Walking: two case studies

One of the things I love best about my job is finding the methods that work best with specific dogs. I’ve blogged about walking before (a lot), and now I’m going to do it again.

I’m looking at two very different case studies: Darcy and Obi. Both dogs are highly leash reactive (which means aggressive toward other dogs when they’re on their leashes, but fine when they’re off leash).

1. Darcy

Darcy is a 40-pound mix, very leggy and energetic, around 2 years old. She was rescued around 1-1.5 years by her lovely family, who work very hard with her. To look at her, you’d guess she’s a border collie mix of some sort, with some shepherd or doberman or rottweiler, given the color on her legs.

After working with Darcy for nearly a year with improvement I would normally expect to see in a few months, we decided I should take her out on my own for a few days to see what I could find that would work for her. This is what worked.

First we used a slip lead. A martingale would have worked, too. A prong collar increased her anxiety and aggression, and a face harness — because of the leaping, flipping, and lunging she does — could be dangerous. Though Darcy knows a perfect heel, I quickly found that when she was already stressed out or feeling reactive, confining her that way made her worse in the long term. We did a lot of no-pull walking, but I didn’t focus on whether or not she was right beside me; just that she was on a loose leash and relaxed. If I saw a dog coming or we neared a stationary dog, I would do soft reversals (not reprimanding her, just turning away) and let her feet move. We did a lot of circling — in the horse world, it would be called lunging, when the animal circles around you at the end of their lead. Keeping in motion kept her calmer overall.

Now, I couldn’t have her at that length when another dog walked right past, because even though she stayed calmer overall, she was still aggressive. So as the dog neared I would ask her to sit and focus on me and my treat. We then did puppy push-ups: “Down! Good, here’s your treat. Sit! Good, treat. Down! Good, treat. Sit!” And so on. This worked short term to get a dog past successfully, but I found that if I tried it as the dog was approaching from a distance, over the long term the inability to burn off her energy by circling, and the intensity of following commands ramped up her anxiety, stress, and aggression levels.

As soon as the dog was past, we went back to circling to burn off the energy created by a passing dog. When she looked calmer, we would walk forward.

As I mentioned, I didn’t keep her to a perfect heel. I asked her to get no farther forward than hip-to-hip, and if she pulled farther than that I reversed or circled to bring her back. (Her mom’s verbal “whoops!” also worked to remind her.) I also didn’t worry too much about where her ears were. In most dogs, correcting for forward ears/wrinkles solves most of the problem. With Darcy, it didn’t solve the problem and only made her more stressed, inching up her levels of aggression. Instead, I focused on keeping her feet moving when we could, distracting with treats when we couldn’t, and reversals or circles to keep her nearby. There was virtually no correcting of any sort, just re-directing and distraction.

The closest we got to a correction was to force her into a circle or reversal with me when she leaped toward another dog, which was definitely a physical dragging her around with me if she was really intent! Even then, however, I wasn’t telling her she’d done something wrong, I was just telling her she had to come with me, silly puppy.

When passing other dogs, we would circle away, and as we came back around I would put a handful of treats in front of her nose, to catch her attention before she saw the other dog again. As she was working at getting the treats, we were able to walk closer before she fixated on the dog. When she did, we circled and started again with the treats. As she realized that lunging didn’t work — we just circled away — and we were able to burn off energy, she was able to stay focused on the treats and walk by.

In talking with her “mom” I learned that her walks after this were relaxed and easy, and her stool was normal. This tells me that she wasn’t too stressed out or becoming more aggressive. The current plan is to do “normal,” easy, non-dog walks 4-5 days a week to keep her calm, and work in heavy dog areas 2 days a week. This should give her time to practice without ramping up her energy/excitement/aggression, as she is easily ramped up.

2. Obi

Obi is a 80-90 pound pit bull/boxer mix who is about 2 years old. He was brought home as a puppy but not socialized on leash, and is now struggling with learning NOT to be leash reactive. Much like Darcy, he’s very nice off-leash.

We tried many things with Obi before we found what works.

