Friday, July 30, 2010

Long Lines In Dog Training

When Melissa goes for a run in an unfenced area she is attached to a long line. The line is 20 feet long, made of nylon, and is machine washable. I obtained mine at Clean Run the super dog (and people) store I have mentioned before. The specific line I use can be viewed here: I have one in blue, in red and in black. I like the nylon material since it rarely seems to snag when the dogs are running in fields and meadows. Occasionally it will snag on rocks along the creek, so should always be used with supervision. But those times are rare. The hours of running loose in open meadows and fields with a long line attached outnumber the occasional snag.

Some guidelines for using a long line.

1) Attach the long line to a harness. Melissa wears a front clip harness, the lead is attached to the buckle on the harness and to her flat buckle collar. This prevents any pulling directly on her neck should she get snagged while running with the long line.
2) Long lines are not are a substitute for teaching your dog to come.
3) The line is not meant to be jerked to get your dog to come closer to you, this will only teach your dog to avoid coming near you.
4) Always supervise your dog while he is wearing a long line.
5) Always reward when your dog comes close and checks in with you.
6) Do not be in a hurry to drop the long line if you are starting this training with an adult dog. It's ok to hold onto it until your cue to come is nearly 100% and you have developed a relationship of trust with your dog. It may take months, it may take a year. No need to be in a hurry.

Melissa became accustomed to dragging a long line at the age of 9 weeks. We first practiced around our fenced yard while she learned how to respond to her name (more about that skill in a future blog) and eventually in different areas. She was rewarded each and every time she checked in. Each time she came over to me, I clicked and she got rewarded. Soon I became as rewarding as the great outdoors. In the beginning I used the very best of treats to reward her for check ins, but soon I was using her daily rations when she ran loose in the yard. I saved the extra yummy treats for those really highly distracting areas such as behind the barn, and in the woods.

Melissa had lots of opportunities to run in our fenced areas, and she was learning that if she came close to me, she got a treat and then was able to go run again. This was done with the long line always attached. There was no need to corner her or grab her by the collar in order to catch her when play time was over. Checking in with me became a habit for Melissa, great things happened when she checked in. The lone line gave me the confidence to let her run loose in unfenced areas. I could easily step on the end of the 20 ft line if she went too far. We practiced at the nearby lake, in meadows and fields. Melissa ran, she sniffed, she played with other dogs, and she checked in with me! Click/treat and off she was released to go run again. Gradually I began to move a distance away from her, she continued to check in. In a few weeks I was able to move more then 20 ft from her, longer then the distance of the long line, and she continued to check in. We continued to practice name responses in separate training sessions. I was not ready to call her to me in distracting situations, so did not use a cue to call her to me. Why call her if her recall (coming when called) was not 100%? I certainly did not want her to associate 'Melissa come' with ignoring me. Instead, she was getting to do what she wanted: to run free, and since she was being rewarded for checking in, she continued to do that also. In a few months she was reliably responding to her name with minimal distractions, recall training will be on-going for life...more about that soon.

I never used the line to pull her to me. I wanted her to be willing to come to me on her own....building that trusting relationship has been the ongoing theme since Melissa came to live with us. With the help of my friends, Melissa has had many repetitions of coming close to us, having her collar touched, getting a treat and then being released to go play again. If instead we touched her collar to stop her fun of running, rolling and swimming she would soon learn to not check in and begin to play the game of keep away. Many dogs don't want to be caught since each time they have in the past, their fun has ended. They have to go back in the house, in a car, or in a crate.

By playing the collar touch game for the past 9 months Melissa eagerly checks in. Checking in does not mean the end of play time for Melissa, it means leaning on us for petting and also some treats, then more time to play with her friends. We can walk up to her and she trusts us, she does not bolt and play keep away. The majority of the time we walk up to her to pet and/or give a treat and then allow her to run free again. Occasionally I will pick up the long line and allow her about 5 or 6 ft of line, walk for a few minutes with her close by, then will drop the line with and release her with 'go play'. By doing this Melissa doesn't associate the picking up the line and being close to me as a signal that play time is over.

At 11 months of age, Melissa has a fairly good recall, and she checks in frequently. I am now calling the long line my confidence line. Melissa still wears one when we go hiking/swimming, it gives me the confidence that should she alert to something in the distance I can easily step on the end of the line.

Today while hiking she had some fantastic responses to her name with distractions and came running directly to me, plus she was readily checking in with all of us. I mentioned to my friends that it may be time to take the line off. She has had 9 months of running loose while dragging the line, she checks in, and she is responding to her name. The time spent in training this has been well worth it. Melissa has the freedom to play, sniff, swim and run with her dog friends while hiking with us. The long line was used correctly in teaching Melissa to stay close by. She gets much needed exercise and our trusting relationship continues. As always it was fun watching our dogs run, leap, and swim today. It was very rewarding to all owners to have our young dogs running back to us when we called them.

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