I Nit-Pick With The Heel Command
When I work with my clients in one on one sessions I often warn them that I’m going to nit-pick them. I tell them that there are going to be occasions where small little details, that seem insignificant, are going to bring big results.
I often share one of my favorite quotes-
“Little Hinges Swing Big Doors”
What this quote means is that small means are often the answer for completing a big task.
When it comes to a dog heeling properly I’m a nit-picker.
This goes double for dogs with aggression issues or dogs with destruction issues.
When I say that a dog should heel properly I mean that on their walk their shoulder should not be in front of your leg. They should maintain that position for the majority of the walk unless you are giving a break for going potty or other play time things.
Let me tell you a quick story about a client I had a few years back.
Their dog had aggression issues that included lunging at other dogs, people, cars, etc. The dog also had a big time issue pulling on the leash.
I took the dog into my ‘boot camp’ (where I keep the dog in my home for a few weeks to get them trained) and got the dog over the issue. He returned home knowing how to heel properly on leash.
I got a call just a short week or two later from this client telling me that the dog was back at it again, chasing cars, lunging at dogs, etc.
I went to the home to see what was going on. I noticed that the client was now allowing the dog to walk ahead. The client was just so thrilled that the dog was no longer pulling that a compromise had been struck where the dog could walk ahead of the owner.
I immediately said that this was a bad idea and we went to work getting the dog to walk by the owner’s side. What happened? Immediately when the dog was by the owner’s side there was no more lunging at anything. The second we allowed the dog to get even a foot ahead he would lunge again at oncoming distractions.
In this case, 12 inches made all the difference in the world; little hinges swing big doors.
Why was this the case, though? Why did 12 inches mean the difference between a lunging aggressive dog and a dog that walked calmly by the owner’s side?
Simple, you give the dog that 12 inches and now he’s a leader. You keep him by your side and now he’s a follower. In this dog’s mind a leader’s job was to lunge, bark, and act aggressively. A follower’s job was to defer to the owner’s judgement.
I learned a lot from that dog and I’ve applied it since. I often work with owners whose dogs are dealing with aggression. Some of these owners report that their dogs walk quite well on leash. They aren’t right by the owners side paying attention but at least they aren’t pulling up ahead. Pretty good, right?
In these cases I always tell them the story of the lunging dog and what a difference 12 inches makes.
The same is true for dogs with destruction. I had a client some years back who had a very destructive, chewing dog. The dog was being walked daily but he was walking ahead of the owners. The first thing I had them do was walk the dog properly by their side.
I also gave them several other things to do to fix the chewing and destruction problems. (I outline all of those in my Manners and Destruction DVD set)
When I came back a few weeks later they reported that they had done none of my list except for having the dog walk properly every day on leash.
Even though they didn’t do any of the homework other than walking, the dog was now no longer destructive.
How could that be, though?
Simple. The dog was previously getting physical exercise through his daily walks. He was getting little mental exercise, though. By having him walk just a couple feet back, next to the owners side, the dog was required to focus heavily during that 45 minutes of walking. That intense focus wore the dog out and was enough of a change that he stopped his destructive ways.
Do I nit-pick? Absolutely. I do it, though, because I know that often changing a dog’s behavior is a series of small changes rather than big, monumental leaps.