Many people ask how we train a freeze indication with focused attention. Once a dog is confidently and proficiently finding source, we use gentle leash pressure to teach the freeze with forward focus. When you pull back, the dog learns to firm up and freeze like a statue to stay at source. This is the best way to show the precise location of source, especially with high hides. Judges rarely ask “where is it”. This indication is so obvious even spectators recognize the alert. The video above shows Deb & Zipper demonstrating an early training session starting leash pressure, up to the final product in competition: off leash, at a distance. This method is inspired by Andrew Ramsey, K9 Nosework trainer.
Breakdown of Steps for Leash Pressure
Always reward finding source so dog knows he’s on the right track and doesn’t leave. We generally use food, but praise may work for your experienced dog.
Then give 2-5 additional rewards for nose at source & remaining still. Here are the steps:
- Nose in
- If dog resists, click (or mark with yes) and stop the leash pressure
- Reward at source
- If dog doesn’t resist, start over. Don’t pull so hard next time.
When you’re down to the last treat, use it to lure the dog away while making a noise such as “get it, get it, get it”. This becomes the cue to leave source and celebrate when work is over or find another hide.
If the dog is looking at you while nose is at source and he’s frozen, that’s ok and you should reward. You don’t want the dog to look at you, but look at source until the click. The click ends the behavior. When you click, you need to ease up on the pressure. Then you can go to source to reward the dog.
Note that dogs may lie down at low hides while you use leash pressure, since it’s easier to receive multiple rewards in that posture. That’s a happy accident, but not the goal of this method. On high hides, the dog is likely to put his feet up and freeze with nose at source and focused attention. The position of the body is not important as long as the dog freezes like a statue, with nose at source. The position of the nose shows you the exact location of source.
Top 10 Tips for Leash Pressure
- It’s critically important to mark the moment your dog locks up with nose at source. It tells the dog exactly when he was right, clarifying understanding. Then you get a few seconds max to deliver the reward at source.
- Use fantastic high value food rewards to transfer the value and make the indication highly rewarding. Or if your dog will not work for food rewards, try rewarding with a ball on a rope at source.
- Get started by using only 1 hot box so your dog can get used to the process without a long difficult search. Keep sessions short – keep a max number of treats and quit when you’ve used them all, or set an alarm for approx. 3 minutes.
- Leash pressure should be very light, gentle and gradual, using your fingers rather than your whole arm. It is like a restrained recall: the dog’s opposition reflex causes them to lock up to avoid being pulled back away from source. It is never a corrective pop. The exact amount of leash pressure you need depends on the dog. If the dog crumbles and quits, this method may not be the best method for this dog.
- Leash pressure is best on a collar since you control the dog’s head, but a harness usually works too.
- Leash pressure can come from any direction. Don’t worry about it.
- I’m right handed, so I hold the treats in my right hand. My left wrist has a clicker on a bracelet. I hold the clicker in my left hand so that it’s ready to click the instant the dog’s nose hits source. Then I drop the clicker (still on the bracelet) and my left hand provides the leash pressure. Swap if you’re left handed.
- When should you start training leash pressure? Leash pressure training works best when the dog finds searching for odor highly rewarding and is confident in finding source. Wait until you’d bet $100 your dog will find source and stay there a few seconds. If you try leash pressure too soon, the dog will happily leave source, be confused or lose motivation. Patience pays off in the long run.
- Once the dog learns to lock up to indicate source, then you can usually stop using leash pressure. Once the freeze indication is learned, next the dog can learn to freeze independently, without a leash, at a distance and increase duration.
- Be patient. It will probably take hundreds of reps to get the dog to freeze. It’s worth the wait for a reliable indication that you can count on to show the exact location of source.
- Leash pressure occurs before dog is at source – wait until the nose is at source to apply leash pressure
- Crowding the dog – if you see your dog nearing source and rush up into his space, he may feel the pressure and leave. You can easily watch the dog from several feet behind. The click or marker can isolate the behavior you want, and then you can release the leash pressure to move in to source and deliver the reward there.
- Not stopping pressure when you click – the click ends the behavior
- Leash pressure training starts too soon when the dog is not yet confident and proficient at finding source, lacks commitment to odor and/or is unclear/confused about his job – be patient. If you try leash pressure twice and the dog leaves source, go back to the last level dog succeeded at in that environment. Build the value for finding source before you make it harder and test the value.
- Making the training session too long so the dog quits. Always stop while your dog wants more. 2 minutes of perfect practice is strongly preferred over 10 minutes of mediocrity. Set a timer or limit the number of cookies.
- Combining leash pressure with difficult searches and other challenges such as distractions, new environments. Don’t forget you can only work on 1 thing at a time if you want to do it well. Train leash pressure on 1 box or in the scent detection lab.
If you find the mechanics challenging, ask a training partner to help. Or lose the clicker and use a verbal yes instead, so you have one less item to handle.
If leash pressure doesn’t work for you and your dog, try training a down indication with nose at source, using a wooden indication box. Watch a session with a 7 week old puppy at: https://youtu.be/EeDguH0ZJ8o
Coaching New Teams
Teams generally find the timing and mechanics challenging. It is more difficult when a new handler is learning while training a new dog. Thanks Deb & Zipper for being great students and demonstrators.
The easiest way to learn how to use leash pressure is to attend one of our classes or seminars, where we can handle the leash at the same time as you, the handler. You’ll learn what it feels like, practice your timing, and receive real-time feedback on working with your unique dog. We’ve trained hundreds of dogs of all types to succeed in nosework and can help you to set your dog up for success, and overcome any challenges quickly. Subscribe to this blog to get notifications of all upcoming events.
Have you tried leash pressure? Let us know how your training went.
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