Obi does best if we can get him to remain calm and contained. When we first started he couldn’t walk on a leash at all. We put him on a prong collar (which he ignored). Then I started. Every time he drew ahead of me (which was every step), we stopped and he had to sit. He got a treat, and we moved on. One more step, stop, and sit. Treat. Walk on. This creates a very SLOW walk, but after a week he knew to walk beside me with only occasional sit reminders, and because the prong collar was always loose, it now became a deterrent: he realized pulling was uncomfortable.

We also stopped and sat any time he wrinkled his forehead (focused on something to the exclusion of me). Like I said. Very. Slow. Walk.

First off, this creates an automatic sit. What that means is that your dog’s cue to sit is that your feet stopped moving. It’s really handy. It also means that if Obi is seated, he’s not lunging. (Note that he CAN lunge simply by getting up, but repeating this pattern starts to teach him to sit, remain seated, and stay calm.)

Once Obi got to a point where he was walking automatically by my side (head to hip), I would correct if he wasn’t. His correction was five quick steps backwards by me (not turning around; just walking backwards) with 3-5 hard, sharp yanks on his prong collar. Obi is expected to remain in a perfect heel, because it keeps him calm. Running like Darcy does makes him much more aggressive. (Note that this is a heavy duty correction.)

Next, we started practicing focusing on me and treats, stopping to sit as we neared a dog until, finally, we were able to walk past the dog. If I knew that Obi would lose focus no matter what and get aggressive at fifteen feet, then we started walking past at sixteen feet. He was probably wrinkling, maybe whining, but he wasn’t lunging. When he was behaving (not wrinkling) there, we got closer. We worked with a lot of stationary dogs behind fences or tied to things. (We walked outside the dog park A LOT.)

If the dog was coming toward us, we worked on sitting and focusing on the treat. If Obi lunged, I picked him straight up as high as I could (I want his weight on his back legs, not hanging off his neck/the collar), waited until I felt him try to sit down, then let him go down and sit again. We finished sitting, calmed, got a treat, and moved on. Bit by bit, he’s been able to stay seated when a dog walks by.

As he got better walking past dogs as well, I would allow him to first focus on a treat as we went past. (When he refused them, I stopped offering; he was too interested in the other dog.) Then he started getting his treat only after we got past. We were also able to add the same five-steps-backward correction as he improved around other dogs, which initially only increased his aggression when he was fixating on dogs. Now he knows it’s us (not the dog), that he’s doing something wrong, and he needs to tune in.

Obi is still a work in progress, but he’s significantly better. He does best with a walk daily around other dogs. He gets obsessive and backslides fairly easily, so the more often we can work around other dogs, the better. In addition, instead of getting worked up he gets exhausted and sleeps the rest of the day. That’s a bonus!

Jenna

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Generalizing good behavior

One of the things that trips people up in dog training is this concept of generalization. If I, as a human, learn that I should look at someone when they’re speaking, then I know that that rule is likely to be true whether I’m home, at the grocery store, at a park, with my friends, or in another state. The idea that I need to generalize knowledge doesn’t even enter our consciousness, because in many (if not most) cases we do it automatically.

Dogs, however, do not. If I teach my dog “sit” while we’re at home, he’s not going to also assume that “sit” means the same thing when we’re at the park, visiting friends, having guests over, etc. As far as dogs are concerned, the rules change every time the situation changes. If you want your dog to do the same thing in different situations, you have to practice in different situations. (This is why I’m always going on about, “Now practice recall out front, out back, at the park, down the street…”)

Take Cash. Over the last month I decided I was going to try out a new theory. This theory says that, according to research, dogs in the wild don’t behave like wolves.* One of the notable differences is that when they go hunting, the alpha dogs don’t walk in front: the social dogs do. So I thought, “Huh. I’ll try it out; I’ll let my dogs walk ahead of me and see if anything happens.” (I have a whole post in my head on theories and research about dog behavior, so I won’t get into the details now about walking ahead vs walking beside and why I think it makes such a difference, but it does.)

