Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Loose Leash Walking

Pulling on leash is a very common complaint amongst pet parents.  Yanking, jerking, kicking your dog rarely if ever works and it could hurt your relationship with your best friend.  Please continue reading for some non-aversive, dog friendly ways to stop leash pulling.
Note: La Trenda is an animal lover who presently lives with 4 rescued dogs.  She has attended several training classes and she studies animal behavior.  She spent 8 years working with special needs dogs at animal shelters.  For dogs who might have reactivity issues, aggression issues or a propensity to bite, please consult a paid professinal* 
Loose Leash Walking
 
Author, PhD, and Professional Trainer Patricia McConnell said (paraphrasing): All dogs are different and different training methods work well for some dogs but not others. The only constant is that there is no need for harsh, aversive punishment methods in training - especially by non professionals.
The first section of this article talks about what I do to help my dogs walk loosely on a leash, the next section summarizes some of these things I have read and learned about loose leash walking. The last few sections contain links to references, books, articles, videos

My Personal Experience

All my kids

Before walking any of my children, I make sure they are calm before we leave the house.  If they leave the house in a frenzy, then they are more likely to be too excited to walk nicely.
So I never say "want to go for a walk! want to go for a walk!" like some parents do.  Most of the time I never talk at all.  If I do talk, it's in very quiet, soft tones.  As I'm getting leashes, harnesses, protective equipment, coats, etc.. ready, I move very slowly and fluidly so as not to get the dogs excited. 
They have to sit nicely by the door as I put on their harnesses, collars, leashes etc..  If they don't sit still, then I stand there perfectly still holding the leash, harness, etc.. until they settle down.  If it takes more that a couple of minutes for them to settle down, then I start using doggie calming signals.  I mainly yawn, but I also do slow blinks with soft eyes. I might turn my head to the side.
Because we have been doing this for a while, they know that they have to sit before they go out.  So I usually wait until they sit. But if it takes more than a couple of minutes, then I might use a hand signal (to avoid talking) to signify that I want them to sit. On the rare occasion that they still don't sit, I'll speak the command softly and quietly. If they should choose not to sit, then they just don't go for a walk.
After sitting, getting their harnesses and leashes on, etc.. they must remain calm and still as I open the door. If they try to run out the door, I body block them and remind them to "wait" until I open the door.  I try hard to never ever snatch the leash to get them back inside if they try to bolt out the door. 
Once we are out the door, I use different methods for each dog with an exception for meeting other dogs, other people, other animals etc..
I want my dogs to not get into the habit of feeling any tension on the leash at all. So when we encounter things that might make them pull - dogs, humans, squirrels, etc.. I gently encourage them across the street, off the trails etc.. I put them in a sit and I praise them highly, talking lots of baby talk and shoving treat after treat into their mouth until the exciting thing is gone. I got this idea from a friend who is also mentioned below in the equipment section of this article.  I try my best to see the exciting thing before they see it. If they see the exciting thing before I do, and if they get so riled up that they pay no attention to me, then I just stand very still until they calm down. Once they are calm again, I gently say, "let's go" then we start back walking. I don't yell or jerk the leash.  This is only going to encourage more excitement. Additionally, I try not to drag them away unless there is some type of safety issue.

My Individual Kids

Matt-Matt

is the best at listening to my requests and learning new tricks. I'm usually able to stop Matt from pulling before he starts. I ask him to walk by my side.  If he starts speeding up ahead of me, I use a gentle, high pitched, happy, lilting, sing-song voice and I say "Matt-Matt, you went to fast; try again. As I do that, I give the leash a lot of slack, and as I pivot to the right, I take a half step back with my left foot and I encourage him to pivot with me until we are all the way around and traveling in the same direction again. As he lines up on my left side, I praise him highly and we continue our walk. 
Occasionally when he is walking well, I tell him "Okay! Free!, you may potty" and I encourage him to sniff and potty by a tree, pole or other interesting place. When he is done, I praise him and encourage him to line up by my side again. 
Occasionally, to keep him focused we will stop and do some tricks like sit, sit pretty, lay down just for fun then continue on our walk.

Lupe

refuses to do the "crazy man" or to turn around with me. Of course I could try to force her to turn around with me, but that defeats my goal of never letting my dog feel a tight leash. So when she starts pulling, I stop still like a tree.  There is purpose and action in my stops. Not only do I stand still, I let my eyes go soft and I almost meditate while I'm standing there - trying to send calm signals to Lupe.  As soon as I feel some slack in the leash, then we keep going.
Also, I let Lupe walk at whatever pace she prefers which is normally quite brisk.  I allow her to stop and smell and/or potty whenever she wants - as long as it isn't in someones front yard.

