Rotating between training walks vs fun walks

When I walk my weimaraner Remy, I try to rotate between training him to walk at my side and giving him freedom to walk in front.

Most dog trainers seem to think it’s OK to rotate between “training” and “freedom” because it’s unreasonable to expect a dog to heel or walk perfectly at your side for an entire 60-minute walk.

Heck, it’s hard for some dogs to focus for even 2 minutes! We’re asking them to walk painfully slow and ignore everything interesting.

So, my questions to you are:

1. Do you rotate between “training” and “freedom” on your dog walks?

2. How do you communicate to your dog the difference between the two?

First I want to comment that I don’t think it’s as simple as “training” vs. “freedom.” Remy and I have at least 3 different “modes” on our walks.

Training walks vs fun walks

We have 3 walking modes:

Mode 1: True training walks. This is where Remy and I are both really focused and we work on heeling and obedience commands like stand, stay and down. We do this for about 10 minutes most mornings.

Mode 2: Power walks where I hold Remy at “heel.” To be honest, he’s pulling almost the entire time when we do this. I still tell him “heel” but I’m keeping him in place with a tight leash. About 50% of our walks are like this, so a good 3 hours per week.

Mode 3: Freedom walks. I let Remy walk in front of me, pee on things, sniff, etc. He’s usually pulling, although not hard. This makes about the other 50% of our walks, so at least 3 hours per week.

I wanted to point out the above to give you an idea of what our walks look like. It’s not so simple as “training” vs “freedom” because of those walks where I’m holding him at a heel.

*In the comments, let me know if you have similar “modes” and how often do you spend time in each?

Training walks vs fun walks

How does your dog know when it’s OK to “check out” from training?

Here are two ideas that can potentially make things clearer for you both:

1. Use two different commands/cues.

One word for when you want your dog to walk at your side. One word for when you want to let your dog take a break.

My words are “HEEL” for working on heeling and “BREAK” to signal take a break.

I usually say it’s best not to repeat a command, but when working on “Heel” I repeat it a lot. I also repeat “Break” when I want my dog to have freedom.

2. Choose two collars or a harness and a collar.

Clip the leash to one collar or harness for training and to the other collar or harness when you’re not training.

My friend who is a professional dog trainer (Hi, Christine!) suggested it can be helpful for a dog if you clip the leash to the front of your dog’s harness for training and to the top of a harness when you’re not training.

What do you guys think? Would this be helpful for your dog?

For example, she said she uses the Freedom harness for her dog because it has a ring for the leash in two places – at the dog’s chest and on the dog’s back. So with that one tool she can easily switch the leash from one spot to the other.

Most of us don’t use a Freedom harness (you can order one here), but the same concept could apply with any two collars or a harness. Christine is a positive reinforcement trainer, and she highly recommends the Freedom harness.

I’m trying this concept using a harness and a collar.

I have an EasyWalk harness, which is also designed to limit a dog’s pulling. It has a ring for the leash at the dog’s chest.

EasyWalk Harness

For the last 2 weeks, I’ve been having Remy wear his harness and prong collar at the same time, and I clip the leash to one or the other depending on what we’re doing. You could use whatever collar you want – a flat nylon collar, a slip collar or a Gentle Leader.

When I want Remy to remain at my side, I keep the leash clipped to his prong collar and say “Heel.”

When I want to give Remy freedom to walk in front, I clip the leash to his harness and say “Break!”

After trying this for a week, it has removed stress for ME.

Physically switching the leash gives me permission to check out from training.

Rotating between the two tools has definitely helped Remy and I both feel more relaxed.

When we’re working, we’re working. When we’re not, we’re not!

This reminded me of how some working dogs (guide dogs, police K9s, etc.) wear a harness or vest when they’re working or training. This helps signal to the public that the dog is working but it’s also a signal to the dog.

There are cons to using this method:

1. There are risks to clipping the leash on and off. Some dogs might dart away if you’re not careful. (Be careful!)

2. Your dog has to wear more gear. Remy wears his flat nylon collar, his prong collar and his harness so it gets to be a lot! No big deal in our case but it could get annoying depending on what you’re doing.

Sometimes if I know I’m not going to work on training I just leave the prong collar home and we use the harness the whole time or vice versa.

I also want to mention, you can use whatever two collars/harnesses/tools you want.

You don’t have to use a harness. You could use a Gentle Leader or a Halti for training and your dog’s flat collar for freedom walks. Or any combination. Your dog will likely pick up on the difference if you’re consistent.

Training walks vs fun walks

Now, I’m curious what the rest of you think of these ideas.

Would you use two different collars? One for training and one for freedom? Or do you think that’s making it overly complicated? I’m not sure if I will continue it or not, it’s just something I’m trying for a few weeks.

Do you use two different commands/cues for training walks vs. freedom?

Let me know in the comments! Thank you for reading and participating. Please share this post with others if you found it helpful.

-Lindsay

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