Here is a special report from Liz Dixon, Commercial Director of Dogs Today...
Office dog Ferris is a young German Shepherd dog, just over a year old - a happy, healthy boy with a fantastic temperament and a lovely disposition.
He is my second GSD – I had a boy before – Jack – but this one is different in so many ways not least his desire to jump into every lake and river he encounters! A joy to walk off the lead, his exuberance and sheer delight at all he encounters is in turns entertaining and hilarious but the minute he goes back, or even starts on the lead, the trouble begins!
He leans into the lead like a plough horse – his objective seemingly to pull me as quickly as possible to the nearest field, tree, friend or foe and, at times, to try to dislocate my shoulder or his neck!
It had got to the point where I dreaded taking him anywhere on a lead and had restricted his walks to the fields opposite my house – boring for both of us, but essential for the well being of my back.
Working for Dogs Today Magazine has afforded me the opportunity to read about and talk to various experts about lead training. To say I had been blinded by science was probably an understatement and I was getting desperate for a cure. Christine, in the office, suggested we offered Ferris’s behaviour as a challenge with a view to seeing if we could find a cure and it was while talking about this to Alex Wilson at Xtra Dog, he offered to be the first to try to cure my hauling hound.
Xtra Dog specialise in and promote Tellington Touch, including Tellington TTouch ground work which creates balance and harmony in a dog’s posture ensuring that it walks comfortably alongside its owner rather than pulling.
Alex first demonstrated the concept with his own dog – Arapahoe (a beautiful Siberian Husky) and then it was Ferris’s turn. We had chosen to meet at Richmond Park, so a more distracting place could not have been found – we were contending with deer and their seemingly very entrancing droppings, rabbits and their equally diverting contribution, other dogs, walkers, bikers and a whole myriad of smells. Ferris was in seventh heaven and he was off like a rocket. We gave Alex a very clear demonstration of how well Ferris pulled – he would make a great sled dog!
The next thing was to fit Ferris into one of Xtra Dog’s special harnesses. I had sent over his measurements prior to meeting Alex and so, we were pretty much spot on first time. These harnesses have a ring on the breastbone and also in the middle of the shoulders, which allows for the double-ended lead to be attached. This lead, also, is special as its connectors are different sizes – the front (chest) one being smaller so as not to irritate the dog.
Once fitted, we set off with me holding the lead, hands up and apart with my right hand slightly in front of Ferris’s head. The idea is to pull gently and equally and then, as the dog gets into the correct position, gently ‘melt away’ the contact. At first, this was a constant interaction – pull and release (or ‘melt away’), pull and release – but gradually, Ferris started to slow down and respond to the gentle pressure, gradually walking to heel without any intervention from me at all!
We carried out some simple exercises designed to make the dog concentrate and slow down, and despite the many distractions, Ferris responded well to these tasks and did very well. The first one involved creating a ‘labyrinth’ on the ground through which we had to walk slowly, pausing at each turn for Ferris to sit and the second one was a series of lines over which we had to step which meant that he had to be careful about where he was putting his feet. I have to say that Alex’s ingenuity was impressive – he used long and narrow plastic pipes to designate both the maze and the ladder, which worked very well!
Lastly, Alex demonstrated a calming and attention grabbing method of stroking the lead upwards and away from the dog, pulling it towards you and ensuring any loss of concentration is quickly regained.
I was convinced!
Ferris was actually walking to heel and I was actually enjoying the experience! Hurrah!
But, I couldn’t help worry, what would happen the next day when I took him out for his normal constitution?
Well, I am pleased to report, I needn’t have worried… If anything, he was even better in his own neighbourhood, and didn’t pull at all. He now walks beautifully on the harness and lead – I even got to try it with one hand and it worked!
I know that I’ll have to keep up the ‘training’ and exercises, as I cannot expect a year’s bad habits to disappear totally in one day, but, so far, so VERY GOOD!
Thank you Alex and Xtra Dog – you have made my back and my dog very happy!
Liz Dixon, Dogs Today