The Proper use of Training Equipment
I received an email from a client this week asking a couple questions about training. She had two questions that I felt were relevant to all of my clients.
Question #1: Should I keep her training leash attached to her training collar while she is in the house or is it okay to attach her leash to her buckle collar?
At my first session with this client I advised her to keep her training collar and leash on her dog at all times, when she is there to supervise. If she needs to correct, she is in a position to do so. This is extremely important! Without a collar and leash you are not in a position to correct your dog for misbehavior. Of course, you want to be sure you can supervise your dog while wearing this equipment because if he or she does become tangled around a piece of furniture, you are there to detangle him.
I firmly believe no dog should ever be off the leash (indoors and outdoors) until he is one year old (including potty time) or proven he will almost never disobey. Puppies (until one year old) are constantly testing their owners and if proven that they can get away with anything, they will try. The leash is your way of controlling your dog’s behavior, take it off and you lose control (it’s like driving without a steering wheel).
Off leash problems occur when owners test their dogs to see if they will listen. For example: your dog goes into the garbage, you have an unexpected visitor at your front door and you need to negotiate your dog away from the door. It is so easy to correct or negotiate your dog into a certain position if all you have to do is bend down and pick up your dog’s leash.
You may find it easier to have a shorter leash on your dog so he can’t become tangled, but your dog needs to have a leash on at all times until he is trained off leash. And it is okay to have the leash attached to a buckle collar. I recommend always having a training collar on your dog and another collar that he always wears. This way you can switch back and forth between collars if your dog is not listening and it also teaches your dog to respond to your commands, no matter which collar he is wearing. This is extremely important for the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test and the Therapy dog Test. Many people train on a collar that cannot be used for the test. Then, they switch to the buckle collar for the test and the dog fails horribly. I always recommend having both collars on, switching back and forth as needed so the dog is not collar trained but command trained. The worst thing is having a dog that only obeys when on a certain collar; this means the dog is leash wise or collar wise. If your dog is obeying, use the buckle collar, if your dog is disobeying, simply switch to his prong collar for corrections and go back to the buckle collar later.
If you keep your leash on your dog and always correct for misbehavior off leash training will come easy to you and your dog. When I begin off leash training (i.e. heel, come, stay) I always do so with the leash dragging behind the dog. This is an easy transition to off leash work because initially the leash is still attached and I am able to grab it in case the dog tries to run away or break command. Once the dog is behaving well with the leash dragging, I’ll switch to a shorter leash (2-3 Foot) so there is nothing dragging on the floor yet I am still able to grab the dog if needed.
Question #2: If her leash and collar are always on her does that mean she is ‘always on call’ and always training or can she have some down time?
This is a typical question that is humanizing a dog; this question is basically saying when does my dog not have to work? Believe me, leaving the leash and training collar on the dog is not the same as you and I having to be at work 24/7. Do not compare our jobs with our dog’s jobs of obeying commands. Does your child always have to listen to what you tell him or her to do? Don’t be so hard, give him a day off and let him stay out to all hours of the night, mouth of to you and throw his clothes on the floor.
Do not equate leaving the training collar and leash on your dog as the equivalent of your dog working all of the time; rather, consider it you training him all of the time. That means getting off the couch when told or retrieving the leash with your dog attached to it. That also means grabbing the leash if he is eating out of the garbage.
Training your dog should not be something you do at a certain time and place each day. Training your dog should be integrated into all your dealings with your canine companion. Each time you interact with your dog whether you are playing, feeding, petting or lounging, you are speaking to your dog and indirectly asking him to do something. For example: You are laying on the floor watching television and your dog walks over and you say to him “lay down next to me boy”. You just commanded your dog to lie down. Now your dog will either lie down for a belly rub or walk away to do his own thing. In your head you didn’t care if he responded, but in your dog’s head he just got away with disobeying you. Or, you are preparing his food and your dog is jumping on the counter. You tell him to sit; he is so excited he just bounces away from you still eying his food bowl. Yes, he is off the counter but he ignored a command. While it is not a major infraction, and the dog did get off the counter, he didn’t sit and therefore the dog thinks he got away with disobeying. If he disobeyed you in the kitchen he will think he can ignore you during a training session.
Each command you give your dog, as minor as it may seem, must be followed up with a leash correction if he dog does not respond immediately. This is the only way to ensure complete control off leash.
Always make sure you are in a position to correct your dog for disobedience. That means having the training collar and leash on and being able to grab the leash if necessary. If there is any doubt that you are not going to be able to correct your dog, then do not give him a command or reprimand. Better to have your dog continue doing what he was doing so you can set him up next time for a correction then to command your dog and have him realize that there is no way of correcting when he is off of the leash.