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Follow the Leader

Follow the Leader is a Leadership Exercise which brings out your dog’s natural tendency to follow you and orient her attention to you.  Follow the Leader is based on body language and movement – the natural language of dogs.

Hold your lead or long line with both hands in front of your chest. Don’t talk to your dog or give any cues or commands. Just step off. Don’t use any food lures or rewards in this exercise. Just praise when your dog is beside you or paying attention.

If your dog goes ahead of you, give couple of short, sharp hand claps as an attention-getter and turn and walk in the opposite direction, putting the dog behind you. You always walk away from your dog, never towards her.

Try to walk purposefully and quickly in a straight line. After a while, most dogs will start to pay more attention to you, keep closer to you and eventually fall in beside you, as if heeling off lead, but with out any command from you.

Follow the Leader is best started off lead with puppies aged 2 to 4 months who still have some dependence on you. If you are not yet taking the puppy out to parks, do it in the backyard or even inside the house.

From 4 to 6 months of age, young dogs go through the “independent adolescent” stage, and will be more confident about getting further away from you and doing their own thing. This is when they learn to ignore you and get into bad habits.

For independent adolescent and older dogs, you may need to work in a large park to get far enough away that your dog wants to get back to you. If your dog is particularly independent or you are not confident about doing this exercise off-lead, use a long (around 10 metre)  line for safety. Do not call your dog or use any commands. When you walk, do not talk to your dog, do not make eye contact or give guidance with the long line. The line is for safety, it is not intended as a means of dragging or “correcting” your dog. Hold the line firmly and walk. Do not wait for your dog. Remember, you are bustling from A to B, and it is your dog’s job to keep an eye on you and follow.  Move briskly and purposefully away from your dog, rather than towards the dog, to stimulate her tendency to come towards you.

If your dog goes ahead of you, you can use an attention-getter such as a hand clap and quickly about turn and go the other way.

When your dog is along side you, you can praise cheerfully, but don’t use food rewards or patting at this stage.

If your dog persists in trying to get ahead, curve around to your left, crossing n front of your dog. This will make your dog move back a little and give way to you, becoming more attentive.

If your dog is lagging behind, try speeding up a little, make sure you don’t stop and wait for your dog. Try not to drop your left shoulder and look back at your dog – all this body language will tend to inhibit your dog and slow her down more. If your dog is left way behind, you can stop and squat down, presenting your side to her. Clap you hands a little. This body language tends to bring your dog to you. Praise your dog and get moving again.


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