ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Loose Leash Walking

I think there is a lot of attention given to techniques like 'be a tree' and '"penalty yards" (TM pending, Lana Horton)', but sometimes the most important part of these techniques isn't emphasized, which is the reinforcement for being GOOD! I think a lot of times it's portrayed that teaching a dog to walk nicely on leash is very difficult and time consuming using positive reinforcement as opposed to using aversives - and this just isn't true in my experience!

I have had a tremendous amount of success teaching LLW with just a clicker, a leash, and bag of tasty treats. I've had very limited success using things such as choke chains (which I'll admit I started out with) and halties or gentle leaders.

Teaching this behavior is no different than any other. Start SMALL, don't lump, and work up in distraction. It's not a magical formula! Here's the basic, baby steps formula we used for training our cross over dogs and for training our new puppy:

  1. In your living room start by 'warming up' the dog with the clicker with a few basic tricks (sit, down, etc.) so the dog knows that there are treats to be earned for the savvy pup!
  2. Walk away from your dog, he will most likely follow! Click and treat! Don't worry about where the dog is, just that he's following and in your basic vicinity.
  3. Turn around and go the other way - the dog will most likely follow! C/T! Most dogs LIKE to follow us around, especially when they know we've got treats to be earned!
  4. Repeat! You soon have a dog that understands, "Following that person around gets me treats - how easy!"
  5. Start SLOWLY raising your criteria. Click when he's closer to you, or maybe if he's near the side that you eventually want him to heel on. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
  6. Keep raising that criteria. Go faster, go slower - where's the dog? Right with you? Good! C/T! Is the dog wandering off somewhere? Ask yourself, am I acting like this is a GAME or a CHORE? What level or reinforcement are you giving? If the dog is not having fun, you're not doing it right! Also, make sure you keep the sessions SHORT, don't bore the dog to death!
  7. Once the dog is onto the game of Following Mum (or Dad, as the case may be) Around, break out the leash! Now you've got a new job, your job is to make sure the leash is never taut. This is not the dog's job yet, it's yours. Start with baby steps of Follow Mum again, as this will be a whole different game for the dog. You may have to just drop the leash and let it drag while he relearns the Follow Mum game.
  8. Play the same game, only with a leash, where your job is to not only c/t when the dog is in position, but also to make sure that dog NEVER has an opportunity to pull! Luckily, since dogs are so super smart, and they like playing games, it won't take long before they start ignoring the leash and just following you around the living room.
  9. With a little practice, your dog will soon be following you with his leash on around the living room! He wont' be pulling because he's following you around! Success! Not very useful, you say? Not true! Baby steps let you move FASTER than attempting to start training the dog outside with all sorts of distraction.
  10. Go into your backyard with your dog, your clicker, and a bag of treats. Do a few 'warm up' exercises so your dog knows that treats can be had for the smart puppy. Turn around and walk away from your dog - does he follow? Well c/t that dog! Does this sound familiar?
  11. Repeat, repeat, repeat steps 1 through 9 in the relative safety of your backyard. Pup should be onto this game, so maybe it won't take as long to get him to understand the rules of the game! Or maybe it will, after all, outside is mighty distracting! Once your dog can successfully LLW in your backyard, it's time for the front yard!
  12. Okay, this is a little different, in that your dog should be on leash from the start. And someone had the excellent suggestion of a flexi-lead, or just use a long line to start with. Then, guess what, repeat steps 1-9 in your front yard!
  13. Adding distractions. I think the problem most people have with LLW and his method is that they add WAY too much too fast. An actual walk is so full of distraction and environmental reinforcement for not listening to you that it's hard to expect a dog to listen to you at all, much less learn about something as ambiguous as LLW.

    So, start SMALL. Have a friend/spouse/child distract the dog while you're practicing IN YOUR LIVING ROOM with the dog offleash (right back at step one!) Turn and RUN away from your dog, does he follow? C/t! Repeat, repeat, repeat until pup is onto this game and you can't pry him off you with a stick. Try throwing balls, squeaky toys, bowls of food just out of leash range, etc. Proceed to the back yard, once again starting offleash at step one!

