Meeting the needs of four dogs is tough, especially when those four dogs are border collies and you don’t even have a yard to potty them in!  I’ve been spending more time and energy than I have trying to give the dogs the level of exercise and mental stimulation that they need.  I am now remembering why I decided against four dogs last year.  That said, it is easier this time because I’m only trying to put a foundation in one dog, as the other three are at a level of training that I’m fairly happy with.

Nevertheless, I’ve started shopping around for a more suitable place to live.  I’m hoping to find either a house with some property, or one that adjoins a farm or property that I can have access to.  I’ve talked about moving before, but I’m now facing actually making it happen and it’s quite scary and overwhelming.  But sometimes scary and overwhelming can lead to good things.  Here’s hoping!

Yesterday I spent time training Ross and Kess.  I took them both out individually and worked predominantly on shadow handling.  I think this is extremely important because it teaches the dog to take cues from our body language.  Now they do it anyway, but instead of doing it passively they learn to do it actively.  That is, they learn to take direction from our bodies and follow our leads.  

Mostly what I am doing at this point is a lot of what many would consider obedience work: heeling, or walking at my side on a loose leash (or with no leash).  Ross is a master at this.  He can stay in heel position for as long as I ask him to, even without a leash.  But this is not just about heeling, or obedience for that matter.  I can stop, start, turn, spin, run forward, step backward, and Ross holds his position beside me.  He has learned to watch me very carefully for cues and to shadow my moves perfectly.  

This is an incredibly handy skill for a dog to develop.  It serves its purpose in navigating through crowds, or at trials (for a dog-aggressive dog like Ross, this is extremely important).  But it can also translate to other things, like searching at a distance.  Hannah’s not as precise as Ross is up close, but she can follow my body language from 100 yards away.  If I have her searching for an object, I can turn my body and move one way or another, and she will follow my direction from a distance.  Very useful for finding lost toys, or navigating through an agility field.  I expect it would be helpful in herding, if your dog can’t find sheep and needs your help in being directed.  All three of my dogs have learned to do this, with Ross being the most skilled and the girls still needing some polishing.  

To be honest, I really suck at teaching dogs to walk on a leash.  My dogs are mostly off-leash, and I find it much easier to manage them that way than to teach them proper leash manners.  Leashing my dogs usually means me being dragged around, my temper rising along with my voice, while ears and tails droop.  I am trying to change this and be a better trainer for my dogs.  

Yesterday I started teaching Kess the basics of loose leash walking.  She caught on extremely quickly and I was very pleased with how our session went.  

To start, I put a bunch of treats in my pocket, the dog on a leash and head out the door.  Our goal was the park but I was in no rush to get there.  This is not something to train if you are trying to actually get somewhere, especially not in a hurry.  I started walking forward, and of course Kess bolted ahead.  When she reached the end of the leash, I spun on my heels and went in a different direction.  She realized that the second she reached the end of the leash, and turned to dash ahead of me in the new direction.  As she passed my side, exactly in heel position, I gave my marker word (yes!) and stuffed a treat in her mouth.  She then forged ahead, reached the end of the leash, I turned and went in a different direction, she followed, I rewarded as she passed through heel position.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Eventually the dog starts to watch you rather than just charing ahead, and as soon as that happens, you’re on your way.  It took me less than 10 minutes to have Kess walking at my side for 10 or more steps in a row.   And it took us less than 20 minutes to make it all the way to the park.  I think that is a record for me teaching a dog to walk loose leashed at my side to the park.  I had her do it all the way home as well, and that was even easier as she just fell into place and walked with me.  

I may try and take a video of the next time I do this training with her to better demonstrate what I’m talking about.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find my camera yesterday, or for several days now.  Sure hope it surfaces soon!

It was a little tricky to get the timing of the treats right at first, but after a few tries she learned to expect it and that made the treat dispensing much easier.  This is a great way to teach a dog to walk loose leashed with you as it is all about them wanting to do it, and you rewarding their efforts.  In other words, it is a positive training approach (minus the obvious corrective effect of them hitting the end of the leash as you turn to walk in another direction).  I should add that I say nothing the entire time, other than my marker word of “yes!” when the dog is in the correct position.  A clicker works just fine as well, but seeing as it was -15 out, I wanted to keep a glove on at least one hand!

I have used this technique with all of my dogs, but have not been consistent enough with Hannah and Mira to get them to really walk well on a leash.  Well, Hannah is pretty good, but Mira is a pain.  I can get her to walk at my side – with great effort and a ton of treats – if she is alone.  But if I have any other dog with me, she forges ahead horribly.  I tend to lose my temper with her as a result (that impulse control issue, again!) and pop the leash and so on.  So when she’s on a leash her body language shows tension and stress.  Hannah displays similar dislike for the leash, and I’ve also used complusion with her.  Ross, on the other hand, prances along proudly.  I’ve never used compulsion with him and it really shows.  Hopefully I can do the same with Kess.  In the meantime, I’m also trying to retrain Hannah and Mira to be more positive about the whole thing.