In our third and final installment of teaching a dog how to walk politely on leash, we are going to discuss working with more distractions. We have gone over the basics in part one with talking about how to begin, and working without distractions in your home, and how to get out the door calmly in part two, but now we’re going to discuss what happens once we get out that door!
The same basics apply outdoors as they do indoors: you will want to click and treat for eye contact, following beside you, taking turns with you, and being in the standard heel position. If your dog is highly distracted, I will spend time just working on eye contact/attention, and interacting with the dog, before I start moving. I use a TON of praise and feedback. I am always talking to the dog as she is following me, telling her how good she is.
Once I feel we do have a connection, I can begin moving. My goal, in the beginning, is not to make it all the way to the park crowded with volleyball players, geese, squirrels, bicyclists, picnic parties and more…that will come in time. At first, I just want to work on my block, or immediate neighborhood. Depending on the dog and how she is feeling and doing that day, I may make it shorter or longer. The key is to know how successful your dog can be, and not push her too far so that you are frustrated or don’t have her attention. It’s better to opt for a five- to ten-minute walk that is training-oriented rather than a 20-minute walk where you have absolutely no connection with your dog!
Walking up and down the block, I can vary my pace and also vary the turns I take, and when I take them. By doing this, I can teach the dog that walking on a loose lead with me is what is expected. Oftentimes I will use higher-quality reinforcement than what I was using inside; real foods can be more potent as well as affordable. Tiny bits of all-natural meats with no additives work very well.
If you have successfully worked on luring techniques with your dog, you can use these as well. Remember, it’s about following your hand, not a treat! If your dog can’t seem to follow your hand, go back to basics by first baiting your hand with a treat, concealing it, and getting your dog’s nose attached to your hand. Move your hand just a few inches to start, keeping your dog’s nose following it, and then click and give the treat. Do this maybe twice more with a baited hand, then do it without a treat baited in your hand. You will want to wean off the food lure as quickly as you can, and reinforce that it is about following your hand, NOT a treat.
Many dogs find other people, dogs, other types of wildlife, cars, bicycles and any other number of real-life things distracting. Some even find them a little frightening. Pay attention to what your dog finds distracting, and why. If your dog is interested or excited about meeting or chasing such things, use that to your advantage. If I know my dog wants to sniff a spot, I will get a behavior I want and then release him to go sniff as his reward. Likewise, he loves to chase squirrels so I have used this as a way to reinforce coming to me, or even just giving me some eye contact first. By pairing what the dog really wants to do with something you want, you are potently reinforcing what you want, and will have success, rather than seeing it as a burdensome distraction.
If your dog is scared of such objects or other animals/people, you can just feed—no clicking required. All we are doing in this case is creating a positive association with what your dog finds scary. When she sees this scary thing, give a high-value treat. Over repetition, she will understand that this object means something good, and her emotions will begin to change from fear to calm, even happiness. Then you can click and treat for actual behaviors you want.
If your dog pulls, stop walking. If you continue walking, your dog will learn that pulling is way to get where she wants. You can stop moving and wait for her to give you slack, or even call her back, and click once you get that slack, and treat once she’s back at your side. You can change directions once you feel that tension is about to happen, and click and treat for the turn. Another option is to pivot away at a 50-degree angle. By doing these and keeping your hand with the leash close to your belly button, you will be able to teach her how to give in to the leash pressure. Remember, you are always clicking for an action—in this case, the slack of the leash, but the reinforcement (treat) is ALWAYS coming from your heel position (on your left, or right if you prefer, side).
If at any point your dog simply cannot walk politely with you, then you have gone too far and/or long with your training. I see leash walking as a gradual expand of territory; I may walk a dog for the first day or two in the house and their yard without distraction to make it very strong before I even try to go out the door, and after I’ve taught her impulse control at the door. Keeping a high rate of reinforcement each time you get farther is important, as well as not grouping too much criteria together. If your dog is new and you take her to a popular park or hiking trail right away, it can be a setup for failure rather than success. Take the time and build your dog’s ability gradually. Above all, be patient and connected with your dog.
We love teaching leash skills and addressing problems like leash reactivity and over-excitement on leash, so contact us for more help!
Thank you and happy training,
Owner, Delightful Doggies