One of the biggest issues I see people having with their dogs is that a good solid foundation for to establish leadership. People gloss over this concept and try to skip straight to the “good stuff” of working on obedience cues thinking that will be how their dog will suddenly become well trained. Sadly, without a strong foundation, no matter what you try and build on it, it cannot stand up.
You must have a solid foundation built of essential trust, mutual respect, and clear, strong leadership BEFORE you can progress to teaching your dog other obedience cues. Huskies, especially, WILL NOT follow the cues of any owner who has not firmly established themselves as someone worthy of following. Without showing solid leadership, if you cue a Husky, their response to you will always be, “Why should I? “
Whether you are dealing with a young puppy that is just learning for the first time, re-structuring and re-establishing your relationship with your dog, or trying to establish a relationship with a recently re-homed dog, showing your position as leader is a crucial first step when it comes to training a dog, especially in Snow Dogs. Compliance in a dog can be solicited in many ways, not all necessarily good. Unfortunately, most owners need more experience to see how their actions today will impact their dogs and their behaviour tomorrow.
First, What Kind Of Trainer Are You?
The Lazy Guy
This guy knows that he should train his dog but always puts it off or just never gets around to it. He is usually really good about making excuses about why he is too busy or why his dog’s behaviour is out of control. He is really good at blaming other people and society for not accommodating his dog and its bad behaviours. Eventually these poor dogs just end up languishing chained up in a yard because they can no longer be successfully or safely walked, cannot be left in the house because they trash the place or disturb neighbours with their howling, and no person is safe to be around their boisterous out of control behaviour. Very often these poor dogs get dumped off at the shelter to become someone else’s problem unless they are one of the unlucky dogs whom no one wants, in which case they get euthanized. There is absolutely no way that a dog like this will comply to any cue given by its owner. It simply has no basis of understanding as to what is being asked of him.
The Laid Back Guy
His philosophy is that he does not like people telling him what do and when to do it so he applies his view to his dog too. This guy’s dog will never having to worry about being restricted by society’s oppressive rules. He lets the dog do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and however it wants. What this owner does not understand that he is not only setting himself up for having all his belongings and home completely trashed by his dog ( if your dog does not respect you, he does not respect your belongings either) but that this dog will never mind a single cue that he tries to give this dog. That leaves him open for all kinds of problems regarding having an out of control dog that will not mind his owner.
The Well Meaning But Uniformed Guy
This owner genuinely loves their dog and chooses to smother it with love, attention, and material possessions. These owners also allow their dogs to do whatever it wants because they want to be “best friends” with their dog. They mistakenly think that their dog will value the lack of limitations and restrictions placed on it. These are the owners who anthropomorphizes their dogs and attempt to apply human social rules to dogs and they are genuinely shocked the first time their dog challenges or bites them. They cannot see how their over indulgent behaviours have contributed to their dog’s aggressive or neurotic behaviours. These dogs will not follow cues give by these owners because the dogs do not see them as a leader or respect their authority over them. More precisely, these owners have no authority over their dogs in any way, shape, or form.
The “Because I Told You To Do It” Guy
This guy is determined to have a compliant dog. He wants to command his dog to do whatever he says and he does it using aversive and coercive means. He MAKES the dog comply through physical and emotional domination. If the dog does not comply, he punishes the dog through physical trauma ( hitting, alpha rolling, or using equipment that inflicts pain as punishment for non-compliance), by shouting or intimidating, or by breaking down the dog’s spirit. Just because the dog stops doing the behaviour in the moment does not mean that compliance has been accomplished. Compliance on the part of the dog must come from a WILLINGNESS to submit their will to a Leader. This cannot happen in a human/dog relationship where there is no trust bond.
These owners are also genuinely shocked when one day their dog suddenly bites or attacks them “out of the blue” and “for no reason”. These dogs are not compliant, stable, nor trust worthy. These dogs have been conditioned to do what has been demanded of them or suffer the consequences of doing so. These owners have developed a bond with their dogs but it is not a relationship bond based on trust or respect, it is based on fear and intimidation. It will be a very limiting relationship and it will not yield a dog that you can trust to be compliant.
The Well Balanced Dog Owner Guy
This owner understands how dogs think and what they value. He does what is best for this dog, not what makes him feel good in that moment. He recognizes that dogs have physical and emotional needs and strives to meet them. He understands that good consistent strong leadership skills are valued by dogs because strong leadership is equated with their safety and continued survival. He knows that good leadership helps to develop calm well balanced dogs because these dogs know what to expect from their environment and what their environment expects of them. No need for dogs to be anxious, uncertain, or afraid.
This owner communicates in a clear efficient way easily understood by his dog. He understands that in order for his dog to willingly submit to his leadership, he must first earn his place as a worthy leader in his dog’s eyes. This owner strives to base his relationship on mutual trust and respect. Compliance from his dog is earned. This dog is well balanced and complies to the cues given him by his owner.
In the case of Snow Dogs, the good Snow Dog owner has the wisdom to know to pick his battles carefully when it comes to his hard-headed willful Snow Dog. He knows to over-look the sloppy or slow to happen sit. He overlooks the fact that he had to cue his dog five times in order to get him to comply to the off leash re-call. This owner is wise enough to know that what is was more important than how FAST the dog complied to his cue, is to have gratitude because his Snow Dog willingly gave him compliance even though the Snow dog’s dog natural instinct was to run in the other direction. This kind of compliance only happens with strong leadership creating the foundation for a strong a Relationship Bond. Well done, Balanced Dog Owner Guy!
