Welcome to 'Bonnies Dog Obedience and Puppy School Dog Blog'!
Over the past 50 years, we have continually evolved our training methods to provide the best guidance we can for dog owners. Today, I want to share with you a technique that may revolutionise the way you interact, engage and disengage with your puppy - the "OFF" button. Creating a training method was developed by Peter Bonney and the team at Bonnies.com.au , this method will help you establish a calm and manageable environment by disengaging with your puppy, at the right time and for the right reasons.
Putting our foot on the leash is not new. People have been doing it since Canines and Humans have been connected through a leash. When we have our hands full and we need to do something then many of us will, automatically, put our foot on the lead to 'hold the dog in-place' while we do our work. To do this as an exercise is of value, to your developing relationship and understanding with your puppy. It is quite new in our puppy training world and methods.
What makes this the "World's Hardest Puppy Exercise for Humans"? The answer is straightforward: humans lack an off button. When humans bring home a puppy, they find it hard to give them space. They incessantly fuss over the puppy, send conflicting signals through the leash, constantly pat them, and engage with them without pause. Unfortunately, this constant attention often results in future problems. A puppy needs to be allowed to chill and relax, and excessive human fussing will inevitably lead to persistent issues.
When you first use this as an exercise, ensure the puppy does not stress at all, not become anxious. Often they will pull a little on the leash when we first begin but they will quickly stop and then relax. Be patient. If you want to interact, go for a walk, pat or something else, take your foot off the leash. When your ready to start again, put your foot back on the leash. Practice makes perfect but 'when our foot is on the leash, we don't engage'.
As your foot is going on the leash it is better to have shoes on when using this method.
The puppy may not be able to pull the leash free from under your foot because of their size and weight when they are young. A full size, mid or large breed dog, certainly can as they age.
It's a great exercise when you are in a sitting position.
You should always hold the end of the leash in your hand when you are outside of your home and yard. This is for security of and for you and your dog. You must have your dog under your control at all times. This is, in may places, the law. It is also respectful of other people and their dogs. Your dog might be fine - theirs may not be. On leash and under your control.
We suggest flat leashes when doing this as rope or rounded leashes can roll under the foot and may cause you to get a foot/ankle injury.
DON'T let the dog stress. That is not the point of this exercise.
Let's dive into the details of this transformative training exercise.
The "OFF" Button for Your Puppy maybe the World's Hardest Puppy Exercise for Humans and is achievable by everyone when we understand, why we do what we do, when and how? In the past, we relied on physical management techniques, with clients keeping their puppies on their laps to maintain a quiet atmosphere during the initial parts of our training sessions, so clients could really hear what we were saying and not totally focussed on their puppy. While effective, this method proved challenging for some humans and puppies due to their excitement levels, age, or breed. However, a few years ago, we introduced a simpler approach - the World's Hardest puppy Exercise for a Human. Disengage.
What is to - Engage our puppy?
Put simply - to ENGAGE - this is when we intentionally or unintentionally interact or influence our puppy either on or off lead. When the puppy is really excited and they are only interested in something other than you they are engaged in the world. So, you can engage your puppy, or the puppy can engage with the world, on their own. Talking to your puppy, patting and petting our puppy, even looking at our puppy can and does engage them. They want to be good puppies for you. They will look at you and be saying "Hey mum, what do you want me to do? This often happens we the puppy sees us looking back at them. We may not have even said anything but this 'locking of eyes' is an engagement. You engage them with a leash on them, as you may want to to some training, or going for a walk or playing puppy games with the kids. When your puppy is awake and active your puppies brain is almost always turned on. Not off. So your puppy is almost always engaged. This happens from second one we pick up our puppy.
What is it to - disengage?
Disengaging our puppy happens mostly, naturally. When they are asleep or in their other, Safe places, their crate or their playpen. It allows our dog to relax and not be 'On Duty". It is therefore important for us to be able to turn our puppies brains off - an OFF switch. So when we do, our puppy will automatically TRUST that he/she will be fine, because you have shown them that they can relax with you. When you learn how to do this with your puppy , life is far more comfortable.
Why do we need to disengage with our puppy in the first place?
Puppies are consistently being engaged as soon as we pick them up from the breeder, or the rescue centre, or where ever we get our puppy from.
Their little minds are simply overworked and their psychology is not balanced as it is daunted by everything new. New house, new surroundings, new people, new everything. Now add kids, other dogs and pets then when is your puppy not being engaged? Ok, so the answer is simple. When their asleep.
For smart and knowledgeable owners who understand the needs of their puppy, they may have a crate and a Playpen established for the puppy, to have as their very own space. Their SAFE place. Every puppy must have their very own space as this is a wonderful and necessary thing to do. The puppy relaxes as nothing else is allowed to go into their space. Not other dogs, cats or kids. This is the dogs SAFE place. One of the Big 3 - Safe places.
This is the same for the crate and playpen. I have written other articles on the use of a crate and playpen setups, so I won't go into that subject here.
Here's the BIG 3 that we talk about with our clients. Crate, Playpen, beside your left foot on lead. These are places where our puppy can feel safe and secure. The first 2 - Crate and Playpen are really quite fixed places and self contained. They keep the puppy in their place where nothing can get to them. The puppy can and does therefore, relax. Yes we must be kind and gentle, yet positive and relaxed in teaching the puppy that these places are in fact safe.
