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Loose Lead Walking

Loose Lead walking revisited, again, and again, and again…

I have a variety of posts about walking with the untamed beast who shares your home, as this is a subject that comes up frequently. Rare is the dog who, when you snap on the leash, says, “Cool! I’m tethered to my person so let’s stroll uptown for a brisk constitutional! I think that I will stick close to his side, walk in a straight line, and not bother to check the pee-mail from my buddies, notice the pesky squirrel next door, or the Golden Retriever two streets over, because we are out for exercise not socializing!”

Dogs’ amazing sense of smell makes it very hard to ignore the flood of information wafting up from trees, grass, fire hydrants, sidewalks, breezes, tires, cracks in the sidewalk, benches, sticks, rocks, fences, McDonald’s wrappers, mailboxes, and turtles to name a few. Asking your dog to ignore the literal essence of his being is like asking your bacon loving Cousin Joey to have one piece of dry white toast at the all-you-can-eat Golden Corral Breakfast buffet. It can be done, but at what price?

51_dog_lawyer and dog_colorHaving a successful outing where both parties are satisfied does not require that you enter into formal mediation:
Lawyer: “Mr. Jones, you agree to allow Sparky to sniff seven objects in one block segments for 10 blocks before asking for a sniff free zone, correct?”
Mr. Jones: “I do.”
Lawyer: “Sparky, you agree to not dart randomly back in forth in front of Mr. Jones, and that you will not pull him willy-nilly towards ‘imaginary’ squirrels, correct?”
Sparky: “Arf.”

It does, however, have to provide for the needs of both parties and you can set yourself up for greater success if you keep some important points in mind:

1) Read Stop, Look, and Listen!  again for start up tips such as: exercise your dog before walking, keep your walks short, and don’t dawdle.

Walk this way...

Walk this way…

2) Your dog is not a robot and will have good, bad, and better days at this. Do your best, end on a positive note, and try again another day.

3) Have a clear idea of what you want from your dog and what it looks like when your dog is loose lead walking. Then and only then you will be prepared to strategically reinforce that particular behavior (ie: only reinforce/reward when Sparky gives you the desired behavior).

A jackpot can be anything your dog loves, as long as it is wonderful and plentiful!

A jackpot can be anything your dog loves, as long as it is wonderful and plentiful!

4) Reward sustained loose lead walking, not when he first re-engages. That is, if Sparky veers off to sniff a tulip and you call him back to you, walk a few steps with him at your side before you give him a treat. We want to reward Sparky for staying with you, not just for quickly re-engaging with you.

5) Use Jackpots very deliberately to reinforce a particularly good session. For instance, imagine you are walking along a busy street and three noisy dogs come by. Sparky, instead of rushing over to join the fun, looks at you and continues walking. When you are a reasonable distance from the fray (i.e.: Sparky is far enough so that the canine distraction is not tempting), stop and reward him with a jackpot for a job well done, or a diversion well avoided. Jackpots can come in a couple of different forms. One is a fistful of treats given all at once from your hands or dropped in a heap between his front paws. Or, if you want to extend the experience, try giving him the fistful of treats rapid fire, one at a time while praising him for being the best dog ever. You can also use other things he loves. For Bingley I will sometimes throw an armful of never-been-dogified tennis balls into the air for him to chase and pounce upon.

Loose lead walking is a challenge for many dog owners, but patience, a sense of humor, and a clear vision of what and how to reward good walking skills will get you where you want to go.

Out and about!



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Loose lead walking tips for an El Nino winter.

Buckley lies down and waits for us to call him for a walk. (See #3)

When clients are beginning loose lead walking (LLW), I have guidelines that help to set them and their dogs up for success.  It occurred to me that winter, especially one with as variable weather as we have had, offers many opportunities to put these guidelines into practice and get ready for long spring walks.

