I chose the name Drop the Leash! for my dog training program because I felt it represented the type of relationship I wanted my students to develop with their dogs. I believe that too many people rely on physical control of their animals to the detriment of creating a good working partnership.
Before becoming involved with dogs professionally I spent many years teaching people to work with horses. I have had lots of opportunity to watch my students interacting with both horses and dogs. It seems to me that when you hand someone a lead rope or a leash their first inclination is to tighten, shorten, pull, tug or yank. We humans are real control freaks. And we don’t seem to realize that all this pulling and yanking elicits an opposition reflex in our animals (try pulling on a sixteen hundred pound horse to load it on a trailer)
Visitors to our equestrian program are always surprised to see our students leading their horses around freely without ropes. They ask me how we train the horses to do this – but it’s not about “training” the horses. When you take the lead rope away the human leaders suddenly realize they have to pay attention and provide clear and consistent communication to their horses. That focus, engagement and clarity of direction is a good deal for a horse.
When I became involved with dogs it just seemed natural to carry this idea of off-leash engagement forwards. When I am out in public my dogs are always leashed because of leash laws and for their own safety. But when we are here on our farm they are always free. And I have to say they always seem pretty happy to stay with me.
I didn’t train my dogs to stay with me. I just spend a lot of time playing with them. My dogs love nothing more in life than to play. Through play I can teach them the skills, rules and boundaries they need to live in my world. They don’t know they’re learning rules and skills. For them it’s all about the positive reinforcement I provide through games, toys, treats, fun, and my complete attention and participation. All of those positives make hanging out with me a good deal for them.
So what happens if you drop your leash? Does your dog still want to hang out with you? If not grab a ball, a Frisbee a tug, or even just some treats, and engage with your dog through some play. You will be happily surprised at the results.