After a few weeks, when Cash had gotten pretty good at walking ahead of me and I decided I didn’t like it anymore, I had to reverse the problem I’d created. I also decided to try the sitting technique, and see if that taught him faster than other techniques I’ve tried.** Every time Cash started to pull ahead of me, I stopped walking. He would sit down, but he’d sit down a foot in front of me: when we started walking again, he was already ahead. So I modified it: every time he got ahead of me, I not only stopped walking but backed up, bringing him back with me and realigning him. I then gave him a verbal cue. (Since I’d told him he didn’t have to listen to my body language by allowing him to walk ahead, I now needed something more obvious. Also, I kind of like the thought that I can SOMETIMES let him wander ahead on-leash, but that means I need verbal cues.) I said, “Heel.”

At first, I was stopping every few feet. Because Cash already knows how to walk beside me, though, it didn’t take him long to realize that we were back to that old thing. Within about three days, our walks looked like this:

We’d leave the house. I’d make him sit. I’d say, “Heel,” and he would. I’d have to stop 2-4 times, depending on how distracted he was, by the third house we passed. After that he got in the groove. I might have to stop another 1-2 times to remind him over the span of a 20 minute walk if I wanted him to be perfectly head to hip (and not drift a few inches here or there).***

I was happy with that.

Yesterday, we went to run some errands. First, we dropped the car off at the mechanic for a tune-up. From there, we walked to the bank, the clothing store, the pet store, and finally Starbucks. I was telling Cash to stop and sit every few feet for three blocks before he started to get it.**** Why? Generalizing.

He’d learned that at home in our neighborhood, he had to walk nicely beside me. That doesn’t, in his mind, mean he has to do that when we’re downtown. On top of that, he has motivation to ignore me downtown: people petting him, new things to sniff, cars, dogs, pedestrians, lights, shops, blasts of A/C from shop doors, the caw of crows, alleyways, trash cans, benches, a LOT of other dog pee — overload! It took me far longer to get him to focus than it does in our neighborhood because there was SO MUCH going on. Once he did focus, he got it faster than he did at home because we were doing something he knew. So, let’s look at timing:

At home, it took me the first five minutes of our walk to get him to focus when he was first learning this. After that he still messed up — a lot — but he was at least paying attention.

Downtown, it took twenty minutes to get him to focus and even think about paying attention, even though he wasn’t learning anything new.

At home, it took several walks before he really understood what I wanted, and got it right most of the time with just a few reminders when we started out.

Downtown, once he started focusing, he understood right away, and still needed a few reminders (distractions!) but was really very good.

The frustrating thing is that first twenty minutes of him being completely unfocused and brain dead. Even though I know what’s going on, it’s still frustrating. The thing to remember is that once they do get it, they get it fast: they’re not learning something new, they’re learning that what they already know applies here, as well!

For the record, even I lost my patience. I’d back up and say, “What is the MATTER with you?” even though I knew what was the matter with him. Then I’d take a breath, remind myself he wasn’t doing it on purpose or trying to be bad, and start again. (It’s always easier to be completely calm with other peoples’ dogs than with your own!)

So the next time you have friends over and you want to show them your dog’s awesome trick… remember that you might have to re-train the trick first, because your dog probably hasn’t generalized to “guests!”

Jenna

 

*Insomuch as we have any idea of how wolves behave. That’s a much murkier topic than you’d think, given the way people talk about it.

**I can’t say that it worked faster, but it did so with him staying calm instead of getting stressed. He has a low stress threshold when it comes to training, so I already knew that would be the case! He does best with positive reinforcement… but I never remember his treats.

***Hello, my name is Jenna, and I’m a perfectionist. I have to remind myself that just because he’s drifted a few inches doesn’t mean I need to consider it “wrong.” It’s a few inches. Get a grip, Jenna. On the other hand, I consider it progress that I can at least recognize that. I also recognize that if I saw another dog walking as well as Cash walks, I would think, “Wow, they did their work. Nicely done!” In turn, that reminds me that those few inches are not the end of the world. Once I realize that, I can usually apply it to myself and Cash. Being a recovering perfectionist is seriously hard work!

****I don’t know if you’ve ever stopped for several seconds every time you take 3-4 steps, but it makes things verrrrrry slow going and kind of annoying.