  1. Baby, it’s cold outside! When it’s 14 degrees take short walks. I tell clients who are working on leash manners that it is better, if you can, to take three fifteen minute walks rather than 1 forty-five minute walk each day. That way you have a short time to do a concentrated effort and will be much more likely to avoid burn out (not to mention frostbite) from trying to do something difficult for an extended period of time.
  2. Baby, it’s really cold outside! As the temperature plummets, bundle up and walk fast on your jaunt around the block. It is easier for your dog not to pull if you walk faster! A dog’s natural gate is a trot, equivalent to a fast walk in humans. It is more comfortable for them than walking or running and is easier for them to settle in to. If you speed up, your dog won’t feel the need to surge ahead of you because you’re right there with him.
  3. Baby, it’s sorta cold outside! If the temperature allows for a bit of a longer venture, incorporate other behaviors into your walk. If Fido is surging ahead and you are getting frustrated with his behavior, stop! Re-collect. Breathe. Get situated and ask your dog to do a short series of behaviors, such as sit and stay, or sit-down-sit, or down and stay, so that both of you have a break from the stress and distraction of loose lead walking. Combined with #1, you may not cover a lot of distance physically, but behaviorally you may make a big impact as neither one of you gets overwhelmed by the task at hand.
  4. Baby, it’s almost balmy outside! Be aware of distractions that make it difficult for your dog to concentrate on the task at hand. On warmer winter days when you want to be out for a longer stretch, have a strategy for handling those things that make your dog’s behavior falter. For example, in one of my LLW classes an energetic golden retriever would get excited every time a string of cars went by. The owner, Karen, managed this distraction by having Ginger lie down or sit while a string of cars passed, then getting up and walking while there were no cars. Ginger simply had too much to think about when the cars were passing her. She did a fabulous job, however, when we “took out” the distraction of the cars and let her focus on one thing while LLW.
  5. Bingley loses it in the snow, rolling and rubbing his face in snowy bliss.

    Bingley loses it in the snow, rolling and rubbing his face in snowy bliss.

    Baby, it’s nearly spring outside! Even the most experienced dogs will have moments of lunacy on walks, especially on those lovely days when everyone is out and taking advantage of the El Nino weather. Accept that your dog is not a robot and will have times when it seems as if his brain has fallen out. Take some tasty treats along for those moments when you really need to get him to refocus and pay attention to you and not the cute poodle at the next tree. If one small bit of liver is not sufficient to turn his attention back to you, try a fistful! Show him what you have and lead him away from temptation (keep your hand with the treats right at his nose), giving him a piece or two when you get  sufficient distance from the object of his desire. Then, do a couple of sits, downs, stays, and move along, enjoying the reprieve from arctic blasts. If treats are not in your vocabulary, consider bringing a toy along that grabs your dog’s attention and that he likes to hold. This can be very Zen for some dogs and helps them to relax into walking nicely by your side.

    If you forget a toy, a stick may serve the same Zen purpose.

    If you forget a toy, a stick may serve the same Zen purpose.


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Walk your way to inner bliss…..


IMG_0912Teaching your pup to walk civilly on lead is not easy. At least it isn’t easy for most people, hence the plethora of training aides such as head halters and no pull harnesses, not to mention the inquisition inspired choke chains, prong collars and shock collars. If it were easy, all dogs would be prancing alongside their owners without a care in the world. In fact, this is why I offer a 6 week specialty class devoted solely to loose lead walking.

I have published other blogs on the subject (Set you and your dog up for a successful outing!, Stop, Look, and Listen!) which give suggestions on how to get your dog to focus on you and the task at hand. One thing I recommend is:

