What is Joining Up?
Joining up is one of my signature training techniques that cultivates a strong bond between you and your dog, and gets your dog more focused and attuned to you.
When your dog is well connected and joined up to you, your dog stays close to you and looks to you for direction, you have good eye contact with your dog, your dog moves with and stops with you and (a big test) you have good recall with your dog.
Here I’ll take you through two key aspects of Joining Up training – the hand held lead and umbilical lead.
Before doing this training, if you use a clip station, put your dog on a clip station to calm down and settle first.
+ Put your dog on a nylon safety slip collar and lead. When the lead is pulling tightly on the collar (your dog is pulling away from you), the dog feels pressure on his neck; when the lead is slack (dog is close to you) the pressure comes off. The ‘pressure on’ is not harmful to your dog, but it does feel a bit uncomfortable. This basic discomfort of ‘pressure on’ vs the comfort of ‘pressure off’ provides the contrast which forms the basis of this technique. When combined with the clicker and food rewards for the right behaviour, your dog understands what you want and is strongly incentivised to do that!
+ Walk slowly in circles or squares around the room, keeping a food reward in your hand positioned to lure your dog ahead and beside you. You need to be relaxed with no sustained tension on the lead if possible.
+ Start gently, and click and reward your dog for good behaviour such as looking at you or turning his head towards you.
+ At intervals, also move your hand with the food lure between your dog and your eyes to encourage your dog to keep looking past your hand to you.
+ Stay non-verbal initially, as it leaves less room for confusion for your dog.
+ When your dog makes eye contact, looks up at you or is walking on the lead with no pressure on the line, click and reward.
+ When your dog pulls and looks away from you, there is pressure on the lead; the lead is tight. As soon as your dog turns back towards you and gets in line with your walking, the pressure comes off the lead and you can click and reward your dog. This teaches your dog that pulling away from you results in discomfort, while turning towards you and walking nicely with you results in no discomfort and a click and treat. This is how dogs learn best, by contrast.
+ Continue to walk in circles and/or squares around the room, ensuring there is pressure on whenever your dog pulls away, and that you immediately click and reward when the pressure comes off.
+ Start by walking in circles as this is very gentle, then move to squares so your dog has to be more attuned to your movements, then practise some 180° turns which requires your dog to move with you even more sharply.
+ Keep moving if possible, don’t stop while you treat your dog.
+ At intervals, stop and practise your Sit, Down and Zen Down commands. Eventually you want your dog to automatically go into a sit for a short stop, and a down for longer waits, whenever you stop moving so start to practise this.
See in the images below, in the left hand image Reggie is pulling away and the pressure is on the slip collar (causing discomfort). When he turns back towards me, as in the right-hand image, the pressure comes off the lead and I click and reward.
This involves having your dog on a nylon safety slip collar and lead which is clipped to your waist (like an umbilical cord!). Your dog then moves with you as you go about your daily activities, hands-free. Do this only once you’ve progressed well with the hand-held lead work and your dog is moving well with you in sync in that context.
+ Clip your dog’s lead to your belt, with dog on safety slip collar.
+ Go about everyday tasks as per usual with your dog attached to you by the lead. Start slowly inside your house, having your dog tag along with you, and observe how she mimics your movement and relates to you and your space.
+ Click and reward good following behaviour and pressure off.
+ Continue to uphold the principles of pressure on and pressure off described in the hand held lead work.
+ If walking through a door, ask your dog to sit and wait before you go through, you should always walk first through doors. If your dog obeys, click and reward.
+ Whenever you stop, ask for a sit and if you stay in one place for any period of time (e.g. while doing the dishes), go through your Sit, Down and Zen Down sequence, particularly rewarding the Zen Down.
When you move, your dog’s awareness should be such that she comes with you – it becomes second nature and a beautiful synergy develops! When released, your dog can relax and run free, but she should be checking in with you by staying in proximity, approximately a 20 metre vicinity. I use a ‘close’ command, and if she turns towards me, click and reward by throwing food toward her at intervals.
Two examples of using the Umbilical below. In the left image, Marlowe follows the trainer as she moves. In the right image, Charlie automatically goes into a sit when the owner stops moving – perfect.
Once you’ve done plenty of Joining Up in the quiet, distraction-free environment of your home, go out and practise out in more distracting environments!
If you are struggling to get your dog to even slightly relax and fall in line with you with these techniques, then you may need some more comprehensive contrast training. In this case, joining my Virtual Dog School would be your best bet as it takes you through all the options for more difficult-to-manage dogs. Find out more here.