When One Hits the Breaks But Should Be Going All In

When Quling w as five months old, he discovered the meaning of life. Over night, this very energetic and pretty wild puppy that I still walked around our neighbourhood off leash, turned into a complete hunting maniac.

Suddenly, having him off leash was completely out of the question. From the moment we stepped out our front door, he was hunting or in ”hunting mode”. He would even hunt on leash if he had a chance.

When we were training and he was in ”training mode”, I could have him off leash. That is, until things for some reason got on top of him. We might have been working for too long or with something that he found difficult for some other reason. Quling logged out and then he just ran. He would most often fall for a tempting scent at that point. It was like he couldn’t keep himself together and resist it.

For a while, almost every training session would hold an incident where he managed to get some training at bolting away from me to go hunting.

Except once, when he unfortunately found a deer. Thankfully he lost it again quite quickly (the deer passed by me, but the dog went in another direction), and while the deer fled, Quling kept running around like a maniac and the whole forest fell silent. I found him at home 40 dreadful minutes later.

After that I started using a long line. All the time. It coincided with the time of year here in Sweden when one isn’t allowed to have the dog off leash except under very strict control, so it wasn’t a time to be sloppy about it anyway. I didn’t have a single training session without a long line, unless we were in a fenced area.

At the same time, I began to understand him better. What made him check out, when he felt pressure, and what kinds of rewards that helped him work with me and that made his recall more and more reliable.

But I also really made sure that nothing could go wrong. I constantly watched him when we were in situations that could go the wrong way. Naturally he was always on leash and he didn’t get much freedom to roam around on leash either, because as soon as that was granted, he would begin hunting and pulling me around.

When writing this, I for some reason come to think about soccer. You know when the commentators say that the teams have a boring and very defensive game? That’s exactly how I felt. I completely lost the offence in our training and was completely focused on holding back and being defensive.

I’ve been hitting the brakes for so long that I’ve forgotten how to accelerate. It doesn’t really help. Or, well maybe up to a point. But when you the dog you’re dealing with is of the explosive type, you can’t keep hitting the brakes. The dog will become like a pressure cooker. You have to find ways and situations where you can step on it and go flat out.

After six months of having Quling on a long line, we’ve just begun training without it again. The other day I was in a rabbit enclosure, working the adult dogs and Quling got to come in and have a look at the end. He stood on his hind legs and squealed loudly. It was the very first time he saw a rabbit. I sat down for a while and let him look. He settled down, but his heart rate was up and he tried to bolt towards the rabbits a couple of times. While sitting there I thought that this wouldn’t help unless I could do it every day, and there’s no chance of that. It would only be ”pressure cooker training”. Instead, I took Quling with me and walked to a part of the enclosure where I was pretty sure that there were no rabbits. And then I let him hunt. Normally I would never let a dog hunt on a long line, but it was my only option at this point.

Quling hunted energetically and very attentively. He showed great responsiveness for the turn signal. When I stopped trying to hold him back and instead let him really go for it, he completely forgot about the rabbits that were hopping around about 30 yards away.

It was a very challenging period where my confidence in myself as a trainer hit rock bottom. Thankfully he didn’t find anything to hunt during his excursions.

A good example of when it’s better to go flat out than trying to put the brakes on.

I’ve also begun to take walks where he can pull to his heart’s content. I put on a special belt and he has a well-fitted harness and I then cue him to pull. What’s interesting is that he often settles down. We’re still moving at high speed and he’s sniffing, but sometimes the leash will slacken.

Quling wants to go at top speed and he loves to run (he doesn’t only use the running as a stress reaction, but runs when he’s really happy too). I can think of many situations where we can run together or when he can get to run as a reinforcer. I think agility training will be really beneficial for us and our relationship. It might be time to enter us into an agility class. After all, his mother in an agility champion 🙂

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