Keep your walks short.
Begin with 15 minutes or less. I would much rather have you take three 15 minute walks rather than one 45 minute walk as this gives you good practice at being on lead, but is short enough to be fun and successful for both of you.
When taking a short walk in Granville, think about taking your dog to the Labyrinth at Denison University. I love walking it with Bingley as it sharpens his focus on me as we navigate the arching sections and turns  of the labyrinth “patterned after an 11-Circuit Medieval labyrinth found in the stone floor of Chartres Cathedral in France, circa 1201 A.D.” ( As one friend put it, “it’s a long walk on a short path.”  I have walked the labyrinths at Chartres and at Amiens, and the Denison labyrinth evokes a similar tranquil feeling, though in a natural IMG_0913rather than a liturgical setting.
     Start at the mouth of the labyrinth and wind your way to the center (and then back out again) using treats, if needed, to keep your maze buddy at your side as you turn into and away from him.  One of the nice things about the labyrinth is the varying lengths of the sections. At times you are turning every few steps, at other times you arc nearly half way around the circle. This variability helps to keep it interesting for your dog as your movements are unpredictable. I found that I could quickly drop Bingley’s leash and he stayed right with me. Recently, I walked it with both Bingley and Buckley and was able to drop both leashes about a quarter of the way through the labyrinth. Strategic use of tasty morsels, varying my speed, and of course the IMG_0920“random” turns kept them focused and moving right with me.
     The labyrinth is located on College street behind the buildings on the right (east) side of the Mulberry street circle. It is on the north side of the street on a small rise (you can see it from the walkway up the main entrance to Denison) about half way between Mulberry and Main St. It can take as little as 10-15 minutes to walk to the center and back and there is a bench in the shade where you and your meditative canine can take a break and reflect on the joys of moving together in harmony.
Of course, if you can't get to the labyrinth, you can always let your dog create his own!

Of course, if you can’t get to the labyrinth, you can always let your dog create his own!


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Keep Calm and Train On!

_DSC0006-2Effie was a high energy, easily distracted golden retriever puppy, and her owner, Karla, faced many challenges to her patience. Effie learned to contain her exuberant outpourings because Karla was willing to employ a controlled frenzy of activity, an Easy Walk Harness, and great rewards to keep Effie on point.
          Fritz was a high energy, easily distracted poodle mix puppy and his owner, Lana also faced many challenges to her patience.  With the aid of a Gentle leader, a waist leash, a semi trailer of treats, a plethora of classes, and many sacrifices to the gods of loose lead walking, she has trained Fritz to be a focused dog. Lana is a quiet person and a testament to the virtue of working diligently within her comfort zone to achieve her goals.

          While I have a specific philosophy of training that guides what I do, over the years I have found that I need to pay attention as to how to apply these principles. Each owner must work not only within the framework of who her dog is, but who she is as well.  For example, when a dog is young and more easily distracted, I have found that being animated is helpful in keeping the dog’s attention. Some owners are very comfortable using a silly voice, shuffling their feet, whistling, etc. But, for shy individuals, this can be just as big a challenge as actually training the dog. The advice a horse trainer once gave me: Quiet hands, Busy feet, helps me guide owners to their animation comfort zone. The key is being precise in your movements, so you clearly communicate to your dog what you want him to do. If your hands are steady and move only when needed to cue your dog, or deliver a treat, then your voice and pace can be used to keep him engaged in the training, making it possible to be both animated and quiet.

