LET'S TAKE A WALK
Going for a walk means different things to different people. Some people don't care if their dog leads them the entire time in a sort of drag walk while others want their dog by their side all the time whether on leash or off. Then some people want to be able to do a variation of both. I actually have three distinct types of walks. The most relaxed of the three is the "go ahead" which means that I can walk ahead (or behind) and sniff and do everything any other normal dog likes to do except drag my mom relentlessly. The second is a casual walk we call "lets go". This walk means that I should stay close to mom. I can sniff the air and look around but until mom says I can go my own way, I have to stay with her. The third walk is a true formal "heel". It is a strict walking style that requires me to walk precisely in line with my mom's pant seam with full attention on her. "Heel" includes automatically stopping and starting when mom does and automatically sitting whenever we do come to a stop. Speed is a variable thing in all of them. Since you, more than likely, are only just interested in being able to walk nicely with your collie, I'll cover the "lets go" and the "go ahead".
We begin with the "go ahead". This essentially means that your dog can stop when he wants, sniff, relieve himself, walk in front of or behind you so long as he does not pull you. All you need to do to teach him that pulling isn't part of this nice relaxing walk, is to stop walking whenever your collie gets to the end of the leash. You should time your stop to occur as soon as there is pressure on the leash from the dog's pulling. Here's the important part... You must stand your ground firmly and wait for the dog to loosen the tension on the leash himself by turning and coming back to you. Once he does this, praise him verbally, physically and even with a treat. Then begin your walk again by stepping off and saying something like "go ahead." Your collie will quickly come to realize that walks will never get very far or be very much fun if they have to stop constantly. They will learn to associate stopping with their pulling (since that is when it occurs) and make a greater effort to curb the behavior. Many dogs very quickly get into the habit of stopping and waiting a moment for their person to catch up whenever they feel the pressure on the leash. If that is acceptable for you than go ahead and praise the behavior so it becomes consistent.
Go Ahead tips:
Don't yank or pull back on the leash. Simply hang on. Pressure on the leash from the dog's pulling is one thing, but when the dog feels constant pressure trying to pull him in the other direction his instincts tell him to fight it and pull all the harder in the opposite direction.
When waiting for the dog to turn back to you, stay silent. Calling him will interrupt the discovery process and he may never really figure it out. Praise him after he turns to you. Even if it seems to take forever you must wait as long as it takes for him to look back at you. Don't feel bad or get mad if it takes awhile. The longest recorded wait time for this exercise is 37 minutes! Hopefully it will not take your collie that long and thankfully with my breed it rarely does.
The "lets go" is a little more controlled and this exercise requires a little more careful timing on your part. Begin the walk by saying "Let's go" and stepping off. As soon as the dog begins to move ahead of you, (yes, you are allowing the dog to continue forward until he reaches the end of the leash) stop and be ready to call the dog's name right before the leash gets tight. This is to give the dog an opportunity to turn and realize you're not with him. It also has the advantage of encouraging the dog to respond to his name despite being distracted. If the dog stops and looks, praise him VERY happily and begin to walk in the opposite direction saying "Let's go". If your collie doesn't look or stop when his name is called than wait for the leash to become tight. The moment the dog's forward motion is fully stopped, turn and begin walking in the opposite direction saying "Let's go" several times with a very mild firmness. This can be accompanied with a couple of light pats on your leg or if that gets no response by several light tugs or pops on the leash if necessary. Remember... light tugs or pops... do not over do it or your collie may become upset and resist completely and always release the pressure after each tug. If you go to tug and it feels like you are pulling the collie's full weight than you forgot to release the pressure and didn't have enough slack in the leash to get that effective 'pop'. As soon as your dog starts to walk in the same direction praise him verbally and be especially happy if you had to apply any leash tugs. I encourage you to praise and talk to the dog regularly as long as he stays close to you but it isn't necessary to keep his focus on you constantly in the "let's go". If he can eat on the fly, slip him the occasional little treat as well. If your dog begins to move ahead of you again, stop talking to it and repeat the stop and turn maneuver again. In time he will begin to promptly respond to his name when walking, the "let's go" cue and he will be close enough to you to be able to follow you when you make turns or stop. You'll also find that the dog will begin to keep a closer eye on you because he doesn't know what you are going to do next and wants to be ready. This exercise is a great way to teach him who's in control and to be responsible to you and not for you. If he's looking to you for cues than who's the leader? You.
