A warm-up is essential to most things in life and this includes training your dog. Walking into a distracting environment ‘cold’ and then expecting your dog to work for you when he is already over-excited will perpetuate impulsive behaviours. Think of a warm-up as a time to explain to your dog what you need from him before he gets too distracted, this will help refresh his memory and also helps form healthy behaviours.
Before you give your dog off lead time you should always warm him up with a few off lead control games that you can do on lead. The Up/Down Game*, Checking In and Name Recognition are a few warm-ups for off lead control. These warm-ups will give you some idea of how engaged your dog is feeling on any particular day so you can decide how your walk will progress. Your dog’s response during a warm-up will help you measure your expectations. If your dog is not engaging with you during these games then he certainly will not be reliable off lead and today may be a day where you walk somewhere quieter. On the other hand, if your dog is engaging well during these games then off lead time should pose fewer problems.
So what level of engagement should you be looking for in your warm-ups?
- Your dog should be taking the food you offer relatively gently, certainly not snatching.
- You should have a loose lead, a dog that is on a tight lead is rarely engaged with their handler.
- You should achieve a response of your dog looking at you within a few seconds when you say his name and be able to repeat the exercise several times over a few minutes.
- Your dog should also be willingly offering looks to you without request, these should be rewarded with food and/or off lead time by instantly unclipping the lead as soon as your dog engages with you.
You can do warm-ups with or without distractions and at different distances from distractions. Distance from distractions is vital for dogs who cannot warm up close to distractions. If you would like to try warming your dog up closer to distractions can use a long line or a fence as a barrier to distractions during warm-ups. This will provide you with a risk assessment of the environment and how your dog is likely to respond before you find yourself in a situation that is too difficult to get out of.
So, today when you take your dog to the park walk him on the outskirts before entering and practice some focus skills to remind him how to behave. It takes a few minutes and helps you make a much more informed decision about how to proceed with your walk.
*The Up/Down Game should never be played close to other dogs as this game has the potential to trigger guarding responses.