_CSG5491           For example, a few weeks ago, I demonstrated loose lead walking with a young lab. First, I had him sit at my side and hold that position for a few seconds. Then, I checked to be sure he was looking at me, said “Let’s go,” and stepped out with the foot next to him. We walked a few steps, I talked to him, he looked up.  I said, “Yes!” and gave a treat, quickly and precisely. This type of focused animation (happy voice with clear and precise movements) allows shy people to comfortably and effectively connect with their goofy dogs.
          I also encourage my owners to think carefully about what their dogs love. What does Fido like to do? What is his favorite toy or treat? Your dog has his own unique set of likes and dislikes. Understanding what motivates Fido will help you keep his rapt attention in the face of temptation, and reward his good decisions. My Bingley lives for balls, so I try to use them as rewards whenever I can. On occasion I will gather up several tennis balls and after we have trained, I will toss them all in the air for him. Or, if we are going somewhere that I know is hard for him, a new Cuz will magically appear out of my bait bag at a strategic moment.
          Another thing I try to encourage in owners: Look to calm yourself internally and it will reflect in your body language and your interactions with your dog. Trusting that all will be well even if things don’t go perfectly (including those moments when chaos reigns and your dog becomes a jumping/running maniac) will help you to maintain an inner calm that is reflected back to your dog. I remember when I was in college and I was incredibly nervous about an upcoming exam. My boyfriend (now my husband) told me, “Look, it just doesn’t matter. No one is going to take you out back and shoot you if you fail.” That helped to put things into perspective, and over the years I have also come to see that in the vast majority of cases, if things don’t go well, I will get a second chance to get it right. Since I have no intention of outfitting any owner with a cone of shame because his dog surged ahead while loose lead walking, or darted off to give another dog a kiss, hopefully, he can relax and have fun with what we do. Trust too, that your dog loves you, looks to you for guidance, and won’t care if you make a mistake.
02_dog_will be cute

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Set you and your dog up for a successful outing!

I was trolling through some old emails when I came upon one for my intermediate class that contained suggestions on how to get your dog engaged and ready to work, walk, or play. 
1) Remember that the most distracting moments are the first ones, so be prepared to earn and keep your dog’s focus by:
a) Use reinforcers (rewards) that really mean something to your dog. (See NILIF for an explanation of the value of rewards.)
b) Do some exercises that your dog can have fun with.  For example, a warm up I do is:
(1) Quickly back up 4 steps and have your dog sit. Repeat 3 times, then give a tasty treat. (ie: 3 back ups with sit = 1 rep)
(2) Quickly back up 4 steps and have your dog sit and down. Repeat 3 times, then give a tasty treat.
(3) Quickly back up 4 steps with sit, down, sit. Repeat 3 times and reward.
The previous three exercises should take no more than 5 minutes. Do them quickly and with animation and your dog will be engaged with you and eager to see what is coming next.
2) Once your dog has the easy stuff down, then challenge him a bit by:_CSG5629
a) Moving to a more distracting environment and repeating the above three exercises, and/or
b) Put your dog into a sit (or down) and ask him to stay. Walk to the end of the leash, come right back and give him a treat. Repeat 3 times, rewarding after each stay.
c) Depending on how well he stayed in b, try putting him in a sit or down, go to the end of the leash and now stay there for a count of 3-5. Go back to him and give him a treat. Repeat 3 times.
d) Next, put him in a sit or down, ask him to stay. Go to the end of the leash, call him to you, and have him sit. Reward. Repeat 3-4 times. On the last repetition, do not stop and have him sit. Instead keep walking and give him a reward after you have walked 5 steps with him at your side.
3) The key thing to remember is that as the distractions increase, your dog’s ability to respond will decrease. 
Set him up for success by:
a) Remembering to use extra treats, praise, and petting to reward him when he makes the right decision in a difficult situation.
b) If you let him wander a bit from you (perhaps putting him on a long line) and you say his name, but he does not look at your or otherwise respond to you, do not say his name again or call him to you! Instead, go over to him, get his attention, move a few feet from him, and try again. Be close enough this time that he is sure to succeed in looking at you and then coming to you when you ask.  Repeat this exercise, increasing the distance between you each time.
c) If he doesn’t seem to be able to do anything, go back to 1b, and do what he can do. It should not take more than a few reps to get him to re-engage and then you can try a few sits, downs, spins, recalls, recitations of poetry, etc. again.
4) Repeat any and all of these steps as needed to keep your pooch connected and responsive to you throughout your walk.  
If , during the course of your outing, your pup’s brain falls out of his head, there is no shame in taking a couple of minutes to get his mind re-engaged and his focus back on you:
1) Stop moving and have him sit.
2) Take a deep breath, and ask him do a few of his best maneuvers (sit, down, spin, shake, etc).
3) Then, have him sit by your side for the count of 5-10 and start walking again.
Periodically resetting will do much to keep you on task and to set you both up for happiness and success on your outing.


