Loose Leash Walking 101

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!


You Get What You Click Part One: Choose the Correct Equipment

Life is frequently all about the timing.

Clicker training is also all about the timing. You get what you click. However, anyone who has started using a clicker knows it’s can be a challenge to get all the mechanics right.

It seems pretty simple, a little plastic machine that clicks when you push a button. It’s not rocket science right? True, but put a leash attached to a dog, treats and a clicker in your hands and then try to click the exact second a dog’s but hits the ground in a sit, deliver the treat and things can get messy!

The good news is it gets easier with practice and the right equipment helps a lot.

I see a lot of first time clicker trainers come to class carrying a plastic baggy of treats. One problem with that is you move around a lot in dog training and your treats need to move with you. What do you do when you click your dog, but your treats are way over there in a baggy? Remember clicker training is about timing, so you lose precious seconds getting to your treats.

So vital piece of equipment #1: Some sort of treat pouch. The object is to to get those treats onto your body with quick and quiet access to them. You’ve heard a good trainer has quiet face, quiet body and quiet hands? Add a quiet treat pouch to that too.

Pockets are a natural choice, although you know you’re a true dog person when you get out last years coat and instead of a dollar in the pocket you find a clicker and treat crumbs. Some people use waist packs, I even saw one woman wearing her kitchen apron!

I prefer an Olly Dog or Premier treat pouch. Both close by magnets, each has a spare pocket for clean up bags, your clicker, keys or whatever. They’re cute and durable.

Vital equipment #2: Some sort of wrist coil for your clicker. If you’re fishing around in your pocket for your clicker your timing is gone. But it’s a challenge to manage all the equipment in two hands. The solution? Put your clicker on your wrist. I actually prefer to use the kind of elastic band you use for pony tails. It’s thin and fits in my palm better. There are many kinds of wrist coils out there and anything that allows you to drop your clicker to free up your hand but still have quick access to it works great.

(A side note, I once saw someone who had their clicker around their neck on a lanyard. Seemed like a good idea, except when they bent over they clicker swung out and was close to the dogs ear every time they clicked. Please don’t deafen your dog by clicking close to its head.)

The next step to successfully getting what you click is your timing. Check back later this week to see some clever clicker games and some examples of why timing is so critical.

Until then why not leave us a tip on your favorite piece of training equipment?


Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Hiking to the Cobblestone Arch

These pictures were taken at 12:30 in the afternoon after the sprinklers had been on all night. It was beautiful.

"Are we there yet???"

"We're getting tired, where's this arch you promised??"

It was a good day, but now I'm cold and tired. I'm going to sleep all the way home!"


Bring Us Your October Walking Challenge Miles!

We finished up October with a grand 251 miles. I’m pretty happy with that! How ’bout you all? Getting out there with your pups?

There are officially only two months left in the 2011 Walking Challenge. For us that means we need 114 miles in 61 days. Honestly I don’t know if we’re going to make the miles. Honestly I don’t care! We have had so much fun this year. Looking back I can’t believe all the things we’ve done!

Walks, hikes, travels and biking have all played a part in our miles thus far. We’ve faced injuries, Maizey’s anxiety, rain, snow and heat. None of it stopped us so far and I don’t plan on quitting now! I’m going to finish up the year and no matter what that final number ends up being I’m proud of us.

I’m proud of all the Walking Challenge members! You guys kept us going. No matter what the goals are we’ve all achieved so much and I thank you all for supporting us!

Even if you’ve decided not to finish up the year I hope you all had fun. To me it’s been a great thing and I hope you all feel the same!

So on this un-Monday miles report I leave you with some pictures from our weekend. We had a great weekend of travel and hiking. We went to one of my most favorite places on earth and based on the hours it took me to de-sticker and de-mud the dogs I’m guessing they had a blast!
(I apologize for the quality of the pictures, I got a new camera and haven’t figured out all the kinks just yet. It was just too great a day not to share though so I’m posting them anyways.)

To be continued tomorrow in Wordless Wednesday. . .