Anyone Can Train Their Dog
By Art Hess
Last time we discussed people inadvertently teaching their dogs to pull on the leash and reinforcing the action every time they allowed the dog to continue the action. People also do this with many other unwanted actions but that’s a subject for another day. There is a variety of methods that are used to teach proper leash work but they all have common factors.
First. Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash and taking the dog for a walk are completely different. The dog must be taught to walk on a loose leash before he is taken for a walk. Second. If your dog won’t sit beside you on a loose leash it is highly unlikely he will walk beside you on a loose leash.
Probably the most common method used to teach loose leash work is to change direction every time the dog forges. There are two critical additions that most trainers miss when using this system. When they change direction they drag the dog about and keep on walking. In my opinion this is negative motivation not positive. This is working on what you DON’T want the dog to do as opposed to teaching him what you WANT him to do.
Here’s the proper way. When the dog forges you give a sharp “pop” correction and change direction and immediately give a completely slack leash. His reward is to always have a loose leash. When the dog is beside you in the desired position you give verbal praise (as in “marker” training) or if you are using a clicker you click and treat. This way the dog is told he has assumed the proper position and he is recognized and rewarded for his action. Small addition, a world of difference.
This next system is taught by Dr. Dunbar in his sessions. Sometimes your dog–especially if he’s a young or adolescent dog–will still insist on walking slightly in front of you. He’s not pulling on the leash… he’s just not walking along side you, in the heel position. (The heel position means that his right leg is aligned with your left leg, and his toes and your toes line up, when you stop).
Many young dogs, especially, don’t initially understand the concept of staying parallel to you. Here’s how to fix it: Take a baby step forward. Only one. If he takes more than one baby step forward, tug backward with the leash, until he takes a step backward and is parallel to you. Now take one more baby step forward. Do the same thing. Continue this for about 50 steps, and you’ll see your dog begin to make eye contact and only take one step forward.
Now take two baby steps forward, and stop. Repeat, praise, and reward. Then three steps. And back to one step. Next five steps, ten steps, and so on. Soon he will be focusing on you to determine where he’s supposed to be.
I love this next method especially when working with puppies. Find an enclosed space completely free of distractions, about the size of a double length carport. Get your handful of tasty treats which will be used first as lures and as rewards for assuming a position or performing an action. Simply move the lure around near the dog’s nose and say “let’s go.”
As he lunges toward the lure you move slowly ahead keeping his nose near your left thigh. (This is the desired location for the future.) Walk several steps and then stop and move the dog’s nose up and back and he will sit. Mark and reward or click. You now have taught him to walk beside you and to sit when you stop. Do this often and in little sessions and you will soon have the dog walking beside you off leash. When you move to different environments you may have to drop a loose leash on him and let him drag it for awhile.
By the time you are prepared to venture out into the real world he will be going along beside you on a loose leash and not be pulling because he never learned to forge.