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Stop, Look, and Listen!

If I were to do a survey of the most common canine issues, one of the top five* would be “I want my dog to stop pulling on walks.” Here are some suggestions that we have used in class that can help you to be more successful walking your dog on lead.

Exercising before a walk helps to keep your dog calm on lead.

Exercising before a walk helps to keep your dog calm on lead.

1) Exercise your dog first.
Take Pumbles out in the yard and play chase, or fetch or some other aerobic activity for 15 minutes before you put her leash on. If she is a bit tired or has gotten the willies out first, then she will be more likely to settle into walking nicely on lead.
2) Keep your walks short.
Begin with 15 minutes or less. I would much rather have you take three 15 minute walks rather than one 45 minute walk as this gives you good practice at being on lead, but is short enough to be fun and successful for both of you.
3) Start by walking short distances.
Walk (15-20 feet) then stop, have her sit at side, give her a treat, and then say “Let’s go” and move another 15-20 feet, stop sit, repeat. By having you stop and sit frequently to start, your dog is set up to be successful because you are only going a short distance before you reset. Then, as Pumbles begins to check in more, pay more attention to you, etc, you can begin to increase the distance between sits, until you are hardly stopping at all!
4) Speed. 
It is easier for your dog not to pull if you walk faster! A dog’s natural gate is a trot, equivalent to a fast walk in humans. It is more comfortable for her than walking or running and is easier for her to settle in to. If you speed up, your dog won’t feel the need to surge ahead of you because you’re right there with her. You can also use speed as a reward or as a tool to get out of sticky situations. For example, the use of speed as a reward may look something like this:
  1. Pumbles gets distracted.
  2. I call Pumble’s name and back up a few steps to encourage Pumbles to move towards me.
  3. Pumbles comes towards me.
  4. I turn so that we face the same way and I speed up for a few steps to make it rewarding and fun for her to walk with me.
  5. 6-7 steps later, Pumbles gets a treat.
Voila! I have rewarded and engaged Pumbles with the use of speed and I have rewarded her staying with me with a well timed food treat.
Stop and have your dog check in with you.

Stop and have your dog check in with you.

5) Stop.
If you feel as though you or your dog are about to lose it stop. Collect yourself. Get situated. Do a sit, a down, whatever you can think of to get your dog refocused before you continue. I would rather you stop and collect and settle yourself than continue walking and allow all heck to break loose as the 2 of you become more and more frustrated and discouraged!
6) Use a lure.
If you really need to get somewhere but loose lead walking is not in the picture, get a fistful of treats, put  it right at your dog’s nose, and lead her where you need to go. It’s better that you lure her somewhere and avoid practicing bad behavior than to give up and let her pull or allow yourself to become frustrated!
7) Above all: No violence on the leash. Ever.
If you use jerking, pulling, or tension, to get what you want, then your dog will also use jerking, pulling, and tension to get what she wants. Set the standard and be the example to your dog of how to behave on the leash and what is expected. The calmer you are on the leash, the less stress you are sending down the leash for Pumbles to pick up on and respond to.  The more stressed you are, the more stressed she will get. It’s like static on a telephone line: You can’t hear anything, and you can’t send a clear message. So keep it static free and only send the communication you want your dog to have, namely, calmness, peace, rationality, and good decision making.

* The other four would probably be jumps on people, won’t come when called (or won’t listen in general), barks too much, and is too mouthy.

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My bad is your good!

Walk this way…

Claire got her lab puppy because she wanted a happy dog who could be her steady companion on the long walks she loved to take. She envisioned strolling through the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, greeting friends, buying fresh bread, stopping for coffee on the way home, all the while, her steady Eddie at her side. What she never dreamed of was a dog-reactive maniac lunging at other canines as she desperately tried to restrain him.

