ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Advice for Loose Leash Walking

There is no doubt the prong can work on many dogs, but remember, it works by the dog's avoidance of pain. I do understand that the GL can be aversive to some dogs, but at least it doesn't deliver pain.

But, neither products teach the dog anything, other than to avoid discomfort by not pulling. I have a suggestion for getting past the need for any of this stuff.

Think circles. Circles are wonderful, and they can set the dog up for success, leaving tons of opportunities to reinforce without having to add any aversive into the pot.

By circling, I mean counter-clockwise circling, with the dog on your left. If you step INTO the dog's space--just one step, the dog has little choice but to move, and will immediately give you attention, which is your nanosecond to reinforce that very thing. I'm talking wide, arcing circles here, not tight ones. Just constantly taking a step into the dog's space, and gently coercing focus back on you.

You are just sort of creeping into his space like the guy in the SUV on the highway creeps into your lane, when he's talking on his cell phone. You'd just be inching into his "space" and instead of walking a straight line forward, you're walking just slightly counterclockwise in direction, so that it would look like a wide, long arc.

This takes care of both forging and lagging quite effectively, even if your timing of the click ( or just chucking food) is not exact every time. Once he is maintaining pace with you in the counterclockwise direction, begin to turn in a wide outside circle, where he'll have to speed up to keep up with you.

Be ready with the clicker to catch him at the exact moment he is right where you want him to be. He can't lag if he's rushing up to get his treat, and that puts him back in position again. And he can't pull if you're on the inside and moving a bit faster than him. If necessary, start off again after delivering the treat with a few steps in the counterclockwise direction, then move back into the figure 8's, so you have both inside and outside circles to work with.

When you move on the inside, and your dog is on the outside of a clockwise circle, he has to RUSH a bit to keep up with you. This is where rapid reinforcement really pays off--and it gives him a clear picture that sometimes he will have to move faster than you are to keep in position. You are TEACHING him this without using pain or fear of pain to suppress the behavior you don't want the dog to do.

Serpentines or figure 8's are GREAT for helping the dog learn to move with you all the time, and it is fantastic for desensitizing dogs to environmental stimuli. The dog has to jog a bit to keep up on the clockwise circles, and go slower to keep pace on the inside, counterclockwise circles. Again, rapidfire clicking and treating really helps to keep the dog engaged in keeping pace with you.

If you have a secure area in which to work, consider working off leash. It's just one more thing you have to deal with. If you keep rapidly reinforcing, you won't need a leash. The leash is really only there for emergency, to keep the dog safe in unfenced environments. And you certainly won't need a prong nor a gentle leader, except for those times when you simply gotta get somewhere in heavy distractions, which you know will set off his triggers.

When I speak of rapid reinforcment, I mean just that---I may get in 30 clicks and treats delivered in one minute of heeling practice. I keep the sessions short--nor more than 3 minutes, and the dogs just LOVE It, learn at warp speed, and then it's just a matter of bringing in distractions incrementally.

The biggest thing is to find ways to maintain the dog's focus on you rather than just in avoiding pain. Think of what this could do if you have your prong on the dog, and he forges, feels the pain at the same time a fellow in a beard pushing a baby stroller comes by. The dog can quickly and easily attach the pain it feels on its neck with the presence of the bearded man or the baby stroller, and a brand new fear can be born. Using behavior suppressors like Prongs can be very tricky, and if they can be avoided safely, it's always better to take time to teach what you do want instead.

But I do understand that safety is an issue, and that we have to make choices based on where we have to walk our dogs, and in order to get them outdoors to encounter scary stimuli.

One thought I have is that it may still be better to use the GL only to slip the noose over the nose when entering a trigger zone, where safety is an issue, and then, when the environment is more neutral, just to slip the nosepiece off and use the GL as a regular collar. It's there for safety when you need it, but it is not aversive enough---ie, it is aggravating, but not painful---so that the dog won't accidently pair something in the environment with the pain he feels from the collar tightening on him.

I think off-leash teaching is ideal for a great many reasons. One big one for me is that we humans often tend to rely on the leash to cue our dogs. We may not jerk and pop the leash, but we often DO use just a bit of pressure to cue our dogs which direction we may be going next, etc. This can be so subtle we are not even aware we are doing it. So, working off leash takes away one more cue to the dog, and allows the dog to remain in thinking mode, solving the problem of how to maintain his position on both inside and outside circles, as well as straight aways.

Good luck to you!

Debi Davis
copyright 2001 Debi Davis


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