Control Unleashed


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Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt

Learn how to turn stress to confidence and distraction to focus using methods that are 110% positive. Leslie McDevitt’s versatile Control Unleashed program is designed to help “dogs with issues” learn how to relax, focus, and work off-leash reliably in either stimulating or stressful situations. Whether you’re training a challenging dog on your own, an instructor trying to figure out how to help dogs in your classes, or an instructor who wants to design a special program just for stressed out dogs, this book is for you. Who needs Control Unleashed? Dogs that are uncomfortable or unable to work off lead around other dogs Dog that are easily distracted and have difficulty concentrating Dogs that are reactive or easily aroused Dogs that are anxious or stressed and shut down Dog that are unable to control their impulses when excited This training program can change your dog’s life!

Winner of the IIACAB Award for 2007, Best Dog Training

 Leslie McDevitt, MLA, CDBC, CPDT is a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant through the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers. She holds a Masters of Liberal Arts Degree from the University of Pennyslvania. Leslie has served in many capacities (including president and obedience training director ) at Y2K9’s Dog Sports Club. Her background in behaviour modification and her experience working with dog sports clients led her to create her popular course, Control Unleashed. Leslie’s behaviour based articles have been published in Clean Run and Dog Fancy. She is an evaluator for Sweet Border Collie Rescue and is the training advisor for the Pennsylvanian based Animal Welfare Project.

Published 2007 Clean Run Productions


“One of the most common challenges faced by dog trainers is how to effectively manage “problem” dogs in their classes. Many of us inwardly cringe on that first night of class when a reactive dog comes through the door barking, lunging and displaying other behavior indicative of a dog that is out of control. Dog owners look to us to keep them safe, ensure an environment conducive to learning and use our special knowledge and skills to handle the out of control dog that threatens to disrupt class. Thankfully there is a book that walks both instructors and dog owners through creative, positive, science-based methods for transforming dogs in an anxious, excitable state into one that is calm and in which they are able to focus and learn. It is easy to read and understand and nicely formatted to make the many approaches she suggests palatable. Though the book was targeted to agility instructors, McDevitt offers practical, useable advice for all instructors and the handlers of reactive dogs.

A major goal of Control Unleashed (CU) is to “create awareness of complex responses to stimulation and help each handler think through how she can adjust her dog to different situation” and thereby honor each dog. She uses many of the principles professional dog trainers are all familiar with in CU: Learning to read your dog’s signs of stress; Conditioning a relaxation response so the dog can think; Working with dogs prior to reaching a threshold of arousal; Finding the point at which each dog can work and learn; Reframing the picture so the dog sees what has been anxiety provoking as safe; and Using the Premack Principle to create attention and focus on the owner. However, what makes her approach unique and valuable to me is that she prescribes a novel combination of ways to do this and one that can be adapted to individuals. I especially like her methods of reducing anxiety and conditioning a relaxed response in a dog, thereby changing their internal state and response to stimulus.

These include bodywork (TTouch and massage) and employing Dr. Karen Overall’s conditioned relaxation protocol. In addition, McDevitt uses the Premack Principle with a twist, and resolves a conflict that has long troubled me about dog training; the expectation that the handler must train the dog to ignore the environment and offer constant attention. Underlying this expectation is the notion that the owner must be more interesting than anything else in the dog’s environment. Thus, if the dog fails, she fails. I have long wondered if this is necessary or even desirable but dared not question such a bedrock principle in training, especially without being able to propose an alternative.

McDevitt alleviates the conflict and pressure implicit in this with her “Look at that” game. She rewards the dog for doing what it wanted to do in the first place, e.g., watch the environment, in exchange for attention. In doing so she uses reverse psychology to create a dog that offers the handler the attention they desire and produces a win-win outcome for both. The book is laced with examples of her techniques in practice for both her own dog and others who try her approach. Her approach is so common sense, I often caught myself wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But as Benjamin Franklin said, “Common sense is not that common.” There lays the beauty of Control Unleashed, a book whose simple wisdom I will be striving to employ in my training for quite sometime.” Mary Zoller


~~In this classic book, Dog Behaviour Consultant Leslie McDevitt provides us with a programme to help ‘dogs with issues’ learn how to relax, focus and work reliability off lead in a distracting, stimulating or stressful environment.

