Transitioning to Heeling Off Leash

To make the transition from Heeling On Leash to Heeling Off Leash, we use a technique called umbilical cord. This maneuver lets you and your dog experience the feeling of Heeling Off Leash while he's still attached. Here's how it works:

1. With your dog sitting in the Heel position and the leash attached to the collar, take the loop end of the leash in your right hand and pass it around behind you into your left hand.

2. With your right hand, unsnap the leash from the collar, pass the snap through the loop of the leash, and reattach it to the collar.

3. Pull on the leash to tighten the loop end around your waist at your left side.

4. Put your left hand against your belt buckle, and let your right hand swing naturally at your side.

5. Say "Buddy, heel," and start to walk your normal brisk pace.

If your dog deviates from Heel position, slowly reach for the collar. Put two fingers of your left hand through the collar, palm facing you, at the side of his neck, and bring him back to Heel position. Keep walking, let go of the collar, and tell him what a good dog he is. If Buddy is a small dog or has long hair, use the leash snap to bring him back to Heel position.

Use slow, deliberate movements when training. When you reach for your dog, be sure you do it slowly so as not to frighten him. Remember, he's still on leash and can't go anywhere. If you start snatching at him, he'll become apprehensive and try to bolt.

For Buddy, this lesson is important. He learns to accept you reaching for the collar so that you can do it when he's actually off leash. Reaching slowly is so important so you don't inadvertently teach him to become apprehensive when you reach for his collar.

If you have difficulty getting two fingers through the collar — because your dog is small or has lots of hair around his neck — use the leash snap to bring him back to Heel position. When you get to the off-leash part, put a little hang tag on his collar that you can easily grasp.

The umbilical cord technique teaches your dog that it's his responsibility to remain in Heel position. Unless he learns to accept that responsibility, he won't be reliable off leash. You can help the process by being consistent in reminding him of that responsibility. Anytime you make a move to bring him back, you must follow through. If Buddy deviates and you reach for the collar, but he corrects himself and you do nothing, Buddy doesn't learn anything.

Keep the time and distance short, and you have a better chance of maintaining your dog's interest and attention.

Gradually increase the number of steps, make a right turn, take another ten steps and halt, praise, and release. Remember to say your dog's name before you make the turn. Start over and incorporate an about-turn, using his name before the turn. Also incorporate changes of pace. You get the picture.

As you and your dog's proficiency increase, add distractions in the order you did in Chapter 13. You also need to gradually increase the time and distance that you heel your dog before a halt. How much total time should you spend on this exercise? After a two-minute warm-up of heeling in Control Position (see Chapter 13) in a large circle or straight line with plenty of releases, you should spend no more than one to two minutes per training session.

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