ClickerSolutions Training Articles

An "AHA" Moment in Loose Leash Walking

I've had an epiphany.

I think all the parts of it have been tumbling around in my head for awhile now, but it started coming together last night when I was writing to Wyethia about LLW.

In virtually every other aspect of puppy training, trainers 'in the know' set puppies up to succeed. For potty training we put them on a schedule, we pay attention to how their bodies respond to the schedule, and we get them outside when it's time... we foster the habit of 'going' outside, we make 'outside' the context which becomes the stimulus to do their business. For destructive chewing, poking in trash cans, table/counter surfing, we spend critical formative months watching them like hawks, when we can't watch them we confine them.... we don't set them up to fail, we foster good habits by constantly presenting them with THEIR things to chew. When we're building that recall, we don't call the pup when we have reason to believe the puppy won't come.

And when we're teaching them new behaviors... sit, down, etc... we are careful to teach the behaviors in many controlled environments and then we slowly add ever increasing distractions.

Then we hook a leash to them and trot them out into a world full of exciting sights and sounds and smells and WE start pulling on the leash to keep the dog where we think he should be.

We TEACH them 'tight leash'. Not just by allowing ourselves to be pulled, but by pulling ourselves. Pulling because we have set the puppy up to 'fail'... we've trotted him out into this distracting world on a leash without first teaching the behavior in controlled environments, generalizing it to controlled environments, and then GRADUALLY adding distractions. Noooo, we just take him on out there and struggle our way around the block, play a game of body tug on the way into the vets, engage in a battle of wills at PetSmart and puppy classes and dog events in the name of socializing. All the while, even when we're NOT allowing ourselves to be dragged, we're doing our own good bit of leash tightening. Even when we're 'being a tree' we're building a fluency in tight leash... we're allowing and even enabling the dog to learn 'tight leash' as a part of leash behavior.

My almost nine-year-old girl, Dixie, has never EVER pulled on a leash. She's frankly hardly ever been ON a leash, but when she is she doesn't pull. She came along at a time when I was one of those 'ignorant pet owners' who walked her dogs off leash. (I still do that, by the way). Dixie learned to stay with me when I wanted her to, and take off running when I said she could. I wasn't even consciously 'training' at the time, and it's been too long ago for me to remember how this was accomplished. But when it was necessary to put a leash on Dixie... i.e. to go to the vets... she was already fluent in checking in/staying with me. She learned it OFF leash. She was SET UP to SUCCEED.

I submit that teaching loose leash walking might not be nearly so difficult or nearly so lengthy a process if we approach it the same way we approach teaching other behaviors. Set them up to succeed by making it YOUR 'gravity rule' that the leash doesn't get tight. Set them up to succeed by first training in environments where they CAN succeed, get them fluent there before you even think of adding distractions. Then add distractions gradually, going back to YOUR kindergarten behavior of making it your job to keep the leash loose.

Kim Burrell
copyright 2002 Kim Burrell


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