I want to talk about driving the car. A few days ago, I was working with a client who was making a small error, an error that plenty of people make and that can be fixed pretty easily. It reminded me of a story from when I was a kid.
When I was sixteen years old, I got my driver’s license. Like plenty of other sixteen-year-olds, that meant that I started ditching school and doing other stuff. I was determined to find fun stuff to do. On one of these days, I ditched school with a friend to check out the military surplus store, one of those places where you can buy tents and fishing supplies and other military supplies. We didn’t have one of them in our town, but the next town over—Livermore—did.
So we got in my mom’s Chevy Astro—that she’d lent me to drive to school—and headed out toward Livermore. Bear in mind: this was probably one of my first times on the freeway by myself. I’d been with my parents a few times, but never without my parents in the seat next to me. I remember driving the whole way to Livermore looking straight in front of the van, making sure that I was staying in the lines on the freeway. Because I was looking right ahead and correcting constantly, I kept jerking the van back and forth. This is what happens if you only look directly in front of you.
On our way back, my friend Andy, who was younger but way more car-savvy, said to me: “Look, here’s what you’re doing: “You’re driving like a maniac because you’re looking directly in front of the car, which makes you correct too much. Instead of doing that, look out at the road twenty or thirty feet.” That’s exactly what I did, and drove much more smoothly on the way back. When you look further out, your mind fills in the gaps. You still stay on the straight line and correct only when you need to.
How does this all connect to dog training? The client I was working with was heeling her dog, and she was very concerned with getting him in the right position: not too far ahead or to the front. She was constantly correcting, which meant the dog was constantly stopping, which meant she had to correct all over again. The dog became so aware of his position that he could barely walk. She was having to do too much. When her husband took the leash, he looked ahed and started walking and the dogs did much better. He wasn’t so on top of them; they were just walking.
As you’re walking and heeling with your dog, look around in front of you rather than straight ahead. Be aware of your dog and your surroundings, but don’t look down at your dog all the time or trying to keep them in place with constant corrections. Feel your dog’s position with your leg or the leash, rather than looking down at them constantly. Too much course correction leads to a hectic and confusing walk—for both you and your dog!