 

PS the holidays are coming! Now might be a good time to check out how to prepare your dog for the holidays by clicking on the holiday training posts!

FAQ: When can I walk my dog off leash? How do I do it?

I get this question quite often. First, let’s talk legalities.

California law states that all dogs shall remain on leash at all times, except in designated off-leash areas. Some cities changed the law for themselves (Berkeley is — or was — an off-leash city), but overall state law says No Off Leash Dogs. You’ll have to look up your own state!

“Yeah, yeah,” I hear you cry. “But really — when is it safe to walk my dog off leash if I live in an area where I’m allowed to, or I don’t care about the law?”

All right, in that case, here’s when you can walk  your dog safely off-leash: when you are walking them on leash and you NEVER have to tug on the leash, it’s always loose and droopy, and other dogs, cats, and squirrels run right by and your dog stays with you.

The usual response I get is this: “But my dog always chases squirrels!”

Then your dog isn’t ready to be off leash. If your dog can’t be perfect on leash, what makes you think they’ll be any better off leash? On leash at least you can stop them from following said squirrel into the street. Off leash you can’t.

That said, if your dog is perfect and ready to be off leash, here’s how you do it:

1. Work on recall. This is in case something dramatic happens, and your dog bolts.

2. Now, as you walk, drop your leash and let your dog drag it. When you have less/no control over your dog, human body language changes, and our dogs react differently. We need to get your dog used to altered body language and you used to your dog being off leash. If your dog is dragging his leash (or a rope, if you want extra length) then you can step on it if anything goes awry. Do this for at least a month. Do it in areas that aren’t just your neighborhood (unless you’re planning on only walking your dog off leash in your neighborhood). They need to generalize walking off leash to everywhere, you need to learn your dog will stick with you everywhere so you relax, and you can only do that if you practice — you got it! — everywhere.

3. Take the leash off. Start in calm areas with few distractions. Even better if there’s some giant fence (dog park, pasture, kid park, etc) to give you a little extra security. Do this for another week.

4. Walk off leash!

Throughout all of this, continue practicing recall. Recall is one of the most important commands your dog will ever learn! I walk my dogs off leash in the neighborhood or if I’m working with an aggressive dog (because I WANT my dogs to be able to escape if the aggressive dog attacks). After three years of perfect behavior walking off leash, Lily took off after a squirrel. Chasing her will only drive her on: I stopped walking, bellowed, “LILY! COME!” and she hit the brakes and came slinking back. You need an excellent recall! You also need to practice your recall in a firm tone of voice. When in a panic, you’re not going to sound friendly, so your dog needs to know to come to a firm voice!

Jenna

Tips and tricks: walking and leashes

If you walk your dog and your dog pulls/is learning not to pull, there are a couple of little tricks you can do to help yourself.

1. Tie a knot in your leash.

Stand with your dog beside you and take up the slack in your leash until it’s taut. Then loosen off a couple of inches. In that spot where your hand sits, tie a knot. This will help give you some leverage and keep your hand from sliding along your leash every time you tug or your dog pulls. It’ll also give you an idea of where your dog should be when he’s walking: wherever the leash isn’t tight!

2. Get a leather or rope leash.

Leather leashes are easier on your hand, but if your dog chews on the leash (or you have a giant breed), you might consider a rope leash. Little known fact: leather is used on young horses because if they pull hard enough, it snaps before it hurts them. While your dog would have to be impressively strong and your leash would have to be worn in order to break, it is possible. Dogs can also bite through them pretty easily.

If a leather leash isn’t a good fit, try a rope leash. Look specifically for rope that’s fat and round, not flat or skinny. (Do not use an actual rope; it’s too thin and will cut into your hand!) Flat leashes will rub (and possibly burn) your hand: fat rope leashes will be a little easier on your skin!

Hopefully this will help!

Jenna

Peeing (or marking) on walks

One of the things my clients are often surprised to discover is that their dogs really shouldn’t be peeing on their walks.

