Monday, April 28, 2014

W is for Walking

Ok, Ok I am a day behind on my alphabet posts. Bear with me here, I will finish it out and hopefully on time if I can get caught up!!

Today W is for WALKING. Everyone wants a dog that walks nicely on leash, but we tend to forget dogs have to be taught this skill. Seriously, this is probably the number one request to fix when someone hires a dog trainer. Unfortunately, dogs aren't born knowing how to walk on a leash without pulling ahead or lagging behind, but there are many different ways to teach this.

Teaching leash manners can be challenging because your dog moves faster than you and is generally overly-excited about exploring outside. To teach your dog to walk without pulling, it's critical that you never allow them to pull. If you're inconsistent, your dog will continue to try pulling because sometimes it pays off. While you are teaching your dog not to pull, you should use a four-foot or six-foot leash. Flexi leads or long lines (leashes longer than six feet) work great for exercising dogs, but not so much for teaching them not to pull.

Last year I did a blog post on the loose leash walking part of the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) test. You can check out a few videos of me practicing with Monday on that post and check out a few training methods: CLICK HERE :).

Let's walk

First, we want to make sure we are setting up our dogs for success. For any of the techniques to work, you have to practice in situations your dog can be successful at. If you take them out to train and they are just an excited mess, pulling every which way, they are not going to learn, and you will just become frustrated. I've been there, I know how NOT fun that is. Don't be afraid to back up a step or two - work at home (inside),with only a few distraction. Then work in the yard. Next, work in front of the house. You get the idea :). Slowly make your training walks longer and longer and try to avoid distractions that your dog is not ready for.

Monday giving me great attention during a show
but obviously foraging slightly in heel position.
We want to arrange things so that loose leashes 'pay off' and tight leashes don't. There are tons of ways to walk on leash. You've probably seen dogs at shows or on TV who prance alongside their handlers, staring up with rapt attention. That perfect-heel-position, while beautiful, requires intense focus on both ends of the leash and extensive training in precision heeling. It's also not appropriate for long periods of time, like for your daily walks around the block or to the park. Precision heeling is good for dogs to know how to do when requested (like when high level distractions are present) but it's unreasonable to expect them to walk this way all the time.

Each 'type' of walking is taught according to the same basic formula - the dog is reinforced for being where we have asked them to be. The closer I want my dog to be to my side, the higher the rate and value of the reinforcer I use to train the behavior. When your dog is fluent at walking by your side, you can begin to decrease the rate of reinforcement, so that they can walk politely for longer and longer stretches between reinforcers.

A few things to consider

  • Until your dog learns to walk without pulling, consider all walks training sessions and keep them frequent, short, and fun :).
  • Find other ways to exercise your dog until they have mastered loose leash walking. You'll succeed more quickly if you find a way to tire your dog out before having a training walk because your dog will find it a bit easier to focus if they have expended their excess energy.
  • Remember your high value treats!
  • Walk at a quick pace. You are far more interesting when you move quickly and it leaves less time for your dog to get distracted.

You can use various methods to teach your dog to walk without pulling - no single method works for all dogs. My favorite approach is simply to be variable and unpredictable :). If my dog never knows when I might toss a high value treat on the ground, pull out a favorite toy, or head off in a new direction, she tends to keep an eye on me at all times.

One basic method

The following method is one that I go over with all my basic training classes and it differs from what I covered in my CGC post (which was lure/reward). It requires that all or most reinforcement will come from behind you and that you will the toss the food to the ground (not far from your foot). This description is taken from Karen Pryor's website:

Loose-leash walking is going to begin as a game. Here are a few simple steps you will train BEFORE you do any walking with your dog:
  1. Put your dog's leash on and just stand still. When your dog releases the tension on the leash, click and show him the treat in your hand. Let him see you place the treat on the ground by the outside of your left foot. Once he's eaten the treat, move to the end of the range of the leash so it is taut and stand quietly. When he moves to release the tension, click. Show him the treat and place it by your left foot. You don't care about eye contact. What you are teaching is that releasing the leash tension gets clicked and treated. Do this a number of times.
  2. Continue to stand now that your dog is not pulling. Now you will click for eye contact. After the click, treat by your left foot. Remember after he has finished eating the treat to move to the end of the leash. Click and treat three times for looking at you while on a loose leash.
  3. Again, just standing with your dog on a loose leash, looking at you, toss your treats right past your dog's nose to about three feet away. When dog eats the treats and comes back to you looking for more, click and treat by placing the food by the outside of your left foot. Move and repeat.
  4. Again toss the treat right past your dog's nose. When your dog finishes eating it and turns around to come back to you, you turn your back and start walking. (Just take a few steps in the beginning.) When you dog catches up to you, but before he gets past your pant leg, click and treat. Repeat.
Note: Make sure when you toss the food it goes right past the dog's nose. This is the warm-up. Now that you have the dog following you for a few steps it is time to start walking and reinforcing behind or next to you.

Your dog is on leash. You turn away from him and start walking. Your dog follows. As the dog catches up to you and is coming up next to you—maybe even makes eye contact—mark (click) and drop the treat next to your left foot. Don't keep moving and be sure the first few times that you let the dog know that you have food in your hand. Once he's finished his treat, start again. Show him the treat and then turn and take a few steps away from him, walk till he catches up, drop the treat next to you or a little behind.
Note: Dropping food next to your side or a little behind helps the dog to stay close to you. It prevents the dog from anticipating and forging ahead. So drop the food behind you or you can even let the dog take it out of your hand behind your back. Don't drop the food so far away that the dog has to drag you to get it.
Start again. Begin to walk in such a way that the dog is at an angle beside you or is behind you. As the dog catches up, drop the food behind you (or next to your pant leg). Once the dog has eaten the food and is coming back toward you, start walking away from him again. Try for more steps before dropping. Timing is everything! Don't let the dog get in front of you. If he does, pivot away, wait till he catches up BUT is next to you or slightly behind you (or his nose is at your pant seam), and drop the food.
Now it's your job to increase the number of steps before dropping the food behind you. Never drop food if your dog has gotten in front of you. Work towards walking more steps before rewarding. You can vary this and reinforce while he is next to you if you wish, or toss the treat way behind you so the dog has to hunt for it and then reinforce him for catching back up to you.
As your dog gets better and you can now walk quite a distance without forging and pulling, don't fail to reward intermittently. For your dog to walk without pulling he has to believe (because you rewarded him) that there is a better chance of good things near you than in the wide world. Use the long line if you have to control your dog and are not taking a walk. Remember, if you never let the leash get tight, your dog won't learn that he can pull you. What he doesn't know won't hurt him or you!

So boring leash-walking is out - fun leash walking is in. :) Remember there is no 'one right way' to do things. What fun things do you do to keep your dog walking happily with you on a loose leash?


  1. Great Post! Everyone takes "walking" for granted, but it is hard work to get in a comfortable rhythm with your dog. Thanks for the tips! - Petnetio Anu

    1. Very true! Our idea of walking and our dog's idea of walking are not generally the same thing :), finding a comfortable rhythm is key for success.

  2. OH, I'M SOOOOOOO GLAD YOU POSTED THIS! I have a dog I'm having mucho trouble with on the leash. I've been working with her for a year now and it's just so frustrating. I"m going to start at ground zero with your ideas hear and I promise I'll never give up on this dog. She is the most fun ever but WOW, a bundle of energy! Thanks. I'll get back to you on our progress.

    1. Yes, please let me know how it's going! :) It can be a slow process, especially if you have a spitfire, but you will get there!!

  3. I want to say "Ditto" to Susan's comment. I was lax in my training when Jedi was younger. Now at 18 months and 85 pounds he yanks me all over the place and I'm seeing the error in ways!

    1. It can be much harder when they are bigger. When Bourbon was growing up (he's only 70 pounds) he about ripped my shoulder out of my socket!! But if you take it in small steps and take the time build the behavior it will come :).

  4. It's working for us! Day 3 today. AMAZING results! The clicker makes all the difference. What a lifesaver your post is for us! thanks a million!!!

  5. Yesterday, we made it ALL THE WAY AROUND THE BLOCK without my sweet Remi pulling like a sled dog. I'm a believer!

    1. YAY! That is quite a milestone :). You may have a few ups and downs or days that aren't as good, but keep going and you will see more progress!