Slack Leads Please!


I’ve never worked with a real sled dog before.  Oh sure, I’ve taught a Husky to sit and helped a lady teach her Malamute to stop counter surfing.  But I’ve never worked with a genuine, authentic, mushing dog, you know, the Iditarod running, sled hauling, snow tracking, monsters that can pull 3 times their own weight across the frozen white wastelands of the North.

Sometimes I imagine that a lot of my clients are trying to get their dogs involved in sledding, at least it appears that way when they first start training.  As soon as they clip the lead on their dog the animal starts pulling, the handlers arm is fully extended and they are running after their dog just to keep themselves upright.  Off to the sled races with Fido!

The first step in fixing this annoying and dangerous behavior is realizing that our goal is a Slack Lead.  Always.  Period.  We need to understand that every time we let our dogs pull us, even if it’s just one measly little step, we are rewarding the very behavior that we find so troublesome.

When we first start teaching a dog HEEL, we need to understand that HEEL means no pulling.  We certainly can’t expect the dog to understand this if we don’t get it ourselves.  So often I hear people say, “Oh yeah, he knows what HEEL means but he pulls anyway.”  Nope.  Sorry.  Neither you nor your dog understand what HEEL means if the dog is pulling and you allow the behavior to continue.

There are several methods I use to teach HEEL.  I vary the method according to the intelligence and  personality of the dog I’m working with.  But one thing is the same, regardless of which method I use:  Slack Lead.  You can’t teach a dog to HEEL by letting him drag you through your neighborhood while he barks at cats and kids on bicycles. 

It’s always easier to teach HEEL in a distraction free environment.  Ok… let’s call it a “low distraction” environment because I’ve seen some dogs that can be distracted by the nothingness of nothing.  Anyway, whether you’re using DRO in a positive reinforcement regimen or you’re using a more traditional approach with collar corrections, you STILL need a low distraction environment and a slack lead to teach the dog anything.

I tell my students that there is no way to teach a dog anything useful with a tight lead.  When I see a handler trying to correct a dog with a tight lead I call it “Nag & Drag”.  I hope that my carefully crafted voice correction will help them to remember that they need a Slack Lead to train.

So, what tricks, tips and strategies do you use to get a slack lead?  I can share my own thoughts some other time.  Right now I’d really like to hear what works for you and your dog.  Maybe I can use your ideas on my next Iditarod contender!

Until then, Slack Leads to you all!