Dear Inquisitive Canine:
With patience on my part and a lot of practice, my dogs, Ady and Ashley, are coming along OK. One area we need help with, though, is loose-leash walking. They are pretty good, but only about 75 percent of the time.
If they see a pigeon, cat or dog, it’s all over. I’m no longer the center of the universe but some chump they’re dragging along for the ride. I’m sure there is something that I should be doing differently, but what is it? Can you give us some advice?
Allow me to commend you on having patience and practicing with your dogs. Any amount of training is a good amount. Little by little you will indeed get to your goal. Let’s see if we can help you get to the upper 90th percentile, shall we?
First, I’ll go over my general training plan for teaching a dog to walk on leash, then I’ll address your issue specifically.
When it comes to teaching dogs to walk on leash, I like to break training up into three segments. That’s how I teach this exercise in my dog-training classes and workshops and with my private dog-training clients.
» Level I: Reward what you want, and reward your dogs enough to keep you at the center of their universe. You have to feed them anyway, so just take their meals with you on the road.
» Level II: Play red light, green light. Leash tight equals red light, leash loose equals green light. If your dog pulls and the leash tightens, you stop. When there is slack in the leash, you go.
» Level III: Introduce “real-life” rewards. Ask for a “watch me” or a “sit” before allowing your dogs to sniff a tree, greet another person or play with another dog.
When practicing walking nicely on leash with Ady and Ashely, here are specific dog-training techniques you’ll want to consider:
» Provide higher-value items (such as steak vs. a doggie biscuit) to motivate your dog in challenging situations (such as that 25 percent of the time when they aren’t demonstrating their loose-leash walking skills). If giving them a better motivator isn’t working and they don’t want to play by the rules, then take them home. Short timeouts can be effective if done immediately.
» Use high-value treats such as pieces of steak or chicken, but only in highly distracting situations, such as when other dogs, kitties or pigeons enter the picture. Ask for a behavior such as “watch me,” and reward with “good girls!” and treats. That way they get the yummies only while distractions are around, and you’re giving them something to do instead of the behavior you don’t want.
» Think 3-D training: distance, duration and distractions. Each parameter will make a behavior easier or more difficult for your dogs to learn. Increase only one D at a time, and possibly lower the other two to make it even easier. Humans tend to be a little pushy at times and want to increase all three Ds at once.
» Finally, you might want to consider training one dog at a time and then take them for walks together. It might be more of an inconvenience initially, but think of the great payoff.
Following these simple guidelines will help set you and your dogs up for success while also keeping you the center of their universe and not some chump at the end of the leash.
— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified pet dog trainer and dog behavior counselor. Her column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail email@example.com.