There are some important precautions to observe as you make the transition to working your dog off-leash.
You have taken an excellent first step by training your dog using a lure and reward / clicker training system, so that his responses to cues never were leash-dependent.
Do make sure that your dog continues to get plenty of accurate off-leash work in the house, fenced yard, etcetera.
Also, remember that once your dog has learned a command, you need to “proof” the command, by working the dog around increasing distraction and continuing to give clear feedback. He must “win” more by coming than he would lose.
As we talk about in class, you may need to take your dog off leash gradually, by working from a dragging long-line to a dragging leash to a short tether or “handle”.
Some dogs also respond well to being double-leashed, then the owner can make a production of removing one leash, while keeping the other light leash on the dog for control if necessary.
Make safe choices about where and when to start to practice off-leash. Fenced parks, friend’s fenced yards (safe but distracting), tennis courts, or areas remote from roads may all make good practice areas. If you have a smaller dog, do also think about the danger form wildlife, especially coyotes. Even if your little guy is being very responsive to cues, if he is off leash at a little distance from you, he could get snatched by a coyote, so off-leash may not be safe, no matter how good your dog is.
Also remember that although we are practicing off-leash for reliability and safety, there are very few places where it is legal to have your dog off-leash, and your dog is certainly safer leashed.
Loose Leash Walking– make a gradual transition to off-leash. Generally, you are not ready to start this until your dog walks well on leash. Be honest with yourself and your dog and put in more work if you need it. When your dog is a good LLW-er, you can use the “lure-hand-swinging” technique that we worked on in class, coupled, if appropriate, with a dragging line or double leashing (see above).
Come– Make sure that you have worked on the earlier steps of Come, so that your dog is responding cheerfully and reliably. Make sure that you are applying the “Rules of Come” that we discussed earlier so that you do not accidentally “untrain” the Come. Start with your dog in a small to medium size enclosed area that is new enough to the dog to be mildly distracting. Initially work him with the long line on, to review. Be enthusiastic.
This week’s exercise is the Come Away From Distraction.
Starting off in the house (for maximum control of the setting and maximum success) we are going to teach the dog that the best way to earn any good stuff he see in the environment is to respond to his trainer’s cue.
The set up is this:
Arrange some yummy food so the dog can see and smell it, but not get it. (I put hot dogs on a plate and cover the plate with a colander which I tape down.) Put the temptation on one side of the room, and standing on the other side, call the dog. Remember, you can only call the dog once! Your dog may come immediately, he may only turn his head towards you, or, he may initially ignore you. If he comes, click/treat and run in with the dog to get a hot dog. If he turns his head, praise enthusiastically. If he ignores you, wait– he needs you and your opposable thumbs to earn his prize. He will come eventually. Once the dog is coming promptly, every time, practice in an new location, (another room) then another new location (back yard).
Repeat this exercise with a new temptation. How about a squeaky toy, tied to a string and hung over the door, so the dog can see it, but not grab it? Be creative. If your dog wants it, and needs you to get it for him (and both of you are safe…) use it as a training exercise!
The final version of this exercise involves one Handler/Trainer and one Distracter, and, of course, the dog! The Handler/Trainer has no good stuff. He calls the dog “Buddy, Come!”. The Distracter has all the good stuff (squeaky toy, Frisbee, snackies, etc.) and makes the good stuff evident. Naturally, the dog will initially hang out and “mooch” from the Distracter. Nothing the dog does will make the Distracter give him anything, though, until the dog eventually, slowly, gives up and heads for the Handler/Trainer who has called him. (It may help to do this exercise in a location in which the dog has previously had many successful repetitions of the Come with his handler.) As soon as the dog reaches the Handler/Trainer the trainer clicks to identify the dog’s success, then the Distracter rushes over to hand out any good thing the dog desires. Repeat this exercise many times, in different locations and (if you want your dog to be responsive to the Come command from more than one person) with different people playing the Distracter and Handler/Trainer roles.
(Note: This exercise was created by Jean Donaldson, and is described by her in her book Culture Clash)
Leave It-this command lest the dog know to reorient to you when faced with a distraction.
Place a treat on the ground, and cover it with your foot, so that the dog is aware of it, but cannot get it. He will try, of course, in some cases quite persistently. Give the cue “Leave It”, just once. As soon as the dog makes the first move away from your foot/the treat (the move may be only moving his head two inches away, or he may glance away) click, then treat. As you repeat this procedure, you will note that the dog moves away from the “bait” more and more quickly, and may move his head farther from the treat, too. As you note this progress, lift your foot from the treat slightly, being prepared to cover the treat again quickly if you need to. Every few repetitions you should be able to uncover the treat a little more, until you can give the cue “Leave It”, and the dog will immediately and cheerfully move his head away from the completely uncovered and otherwise tempting treat.
Raise the bar a bit more – wait until he raises his head before you click, then raise the bar again – only click if he turns to look towards you. Soon, instead of grabbing for the treat, or leaving it alone but still being preoccupied by it, he will reorient to you. Now, the desirable item starts to act as a prompt for attention to you!
Now, try having the item in motion. Leash the dog, holding the leash so that he has only perhaps 18 inches of length, toss a treat to the ground so that it lands about 24 inches from the dog. (You are not punishing him—just setting him up so that he cannot make the wrong choice.) Cue “Leave It”, before the item lands.
The dog will no doubt attempt to get the treat, but he will not succeed. Just wait. He will reorient to you. Click/Treat. Ensure that you are not luring him to reorient to you – that he is choosing it. Repeat, repeat. His response will be quicker and quicker. Pretty soon, he will reorient without having put any tension on the leash, nor even leaned towards the flying treat! Excellent!
Try again, with the leash attached, but not held in your hand, so, if necessary, you can step in and block access. Or, have an assistant help by being ready to cover the item if the dog goes for it. Once you have an assistant lined up, you can also work on adding more and more distance to the leave it.
Once the dog is successful with the first practice item, in the first practice area, as always, you will vary the item, distance, and location to get the behavior to generalize to the point of reliability.
(Note: This exercise is NOT designed to keep the dog away from dangerous materials, nor to prevent destructive chewing or “counter-surfing” in the owner’s absence. Also, if you have a dog who food or object guards, those issue will need to be resolved before you can practice this exercise.)
Review-This week review the command and concepts we worked on in class. Next week you and your dog will GRADUATE! If your dog would like to dress for graduation, he is welcome to do so.
Questions? Send Penny an email penny @ whatagoodpuppy.com (remove the spaces)