dog can sniff etc and not leave it to your dog’s decision.

Changing the way you walk is not easy as it now takes a conscious effort to think about it. It is like learning to drive again and we become all fingers and thumbs. On the way, back to the house and trying to remember everything the dog weaved across the owner’s path causing her to fall badly.

We returned to the house for some first aid for the owner and I took the dog for a walk but this time I placed the lead in my right hand so my left hand I used for guiding the dog and giving praise. I do not like this method and neither do the dogs. You can see this in their faces.

The correct way of using a chocker is to only use quick short jerking movements not the heavy jerks where you may have seen dogs doing summersaults. Guiding with your left hand you can encourage the dog to be by your side with any error needing a quick tug on the lead followed by the correct position and praise. With this method, this had the dog walking by my side perfectly within a few minutes but for me I knew it only did this because of fear of my use of the chocker rather than in pleasure. I continued our walk for a further twenty minuets so I could then give it lots of praise and try to reduce its fear of the chocker and of me.

In my early days this is the method taught to most dog trainers, me included, but I do not like it. The problem here was we needed a quick solution to avoid any further mishaps.

The problem with me training the owner’s dog is that the owner has not acquired the required skills to keep correcting the dog after I have gone. Usually within a few weeks, the dog manages to retrain the owner and goes back to how things were.

The solution to this was for the owner to purchase a Roger Mugford Halti collar. This maintains control by using a slip lead round the dogs muzzle rather than round its neck. This is a very strong dominant signal from the owner to their dog. You may have seen dominant dogs hold a subordinate dog by the muzzle with their jaws.

The Halti also takes all the pulling power off the shoulders so when the dog pulls the jaws are forced shut and as it pulls forward it is forced by its own weight to turn its head round back towards the owner. This is slightly similar to John Rogerson’s method where you train your dog to learn that it is making its neck uncomfortable not the owner. Using the Halti the dog does not want to have to close its jaws in such a fashion nor be unable to see where it is going so it regulates its own way of walking not the owner.

When I returned the next day with the compressed air the owner was very happy with her dog and gave me a demonstration. When the owner walked so did the dog, nicely by her side, fast or slow. When she stopped so did her dog without any command. The dog’s heelwork was now exemplary so much so the owner asked me for another Halti for one of the other dogs.

This dog had never had such a head collar before so it is necessary for most dogs to wear this for a while around the house to become use to it. It is also a good idea to place tape round the dog’s dewclaws for a while so they cannot pull them off.

At first, it is best to walk the dogs with two leads one on the old collar and one on the Halti. Gradually change the weight over from the lead attached to the collar onto the lead attached to the Halti so they can gradually feel its restricting effect. If they do become agitated calm and praise them until they become use to its use. Dogs do not like to suddenly have their freedoms removed nor having such a dominancy signal imposed on them by their owners so most dogs will initially show some displeasure at having to wear one.

Using the Halti or Gentle Leader type of head collars a dog soon learns that it is their pulling that creates the pressure on their muzzle. As dogs see this as a dominancy signal from the owner that it should not pull, they learn they can reduce the pressure by walking properly by your side in order to maintain a slack lead.

The way I taught Winston to walk by my side was by using John Rogerson’s method. This made Winston realise that it was himself that made the collar tight not me. But before I taught walking by my side on the lead I first began with teaching him to walk by my side off the lead in the next article I will go through his training using only painless methods.

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