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Loose Leash Walking

To me, the ultimate accessory is treats for desired behavior on the leash. Below is a brief description of the method I was taught for loose leash walking (different from teaching heeling). My dog pulled and pulled even when I used the choke collar. Life got much better when I discovered clicker training and worked on loose leash walking using the tree method.

You can use the clicker or not. A clicker, if you're coordinated and have good timing can help speed up the process, if not, you can work without it because the positive reinforcement is going forward for your dog. But the clicker is so much more clear and fast and immediately tells your dog that she did the right thing. My dog loves high-value treats (like small pieces of cheese or liver or even pizza), so I used a clicker and treats at the beginning. Make sure your dog knows what the clicker means before you start (called “loading the clicker”).

This method can take a lot of time and patience, so be prepared to spend the entire time you've allotted for your walk going only a few yards. It’s a good idea to start in the house because there should be very little distraction for your dog. When teaching new ideas, always start in a low-distraction environment. When you increase the level of distraction, be prepared for the performance to backslide a little—it’s completely normal. Keep trying at that level of distraction. If your dog’s response doesn’t improve, try lower the distraction level just a bit.

First, your dog should get some exercise, especially if young, like throwing the ball a few times, etc. Then you can get to work. You can start this in your living room, in your basement, or garage-just be sure that there are not any distractions for your dog. Then, you can move it to your yard, then to your street, then going beyond. You only go to the next step where there are more opportunities for distraction once your dog is responding consistently and quickly to you.

I want the dog to understand that she does not get to go forward when there is pressure on the leash. If your dog pulls, you simply stop. You become a tree. You wait for the dog to look at you (if you're clicking and treating; do that now); if the dog looks at you, great. Then back up and he should come in to you, slackening the lash. Click and treat! Be excited and effusive! Good boy!

Off you go. She'll probably pull again, and you just keep repeating the process. Eventually she'll figure out that if she pulls, she is going nowhere. If she slackens the leash, she gets to continue her walk. Don’t forget to click and treat at any moment that the leash is slack. Eventually weeks down the road, as soon as your dog feels a little tension on the leash, your dog will automatically stop, or hesitate, adjusting her pace, and look at you. It's awesome.

Just a note about reward schedules (when you give the small tidbit as a reward): when starting a new behavior, you want to reward for any small step toward the ultimate behavior. It is also important to reward EVERY time at the beginning. Once a behavior is dependable, then you can start to move to a random schedule (treat for two behaviors, then perhaps four, then back to rewarding for one behavior. Or you can reward intermittently based on time—your dog keeps the behavior for one second, treat; 3 seconds treat; one second, treat; 5 seconds, treat, etc.) You want to keep it mixed up. This is a superficial explanation; there are books written on the subject.

I choose to add the treat, but some people say that the forward movement is reinforcement enough. To me, the click and treats are clearer and faster communication as long as your dog is already conditioned to the clicker.

If your dog doesn't look at you when you stop. You can back up even if that means you are gently applying some pressure to the leash. No yanking or jerking. She will look at you, and you want to be ready to "capture" that with a click or a "yes!" and treat or off you go. Gradually you can develop longer eye contact, and the dog coming in to you automatically.

To summarize:

Dog pulls

  1. You stop and be a tree (keep elbows above hips, keep knees bent a little and your center of gravity back a little, use your abdominal muscles to help anchor you).
  2. Dog looks at you, click and treat. If dog doesn’t look at you, back up gently. Click and treat when dog finally looks at you. Reward consistently any time your dog gives you attention (it’s the first and last thing we work on).
  3. Dog comes in further slackening the leash, click and treat
  4. Continue on walk, repeat the steps.

If you get into a crowded situation, and you and your dog have not mastered the heel or loose-leash walking, here is a very helpful technique. I just used it with one of my mother’s dogs in a hotel situation, and the dog had very little training on proper conduct in such situations. Dogs respond very well to what’s called the body block, which just means that you use your own body to claim space. Start at a stop position with the dog next to you in a heel position. As you’re walking and the dog goes to barge ahead and pull, simply step to the left and do not allow the dog to go ahead of you. You claim that space that is ahead of you. The dog may try to go to the right, then step to the right. Eventually, he’ll get the idea. I wouldn’t use this method to teach a formal heel because it doesn’t really encourage the eyes up attention you want, but in tight situations, it’s very helpful.

Below are a few links to articles for more reading.

From clicker solutions, another method: http://www.clickersolutions.com/articles/2002c/llw.htm

Brief descriptions of loose leash walking approaches: http://www.ddfl.org/behavior/commands/variations-leash.pdf