One of my favorite followers is having some loose leash walking woes, since I’ve been there done that for months with Pricessface Maizey I decided to turn my reply to her into a post of my favorite LLW tips.
It’s important to use the correct tool for the job. Sure, you can use the wrong end of a screw driver to pound in a nail, but it’s going to be hard and take longer. Simple solution-use a hammer!
So what’s the correct tool for LLW? A regular collar and leash. I’m picky about leashes. I only use leather. Leather is soft on the hands, absorbs those shocks of a dog lunging to the end of the leash and last forever. I truly believe once you use a leather leash you’ll never go back.
For those dogs like Maizey that just took forever to learn that a tight leash gets you nowhere I recommend harness as a management tool. I love the Freedom, Sensation or Sensible for front hook no-pull harnesses. However a front hook harness can be tricky for a small dog. With Maizey I’ve used a Puppia. It’s two years old, has seen some serious use and barely wore out this week. Frown and sigh. Oh well, now I get to get a new cuter one!
I know there are people out there thinking, “regular back attachment harnesses encourage pulling” and it may be true, but stick with me for the explanation of why I chose that when we talk about methodology.
The most important part to LLW is consistency. A tight leash never gets the dog where he wants to go. If the leash gets tight, stop! Then don’t move until the dog has come back into the golden zone. (The golden zone is anywhere around you where the leash is not tight. Some like to define it as the hook of the leash being in a ‘J’ shape.) This is hard! Trust me, when you want to get from point A to point B and it takes forever because you have to stop 5000 times it can be frustrating.
The times I found it the most challenging were the times Maizey was the most excited and just didn’t have the brain cells to concentrate at all. That’s where management with a harness came in. Dogs are brilliant, and quickly learn contextual clues. Wearing the harness is like recess, it’s free time, the rules are relaxed and the dog learns if they want to pull, pull. It’s okay. Basically it buys some freedom for a handler that wants to be able to go from the house to the car in less than a half hour. The key is to keep the collar sacred. If the leash is on the collar, pulling gets him no where. If you or your dog are too tired, rushed, frustrated, or whatever to be consistent don’t use the collar. Start a walk with the harness and once those initial crazies are worked out switch to the collar. Recess ends, class starts.
Once you have your mind made up to never follow a tight leash again, how do you get the dog into the golden zone? Make the golden zone exciting. Make yourself exciting. You’re competing with the whole wide world of sniffs and smells, blowing leaves, other animals and who knows what else, so encourage your dog to be with you. If you want him to walk on the left side carry the leash in your right hand and pat your leg to encourage him to come back to where you are. Talk to him, tell him when he’s doing good. I like to carry a little squeaker in my pocket to get the dogs attention, when he comes back to find out why you’re squeaking, the leash naturally loosens and shazam! You can reward by moving forward.
Remember if the leash tightens, you stop. Dog choses to return to the golden zone, mark with a “yes!” Forward motion is the functional reward.
Another method is to back up from the direction of the pulling. It’s basically penalty yards for pulling. I used this method with Maizey, but with Magnus combined the two. So if I stopped and he didn’t come back into the golden zone I would back up until he caught on. I liked that better.
One more tip and it seems strange, but don’t teach LLW in a straight line. Swerve around, walk in circles and large S shapes. It keeps your pup more focused on figuring out where in the world you’re going and less focused on what’s down the street.
Now to further refine the LLW position get out your clicker and treats. (For those of you training for CGC, put the treats in your pocket not a treat bag, eventually you’ll be weaning off these treats completely.) Start LLW with the red light green light method, but when your dog comes into position C/T. Remember you’re holding the leash in your right hand, so put your clicker in that hand too. That leaves your left hand free to be the treat dispenser. Don’t treat by reaching across your body to the dogs mouth or you’ll encourage him to forge forward and get out of position.
By this time he should be getting the idea to look up and pay attention. Reward those check ins! Any glance at you is a great thing to C/T. Remember you want him to focus on you for LLW, so pay him generously for doing so. Gradually LLW will become second nature.
A note about distraction, especially if you have a champion puller who’s has had lots of practice, start from scratch in the least distracting environment possible. Start in the house, once he’s reliably staying in the golden zone, work towards the closed door, once he can walk nicely to the door, open it and start over. Remember, if he can’t LLW to the door he’s bound to fail once you’re in the real world, and we never want our pups to fail!
One final note, bad habits take time to form and time to break. If he’s had lots of time to practice pulling, it may take time to teach him to choose not to pull anymore. Eventually he will understand all good things happen in the golden zone. For Maizey that means she rarely pulls, even on her harness. Be patient! It’s worth it in the end.
For my friend with the LLW woes, hang in there. I thought Maizey would never get this and she’s mostly good now. For anyone out there who may have a trainer encouraging them to try more forceful methods, please consider this is a force free way of teaching your 4legged friend to choose the best behavior. When he does choose on his own, you’ll be thrilled with his choice!