How I Train Dogs: A Letter I Wrote Back in 1997 Reveals My Training Techniques To A Dog Trainer On The East Coast. Part II of III

Onto the Level II. I teach the recall predominately with the long line. I get a 20 foot or a 30 foot long line… you can get one from a horse and tack store… and “set the dog up” so that the dog gets distracted and runs off from you… and as he gets to the end, call his name and give him a pop on the line.

Move your body backwards so that your body language is encouraging the dog to come in to you. And praise him as he comes towards you. If he decides to run off in the opposite direction, do the same thing. Then what you need to do is gradually repeat this exercise around different distractions, especially other dogs, and birds, and cats… in many different settings. You’ll need to go home and practice this in a parking lot, at a gas station, in a park setting, in a rural setting, in the woods, at the beach… basically, anywhere you would want the dog to work off-leash… you need to practice with the long line.

What I tell my client is to make sure that when they come back to the next session, they are 100% certain that they can let the long line hang on the ground and that the dog will come back to them every time. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds… it just requires a bit of practice. When they come back for the next session, at that point I switch the long line for the tab… or at least have them start using the long line as if it were a tab. The tab is the short leash… the 1 foot leash… which I substitute for the long line.

If you have done your long line work correctly, the transition to the tab is going to be easy. But at that point anyway, I’ll substitute the tab and teach them how to properly use it. The Down Stay and the Sit Stay off-leash, we do the same as the Level I. The dog already understands the command, but now what we’re focusing on is just advanced proofing.

I start out with the long line. I tie the end of the long tine to a tree. I’ll walk off 50 or 60 yards and I play the game of walking back to the dog with praise if he does the exercise correctly. And going back and correcting him if he breaks the position. When you’re working at a distance like this with the dog, you can bridge the dog’s memory for association… their ability to associate the correction with the behavior… but you need to say “No, no, no, no, no,” as you run all the way back to the dog and then put him back into the place and the position where he was.

After you’ve done this, and the dog has tries to bolt the opposite direction, and he hits the end of the leash… and you’ve run back, saying, “No, no, no, no, no,”… corrected him and taking him back… then you can start doing this with the long line NOT tied to the tree. Actually… at this point you should be beyond the long line, to the tab, since you taught the dog the recall and he is not running away anymore.

The second thing I do is to put the dog in a place where he can’t see the handler. I’ll put the dog in a down-stay position, in the middle of park, and go and hide behind a building or a wall… and teach the dog that he needs to stay there. Again, if he gets up and breaks the position, I’ll run out of my hiding place, put him back into the down-stay, and then go into hiding again. If he then does it right, I’ll go back and praise him.

Heel Off Leash is done through a process of holding the tab and then dropping it… holding the tab and dropping it… until the dog gets conditioned to recognize that he can’t run away from the owner (again, first done with the long line) and I am going to make him stay in heel position, emphasizing more praise. If you’ve done your foundation work with the Loose Leash, all your On Leash obedience and transition should to Off Leash should be very smooth and fast.

As for distance work and advanced distraction proofing… you’ll just need to get creative. The more distractions and the variety of the creativity you can bring into your training will make the dog more reliable. I look for the holes in the training that the owner has done during the week in-between session, and exploit them. So, likely the owner hasn’t had another person tempt the dog by laying on the ground… or doing something crazy. What you want is for the owner to be really creative in their proofing process, so that there’s really nothing you can do to tempt the dog into breaking the command.