Now, don’t get me wrong: if I take my dogs on a long walk, we will probably stop to pee once. But no more than that. A dog is like a person: they can easily hold it for 3-4 hours even when they’re out walking. Most likely, your dog holds it for 3-4 hours in the house: why would they suddenly need to constantly pee outside? If your dog is peeing more than once on a walk, their either have a bladder infection (highly unlikely, and then they would also need to pee frequently in the house) or they’re marking. Both male and female dogs mark; male dogs lift their leg, while most female dogs squat.

Dogs mark when they want to establish that something is part of their territory. There’s no reason for them to think that the lamp post down the street is their territory! If you want to stop your dog from marking, every time they pause to mark just give them a quick tug and keep walking. Once during your walk, stop and let them pee.

There are many reasons to teach your dog not to mark:

1. If your dog doesn’t mark, you can take him into dog-friendly stores fearlessly.

2. If you teach your dog to hold it, it will strengthen the muscles and help her hold it in the house and delay or avoid elderly incontinence.

3. If your dog knows that they need to fully empty their bladder when you tell them to, they are much less likely to have an accident in the house. (Or in other words, if you let them mark they will always hold urine in reserve, and their bladder will fill back up faster so they have to pee sooner!)

Is your dog marking? There’s an easy way to tell: if she pees more than once on your walk, she’s marking!

Jenna

Walking: Stressful situations

Welcome to the fourth, and final, article on teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash! The other articles can be found here, here, and here.

All right, you’ve had two weeks of practicing no-pull walking in non-stressful situations. How’s it going? Hopefully pretty well! (If not, consider contacting a dog trainer, joining a group, or hanging out who-knows-how-long until I post a video. That might be a while.) By now you should be seeing a significant improvement in calm situations. That would be a situation when there’s no dog, squirrels, cats, trucks, bikes, scooters, skateboards, kids… you get the idea.

Now it’s time to generalize. There are two ways to train through stressful situations (read: anything not-calm). We’ll talk about them both.

1. Positive reinforcement, distraction, and baiting

This should be used primarily with puppies and dogs who are strongly treat motivated. If your dog would rather chase the cat than have a treat, start with #2 and come back here when your dog starts trying to restrain themselves! (You’d be amazed how they become treat motivated when they aren’t allowed to chase, even if they aren’t normally.)

Start when your dog’s ears prick up and the wrinkles appear in their forehead. This is usually a full block before people expect to see it happen: from that distance, your dog is already talking to whatever it’s looking at. Whether it’s in hunt mode, attack mode, or excitement mode, the response is the same. First, stop walking. This will give you time to organize. Next, get a treat. To get your dog’s attention back, put the treat right by their nose, and when they start sniffing pull the treat up to your eyes. His eyes should now be on your eyes. Praise, and give him the treat. Instantly get another. Start walking, continuing to do the treat-to-nose-to-your-eyes. This is positive reinforcement: we’re reinforcing him looking at you instead of whatever else is coming. As he gets better at this, you can use a command to bring his eyes up. “Watch me” or “look at me” are typical. Then you can start asking him to hold your gaze for a second, two seconds, three seconds before giving him the treat. The goal there is to build stamina.

Now, if your dog is trying to do this but returning to the prey quickly, then we begin using distraction techniques. Talk to your dog. Once you have his attention via treats, talk to him while you get another treat. Give him something to focus on — your voice — other than whatever he’s not supposed to focus on. This seems overly simple, but it’s really important. Look at your dog. Talk to your dog. Convince him through body language, gaze, and voice that you’re not worried about those things up there. Most people start looking at what their dog is looking at: stop that! It doesn’t matter! Look at your dog. That’s what matters, and that’s the information you need.

Finally, if your dog REALLY can’t handle walking past, start baiting. Baiting is where you put the treat on their nose, pull it up before they get it, and then wave it around. Do this until you’re about to lose his attention, then give it to him and start over. Quite often you can bait a dog past a problem, and then slowly work towards distraction and then positive reinforcement for looking at you. Again, talk to them.

 

2. Reprimanding bad behavior

Remember those reversals? Let’s talk about reversals for a moment. There’s a bunch of reasons they’re effective. For one, it teaches your dog that they can’t get to whatever they want if they’re naughty. For two, it takes away what they were staring at, and gives them a minute to collect themselves. For three, if you do it quickly it acts as a larger check.

