Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 4

TEST 4: OUT FOR A WALK (WALKING ON A LOOSE LEASH)

Loose leash walking (LLW) is a real challenge for a lot of dogs & handlers. Why do dogs pull on leash? Probably the #1 reason why dogs pull is that it works! Scenario: Dog pulls handler follows, dog gets to go where he wants to. From the dog’s perspective, what’s not to love!

So, how do you modify this behavior? When you first start out you might find it helpful to use a training aid i.e. a no pull harness or head halter (see my earlier post “Collars and other equipment” for more information). The reason for this is that if your dog doesn’t practice pulling it will be easier to teach him what you expect/want which is loose leash walking.

Set yourself up for success: start your training in a low distraction environment, make sure your dog has already been well exercised (at this stage LLW is not meant for exercise), have lots of tasty training treats in your pocket and allocate sufficient time to allow yourself to be successful i.e. don’t start LLW if you only have a few minutes to practice. Start off by folding up your leash so that your dog only has about 3 foot of leash to work with — LLW can be done on 3′ (unless you have a very short dog). If you give your dog too much leash he’ll have a greater opportunity to pull. Hold your leash in one hand and have your treats in the opposite hand. Your dog should be/walk on the same side where you’re holding your treats — yes your leash is crossing your body. Bend over if needed and place a treat just in front of your dog’s nose and give him a cue, something like “let’s go” and take 2 or 3 steps. If your dog’s walking right with you use your Marker (see earlier post as reference: Positive Reinforcement Training and using a Marker) and stop & give him a treat. Continue stopping & reinforcing your dog every 2 or 3 steps. Set a goal for yourself, can you get 50 feet without your dog pulling? If so Yippee! Practice at this distance and rate of reinforcement several times a day if possible for about a week, all with low distractions.

If your dog starts to pull STOP your forward progress — be a tree. Your dog will likely turn back and look at you like “Is there a problem?” at which point you can coax him back to your side, with a treat if necessary and then start again. If your dog doesn’t turn back they will likely sit, if necessary say their name and proceed as if they had turned back to you.

The key is consistency. Dogs live wonderfully on random reinforcement, so if you aren’t consistent and let them pull sometimes then they will continue trying to pull. However, your dog will not be able to LLW all the time. Longer duration LLW is something you will work up to. So make sure you set the stage for LLW with these steps: shorten your leash, have treats ready in your hand (on the same side as your dog), use your cue word “let’s go”, reinforce every 2 or 3 steps and don’t go more than 50 to 100 feet at a time.

LLW is VERY hard for many dogs, so make sure you lay a good solid foundation. Once your dog is walking well with you as outlined above, see if you can raise your hand (away from your dog’s nose) and carry the treat tucked in your hand at waist level. Continue to mark the good LLW behavior every 2 to 4 steps stopping and bringing the food down to your dog’s nose, or dropping it on the ground. (If your dog starts jumping just wait him out and only mark his behavior when all 4 feet are on the ground — it sometimes takes a lot of patience.)

Only when your dog is successful at this last step do you want to add distractions. Perhaps trying LLW in the back yard, even squirrels will provide significant distraction at first. Increase your rate of reinforcement and reduce the distance you travel when you add distractions.

Once your dog is LLW well you can start to use “life rewards”  like “go sniff” as reward, alternating between that and tasty treats.

Now you should be on your way to having fun walks with your dog. Wishing you much success on your walks 🙂

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