As riveting as my last post was, I walked and bathed my dogs, I thought I would post some actual training advise. Shocking I know. Blogs are such odd things, we write things that we find interesting even though sometimes they really aren't that interesting at all to others. This may be why my family makes fun of how often I talk about dogs. Perhaps I need to get out more.
I see so many people at the vets office and sometimes on my walks with dogs that are literally dragging them around. Puppies grow up fast and if you don't work with them on leash from day one they won't learn how not to pull. Even a small dog has a lower center of gravity and is 4 wheel drive and can pull you around pretty hard if they are focused.*
The first thing you need to realize is that pulling can be a self rewarding behavior. If your puppy (or dog) pulls towards something they want to sniff, and you follow them, they learn that pulling works for them. If we are headed to the car with the dog on leash, and they pull but you let them because you want to go to the car too, again they learn that pulling works. This means if they want to go in a specific direction they will pull because, sometimes the pulling works! They do not know we were planning on heading to the car anyhow.*
Reinforcement is important. If you do something correctly with a dog 10 times, but let them do it wrong once, you are undoing about 7 of those 10 correct times. Why? Because what the dog learns from doing it wrong is that sometimes the behavior works for them, so they will keep trying. This is why consistency is your friend. NO PROPERLY LIVING ORGANISM DOES SOMETHING FOR NOTHING. Dogs do behavior that WORKS for them in some way. Letting them do it wrong is reinforcing that they are allowed to do it incorrectly.*
Pulling has NOTHING to do with the dog wanting to be the boss or be dominant over you!!! Repeat after me, dogs do behavior that works for them. Period. And it isn't about your "energy" either, it is about permissiveness. If you let them, they will do it.*
To stop this cycle, the pulling needs to not work for them. So we have a couple of options. One is to stop walking immediately when they pull. Do not start walking again until there is slack in the leash. This can take some dogs a long time to figure out especially if they are overstimulated. This also might not work if the dog is strong enough to win the pulling battle. (more about that later)*
The next option is to turn and walk in the other direction from their pulling. This teaches them that pulling gets them the opposite of what they wanted. This means if you want to go from point A to point B you may need to change directions 4 or 5 times (maybe more) until the dog is walking with a loose leash before you get there. This is about the journey, not the destination. I will use a no-reward mark word like "nope" or "auh auh" when they start to pull and then say "lets go" when I change direction. I do not want to just jerk them in the other direction, I like to communicate clearly to my dog. The goal is to get the dog to walk with you.*
I like to use the cue "Let's go" when doing walking work so I can leave the work "Come" for my recall. "Let's go" means come along with me. "Come" means come and sit in front of me. If I am having an off leash walk " Stay Close" is my cue for the dog to come closer to me while walking. YOUR CUES ARE IMPORTANT!!!! If you are clear and consistent your dog will appreciate it and learn faster.*
When the dog is walking nicely on the leash with NO pulling I will use my reward marker word of "Yes!" and pay them for it. High value treats are the norm but food is only one of the 5 ways we can praise (or pay) our dogs. The others are :
1) verbal praise, Good Dog!
2) Play, toss a ball or have a fetch game
3) Smiling, because dogs communicate with body postures and facial expressions
4) Petting, or physical touch they enjoy.
None of these are mutually exclusive. You can say Yes! Good dog! smile and give a food reward. Or say Yes! smile and pet them. Whatever your dog finds rewarding needs to be used. That's why typically we start training using treats. They are usually the highest reward we have for many dogs. (for some it may be a tennis ball) What is important is to give the dog feedback. We REALLY want to make it clear to them that we like it when they aren't pulling and that it is worth it to them not to pull.*
When on the walk I dictate when and where they are allowed to have free time. To do this I have my dog sit and then give them a release command before they are allowed to sniff. (Mine is "free dog") Then they get the full length of the leash to investigate but I STILL do not allow them to pull me anywhere. The no pulling rule is always in effect.*
If you have a dog that is strong and is already pulling you around you may need to use a Head Halter, a Weiss Walkie or an Easy Walk harness. You can also use a regular harness with the leash clipped to the FRONT of the harness. Regular harnesses normally make it more comfortable for dogs to pull you. Why else would sled dogs wear them? Dogs also have what is called oppositional reflex which means they lean into the leash when we try to pull back on them. Harnesses only increase this reflex due to the comfort level of them. This does not mean you will need to use these tools forever. It will just give you a leverage advantage to better control the dog as they learn. They can still pull wearing them tho it may be decreased. For some dogs there needs to be an adjustment period for the head halter.*
I know not everyone is a fan of the head collar. My defense of them is this, if people can walk their dogs they can bond with them. If they bond with them they are less likely to take them to the shelter because they can't handle them. If they don't end up in the shelter they aren't in danger of being euthanised. Can they be used incorrectly? Yes, all dog training tools can be used wrong. The person on the end of the leash needs to be appropriate. Many of the head collars now thankfully come with a training DVD included.
The other advantage of head collars is you have control over the dogs line of sight. This can be really helpful with reactive dogs until you have done enough behavior modification work to get and keep their focus on you without it. Some dogs may never graduate from them if the owner doesn't get to the point where they feel secure handling their dog. Personally I think that is ok too. Dogs need to be exercised. Doing it safely for everyone is important. And if using one helps an owner relax and enjoy time with their dog I am all for that. (For safety I recommend a back up collar on the dog to attach the leash to first, then to the ring for the head collar if it doesn't come with a safety strap. The back up collar needs to be loose enough to not restrict movement. Martingale collars are good for this as are loose nylon choke collars.)
The principals of teaching loose leash walking are the same regardless of the tools you are using. If they pull do not follow. Do not reinforce what you do not want.
Because I also teach my dogs the heel position, I do all my walks with them at my left side when teaching the loose lead walk. I find this makes teaching heel later much easier because you are already part way there.
Anyhow, I hope this makes up for my previous post. I'll try to remember to post training stuff more regularly from now on.