Leash Agreement: A Trainer’s Take on Puppy Obedience
“Let’s say you’re out for her first walk on a leash. She’s a puppy, so naturally she’s excited. And let’s say she starts pulling. You know, so there’s just that little bit of tension on the line. What do you do?”
Rosalee Kaschel is leaning in, palms flat on the breakroom table, explaining what’s at stake in the earliest exchanges between puppies and their parents. As a certified professional dog trainer, she has had hundreds of hours of dog and puppy training sessions to reflect on the far-reaching consequences of little situations like this inaugural outing on the leash.
“Move forward in response to that little bit of tension, and you’ve just planted a seed in that puppy’s mind: If I pull, I move forward! That’s how pulling starts.”
Kaschel has a knack for opening up the inner monologue of pets like this - a refreshing talent, no doubt, for the many frustrated pet parents who come to her for help at Petsafe Village. In fact, Kaschel seems intent to use her gifts to save new puppy parents from years of needless heartache and labor:
“The major mistake I see owners make is trying to do it all themselves, and then coming to me when it doesn’t work out - like at 9 or 10 months when their dog is an adolescent. In a perfect world, every owner would start socialization school when the dog is really young, 6 or 8 weeks. Because one of the most important things for a puppy is exposure - positive exposure to other dogs, other people, parks, vacuum cleaners, you name it. If they started really early, they’d have almost no issues later on as an adult.”
Kaschel is endlessly optimistic about interspecies communication, and the “school” experience she envisions is one in which pet and parent can enter together into a fun, cooperative learning environment where a shared language can develop. Without an organized training effort early in your puppy’s life, she suggests, it’s really easy for signals to get crossed and bad precedents to get set. And tragically, when this happens it’s almost always our non-verbal companions that get the short end of the stick. “Dogs can’t really understand, ‘We did this yesterday and today we’re not doing it,’
“We’re just not consistent, as humans. And our dogs are constantly looking at us, wanting to know what we want from them. ‘Well sometimes we go on a walk and you can sniff, but today we’re going on a walk and you can’t sniff.’ And they’re like, ‘But we did that yesterday!’ Don’t ever do something with your dog if don’t think you’re going to be able to keep doing it.”
Canines watch their humans for signs that their behavior is acceptable. Most of us know that. But what happens when our signals are inconsistent or lacking? Our pets go right on seeking the approval and recognition they need to function:
“You have to always think, if he jumps on the couch and you pet him, you just told your dog it’s ok to jump on the couch, because he got rewarded by the petting. Everything your dog is doing is either being reinforced or punished, constantly. If the dog jumps on the counter and gets some food, he just got ‘rewarded.’ A breeze from a fan on his face can be rewarding. We can’t always control what they’re being rewarded for.”
When strong human direction is lacking, environmental incentives like these get “louder” in your dog’s ears. And when you reprimand him today for something that seemed sympatico yesterday, he begins to live in a state of cognitive dissonance. Obviously, no creature can live in that state forever, and eventually the confusion takes its toll on trust.
“To me, the most important thing between you and your dog is that bond, the trust. As soon as your dog loses trust in you, then it’s very hard to train a dog, because they don’t know where to look. The trust is the biggest thing, it’s really important.”
Such broken bonds are notoriously hard to mend, and Rosalee Kaschel has become an advocate for pro-active, preventative training in an environment supervised by a certified professional.
“I call it preventative training. Which just means you’re doing everything in the beginning so your dog never really develops bad habits in the first place. You’re learning right from the start instead of trying to fix things later - when your dog is an adolescent or an adult and they’ve already done this behavior over and over, and now we have to try to re-write the code. Always seek help, if possible, if you can! Training is becoming more and more affordable and more popular.”
So, let’s say we’re out on that first walk. What to do when she pulls on the leash?
“In a perfect world? Stop. Or guide them stay at your side, right here next to you. People come to me so frustrated, saying, ‘He doesn’t know how to walk on a leash! He pulls so much!’ Ok, well, he’s been pulling since he was a puppy! Have you ever taught him how to walk on a leash properly? No, more often, we expect our dog to know all these things. We don’t really teach them how. And again, that’s why I’m very big on starting as a puppy, because then you don’t get bad habits, you learn everything soon, you have all that time to practice when your dog’s brain is a sponge. And then, later on, you have a good dog.”
And that last part - the good dog part - that’s what it’s all about, right?
So, if you have a new puppy at home, train early, train consistently, and train gregariously. And if you’ve got the time and resources, train with a seasoned professional on hand.
Tags: Dogs, Experts, Professional, Tips, Training