Claire sought out a positive reinforcement trainer and learned how to help Eddie with his “issues” by using desensitization and counter-conditioning to the stimuli of another dog. Eddie improved, a lot, and they were able to go on walks again, but Claire remained very careful of the distance she allowed between Eddie and another dog. She noticed that the trainer was able to get Eddie closer to other dogs than she was and chalked it up to experience. She hoped she would get there someday. What she didn’t notice was how the trainer’s reaction to an approaching dog differed from her own. Claire’s reaction to the sight of another dog was to suck in her breath, tense up, and tighten her hold on the leash. It was not a reaction she consciously thought to do, it was simply her response to stress, just as Eddie had his response to stress. The problem was, her response triggered or exacerbated Eddie’s reaction to the presence of another dog.

So what’s an owner to do when his or her unconscious reaction causes the dog to over-react to something? First, be aware of your reaction to an approaching dog. If you tense up on the leash or suck in your breath quickly, then consciously put slack back into the lead, and take a breath. Now, say your dog’s name in a happy voice (smile when you say it, it will help you to sound happy and be more relaxed). When he looks at you, give him a treat. Repeat as needed to keep you both calm.  By teaching the dog that tensing up on the leash, a quick sucking in of air, or your general stiffening are actually signals for him to cue into you and relax, you will be able to have more successful close encounters!

One last note, if the idea of even trying this makes you terribly uncomfortable, then get a professional positive reinforcement trainer to help you through the process of desensitizing your dog to your reactions. A great place to look for a trainer in your area is the Trainer Search page on the Association of Professional Dog Trainers website. You can search by zip code and distance.



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What’s more exciting than pee on a pole?


I get a lot of questions from friends and clients and here is one that I got recently regarding something that I said about needing to be more interesting than the distractions your dog encounters:

Q: You said we’re supposed to be more interesting than a semi using jake brakes, more interesting than another dog or cat, and more interesting than pee on every pole. I was following you right up to the end. Now does this imply that we are NOT supposed to stop and examine pee on every pole? ‘Cause that really sounds like it takes the fun out of a walk (for a dog). We DO clip along sometimes and when necessary, but sometimes we stop and smell everything ….. surely that can’t be bad!!??? Help!

A: Allow me to clarify! What I meant was, IF you need to get your dog to refocus onto you, THEN you must be more exciting than pee on a pole. I let my dogs do all sorts of sniffing, but I get to be the one to control the amount of time we spend on each activity (if said dog is on lead). If said dog is off-lead, I am more flexible about time spent on olfactory activities, but ultimately I am the one who decides how long and where we go. Hence, a reliable recall (or Come!) is important to instill in your dog so that when it is time for the off-lead dog to move along, he does!  

But, moreover, I was thinking about indoor noise control. While it is difficult for the three canines in my life to believe this, I honestly do not need to have EVERY truck, leaf, bird, biker, insect, or cloud announced to me.  Therefore, I need to make checking in with me worth their while. Thus, I want the thought process to go something like this:

DOG:  “Oh, hey!, there is a shadow by the birdbath!!!  WOOF! Maybe Julie should know about this. I should warn her about the shadow. Maybe there will be a reward for warning her!” *trot trot trot, nudge, nudge, nudge* 
JULIE: “Hey booger head, what’s up? do you need something? Have a yummy chummie!”
DOG: “Hey food! *munch, munch, inhale, hack* Why did I come here? Maybe I should stick around…”
JULIE: “Hey good dog, why don’t you lie down here and chew your bone?”
DOG: “Hey, a bone! I should lie down and chew it!” *gnaw gnaw gnaw, snooze*…
Use what he loves to reward the behaviors you want in your dog! By providing our dogs with desirable things (food, treats, toys, play, ear scratches, belly rubs, etc) and making it interesting (and therefore rewarding) to check in with us, we can more easily manage the noisy behaviors that can make owning canines a challenge.


Loose Lead Walking Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"1 comment