So here’s what we do: when you’ve tried checking and your dog refuses to come back to you (continues to wrinkle), turn sharply away and walk in the other direction until your dog stops wrinkling. This could be one step, or it could be a hundred. Watch your dog’s ears. When they relax, praise and turn back the way you were going. If you have a treat, grab it and start baiting as above. If you don’t, keep talking to your dog as you turn. Keep praising them as long as they’re un-wrinkled. As soon as they wrinkle, do it again!

It will take you a long time to get past whatever it is you’re walking toward. If you’re lucky, that thing will be stationary. Most of the time, the thing is moving. In that case, when you finally turn around and it’s right there, just walk past.

Second, you can do a hard sit-down. A hard sit-down has one verbal cue, “Sit,” said very sharply (because this is a reprimand) as you pull up, hard, on the collar. We are not giving them a chance to listen and respond: we are saying, “You have been bad, you are in big trouble, mister, now sit your butt down and focus on me.” If you dog doesn’t look at you (most will, as this startles them), then turn around and make him walk away with you.

 

Safety

If you’re working with a dog who is aggressive in any form, there are some things to note.

1. If you have any reason to believe your dog might bite a human, do not do anything but positive reinforcement until you’ve spoken with a dog trainer. Some dogs who are already on the threshold of biting will snap back when you nip at them — what your dog perceives we’re doing.

2. If your dog tends to lunge at other dogs, then as you get close make sure your collar is as high as you can get it under his jaw (to control his head), get space if you need it (walk into the street), and cinch your dog’s head high and tight against your body. This will keep him from lunging out, give you the leverage you need to keep him (no matter how big he is), and though his body might twirl around, his teeth will be safely away from another dog. Note that to do this, you might have to stop walking and adjust his collar.

Safety trumps all training, everywhere. Even I stop checking, treating, baiting, and reversing if I’m handling a dog aggressive pup and another dog is coming close.

 

Finally, I’d like to point out that working with stressful situations is almost the same as working with regular situations. Expect more reversals and treats, because it’s harder, but it can be done. Like I said before, half of dog training is just out-stubborning your dog!

Jenna

Walking: No pull walking

So welcome to part three of a series (which is to say, I’ll keep writing about the topic until I get bored) in proper dog walking! Over the course of the series we’re going to look at walking and take each bit in stride (ha ha). The previous entries can be found here and here.

Today we’re looking at… no-pull walking!

Ideally you want some form of training collar: a martingale, a choke or slip chain, or a prong collar. DO NOT use any methods that involve tugging if you’re using a no-pull harness of any kind. It’s also not advised to use your dog’s flat collar (the collar their ID goes on) because your dog will pull harder than you can, and you’ll end up doing damage.

With a martingale or a slip/choke chain the idea is to safely control the head, NOT to choke your dog. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume you already know how to put one on. If I’m incorrect, wait a few weeks and I’ll have a post up about it, or check youtube for a tutorial! Once you have your collar on, you need to bring up it just behind the ears and under the jaw. The idea is to get it off the windpipe and against the bones, so we don’t worry about effecting their breathing. Up this high it also makes it so we can control their head, and it keeps them from pulling.

When you have a collar that sits low on your dog’s neck and it tightens, their instinct tells them that they’re caught in something, but it’s at the strongest pulling point of their body so if they pull harder, they’ll get out of it. It doesn’t matter if that something is choking them; they’ll keep pulling. If you bring the collar up so it controls their head, then when they pull harder their head lifts up. They can’t keep pulling, so instead they stop and think. Yay! We want them thinking! (Note that this isn’t the case with a prong collar. A prong collar is pokey, so a dog isn’t likely to lean against it even if it slides down. Those prongs also keep pressure up off the windpipe, so you don’t have to worry about choking.) Note that puppies should NOT be checked. At the most, you can gently bring them back where they belong. Checking puppies leads to later anxiety in life. Use positive reinforcement as described in the next bit, and know that you’ll have to stop and re-adjust often. That’s okay! It’s a puppy. Life is good. If your puppy is causing trouble even after practicing, find a trainer. Puppy emotions are still developing: we want them to think the world is mostly happy! Also keep in mind puppies’ bodies are developing, too; we don’t want to put undue pressure on them!