    This sounds incredibly time consuming, but it isn't. A couple 3-5 minute sessions a day and you're done. This should be a GAME, it should be fun and you should set your dog up to win. It's important to realize that with each new distraction you add you must set your expectations for success back at 0. If he breaks, laugh it off, set him up for success next time! Dogs like games, dogs that are having fun with you aren't as likely to look to the environment for reinforcement.

  14. So you think you're ready for a walk down the street, do you? Your dog so loves playing the Follow Mum game that even a small child eating ice cream two feet away can't distract him from moving from the 'zone'?
  15. Grab your dog, a bag of treats, your clicker and a long line. Warm your dog up LLW in the front yard, get him into the game. If you live on a road that is not very busy, start walking down the MIDDLE of the road (otherwise just use the sidewalk). Keep your reinforcement VERY high, keep him interested in you! If he wanders off out of the 'zone' that you want him to stay in, turn around and walk the other way. If you have a particularly hard headed dog, RUN the other way! Does he follow? C/T! Then start again, with an even HIGHER rate of reinforcement. (By the way, it's not necessary at this stage, in my opinion, to use the clicker all the time, feel free to shovel food.) Don't go far! End on a high note, and reward that dog all the way home.
  16. Repeat until you have a dog that can reliably walk up and down the road in the correct 'zone'!
  17. Putting the leash on for walks. If you feel you and your dog are ready for the big test, put on pup's normal leash, grab your treats, your clicker and head out down the street. Does your dog have a very good idea of what behavior you want while he's on leash (aka following you around?)? Does your dog associate being on leash with getting a tremendous amount of reinforcement for staying close to mum? Well then, you shouldn't have much trouble.

    Now, here's where I think Be A Tree and "penalty yards" (TM pending, Lana Horton) should come in. At the end. The dog knows the game, he knows the rules, but what if pup should choose not to play your game anymore? What if he starts to pull on leash? This is where it's SO IMPORTANT that you ALWAYS freeze and BE A TREE. Cause and effect are very obvious to dogs: I Pull, Therefore I Move. If he's erratically rewarded for pulling, he will continue to pull, and will continue to ignore you! After all, what does he need you for?

    First of all, pulling is an indication that either a) you have not trained under enough distraction, b) your rate of reinforcement was too low, or c) the dog does not understand the 'game'. Either way, you must go back to the basics!

    In the meantime, I use first Be A Tree, in which case I often get a dog that jumps backward back into the 'zone' with a 'whoops!' look about him, ready to try again. If I have a dog that ignores my stopping and tries to forge ahead I slowly start walking backwards, and continue walking backwards until the dog has come all the way back into the 'zone'. This does not mean I stop walking backwards when the leash is just no longer taut. The Game Rules state: only dogs in the 'zone' will have forward movement! Once I start moving forward again with my dog in my zone, I make sure I get a couple of paces of good 'zone' work, and reward that lovely response!

Wow, that took forever and a day to write up! Really, it's a very easy, fun, staightforward process where I had all my dogs heeling nicely within two weeks of starting the Game.

One last thing: Stopping on walks - not allowed! I often walk all three dogs at once. The Rules State: All dogs on walks must be in heel position at all times, and while sniffing is allowed, no one gets to stop the parade! I have a No Elimination on walks rule as well. These are simple rules to enforce, as these are not part of the game! If you're not moving with me, you're not in the 'zone', and you're not playing the game! If you're taking a leak on a tree, you're not with me, and you're not playing the game! This sounds harsh, but my dogs love going for walks! But it would impossible to walk three dogs with them randomly pulling, peeing, and stopping all over the place. Now we all get to have a wonderful time together without stress!

Good luck with the loose leash walking!

Lindsay Newman
copyright 2002 Lindsay Newman


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