Sunday, January 03, 2010

Walking on a Loose Leash Techniques

Posted by Sheila Wagner (Kimi and Rummy's Human)

Dear friends,

A few of you have expressed interest on how I've managed to train Gromit to walk on a loose leash. As a matter of fact, I've had to train Kimi 4 years ago to walk nicely on a loose leash, I've had to train Rummy now as he is growing up and any other dog who comes to stay at our house. I realize it is an ongoing process everyday, even with Kimi who is so proper on the walk.

The training technique I use for loose leash walking is 2 fold.

  1. I use a prong collar which doesn't do anything to the dog when it is on loose leash, but if a dog moves forward or pulls, the pulling action causes the collar to tighten its grip around the neck, like a mother dog's bite on a puppy's neck when being disciplined. The pressure is divided all along the length of the collar instead of pinching in one spot. The moment the dog slacks and moves back, the grip of the collar on the neck loosens correspondingly. I refer to the prong collar as power steering in a dog. It looks medieval, but it serves its function well and is possibly the most humane effective dog walking training tool. It trains the dog to realize that if he walks at my pace, and slackens the leash, he doesn't feel disciplined, but if he pulls harder, the grip gets harder. I use the prong collar only when training to walk nicely. The moment the dog successfully learns to walk consistently on a loose leash, the prong collar can be put aside and the regular flat leather collar can be used. 
  2.  Timing is essential, learning when to correct (make a snap on the leash and collar and release) and when to slacken the leash totally is important. The walk starts inside the house, at the door when the leash is being put on the dog. I do not put on the collars and leash until the dogs are 100% in a calm submissive state, on a "Sit" or a "Down". I make them wait, sometimes 10 secs, sometimes up till a minute or more. They do not step out of the door before the human. And when outside, they tend to jump up jubilantly and happily, and I allow their expression of joy for a few moments, while we walk to the property gate. Same thing at the gate, they do not get to step out until they are 100% calm and good. I begin the walk by giving the command "Walk" in a very clear obvious manner. There will be no doubt  from my serious tone of voice that we are on a structured walk. The dogs get it and then we walk side by side. They are allowed to walk side by side or slightly behind. 
  3. When they start walking ahead (their shoulder going pass my foot), or at a faster pace than I am comfortable, I will repeat the command "Walk" and if they do not slow down, I will correct them before they get a chance to pull tight on the leash and collar. This is to help them understand that to "Walk" is a command and this is a structured exercise, not a free for all. And if they do not respond accordingly, there is a consequence of a correction. After a good correction, I will repeat again "Walk" while they are walking nicely by my side, so they learn to associate, "Walk" means walk by human's side at the human's speed. Normally, I do not give verbal praise when on a walk, because the walk itself is the reward for the dog. To be given the honor of being in my pack, is the reward too. To be in my favor is the dog's reward as well. Giving the dog my quiet approval is good enough. The reason I do not give verbal praise exuberantly is because I do not want to excite the dogs into an excited state of mind, which would trigger pulling, fast motion, or jumping up and down - actions which I am actively trying to discourage while on a structured walk.
  4. Finally, there is a need to allow the dogs to "walk at their leisure". While on a structured walk, they are not allowed to sniff around, pee, or stop for any reason. They have to be on a walk at my pace. They start and stop at my command. When I am satisfied with their walk, occasionally, I will release them from the command while I still hold on to their leashes, I say "Free" and they can walk ahead of me, or to the side or behind, as long as there is no pulling tightly involved. After they are done peeing, pooping, or sniffing, and just walking however they want, I will return them to the structured walk exercise and say "Walk" and the structured walk resumes. 
For the first few times, practicing the structured walk, be prepared to be patient and keep on correcting and slacking your leash when you need to. When the dogs are walking nicely by your side, be very conscious always on how you are touching your leash. If they are walking nicely, loosen your leash up to a foot long or half a metre, so that the neck is close to your hand while it is relaxed. Don't hold on to the leash too tightly while walking. Your energy is transmitted to the leash. Just relax and have the mindset that the whole world belongs to you, the entire road belongs to you, the dogs belong to you, and all is well. The positive calm energy is transmitted to the dogs through the leash, and they in return will relax and walk nicely. 

If they pull so tightly that it is uncomfortable for you to hold the leash, or if it is just impossible to move forward, just stop in that position. Breathe, and correct the dog, while snapping the collar to the left or right side of the dog, not pull the leash backwards. Correcting using the sideways approach puts the dog off balance for that split second and forces the dog to gain equilibrium and thus snaps it out of the bad behavior in that instant, giving you the upper hand to control again. Wait until you've gained 100% calm submissive energy from a dog, before you even move one step from that position. If you move forward while the dog is still acting up, you will have to keep struggling with the pulling. You've got to regain the focus for both you and the dog that the walk is a structured exercise and not a free for all. 

It is possible for me, I am a petite Asian woman, weighing about 55kg, or 120lbs, to walk 3 Airedales. If I can do it, anybody can too. The trick here I think is mind control. I make believe that I own the world, and the road, and therefore I am in control of everything, and the dogs just have to deal with being content, walking with me. They seem very blissful and happy.

My neighbour has an emu in her yard. Yes, a full grown emu. The dogs still act up when we pass her property and the curious emu loves to walk alongside the fence, watching the dogs, and you can imagine how my dogs bark and act up. The momentum of the walk is always broken here, and my current challenge is to make them walk nicely in spite of the curious emu. Stay tuned to see how we're coping. 



At 2:16 PM, Blogger Rachel J. said...

Thanks so much for posting this! Good luck with the emu obstacle. :)


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