The 3rd of these is - on leash, beside your dominant foot - usually the left foot, and you have your foot on the leash. (Dominant foot refers to 'which side of your body will your puppy be walking on"?) At this point, when he or she learns that when YOU the handler, has your foot on the leash, your puppy can completely unwind and relax. A place where they don't have to be on duty. A place where they look to you to ensure they are protected from everything in the outside world. It sets up a TRUST and RESPECT relationship where both Handler and Puppy work in harmony together. It works, it's actually easy to do.
Why can't we use the leash to get the puppy to do what we want? Isn't that what it's for?
When we bring a new puppy into our home, they become the center of attention for the entire family, including kids, other pets, and visitors.
Our puppy is already overwhelmed by the new environment, new scents, and unfamiliar surroundings.
It's crucial to have a collar on the puppy within a week or 2 after they come home, ensuring it is correctly fitted and the right width. Delaying the use of a collar or leash until the puppy is ready for walks might cause problems down the line. Familiarising the puppy with these essential tools early in life is vital, as they will remember this training for a lifetime, as Val Bonney wisely suggests, "what a puppy learns in early life, they remember for life." This is a part of the IMPRINT period so they remember for life. Early training and familiarisation leave a lasting imprint on their minds, shaping their behavior and responses as they grow.
It is a common misconception that a leash is a tool for control and can lead to both the puppy and the handlers frustration. However, this is far from the truth. A leash is used to keep our puppy close to us.
Pulling on the leash to make the puppy move or using it to force them into positions contradicts its intended purpose of proximity.
When the lead is on the puppy and in your hand, the puppy is working.
Humans mess it up because they continue to nitpick the puppy. Every time the puppy stands or even moves their human handler reacts and pulls. This is not necessary.
When using leashes, it is essential to adopt a gentle and relaxed approach, always being mindful of the puppy's boundaries and avoiding any force on their neck. To encourage your puppy to come to you, employ the "COME" command, and for walking, use the Heel command. The key to getting your puppy to move lies in using a happy tone and pitch, coupled with positive reinforcement in the form of well-earned, high-value treats. Utilize their sense of smell by guiding them with the scent of the treats, and you'll find them following along willingly. Remember, patience and positive reinforcement are the keys to successful leash training with your beloved puppy.
Most of the reasons we use a leash, may leed the puppy to be engaged, all the time it is on the leash. This should NOT be the case. We want them to settle. Building a strong and respectful relationship with our puppy requires using positive energy and guiding them through commands, rather than relying solely on the leash. Your body language, voice and tone will do the job nicely.
Over engaging the puppy through the leash in hand, leads to various problems you don't need. They can learn to fight the leash, be afraid of it, reject it or think nothing of it - it's up to you, and the methods you choose to use or not.
STOP pulling on the leash to get the puppy to do anything. You are sending the wrong signals to your puppy.
To teach the puppy complete relaxation with the leash on, we need to disengage from constant interaction and allow them to settle and unwind, beside your foot.
When the puppy is over excited it may take a few minutes before the puppy settles but if you Disengage from your puppy they will settle.
Complete Disengagement: The key to this training exercise is complete disengagement with your puppy. Once your foot is on the leash, your focus should shift to listening and absorbing the information being provided at training. At home this gives you the control and balance you need. Avoid interacting with your puppy unless it is chewing on the leash or barking. By disengaging, you allow your puppy to learn how to settle, sit, lie down, and even fall asleep without constantly being told what to do. OMG - when you get this right is is right for life.
Practice Makes Perfect: To reinforce this technique, practice it several times a day. It is especially beneficial during times when your puppy is full of energy, such as when the kids are getting ready for school or any other busy situation. By teaching your puppy to "Do Nothing" while on the leash, you are helping them understand that they are not on duty. As their alpha, you become their protector, allowing them to relax and trust your guidance.
When it comes to leash placement and usage, start by placing your puppy on the floor and gently resting your left foot on the leash. It's essential to maintain a loose leash, allowing your puppy to move freely and find comfort in sitting, standing, or lying down. If the leash becomes tight, simply adjust your foot slightly to relieve the tension and promote relaxation. To determine the correct tension, observe your puppy sitting, as the leash should naturally drop from their collar to the floor. Once you have this length, add another few centimetres or 6 inches of leash for optimal restriction. However, remember that a loose leash does not mean placing your foot at the end of it, as this allows too much freedom for the puppy to have their way. We want to prevent unwanted behaviors, such as jumping up when puppies seek attention or become excited. To ensure this, shorten the leash under your foot just a little. If they can still manage to place their front paws on your lap, shorten it a little more, effectively preventing them from jumping up. By adhering to these leash placement techniques, we create a safe and controlled environment that promotes obedience and establishes boundaries for your puppy.
Benefits and Versatility: The "OFF" button exercise works wonders in various circumstances and locations, from parks to school drop-offs, pickups, attending sports events, or simply enjoying a cup of coffee. Regardless of the setting, this method taps into your puppy's hardwired DNA, which urges them to be on duty, herd, hunt, and protect. By applying gentle leash control with your foot, you demonstrate to your puppy that they can let go of their responsibilities while you take care of them.
Conclusion: Creating an "OFF" button for your puppy is a game-changer in your training journey. By implementing the World's Hardest Exercise, you can establish a calm and peaceful environment where your puppy learns to settle, obey, and relax without constant commands. Practice this technique consistently, and watch your puppy transform into a well-behaved companion, ready to accompany you on any adventure. Remember, it's not just about physical management but about engaging with your puppy's instincts in a way that nurtures a strong bond between you and your Best Mate.
Happy training, and may your journey with your puppy be filled with joy, harmony, and wagging tails!
-Peter Bonney, Bonnies Dog Obedience and Puppy School