Training Tools and Techniques: Try Something Different!

We are all creatures of habit – we like what we are used to and feel safe sticking to it. I’ll be the first to admit, I have been somewhat closed minded when it comes to the overwhelming majority of training tools out there – of course, this is relatively speaking. I consider myself to be a balanced trainer who uses many tools including but not limited to flat collars, martingale collars, check chains, pinch collars and e-collars.

I historically despise harnesses and gimmicky “as seen on TV” contraptions/devises. I do see some merit in no pull harnesses and head halters, but personally do not find them to be effective training tools – but rather management tools, as they do little to permanently affect the dog’s behavior (when those tools are removed, the dogs usually resumes previous habits). However, to be perfectly honest, half of the tools I cast off as gimmicky contraptions, I’ve never actually used or experimented with. Shame on me! While many of the “as seen on TV” contraptions probably are gimmicks, I really should suck it up and try a few – you never know!

tobyRecently I took on a Board and Train puppy, Toby – a rescue mixed breed puppy, approximately 4-5 months old. He is with me primarily for house/crate training issues, but I also agreed to start his obedience foundation. Generally, puppies of this age have little impulse control, and I choose to work them on flat collars as they struggle to understand the “cause and effect” lessons of a more corrective collar like a check chain. I have seen far too many puppies put on check chains and other corrective devises too young, and without the ability to know how to prevent correction, they become numb to the collars, causing big problems as they mature.

However, my current living situation and training areas are less than conventional – I often have to walk the dogs near a road, so I am extra cautious about the potential of slipping out of collars. I was torn…I didn’t feel safe walking him on a flat collar – way too easy to slip out of, but I didn’t want to put him on a check chain/slip collar due to his age. I thought about a martingale, (which I will probably put on him next), however we recently experienced historic and devastating floods here in Boulder, cutting us off from town where I could purchase a few new collars to try. BUT, I had a cat harness laying around…yes, a cat harness.

As if the stars aligned, this cat harness fit Toby perfectly. It was a traditional “back clip” type pull harness. I wasn’t thrilled about putting it on him, fearing I might create a pulling problem. But I knew it was safest and he wouldn’t be able to slip out of it. When we went for our first walk in this harness, I began to experiment with loose leash walking techniques – I tried a “Turn and Go” (quick, silent about-face turn) – the correction seemed to have little effect on Toby and he braced at the end of the line. Then I tried a “Drop and Go” (steady leash pressure as you back up until dog softens, then resuming forward motion) – nothing. Then, I tried a lesser used method – the “Stop and Wait” (as the dog begins forging ahead, stop abruptly) – the first time Toby reached the end of the leash and saw me sanding still (versus walking away or backing up – which, for Toby, triggered oppositional reflex), his little puppy self went into a full body wag and he came skipping back to my left side. I of course, rewarded him handsomely. We practiced this a few more times on the walk and soon this very young pup was willingly remaining in perfect heel at my side and has been all week. In fact, now he is already automatically sitting in heel position when I stop! Go figure….a back clip harness and a “Stop and Wait” style leash correction was the answer! Now, I imagine as Toby grows, we will want to put him on a corrective collar, probably a martingale, but for now, this will be a perfect tool!

I have run into this before. Traditionally, my favorite tool is a check chain and my favorite loose leash walking technique is the “Turn and Go”. For the vast majority of dogs I have trained, this works promptly and very well. However, I have run into a few dogs (one of which is my own Australian Shepherd, Cache), who did not responded to the “Turn and Go” correction at all. The turning around got Cache’s herding drive going and it only caused him to frantically circle me. It was the “Drop and Go” that worked for him!

The moral of the story: When you seem stumped with a dog who isn’t responding to your “usual” – step outside of your comfort zone and try different tools and techniques. Try the ones you wouldn’t usually consider trying – even if your “training family” thinks you’re crazy, wasting time or being ridiculous. Just try it. The dog will tell you what works – and bottom line, if something’s not working, it is YOU, the teacher who must adapt.

Happy Training!

Posted in Training Tips