I mentioned the Big Rubber Band concept in a reply to one of my commentators the other day and it occurred to me that this is a great concept to share because it is so useful. I hope your imagination is up and running because I’m going to ask you to use it for a few minutes.
Imagine yourself on an off-lead walk with your dog in a huge deserted field. He goes bounding after every bird and bunny, letting his senses lead him around, sniffing all the interesting smells and cocking an ear to the raucous cries of a crow in a nearby tree.
Your dog doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to you at all, so what is the best way to get his attention and call him back to you? The instinctive thing that most of us do is to call the dog. When he appears to ignore us we walk closer to him and call again. Then we move closer and we call again. And again. And etc.
I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve seen this scenario play out, not just in dog parks or training areas, but also in the hunting field with hunters and dogs that are supposedly trained. The handlers in these scenarios obviously don’t know about the Big Rubber Band as I call it. Famous trainer and writer, Mike Gould, calls it influence handling. Another trainer I read and respect, Julie Knutson, talks about it extensively in her book as well.
Back to you and your dog in that big, open field: It’s time to load up and head for home, so you call Fido and he just seems to ignore you. Instead of moving closer, try the Big Rubber Band. Imagine that you and your dog are connected by a big, sloppy, rubber band. You can back away from the dog and begin to pull him in your direction or you can move towards the dog and give him more slack so he can continue to investigate and explore. It’s obvious which of these two choices gets you closer to your goal of getting the dog in the car without a chase and tackle.
By moving away from the dog you begin to pull on the big, sloppy, invisible, rubber band that connects you to your dog. Once you have him moving in the right direction it’s a whole lot easier to keep him making progress towards you.
Now… is this the best tactic to use when your dog is charging towards a busy street? Maybe not. But the work you do in preparation for that nightmarish event may just make the difference between a successful recall and a tragedy.
How do you get started using the Big Rubber Band (BRB)? The BRB or “influence handling” is a force that is developed by working and walking off-lead with your dog. Ideally this should begin as soon as the pup is old enough to leave the litter, but it’s probably not too late to begin if you have a 3 or 4 year old. Drive to a large field or open area, open the door, let the dog out and start walking. Don’t talk or throw a lot of commands around. Just walk.
When we stop thinking about ways to command and control our dogs and we begin to think about how we can improve our influence, something magical happens. As you walk along with the dog running in front of you, try walking off to the right or left and see if he doesn’t change his course a bit. At some point you might want to turn down a brushy trail where you are not immediately visible to him. See if he doesn’t come bounding back in your direction looking for you. You can develop lots of little influence tricks to teach your dog that YOU are the one who determines your speed and direction on these walks and you can do it without ever uttering a single command, popping a choke chain or breaking out the treats.
As I type this, my youngest dog, Peck, is lying on the floor watching me. In a just a minute I will get up and take him outside for one of his lessons. When I get up from this computer I will not say a single word, but I will look directly at Peck and then I will look towards the door. I would be willing to bet a hundred dollars the he beats me to the door!
What is the difference between controlling a dog and influencing a dog?
What do you do to exercise your influence over your dog?