Leading The Dance is a problem-solving tool. Use some of the items for the rest of the dog’s life – particularly the feeding regimen, song, and roadwork. Continue others only until the dog understands that good things come to him through you. When he graduates, release him from the items one at a time over a period of several weeks, watching for him to go back to his old ways. If there’s any part of Leading The Dance that is liable to get you bitten, DON’T DO IT and GET HELP from a competent trainer! If any of the exercises are causing you more trouble than you can handle without getting into a fight with the dog, leave them out. The more exercises you do, the faster your results will be, but FIGHTING WITH THE DOG IS NOT THE POINT. Also, be SURE that Leading The Dance is used as part of a coherent clicker training system. Leading The Dance is about your relationship with the dog and about setting both of you up to succeed at training.
1. Umbilical cord – As much as possible when you’re at home, keep the dog on leash and with you. Put a 6-foot leash on the dog, and attach the other end of the leash to a sturdy belt around your waist. Ignore the dog and go about your business. Having to constantly watch what you do and where you go will bond the dog to you and make you important in his eyes.
2. Eye contact x 2 – twice a day, sit down with the dog between your knees, and use a known cue such as Watch Me, or make funny noises, or tap the dog’s nose and then your own to get ANY eye contact, reward that eye contact with a click and reward, and quit.
3. Obedience x 2 – Twice a day, have a quick working session using whatever the dog knows how to do (Down, Sit, Come, etc), repeat as needed. Train for a couple of minutes each session. Do NOT touch the dog to praise him.
4. Feed x 2 – When food is left down for the dog to eat, the dog owns the food. Instead, feed the dog twice a day in a confined area such as a crate or the bathroom. If he doesn’t know how to immediately clean his dish of everything you offer him, teach him to eat.
5. Possession is 9/10 of the Law – At least once a day, handle the dog. Repeat the words These are my ears! This is my paw! This is my muzzle! This is my tail! as you handle him. If he fusses, go slower. It’s important that the dog has a positive experience – that he comes to see that you will be handling him and it’s of no concern to him. When he’s completely relaxed and accepts your handling, say OK and release him. If your dog won’t allow you to handle him like this without getting angry or getting away, DO NOT do this exercise. Do the rest of the exercises and use the clicker to teach the dog to allow this handling later.
6. Long Down-Stay – Do one 30-minute Down-Stay every day. You can watch TV but the dog must be in plain sight and you must be aware of him. If he can’t stay down on his own, confine him instead. Keep him in sight and ignore him if he’s fussing. If he’s getting hysterical and is going to hurt himself, this isn’t one of the exercises you can do.
7. Sing a Song – make up a silly song using the dog’s name. It doesn’t have to rhyme, only make you smile and get the dog’s tail wagging. Sing it to him daily (he won’t criticize, I promise).
8. I’m-The-Mommy Down – At least once a day, just because you felt like it, tell him to down. When he does, use your voice only to tell him he did a good job, say Okay, and walk away. If he doesn’t know the cue “down”, use the clicker to teach it to him.
9. Leadership Is In The Eye Of The Beholder – Consider life from the dog’s point of view. He sleeps where he wants, he eats when he wants, he leads you around. Any wonder he gets the impression that he’s in charge? If he goes through a door or into stairs or a hallway ahead of you, simply turn and walk back in the other direction. Try to position him or yourself so you’re leading and he’s following. If he’s lying down, don’t walk around him. Put your feet on the floor and shuffle right through him (note you don’t kick the dog, just push him gently out of the way) – make him think about where you are and what you’re doing. When he orders you to let him out, take charge of going outside. Build a ritual around the door. Focus his attention on you: “Do you want to go out? Sit! ” When he sits, go to the door. “Want to go out? Sit. Down. Sit. Stay.” Then open the door: “Okay, go outside!” You change the situation so you’re the leader. Keep the dog on the floor. Not on the couch, not on the chair, not halfway up the stairs surveying his domain, not in your lap, not on the car seat. On the floor. Don’t leave the dog loose in the house or yard when you’re not home. Free run of the house when the Boss isn’t home allows the dog to feel powerful and responsible for the house and what happens in it – or else can cause him to worry about each little creak and sigh the house is saying to him. Don’t allow the dog to sleep on your bed, or on a child’s bed. Dogs recognize the bed as a throne for the Boss. If he sleeps away from you, though, he may think that you own the bedroom, but he owns the rest of the house. He should sleep in your bedroom, but if that’s impossible (allergies, for instance), confine him to his crate.
10. Work Off Energy – Roadwork adult dogs 4 days a week. Start small, but work up to a mile for small dogs, 2 miles for medium dogs, and 3 miles for large dogs. Many problems will disappear with no more effort than road-working. You can jog with the dog, or ride a bike, or longe him with a Flexi, or use an ATV, or lend him to a jogger who’s afraid of being mugged. Be sure that puppies have ample opportunity to play. The “Come Game” (calling the puppy back and forth between two people and rewarding him for each come) is excellent for giving puppies exercise AND for teaching them to come. Speak to your vet about the difference between “ample” exercise and “too much” or “not enough” exercise for puppies.
11. Busy Paws Are Happy Paws – Consider the things your dog likes – getting petted? Food? Toys? Chasing a squirrel up a tree? Whatever it is, remember that YOU are the one who can supply him with it. If he loves to chase a ball, he might jump at you, bark, try to grab it out of your hand – if you throw it while he is behaving like this, he’ll continue to behave like this because it got him what he wanted. If you wait until he’s NOT jumping on you, or until he’s momentarily silent, or until he sits (even if it takes ten minutes), and THEN throw the ball, you’ll be showing him that GOOD behaviour, not bad behaviour, gets the ball.