Murphy

came to me walking pretty good on a leash. He has joint issues and since he normally doesn't pull much, I just let him go at what pace works for him, letting him potty and sniff whenever he needs to

Puddin

is my youngest and most head strong dog.  She is easily distracted and I'm still looking for a positive non-aversive method that works best for her.  In the mean time, I take her on very short walks using a combination of stopping and turning around. Lots of praise when she isn't pulling.  I've found when she gets very distracted by a smell or by a bird or something, I can use a deep low voice to get her attention then a baby talk voice to call her over to me for a treat.  I call it the Man/Baby 

My Review of the Literature  (with personal commentary added in - noted in blue)

Why Do Dogs Pull?

1. Because it works.  They pull, they get to go forward.
2. Because it's uncomfortable.  It's a catch 22 because when they pull, they choke themselves. Then they pull harder trying to get away from the choking feeling, pulling harder causing more choking and so on and so forth.
So what are some non-aversive ways to help your dog walk better?
1.  Don't reward a dog for pulling.  Will they pull, turn around or just stop.  Pet parents have to be very consistent with this.  We can't stop or turn some of the time.  If this means spending 2 hours to go one mile, then so be it. I took Puddin to the Riverwalk once. It was so interesting to her that we only went 1/4 mile in 1 hour.  We tried too much, too fast.
2.  Being dragged around by the neck can be uncomfortable.  Turid Rugaas, a renowned animal behaviorist and author says that harnesses are much more comfortable.   Many (if not all trainers) don't believe in ever using a harness for a walk. I have personally walked hundreds of dogs in my life time (shelter volunteer) and I can say from experience that some dogs actually walk better in a harness.  Of course all dogs are different.  I say try a harness. If the dog gets worse then don't continue using it. If the dog is the same or better, then give a harness a chance.

Distractions

Dogs love smelling new things, and walking in a new environment can be very exciting and distracting for them.  Many times they are too excited to pay attention to your requests to walk nicely.  For this reason, you need to teach loose leash walking in the least distracting environment possible. And as they learn how you would like them to walk, you can start slowly increasing distractions.
If there is room in the house, teach them how to walk nicely on leash in the house.  When their loose leash walking or heeling is rock solid in the house, then try the back yard.  When they are good in the back yard, then try the driveway.  When they are walking well in the driveway, then try the sidewalk in front of your house.  If you know your dog is a big puller then taking her/him to a popular walking trail that has dog smells, deer, rabbits, etc.. is setting up your dog for failure.
So what do you do if you have a high energy dog who needs a 5 mile walk?  While the dog is learning to walk, try to make sure she/she gets exercise in other ways.  Fetching in the back yard. Dog park romps if you have a dog park kind of dog. Sometimes mental stimulation can be just as exhausting as physical stimulation.  Teach your dog some new tricks, have your dogs sit still in the drive way and watch the world go by. Give your dog some food puzzles, etc.. An excellent article on mental stimuation: http://kpk9listen.blogspot.com/2010/10/inside-looking-out.html
Since Puddin is still learning how to walk properly, I take her on short leash walks but I take her to training classes for mental stimulation, I play fetch for physical stimulation and I also let her roam around on a 20 foot leash as long as she doesn't pull and she doesn't bother anyone (we usually go out to parks when no one else is around)

Dog Walking Devices

A friend once said to me that the leash and collar/harness etc.. should just be a safety item. He wants his dog to learn to walk beside him without using any type of corrective item.  I completely agree.  But there might be times when some type of contraption might be needed.  For instance, a pet parent who might be petite with a large pulling dog who is so strong that he/she can't be walked at all without some type of contraption.  In that case, some type of contraption might be better than not walking the dog at all.
I feel that whatever type instrument used should work but not cause any pain or harm to your dog. 
For instance, some people might advocate putting  the leash up high behind the ears of a dog.  Many times this will get a dog to comply and this might be a great thing do use in a emergency situation (like if your 80 pound lab is about to pull you into traffic).  But I wouldn't suggest this method all the time. It works because the leash/collar is on the most sensitive part of the neck and it causes pain.
Prong collars and choke chains might work if used properly and used under the guidance of a professional, but if your dog continues to pull in one, then stop using them immediately. They can cause injury if used improperly.
More on dog walking devices here: https://docs.google.com/View?id=ddtbr7bw_567fgmhv2fs.  Once again, the blue parts are my commentary. The rest is information that I got from various literature. This article was written for an animal shelter environment but most of the info can be extrapolated to pet and parent environment.

References, Further Reading, Videos, Links, etc..


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* when picking a trainer or behaviorist, be sure to use one who uses positive, non aversive methods only. If a trainer tells you to yell at your dog, shake our dog, "alpha roll" your dog, poke, push, hit, yank, jerk the leash, etc.. please find another trainer. There are better ways to train, and there are better ways to treat your family member. Training does not mean punishment. Training can be fun for the pet and the parent.

Puddin is available for public appearances. For more info, please see


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