Thursday, January 24, 2008

Leash Training, 101

Here’s another training tip (or two, actually) for your files.

“Walking Nicely on the Leash”
First, always let your dog do his business before you start doing any leash training. Once he’s done, and you’re walking him, have a treat ready in whatever hand is not holding the leash. If the dog moves slightly ahead of you, or even if he just loses focus on you, make a kissing sound. With some dogs you may have to do it a few times before they respond. Don’t worry about it, just keeping doing it. When the dog does respond, pop the treat into his mouth immediately. The best way to do this is to pay attention to where the pup’s nose and shoulders are; when the shoulders go past your left knee, you should make the kissing sound.

If you do this successfully a few times it won’t be too long (depending on the dog) before he starts to look at you on his own, without needing the kissing sound as a stimulus. When he does he should immediately get a treat then as well.

After doing that for a few sessions you can add some variations. One is what I call the “kiss-n-tug” where you give a tiny tug on the collar, followed by the kissing sound, which is followed by a treat. You can also do a “kiss-n-heel” where the kissing sound is followed by the word, “Heel!” Then you can start doing both of these exercises together. Pretty soon the tiny tug on the collar is a signal to the dog that walking next to you, and focusing on you, is a pleasant experience. (This is not a real, obedience-level “heel” by the way; it’s just one way of keeping the dog walking in the pocket.)

I also talk to and praise the dog continuously while walking (at least in the beginning). And if he stops to sniff something, I let him. If he keeps sniffing and I want to keep moving, I’ll say, “Oooh! Is that a good smell? Oh, you like that smell! What a good doggie! You’re such a good smeller!” Then I change my tone slightly, and say, “Okay...” and he’ll immediately start walking with me again.

Stop Pulling on the Leash!
First of all your dog isn’t really pulling on the leash so much as she’s being pulled on by things in the environment that stimulate and attract her instincts. Of course, all dogs are different, so each dog will have her own motives for being pulled toward any specific stimulus, but the underlying reason is always the same: it feels more natural for a dog to move toward something that attracts her instincts than it does to walk next to you, unless walking next to you also attracts her instincts.

Now that you know why she pulls, what can you do to stop it? Again, we have to look at it from the dog’s viewpoint. It’s much easier for her to learn a new behavior than it is to try to get rid of an old one, particularly if the old behavior satisfies her instincts. So, instead of thinking “how do I get my dog to stop pulling?” you need to think “how can I attract her instincts?” which means that what you do has to make sense to the dog, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.

So, start with a game or activity the dog loves. It doesn’t matter how impractical or silly you think it is, in the long run it will help teach her to walk next to you, as long as it arouses strong, positive emotions in her. That’s the key. Then take her somewhere with no distractions. If she’s too focused on the environment to play with you right away, tie her up and walk about twenty feet or so away . Don’t talk to her or even look at her, just keep a watch on her out of the corner of your eye for any signs that her focus is shifting away from the environment and back to you.

Once she's focused on you again, wait about thirty seconds, then come back and tease her with the toy. Make her crazy to sink her teeth into it. Then untie her, tease her with the toy some more, and get her to chase you around—change pace, zig-zag, stop suddenly then take off again, throw in some stutter steps, even fall on the ground and jump back up. Do anything you can to build her desire to connect to the toy, praising her the whole time. This may not feel like “training”, but remember that the initial goal is to make yourself more interesting and attractive to her instincts than the environment is.

After a few days, refine these zany moves into one behavior: getting her to run or walk next to you in the heel position. If she moves out of the pocket, bring her back using the toy as a “lure.” If she keeps trying to jump up on you, that’s good! She’s connecting! Don’t correct her; just remind her, “Heel!” (in a pleasant tone), and move the toy down to her level.

Start making about turns, to the left or to the right, keeping the toy just out of reach. Any time she loses focus remind her, “Heel!” and get her back in the game. Be sure to make the word “Heel” sound inviting, and say it whenever she moves out of position.

You’ll only need to play this game for about thirty seconds or so. Then as soon as she’s “heeling” fairly well, give her the toy and praise her so she’ll know that being in the heel position is what gets her the toy. Take a break then do it twice more.

After a few days, or maybe a week, it should carry over to her regular walks Of course, you won’t be able to do the zany moves you were doing, but the about turns and the pleasant sound of the command word should help her remember her lessons.

"Changing the World, One Dog at a Time"

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