Thursday, October 4, 2012

Loose leash walking

Though I've taught it in lots of classes, I never have felt really confident about training Loose Leash Walking--especially to dogs who really need it. 

I'm sure there are plenty of dogs out there who will respond quickly to the "be a tree" method--when the dog pulls, stand still until she looks at you and gives you some slack, then go forward again until the dog learns that she can only go forward when she gives you a slack leash. 

But a dog like Fozzie needs something more intensive. So I was glad to see that the APDT has a free webinar on Loose Leash Walking--which I believe is available to everyone here, even if you don't have an APDT membership. This webinar is offered by Gail Fisher, and goes through the steps of a nice, relationship-centered way to help a dog learn to walk calmly on the leash.
Lamar, always concerned with keeping his flock together, walks on a nice loose leash and checks in frequently
I always find that writing things down helps me learn them, so I've summarized the steps below. I hope this is useful to you too.
  • Choose an alert sound like This way! or a smoochy noise. Use this sound to let your dog know you're going to start working.
  • Make your alert sound, and when your dog looks at you, mark (click or say "yes!") and toss a treat on the floor. When dog looks up at you, click and toss again. Repeat 5-6 times in place.
  • Then walk backward, continuing to mark and reward for the dog looking at you.
  • Once dog is walking along with you and getting into this game, pivot, turning away from your dog, so you're facing in the same direction.
  • After you turn, mark & reward first step going in same direction. Walk with your dog a few steps, marking and rewarding for each step she stays in loose leash position. 
  • To turn, make smoochy noise to signal first then turn. Say Lets go to let dog know you're going.
I like this protocol because you are working towards loose leash walking through establishing a relationship with your dog, and being clear about what you want.  

Important points: you're not luring the dog into position, and you're not rewarding just for attention. You are marking and rewarding moments where the leash is loose, even if the dog is not looking at you.   
Florian always gets Loose Leash Lamar, while I get pulled along by Fiendish Fozzie
What about when your dog gets out of loose leash position? The usual instinct is to yank back, but here's something to try that's a lot gentler and more fun:
  • As your dog starts to pull, but before he gets to the end of the leash, make your alert sound (smoochy noise)  
  • Walk backward to reconnect, as at the beginning
  • Mark, then reward only with verbal praise--no treats. Treats are only for forward walking
  • Turn and walk forward, then click & treat for a loose leash!
This seems like a great protocol for dogs who are over-eager on the leash, but still interested in treats when out on a walk. 

But what about for dogs who, like Fozzie, are so stressed out, anxious, or excited on walks that they lose interest in treats?

This is why I found the end of the video, which talks about the Lost Opportunity marker, so interesting. The steps outlined are exactly the method I discovered and outlined here as the only thing that really works for Fozzie, once he gets a bit excited: Using a No Reward Marker like "whoops!" when he pulls out ahead toward a trigger, then immediately turning and walking in the other direction until he gets more calm. Turning back toward trigger if he can handle it, but turning away while saying "whoops!" if the leash goes tight again. When he can handle it, allowing him to approach all the way to the thing he wants.

This method is putting the Premack Principle to work for you: giving the dog something he wants (to approach the object of his fascination, whether another dog or a good-smelling bush) in exchange for giving you something you want (calm behavior and a loose leash). Whoever Premack is, he is a godsend to those of us with dogs who--for whatever reason--are not food-motivated.

The rest of the video tells you how to build the behavior by gradually increasing the time between rewards, introducing turns, training in new locations, and adding distractions. It also includes the good advice that if you don't have time to train on a walk, use equipment, like a head collar or no-pull harness, that will keep your dog from pulling and practicing the behavior. 

Check out the video for a really thorough explanation of these great methods. I'd love to know what works for you.


    1. Those are some good tips. I like the tight leash pic :)

    2. I've found, of all the methods, pivoting and walking in the opposite direction has been the most effective. It only takes 10 minutes of not getting more than a block away from our house and all of my dogs seem to get it. I also walk in the middle of the street sometimes at the beginning of a walk to get them in the groove. There are less things to sniff at (and pull to reach) than on the sidewalk. And I ask for frequent Watch Me's throughout the walk to teach them to check in with me.

      PS - we live on a small non-busy street. Obviously.

    3. Great tips Kirsten, I think I shall check that video out. As I noted today, my dogs do much better alone, then say when they are both out.

    4. I find the hardest dogs to teach loose leash walking is those "full speed ahead" walkers rather than the ones that want to zig-zag, sniff and greet. Kaya was like that, dog on a mission! Weirdly, now if I walk her on a leash she still wants to pull ahead and has to be constantly verbally reminded to hold back, but if I walk her off the leash(and not somewhere she has permission to run) she stays right by my side and never moves ahead.

    5. These are some really great tips! This was a really great informative post. :)

    6. mom does that loose leash stuff too
      Benny & Lily

    7. This sounds overwhelming but SO SMART. It would totally work for my Hades! Maybe not Taylor... but Hades for sure. I am the queen of just tug the leash back, get annoyed, etc. I'm not saying I lose control, but I know I am not always the pro. He actually walks a million times better for me than he does for J, however.
      I laughed at your picture with Florian getting Lamar and you with Fozzie. I'm sure it doesn't make you laugh. =)
      I really do think this is greatful advice, I need to set aside some time to actually work with it. You're right, the whole stop, walk, stop, walk method does not always work well with the most determined and anxious.


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