by Mike Deathe
Tethers. There is a word that brings up all sorts of emotions in pet owners; some positive and some negative. This article will lay some ground rules for using tethers as well as give you some examples of how I use them when training dogs.
What is a Tether?
It is a metal cable that is coated in plastic or rubber and has dog leash connectors at each end. They are tools that if used correctly, can teach a dog a great deal. Unfortunately, many people use them the wrong way. This is why some people do not like them, or have a negative outlook on them. So, to make sure we start on the right foot, let’s share the ground rules first.
1 You never, ever, under any circumstance, leave a dog unattended while on a tether. The tether is a tool…not a babysitter.
2 Always make sure that the dog’s associations with the tether are positive. The tether is in no way to be used as a punishment.
3 The duration of time spent on a tether should always be considered. If there is no training taking place, then there should be no tether. Once again not a baby sitter.
Permanently or Temporarily?
Next is to set a tether point permanently or set one temporarily. The permanent tether point is the one I use in my house and is reasonably simple. Buy an eye hook, pick your general spot, find a stud in the wall and screw the eye hook into the baseboard. Make sure you go through the baseboard and into the stud or your pooch will end up pulling 8-10 feet of baseboard molding off the wall.. Once done, simply connect one end to the eye hook and the other to the dog. The temporary point is easier but will have to be set up each time you wish to use the tether. There are basically two ways:
1) Wrap the tether around something heavy like the leg of a couch; or
2) Take the cable under any door and then bring it up to the door knob on the back side of the door.
Shut the door and “voila!” you have a temporary tether. You can Google pet tethers and get really good images of either of these ways or just give me a call and I can help.
So What Now?
So, just what am I supposed to do with these tether things? Well, I use tethers to facilitate the teaching of three specific skills:
1) Greeting people at the door nicely while using Park It;
2) The technique of the 15 minute ignore; and/or
3) Learning basic commands at a distance.
Now for specifics. The first technique is how to greet people at the door without barking, jumping and or freaking out. When I have a client call me and talk about a dog that rushes the door, jumps on people or is just plain snarky at the door when people are trying to enter the house, I will recommend using a tether to teach the Park It command.
I encourage the client to make sure they are also using the 15 minute ignore as part of this training to change the behavior. Park It is a command like go to bed or kennel up, but only in a different location such as the their tether spot. The 15 minute ignore is simply a technique where by giving no attention to bad behavior as well as time to calm down, most dogs will choose the behavior we want.
The scenario goes something like this…the doorbell sounds and guess what…so does Fido. Next we use the Park It command to get Fido to go to his place; a nice comfy bed by the tether point. Once the dog is on the bed you connect the tether. Then you answer the door. Fido can still bark, but can no longer make the mistake of rushing or jumping up on your house guest.
The 15 Minute Ignore
Then you incorporate the 15 minute ignore by having the house guest grab a seat and ignore the dog. Obviously, you need to pick a tether spot where the dog can see the door but can still give your guest a dog free route to a chair or couch. You then explain to your guest that you are working on training Fido to greet people in an appropriate manner, and they can help you by simply not looking at, talking to or, for goodness sake, touching Fido for roughly 15 minutes. Whether you know it or not, most dogs have an attention span somewhere between a rock and a gnat, and if ignored they quickly realize the behavior is not getting them what they want (attention) and they give up on the behavior. This gives us the opportunity to have our guest ask Fido for a sit and give him a treat, all while Fido is tethered so he still cannot make the mistake of jumping up. Once Fido is calm with this step, then and only then do we disconnect the tether.
Another positive outcome of this technique is the fact that once Fido sees you interacting with the guest and being totally okay with the situation, Fido starts to think “well if Mom is okay with this person, I guess I am too.”
A Calm Fido
You have now eliminated the mistake of rushing and jumping on guests, reinforced the command of “Park It” and begun the process of positively associating new house guests with presents (rewards/treats.) In the end, you and your guests end up with what you both want; a calm dog that knows how to say hello the right way. The tether is actually only needed early on to reinforce “Park It” and help eliminate the dog from making mistakes. You can even begin using the “Park It” command at dinner, to eliminate the begging dog scenario during meal times. But remember to give your pooch a reward for being on their place during dinner. After all, they should be rewarded for this type of behavior.
The other main way I use a tether is to take commands like sit, down and stay to the “graduate” level of learning or being able to get these commands to work from a distance. In essence, if my dog is 15 feet from me and I say sit, I want the dog to sit where they are, not come all the way to me and then sit. Another quick tip on dogs is that they are unable to generalize or transfer a skill from one situation or location to another different one. That being said, a dog that you can ask to sit and stay, while you walk 15 feet away, and still reliably hold the stay will not be able to relate to a command given at a distance until they are re-taught the commands from a distance. This is where the tether comes in. Once again, we only use the tether to introduce the new idea and to eliminate the chance of making a mistake.
Short and Sweet
Remember that your training sessions should be short and sweet, about 15 minute each, a couple of times a day. We don’t want Fido to lose interest. So, how do you do it? The first step is to ask the dog to Park It or go to their place and attach the tether. Now put 4 to 5 feet of distance between you and the dog and begin the training process of asking for different behaviors such as sit, down, watch me or even stand. After several days or maybe a week, the dog should be comfortable with their newly learned skills, and the tether should be removed. Again, the goal is to help the dog jump start their learning and to eliminate mistakes. The tether is, in many ways, much like the clicker, something to help facilitate training, not something that has to be used forever.
There are many instances where I see absolutely no place for using a tether in dog training, but the training techniques mentioned above are very useful and still positive in nature. As I have said before, no tool is positive or negative; it is how people use them that should be judged as right or wrong.
Mike Deathe is a stay-at-home dad who found his passion as a dog trainer in 2008. The author of the Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) Pet Blog. Mike has had dogs since he was four years old! In 2009, he and his wife Kate founded Muttz “R” Us, a t-shirt and pet product company with a philanthropic motto of “Adopt a Pet, Save a Life.” In 2011 Muttz “R” Us also launched KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID DOG TRAINING. He is a charter member of Heartland Positive Dog Training Alliance and just earned his CPDT-KA credential! Visit him at facebook or twitter or follow the blog @http://muttzmembers.blogspot.com/ or check out the website muttzrus.com for details about shirts.