In my first installment on leash manners, I discussed the very basics of how to teach loose leash walking, and practicing this within your home before trying outdoors, where many types of distractions await. Far too often, people expect a great deal from their dogs but get frustrated easily once that long walk to the park with lots of joggers, picnicking parties, other dogs, squirrels, goose poop and more await. By practicing indoors first, you are going to have an easier time instilling the habits you want: proper heel position, eye contact, being able to follow you and take turns, and have slack on the leash.
Once you do have more practice, you will want to eventually get outside to practice, but before even crossing that doorway out, many people who have very distracted or excited dogs will be frustrated immediately because of their dog’s tendency to just bolt out the front door. This has to be addressed, because if your dog is to excited and not paying attention to you from this point, it’s even more difficult to have the attention you want and no pulling on walks as you get out the door with him!
Practicing waiting at the door is super-important. It’s not about “I’m alpha and have to go out the door before you!” It’s really about getting that connection with your dog and having attention, as well as a safe experience. Dogs who bolt out of doors may be able to snap their leash, or may jerky you so that you drop the leash, and then they risk running across the street where they can be hit by a car, or end up lost as they run away. It’s about impulse control and safety, not about dominance!
As with teaching any other cue to your dog, you will want to start this one at an easier level. Starting with the front door, or the door that leads to the backyard or the garage or anywhere else that can signal a fun outing will be far more challenging than practicing at the bathroom, bedroom or other doors inside your home. Using one of these “unexciting” doors, place your dog while on leash in a sit and say, “wait.” Count to five seconds, then click and treat. Repeat this one more time and then start moving your hand toward the door. Click and treat for the wait.
Remember to add a release cue from the sit if you want to take a break at any time during this process, or if your dog seems like he will want to break the sit. You can praise him after you release him so he understands the release cue is his signal for breaking the sit and/or taking a break. A sit, regardless of adding a cue like wait or stay, is important to maintain until you release the dog!
Eventually in the process you will touch the doorknob, turn it, open the door slightly, and gradually get it all the way open, and even taking a step through it, before releasing your dog to join you. You can vary the difficulty level so it’s just not always getting harder and harder, which will make it less stressful for the dog. Take breaks as you need and make your progress match what your dog is capable of doing.
The entire process is shaping the eventual end behavior: a wait at a door, regardless of it being open or closed, and whether or not you are with your dog or already on the other side, to get a release cue from you to join you. I use “wait” in this scenario instead of a “stay” because a stay means you need to come back to the dog and release him. In this scenario, I am releasing the dog to come join me, or I could even use a loose leash walking cue like “let’s go” if I prefer. A stay should always mean I come back to release you; a wait is more like, pause here a moment and then I’ll either release you or give you another cue.
Once you have practiced at less exciting doors, you can move to the exciting ones. Remember to break it down and reinforce the “wait” at all stages: no advancement to the door, a hand advancing to the doorknob, touching the doorknob, turning the doorknob, gradually opening the door little bits at a time, and then you crossing through the door gradually before releasing. If at any point your dog cannot maintain the stay, try an easier step and build from there, or do an easier step and take a break. You should always end training when the dog is doing well, and shorter sessions are usually better. Don’t be greedy! You don’t want to get frustrated, and you want training to be fun for both of you.
In my next installment, we’ll discuss how to work with walking outdoors and adding more distractions. :)
Thank you for reading and happy training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies