Part 1 of Loose Leash Walking: Attention is the Mother of All Behaviors
“I keep pulling back. I tried popping the leash.
I tried a prong collar. I used a choke chain. I tried the “good dog collar”. He still pulls me down the street.”
For many dog owners, the idea of loose leash walking feels like a distant dream.
Why is that?
The descriptions above all share a common idea: a human trying to use physical power to prevent the dog from pulling.
There’s a catchy saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” There is some truth to this.
In all these cases, we keep trying to stop the pulling. We provide an unpleasant consequence when the dog pulls. The idea is that the unpleasant consequence will change the dog’s behavior. Often this doesn’t work for a variety of reasons and can have ugly side effects. So why keep trying this over and over again? It’s the definition of insanity.
How about asking the question: how do we get the dog to want to walk with us?
Happily, the answer is less about brawn and more about brains. The small effort you put in pays off handsomely when the dream of loose leash walking becomes your new reality.
How do you start teaching loose leash walking? You start with the mother of all behaviors: attention.
If we can’t get attention from our dogs, we can’t do much else with them as they’re disconnected from us. We can’t give cues (like sit, let’s go, etc.) And if we can’t get attention in our own backyard, we can’t expect to get attention when we’re out on the walk facing with bunnies, bikes, and other distractions.
What we’re going to build in part one is your dog’s skill of looking at you voluntarily, aka, attention. You’re not going to lure him with food being held at eye level. You’re not going to say his name over and over again. You’re going to reward the tiniest amount of attention from him and build from there. It’s going to go faster than you think.
What do you need:
· A pocketful of reinforcers (pea-sized pieces of yummy food that your dog likes)
· His 6-foot leash (not a retractable)
· About 5 minutes of your time
· A good dose of humor
· Your dog
With your dog on leash, walk out into your backyard and stand still.
If your dog gives you the even the slightest, quickest moment of attention (ear flick or he looks at your momentarily), you’re going to say “Yes!” and hand him a reinforcer.
Repeat this until you’re done with your pocketful of reinforcers.
If you find that he just stares at you the whole time, great! Toss a few pieces of food onto the ground to the side of him. Be sure that you are not tossing so far away that he pulls you towards them. He will likely eat the food off the ground and look back at you. The moment he looks up, say “Yes!” and toss a few pieces in the other direction. Repeat.
When this becomes easy, you can take a few steps. Whenever he looks at you, say “Yes!” and give him a reinforcer.
If you run into a problem where your dog never offers even the slightest bit of attention after 30 seconds (that can feel a lot longer than you think!), then drop about 4-5 pieces of food onto the ground, right in front of his nose. Once he eats them up, he is likely to look up at you with the question “Is there more?” That’s when you’re going to say “Yes!” and give him a reinforcer. Go to step 2.
Play this game 3 times a day. That’s 15 minutes of your time. When you go outside to play the game and your dog immediately looks to you – excellent! You’ve got attention in the backyard. Now go to the front yard and repeat the game. You want to help your dog generalize this behavior so that you can use it in lots of different places.
You’re on your way to Loose Leash Walking! Come back for Part 2!
Be sure to read "The Difference Between Walking Your Dog & Walking With Your Dog", as those ideas are going to become part of loose leash walking happily and safely.