Laying The Foundations For Leading With The Umbilical
This technique teaches your dog:
- That it does not get to choose its actions and behaviour. You, as the leader, choose what happens next.
- It helps to form a bond between the owner and the dog. Whatever you do, you must do it together.
- It shows the dog that it must look to you for clues as to what happens next for him.
- About loose leash walking.
- About balance within the dog/owner relationship.
The reason I like this technique so much is that no fancy equipment is needed. All you need is a six foot leash or waist leash, a hour of your time daily, and some patience.
To begin, affix the leash around your waist. This can be done by feeding the leash through the hand hold and creating a loop. Step into the loop and pull the waist up around your waist. You should now be wearing the leash like a belt. Then attach the clip of the leash to your dog’s collar. If you own a waist leash (which I highly recommend) then affix the waist leash around your waist and attach the clip to your dog’s collar. You are ready to start.
The object of this training is for one hour every day for the minimum of several weeks, with the dog attached to you, go about your normal chores. Do laundry, clean the house, shovel the snow from the sidewalk … do it with your dog attached to your waist. DO NOT talk to your dog. DO NOT cue your dog. DO NOT walk around your dog. The objective is for your dog (eventually) to look at you for the clues as to what will happen next.
This is how you get the dog from doing what HE wants and doing what YOU want. It may seem silly and simple but when done consistently and correctly, it is the most powerfully effective attitude fixer-upper you will ever use to train your dog.
Be prepared at that first, that you will be tripping all over each other. It will look like the most uncoordinated dance that you have ever done with a partner. BE PATIENT. Do not alter what you are doing and how you are doing it. Do not step around your dog. Instead, (gently) walk through your dog. He will eventually get tired of being bumped into and will move with you. But best of all, he will stop thinking about what HE wants to do, he will start look at YOU and wondering what you want him to do. This is how a partnership or bond is formed between you and the dog.
As you notice that the dog is actively looking to you for his cues, you can mark the behaviour with a high value treat and a YESSSSS. When you stop moving and the dog automatically sits, mark and reward this behaviour because this will become the foundation for loose leash walking , for sitting before crossing the street, and even for teaching your dog not to bolt out an open door without you. You must have a good solid foundation to build on before you can move to these other more advanced cues.
Practice this technique until your dog offers:
- No resistance to your movements,
- Watches you to take his cues from you and your movements,
- Moves with you effortlessly and consistently.
For young puppies, use shorter periods of time, but done more often throughout the day. Make sure you accommodate your puppy by moving very slowly and being very aware where your puppy is at all times so you do not step on small fragile paws. For puppies, you may want to adopt a shuffle walk instead of a stepping gait just to keep them safe during the experience.
For newly adopted rescues, you need a lot of patience. Some of them have no formal leash training and certainly no obedience training. Remember to check to see how you are feeling. Do not get angry or frustrated. Breathe.
For dominant dogs, be very careful of where your hands are when using this technique. Very often these dogs have learned to control their environment through biting or nipping so remember to keep your arms bent at the elbow 90 degrees with your hands in front at your mid section to keep your dog from biting your dangling fingers.
How To Use Tether To Teach Loose Leash Walking
Once you have practiced playing Follow the Leader inside, you are ready to move outside to master Loose Leash Walking with your dog. This is especially great for Snow Dogs because they are the worst offenders of trying to bolt ahead on the walk. You never have to worry bout the leash being jerked out of your hands again.
With your leash around your waist and clipped to your dog’s collar, place your dog on your left hand side. If your leash is twisted, adjust your waist leash so that the slack in the leash falls to your left (the same side as your dog is on). Your right hand should be held at your front mid section just as if you were holding the handle of a leash and your left hand should be ready to reach down to correct the dog should it become necessary. The dog’s walking position should always be at your left, never lunging in front of you, and never criss-crossing in front of you. The reduced slack in the lead makes keeping your dog near you much easier than with the use of a regular hand held leash.
Begin walking with your dog, and at the MOMENT that the dog tries to charge forward or out to the side, IMMEDIATELY do a pivot turn (turning 180 degrees) and begin walking in the opposite direction. At first do not cue the dog, just begin walking and let the dog catch up with you. Keep walking and pivoting every time the dog tries to pull you to where it wants to go. Be prepared that you will most likely end up covering the same 50 feet over and over again and your neighbours might begin to wonder about the strange behaviour. As you progress and the dog begins walking with you, start adding a high value treat to mark the compliant behaviour. You can also start adding some sudden stops to the walk.
As you begin to stop, reach out your left hand and place your palm against the resistance in the leash should your dog try to pull forward. Adjust your dog’s position to beside your left leg and wait for the SIT. Begin walking again and should you need to, pivot turn and bring your dog back to your side. Add more SITs to your walk.
As you progress, you can add the cues with me when you begin moving and sit when you stop. Make sure you mark the behaviour with a high-value treat and a verbal yes.
Keep practising until your dog moves with you consistently and synchronises with your steps.
As always we welcome your questions, comment, and stories. When we share our stories we may be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs …. one owner at a time.