The things that you will need to teach your dog not to pull on the leash/be a crazy animal towards galloping horses:
- a STRONG leash, maybe even a lead rope or a spare set of draw reins (don’t use a retractable leash due to the chance of those breaking and you looking like that moron who let their dog chase William Fox-Pitt)
- and a plastic bag full of really high-reward, awesome treats that your dog will do anything for. You want some kind of treat, it could even be a ball/toy, that your dog would kill you to have.
There are some dogs who are not really motivated by much — these can be a challenge. What you will want to do before continuing with this document is some investigative work to find out what motivates your dog. The treat has to be more interesting than the galloping horse. Your goal is to be able to capture and keep his/her attention with the treat even while the horse is near/oncoming.
1. Let the dog know that you have some legit treats in your hand and give him one.
2. When a horse starts heading your way, be like, “Hey doggie, I’ve got a treat, look at this, look at this treat (ZOOM… there goes the horse)” give him the treat. Congratulate your dog for being awesome and not noticing the horse and not being a terrorist.
3. If this doesn’t work, you are too close to the galloping lane. Move 50 yards away and start again. After you have gathered your dog child’s attention like in the previous step, start moving closer to the galloping lane in increments until you can keep his attention.
3. If that doesn’t work, move 100 yards away. Keep moving away until you can gather his/her attention, then slowly move closer. You have to be more interesting than the horse; otherwise, why would your dog even look at you?
Over time, the dog will begin to associate the galloping horse with a reward from you, Your dog will realize that no reward comes when he pays attention to the horse but only when he pays attentions to you.
Consistency is key. Always end on a good note, even if it isn’t your end goal. You can always practice again, and frankly, this will take some time. Just like training your horse, you don’t get to prelim overnight. Or you don’t unless you’re a crazy person:)
The more that the dog is rewarded for his attention to you by looking at you, the more likely you’ll be able to keep him under control while you are out watching Michael Jung gallop on course.
PS: I think the ship has sailed on dogs being off leash while horses are on course… If your dog is one of those that pulls so hard that he chokes himself and/or gives you pit rings (gasp) due to exhaustion, then hop over to my website www.stoppullingontheleash.com and check out my instructions for stopping that annoying habit. The more our dogs behave, the more they will be welcome for us to bring out to horse trials.
Ben Colburn is a longtime EN reader and senior veterinary student now at TAMU CVM in Texas.