For example, most dog handlers lead dogs from the right side (dog on the left of the handler), but I typically walk Gatsby from the left side (Gatsby on my right side) - this is the side from which you lead a horse. I "click" and "kiss" to Gatsby on our runs to ask for a change in gait - kiss equals canter and click equals trot. When I walk Gatsby with his head collar, instead of keeping the leash in between us, I actually have it lay across his back so it turns his head away from me instead of toward me - in horse training this is similar to riding with the outside or indirect rein.
One horse training method that is shared by most disciplines of riding is commonly referred to as "join up" (made popular by Monty Roberts aka the horse whisperer), and I realized today that this is actually the theory that has helped me train Gatsby to ignore distractions and focus on me even when he is off leash at the park. The general idea behind "join up" is that you create a bond / relationship with the horse that makes them want to follow you wherever you go, makes it possible to lead your horse without being physically attached or encourages them to come galloping to the gate to greet you. I won't go into all the details as I'm sure you can find plenty of information via a quick Google search.
How does this apply to your dog and relate to the title of this blog? Gatsby and I play a game at the park, on the beach and other places where there are plenty of distractions. I place Gatsby in a "sit" "wait" (my version of stay), and then I proceed to walk away from Gatsby repeating "wait" over my shoulder every few yards. People in the area are always amazed at how well Gatsby remains seated and focused on me regardless of how far away I get or how many distractions are around him. Gatsby will hold this position until I give his release command, "ok," and then he comes sprinting like a racehorse out of the starting gate to catch me. Sometimes I get as far as 100 yards away before I release him, and all that time he sits poised and focused on waiting to be invited to come greet me.
We have turned this into a fun game and because I have always rewarded Gatsby with tons of praise, rubs and occasional treats, he gets excited to come "fetch" me. In this game we have replaced the stick or the ball with yours truly, and it's quite a strong testament to the bond Gatsby and I have formed. This bond also allows me to maintain Gatsby's attention on leash when I need him to heel or ignore something that I know is very tempting to him.
Build the bond with your dog by making visits to the park fun, and keep your attention on your dog when you go for a walk; I promise that your dog will reward you with greater focus and attention to your requests. Start by:
- Turning off your cell phone and interacting with your dog instead.
- Playing hide and seek.
- Climbing a tree to see if your dog will wait at the bottom for you.
- Racing your dog from one end of the park to the next.
- Changing your pace on a walk: run for a couple yards and then come back to a walk
Always keep it fun and give your dog plenty of reasons to watch you!