I have trouble keeping my posts short but this one will reign me in. I pulled my back muscles out the other day working with my own dogs and need to get back in bed with ibuprofen and the heating pad! I realized from this that sharing a Top 10 List of Handling Tips is a must. I also thought it nice for you all to see that even Professional Trainers flub up, for whatever reason, and get injured sometimes handling their own dogs. Yes, we are human too! Oh, and hey, if any of the terms here are not familiar, please let me know in the Comments. I’d love to tell you more.
So, my lovelies, here’s my Top 10 List of Handling Tips for you straight from the field… and off the top of my head. Some may seem obvious, but are rarely seen in use. Others will help you spot a Pro Trainer straight away. I’ve also added sub-entries for what the potential fallout can be if these tips are not followed. These are labeled, “Dangers.” Yes, I’ve seen them all happen. Happy Handling!
Holding the Leash – If you feel you need to have a death grip on your dog’s leash to control him, let this be your incentive to do more training. A leash should only need to be held with a very light grip. One hand holds the leash loop with fingers or thumb only. Do not put your whole hand through the loop to anchor it with your wrist. You need to be able to reposition it or let go of it at a moment’s notice. Yes, ‘let go of it’ if need be. The other hand cradles the leash slack. It is not for holding your dog back or pulling him.
- Dangers – Spraining or breaking a wrist. Creating over-excitement or reactivity in your dog from tension on the leash. Getting pulled or dragged down and injured.
Leash Handling – Your leash is not a steering wheel! It is a tool for safety only. If you want to use it to communicate with your dog then utilize skills like Walking Down the Leash, Miming the Leash or Slow Stops. All of these create a dialogue with your dog to help him tune into the human on the other end of the leash without either of you stressing.
- Dangers – Creating over-excitement or reactivity in your dog from tension on the leash. Your frustration level rising as you wonder why your dog doesn’t know how to read your mind. Your dog’s Opposition Reflex increases, which means he pulls back even harder when you pull. If the leash is attached to a collar, instead of a front-clip harness, you are doing long term, physical damage to your dog’s trachea, thyroid and spine.
Proper Footing – Wear secure, closed-toe shoes in which you can get solid footing. Bend your knees to use your center of gravity if your dog moves forward creating tension on the leash. Great too for doggie play dates when a herd of pooches comes zooming by you in a full force run that grazes your kneecaps.
- Dangers – Face plant. Pulled muscles (ask The Boyfriend). Lacerations on feet. Broken toe(s). Knee surgery, Sprained anything.
Know Your Limits – If you are choosing a pet, PLEASE choose a pet that suits your ability to physically handle that pet. By this, I mean, whether from a breeder as a puppy or adopted from a rescue or shelter as an adult, keep in mind that every dog needs time to learn the rules of living in a human world. In the meantime, you need to be able to handle that pup or dog under any circumstances, no matter how large they grow and and no matter the behavioral issue they bring with them. Consider the unknown.
- Dangers – Getting pulled or dragged down and injured. Face plant. Pulled muscles. Lacerations. Broken parts. Surgery, Sprained anything. Simply feeling overwhelmed when you realize it’s been ages since you handled an untrained pooch.
Pay Attention – Every moment with your dog, one of you is training the other. It’s up to you to decide which occurs. Personally, I am humbled and happy to learn things from my pets every day. But some lessons need to be taught by the handler, you. So, get off the cell phone, and capture those moments your dog makes a great choice by praising him. This is “handling” at it’s finest.
- Dangers – Missed opportunities to reinforce the good stuff and get more great behavior. Missed opportunities to positively interrupt the not so good stuff and decrease those behaviors.
Distance is Your Friend – If your dog is having a hard time coping with anything, move away. Simple.
- Dangers – Overexposure to stimuli. Your dog is practicing an inappropriate behavior and practice makes perfect. He is being exposed to something that makes him stressed and animals cannot learn when stress is present. Prolonged exposure to a stressor can create a fear imprint related to that stressor.
Proximity is Your Friend – If your dog is not able to tune into your verbal cue. Move closer to your dog to better get his attention and try again, Lightly tap on his shoulder if need be. Simple.
- Dangers – You are repeating yourself to no effect thereby “poisoning” a cue, reducing the value of the cue. Your dog is is practicing an inappropriate behavior and/or being exposed to something that makes him stressed when you could step in to help him.
Dogs Don’t Speak English – Relax. If you must use words, keep your voice soft yet audible to your pooch. Only use verbal cues you have taught your dog. Dogs do not come hard-wired to know English. Visual cues (body language) will win almost every time over verbal cues. Dogs learn and communicate most clearly with visual cues, not language. Move with precise communication in their line of vision for full effect.
- Dangers – Wasted time and effort. Frustration from you. A confused pup who does not understand what you want him to do. Repeating your verbal cue making it even less effective.
Over-Handling – don’t pick your dog up, hold your dog back by his collar or any other part of his body. Instead, teach your dog how to Target to your hand for moments when you want him to follow you away from a potentially dangerous situation. Use the Wait skill to cue him to hold himself back at other moments; exiting vehicles, before entering a fenced area, before exiting your home.
- Dangers – If you pick your dog up in a moment when he is overreacting or being approached by stranger dogs or people, he will feel trapped. Other dogs, if present, will see your dog as an immobile target they can hyper-focus on… and they will. Holding your dog back will encourage Opposition Reflex and increase pent up energy creating more anxiousness that could have been managed with other skills.
Treat Bag Placement – Yes, you should be carrying treats on you. No, not in your pocket, a plastic bag or the product bag they came in. Yes, in an actual treat bag intended for training. Don’t understand why or disagree? That’s cool. I’ll see ya in the Comments below for a chat. Position the bag at the back of your waist away from your dog’s eyes. Some dogs will simply move to the back of you to “mug” you as I like to say. Get creative. Stand against a wall as you train for a bit until your dog realizes that mugging you is not an option. Practice your Leave It exercise until he stops circling you for the goodies without having earned them. For larger dogs who’s mugging is invasive, place the treats in a bowl or container up high and away from you both. Though it slows the process down some, use a handful of treats at a time and go back for more as needed.
- Dangers – Your dog will be distracted by the smorgasbord of treats directly in front of him. He won’t understand how you could possibly expect hm to pay attention to you, not the treats. You will wonder why your dog is not able to focus on you. You may misinterpret his distraction for him not caring about your silly human agenda. Awww.
In the realm of training, most hear “handling” and think “leash ‘handling’ skills,” but you can see how we “handle” our dogs in many other ways. Every one of these interactions affects their behavior and our own. I hope this helps you all make great choices improves the dialogue with your dog and keeps you both safe.