A man named Jim wrote to me with the following questions about his dog. I thought you’d find this interesting.
JIM: My problem is that my dog lags and responds sluggishly to obedience work when not on leash. He is a 4 1/2 year old 155 lb. Newfoundland. He does not have a dominant or Alpha-dog type personality; rather, he has a sensitive personality and is basically very laid back except when he wants to go for a walk or a ride.
I have been training him for obedience trials for about 5 months. He performs well when on a loose leash, but when he is off leash he lags and responds sluggishly.
ADAM: This would suggest that there is something you’re doing when the dog is on leash that you’re not doing when he is off leash.
Did you make the transition from 6 foot leash to the one foot tab?
Also, in making the transition to off leash, make sure that you only correct him for the big mistakes, like when he’s far out of position. Otherwise, as soon as you take the leash off in the real world, he’ll know he isn’t being corrected for “every little imperfection.”
JIM: He also falls behind on the heel. What should I do?
ADAM: With the six foot leash, walk in a big rectangle. As he lags, do a sharp 90 degree turn to your right. Immediately speed up and run to the end. If you’re using a pinch collar, when he hits the end it will be uncomfortable, and after a few times he’ll stay up with you to avoid the correction.
Supplement this with a lot of fairly loud verbal praise as well as hearty touch (pat, pet) when he is in position so that he draws a very black and white distinction between being in position and not being in position.
JIM: He also performs on the “come” command directly, but very slowly. The exception to this problem is when I am holding his food dish (with breakfast or supper in it) in front of me at feeding time. He does not respond to holding treats, a ball or favorite toy.
ADAM: It sounds like you’re using the ball or food as a bribe, rather than a reward. Re-read the section in my book about the correct way to use the ball and food drive. If he DOES respond to the food bowl, it means that you CAN use that as a motivator. What I would do is to stop feeding him meals out of the bowl and let the majority of his food come from doing obedience exercises.