Point of Contact Training

June 5, 2019

What is that?!

Point of Contact training is the method of teaching a dog to yield to physical pressure on any spot on their body to get them to readily, willingly and ultimately follow that touch. The pressure can be applied up, down, left, right, towards you or away. Each of these touches of pressure eventually become a named command such as sit, down, heel, here, go or whoa. While we mostly use POC on their necks, the pressure can be applied anywhere on their bodies or even a motion towards them with the goal to have the dog gently, softly and eagerly move. A truly finished dog happily, willingly and lightly follows the lightest POC pressure. Rick Smith is one of the masters behind POC training with his Huntsmith family’s training system using a chain system and the Wonderlead.

How POC is initially gained?

Most dogs learn to pull. Their necks are powerful, and many dogs simply dig in and pull their owners all around. To many dogs, a leash is simply a means to pull. Dogs pull as a reaction to being held tightly on a leash. I find it incredibly frustrating to watch most people hold the end of a dog leash. They grip with tightness and the dog has no release of pressure. No wonder they pull… or the owners say, “He is MUCH better off leash than on leash”. Of course he pulls…the poor dog can never achieve comfort since the human will not let go! A dog pulling on a leash is most often a human created behavior. A tight leash causes a dog anxiety and frustration which often turns into fear on leash, aggression or numbness to the pressure where they just keep pulling all of the time.

The Huntsmith method starts with the tie out chain system by teaching dogs that no matter how hard they pull on their own, they cannot win. Ultimately, the dogs learn to give in to the chain and simply stop pulling. We have adapted this method at QK but prefer to call it the PATIENCE CHAIN. Using this chain, the dogs have about 16 to 18 inches of slack. They are spaced safely apart from each other and they get to spend the entire day outside with us. If they are pulling on the chain, they are doing it to themselves. By common sense, they quickly learn to simply stop pulling! In fact, to be most comfortable they should just yield to the chain and lie down. Wow, how cruel is that… asking your dog to lie down and chill out!? We equate this Patience Chain to a school desk for a student. Sit in your seat, listen, be polite and learn. All of the dogs that come to QK for training start their POC training on the Patience Chain. Rather than being stuck inside a kennel run or a crate, they are with us all day to interact, wait their turns, watch other dogs work and we are able to easily and effectively do multiple training sessions with many breaks in between so that the dogs can ‘soak’ up the lessons.

What is the next step in POC?

Once the dogs have learned to stop pulling on the Patience Chain, we use the Huntsmith Wonderlead as our training leash to further establish POC. Since the dogs have already spent many hours on the chain learning to not pull, the transition to this leash is easier. While the leash itself is a great tool due to the rigidity, proper placement high on the neck and the ability to apply and then release pressure quickly, the key to this process is just as much in technique as it is equipment. With this noose style slip lead, we use quick movements of light pressure and release to have the dogs walk with us, come to us, be still and go away.

There is really no talking or commands needed as the dogs must learn to follow the POC before we even consider naming the action. The learning process is amazing as the dogs learn that they are capable of turning off the pressure simply by following the direction applied. Since our hands are extremely quick to reward their correct actions, they are not forced to comply, rather they choose to seek a slack leash. We continue to push, challenge and teach the dogs to follow our POC by presenting them with difficult obstacles. We use our POC to lead the dogs over, under, or through these obstacles. We will use patience and light touches if the dog is trying. If they bail out, refuse, quit or fight we give a quick corrective tug. By quickly eliminating “fight, freeze or flight” reactions, we can get rid of resistance that often later comes out as behavioral problems. For example, if a dog does not want to go down a scary flight of steps or across a slippery floor, they may run off, avoid it, live in fear of it, or get aggressive when asked to face things that make them uncomfortable. Once a POC is established, the dogs become extremely willing partners that soon learn to walk with their handler and ‘try’ nearly anything we put in front of them. The dog’s confidence increases dramatically, and they learn to love to try challenges put before them!  As this light POC pressure is practiced and mastered, the dogs follow the lightest touches with extreme willingness. This is the point where we may choose to name the POC with the action, such as a light touch of upward pressure cues ‘sit’. Or a downward pressure cues ‘down’. These cues ultimately become sit, down, here, heel, whoa and go to a place.

The final stage in POC leash work is using that same touch to overlay to the remote electronic training collar. Since the dog has had hundreds upon hundreds of opportunities to follow the pressure and get rewarded with the instant release, we can apply simple light nicks of stimulation with the e collar to take the place of the leash. Within about 1 or 2 weeks the dogs clearly understand the e collar overlay and soon the dog can enjoy a life off leash, yet the owner has the capability to communicate with the touches to cue the dog to the commands. No more bolting, running away, or ignoring commands because have off leash communication.

Point of Contact training is a systematic process that makes so much sense to the dog. It is based on horse training and uses the same cues for rein to bit work in the horse’s mouth or seat and leg pressure to cue the horse to side pass, move or stop. Pressure is the enforcer, the instant release is the reward!  While you can use force to make a dog do something, this means you forced the action, the dog did not willingly choose to comply.  You CANNOT force a 1000 pound horse, you must use lightness and clear communication.  Horse people are often much savvier because if you held a horse tight like most people hold a dog on leash, harness or muzzle harness, the horse would hurt you!

So, think about this training method. Think about how tightly you wrap the leash around your hands and never let up. Let us help you to retrain your dog to politely walk on leash by teaching YOU how to be polite with your leash! We are here to help with classes, private lessons or boot camp training at QK.