Winner of the IIACAB Award for Best Dog Training, and critically acclaimed worldwide, McDevitt shows us how to turn stress to confidence and distraction to focus. A fantastic and wholly positive method, suitable for both owners and instructors of anxious, over-excited, reactive and easily-distracted dogs

McDevitt begins by looking at whether control unleashed is for you, explaining that the book is aimed at two audiences; students of dog sports or companion dog owners whose dog has difficulty concentrating or working off lead near other dogs in an exciting situation, and instructors looking to get a handle on dealing with disruptive dogs in class. She continues by examining which dogs are appropriate for control unleashed.

Chapter two moves on to the basic concepts. McDevitt stresses that this is a behavioural programme and not an agility class or obedience programme. She then goes over the basic principles which include:

  • Conditioning a relaxed response
  • Reading your dog
  • Working with thresholds
  • The Goldilocks rule
  • Using the Premack Principle to teach focus
  • Reframing the picture

In chapter three, McDevitt mentions how to prepare for the Control Unleashed programme, and also stresses the importance of getting connected with your dog first, sharing some tips on how to do this. She then talks us through the first CU exercises, which involve letting your dog off lead in a confined area and gauging his response. McDevitt next covers some leash exercises designed to change your dog’s perceptions that being let loose is not a ticket for him to run off. She continues with some teamwork exercises, introducing us to the beginnings of box work.

Chapter four looks at playing with stimulation levels and McDevitt shows us some active attention exercises, designed to help focus and impulse control. McDevitt gives step-by-step instructions on how to teach these, which include doggie zen, leave it, the whiplash turn, targeting, and going to place. She also gives advice on teaching a start-line stay.

Chapter fives moves on to simultaneously building focus and changing attitudes. McDevitt introduces us to the Look At That! game, explaining how this works, and why she likes it so much. McDevitt also shows us parallel games, which gives the dog a task to focus on while working near other dogs. She explains in detail how to use parallel racing, giving advice on working with motion-triggered dogs and training a reactive dog to watch other dogs in motion.

In chapter six, McDevitt works on increasing both enthusiasm and focus in a distracting environment, by teaching the Give Me A Break game, a simple and powerful way to increase the dog’s attention and eagerness to work with you. She also explains how to set up this game in class. McDevitt then moves on detail why sniffing is not a crime, as well as how to teach the dog to think through his arousal using the Off Switch game. She continues to explain why impulse control and agility must go hand in paw, providing more games for dealing with poor impulse control on the agility course.

Chapter seven looks at working up to working loose. McDevitt shows us the There’s a Dog in Your Face Game, which can be used as preparation for even closer encounters, as well as explaining how this applies to real life. She then goes through some targeting tasks to perform loose around other moving dogs, and provides details on how to customise the control unleashed approach, so we understand which aspects of the programme to apply and when. McDevitt also discusses how to get your dog to play away from home.

Chapter eight provides some more advanced distance work, including The Out ‘n Mats game and The Car Crash game, both raising criteria by having the dog work at a distance from you and performing a task in close proximity to other dogs.

In chapter nine, McDevitt discusses applying control unleashed to agility contexts, starting with the warm up before moving on to running the sequence. She also gives some tips on generalising the control unleashed games, as well as combining games to reduce stress, and using them to deal with real life.

Finally, in chapter ten, McDevitt provides us with a progress report for her own dog Snap, for whom she developed the Control Unleashed programme.

This is a training programme that can change your dog’s life. Patricia McConnell says: “ Control Unleashed combines inspiration and practical advice in equal measure, and is, without question, one of the best books on training to come along in recent years.”


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