So now that you have your martingale or slip/choke chain up high or your prong collar on your dog, it’s time to walk! With martingales/slip/choke chains you’ll want to make sure that it stays up. Your leash can be taut but not tight; we don’t want pressure, we just want to keep the collar high.

You’ve stepped out the door, turned around and closed it behind you, and now it’s time to go. We’re going to use the the same basic ideas we used in the last two sections: treats, check, reversals, and body blocking.

So start walking. For control purposes, it’s best if your dog’s head is beside your hip. You have the most control when they’re right there. As soon as your leash is pulling forward AT ALL to meet your dog, your control is lessened. We start, therefore, with our dog right beside us. If you can, ask him to sit. If he’s wiggly and excited that’s all right, you’re going to pull (gently and steadily) up and back on his leash and press down on his butt until he sits. When he sits, praise and love. Sitting gives you a chance to organize and make sure that you’re at least starting out with him beside you! Your leash should be long enough that it’s not tight, but short enough that when you tug you feel it pull on your dog.

We’re going to start walking. As soon as your dog leaps up and forward, check him. Pull sideways or up (not back) on the leash. This is a quick motion; we’re not telling our dogs to come back, we’re telling them that we don’t like it when they leap forward. It’s a subtle but important difference. Telling them to come back means pulling them back into place (and giving them a pressure they can fight). Telling them we don’t like it when they leap forward means a quick sideways  or upward tug, releasing the leash so it’s loose as fast as we tightened it. They can’t pull against this, because it’s over too soon for them to rally. (Note: pulling sideways is sometimes more effective because they need to catch their balance slightly, but pulling upward is safer for the spine.)

You will probably have to do several of these before your dog decides to listen. You might even just have to keep doing them, tug-tug-tug-tug, before your dog notices. That’s okay. Each tug can be progressively harder. Your dog will tell you when it’s hard enough; they’ll stop and say, “Okay, I noticed that. I guess I shouldn’t leap forward.” When they’re in the right spot, praise! You can encourage them to stay in the right spot by having a treat. They can have it when they’re correct, and you can use it as bait (holding it in front of their nose in the spot they belong but making them walk in that spot for several steps before you give it to them) when you’re trying to get them or keep them correct.

If your dog leaps ahead of you, stop tugging. Once your dog is ahead, the check is useless. At that point, turn around and walk the other way. Your dog will whirl around and come after you, ready to blast by again. Wait! As they near your hip, give them a quick check. This will help break their speed and stride, so that if they step ahead of you, you have time to do it again.

When your dog finally starts to slow down and tune in, begin to loosen off on your leash. Your collar will slide; if you tug and get no response, start pulling it back up every few minutes. (Yes, this is a pain, but it’s temporary. Sometimes it’s just a matter of one walk before the dog listens even if the collar isn’t high.) Also start thinking about your body language. Are your shoulders back? Are BOTH of your arms swinging as you walk? If they aren’t, then some part of you is tense. When your dog checks in with you and sees this tension, he’s going to say, “Oh no! Tension means something bad’s going on! I’m ready to have your back. Don’t worry, I’ll figure out what’s bugging you and take care of it.” We don’t want your dog in that mindset! So relax.

At first, you’ll be checking your dog every few steps. This is normal; don’t worry about it. If it lasts longer than the first few walks without changing, then start doing more reversals so they tune in a little more carefully, or give more treats when they’re in the right spot. Either method will work; which works best depends on the dog and owner combination. You can also bump your dog with your foot when you walk. Aim for the hip or ribcage; this is body blocking, and will make them tune back in to where you are and what you want. (Don’t do this with small dogs; it’s too tricky and too easy to hurt them without meaning to.)

We are now working on walking politely in calm situations. Yay! Once you’ve mastered this, we go on to walking politely in ALL situations. Won’t that be fun!

Jenna