While there is no one-size-fits-all approach – generally speaking, I like people to start with two things: 1) Learn how to walk the dog appropriately, and 2) tether the dog to a person in the house.
Tethering is when your dog is attached to you via a leash. If the dog is not attached to you, it should be in a kennel. I often prefer that you minimally communicate with the dog verbally, so it learns to always keep an eye or an ear on you. This is great if your goal is to one day have your dog off-leash and obedient.
Sometimes, this is called the umbilical cord method. It is a TEXTBOOK method that is great for potty training dogs. If a dog is attached to you or in a kennel, there is no room for error! You are right there to correct and redirect any mistakes that may happen.
However, the benefits go far beyond potty training; benefits of tethering:
- Teaches your dog to follow you, rather than you follow the dog – So often people bring a dog or a puppy into their house and let it go free and then spend their time chasing it around correcting it when it makes mistakes. This teaches your dog how to get your attention and how to make you follow – maybe by grabbing shoes, baby toys, toilet paper rolls, etc. (that sure does get them a lot of attention!). That’s a very reactive approach to dog training and boy, is it frustrating when you feel like you never get a chance to relax because you are constantly chasing around an out of control dog. I’d much prefer your dog learn to follow you around and take cues from you. That’s a proactive approach.
- Gives you an always handy tool to guide the dog – If a leash is on a dog, this reduces the chances that you’d have to handle your dog by it’s collar – which is one of the leading causes of dog bites and creates hand shyness. This way, if your dog tries to jump on a piece of furniture that you don’t want him on, you can simply say “off” and guide him off with a leash. If he tries to steal a shoe and hide under a table, you can guide him out. In training, you want to eliminate the dog’s game of “catch me if you can” as much as possible and this does that 100%.
- Creates awareness and attention – If you get up and move without saying anything, the dog must follow you. This is a good habit to create.
- Gets your dog or puppy used to a leash in a low-distraction environment – With the high amount of leash reactive dogs in the world today, getting them used to a sensation of a leash while they are not outside with other dogs, rabbits, squirrels and people will only help you when you get to the outside world and the dog already understands what the leash means.
- Creates calmness – The most important thing I do with dogs is help them find calm. Humans have countless ways to find calmness – meditation, exercise, pharmaceuticals, yoga, relaxation exercises – this is one of the best ways to help your dog find that same happy feeling of calmness. It teaches your dog to be still and to be calm. A hyper dog bouncing around the house will only wind themselves up more. If that is all they have ever known, tethering can reset that behavior pattern and show you and your dog a new way to respect the house. Save the excitement for the agility course, dog park, game of tug, or whatever your favorite high energy activity of choice is.
- Creates self-discipline and impulse control – When a dog can’t do whatever it wants to do all the time, it gains discipline and impulse control. Once it has these things, it has a much better chance of success when you cut the cord.
Tethering isn’t forever, but if you’re getting a new dog, or looking to settle the chaos in your house, this is a great place to get started. It’s easy, simple, effective and cheap. Every board and train that comes through AWDT starts with a day or two of tethering, so they can learn how to respect my space, my wife’s space, the other dog’s space and baby Hugo’s space. Once they start to look calm and relaxed, I drop the leash and let them start to move on their own a little bit. When I feel like they get it, I take the leash off completely and I am left with a calm house and a bunch of happy dogs.