Important tip: No matter how large the dog is or what kind of collar he is wearing, you MUST resist the temptation to yank back on the leash as the dog is coming to its end. Yanking back suddenly on a loose leash just as he is hitting the end can cause serious damage to a dog's neck, throat and back. A dog can also be flipped onto his back or side if he is fairly light.
The fine art of using a leash well does take a bit of practice. Held and used properly a leash can be extremely effective and even negate the necessity of a "corrective" collar. Here are a few pointers that should help you. When walking your dog, especially in the "let's go", it is extremely helpful to pick a side that you want the dog to be on and then hold the leash in a manner that will allow you to quickly guide him back to that side. Here's what my mom does with a dog on her left side. To begin, her arms are held at her side in a natural and relaxed position. The loop of the leash is placed around the thumb of her right hand while the fingers always grasp the loop in a firm grip. Her left hand holds the lower end of the leash with her pinky finger down and as near to the clip as possible without the leash being tight and she always holds it firmly until the dog begins to pull forward at which point she allows that hand to slide up along the leash until it meets the right hand. (People wishing to walk their dog on their right side need simply switch hands but once your dog knows how to walk decently it won't matter if you only use the right side because it feels stronger.) Many people make the mistake of holding the leash with their thumb down closest to the clip. While many people think it is more comfortable, it actually makes more work for you. Here's why; When your fist is turned down with the thumb closest to the clip and you try to pull, you are only predominately using the inside muscles in your forearm. This causes most people to lean their bodies back as their dog pulls them, shifting their center of balance. This shift of balance also encourages people to have to use their shoulders in conjunction with their lower back to hold onto a strong dog. This can take a serious toll on a person's body and in time even cause back problems. BUT when a person holds the leash with their fist turned up and their pinky closest to the clip, their arm is now set anatomically correct and can take advantage of all the inside forearm muscles, inside and outside upper arm muscles and utilizes the shoulder and upper back muscles more effectively. If you have trouble remembering how to hold the leash, think of how you take hold of a glass of water. Your hand always moves forward and takes hold of it with the thumb up and the pinky down. Any other way and you may have a mess to clean up!
As the dog is pulling forward and her hands slide together, mom moves them to the front of her body and keeps them close to help maintain center of balance and discourage the urge to yank back at the same time. She prefers to spread her feet with the left foot out and toes pointed forward and her right foot is set further back with the toes pointed off to the right. If it is a large dog she finds that bending her knees slightly as she braces for the dog's body reaching the end of the leash helps her keep better balance. With smaller dogs it isn't necessary. Once she has turned, given the "let's go" cue and the dog begins moving to catch up to her, her left hand slides back down to the its original 'low on leash' position. Now she is ready for another round if it's necessary. In time, full turn around maneuvers may be replaced by a quick, light tug on the leash. But this happens only once the dog has come to equate the tightness of a leash as a form of "accidental" correction. I call it "accidental" because in the dog's mind it came from not paying attention, not directly from you. That's why I noted earlier that you stop talking when the dog gets ahead. If he doesn't hear your verbal reprimand when the leash tightening occurs, than it didn't come from you. Remember to play it off as if you didn't have anything to do with it and move on to the "let's go" cue.
My mom taught all of her dogs the "let's go" first. "Go ahead" was taught next and used often as a reward for good behavior. The "heel" was taught last.
Was this lesson helpful for you? I hope so because its the last of the basic "traditional" commands. From now on any new command words I introduce will be in the "Your Collie's Manners" page. See you there soon!