Let’s Talk About Common Sense For A Moment
Where did you learn to drive?
Did you hit the freeway at 5pm?
I have told the story and used this analogy many times, and based on how frequently I get asked about pulling, I guess I will keep on saying it.
When I ask people where they learned to drive they look perplexed. Most continue on to explain how some empty parking lot or country road is where their first driving experiences took place. I then ask why their parents or whomever taught them to drive, didn’t take them on to a busy highway.
This is when they give me that look that so many dogs give their owners.
They are perplexed at the question due to the seemingly obvious reason why they didn’t take to the highway at 70mph amidst tens of thousands of pounds of equally fast moving steel driven by others. It’s common sense that such a situation would not be the ideal way to learn to drive.
We could use this logic in a number of other contexts.
Would you study calculus while sitting at a picnic table in midway of the state fair?
How about taking an online course on macro-economics while at a beach resort, in Cancun, at spring break?
More common sense silly questions right?
Then why on EARTH, do you try to “teach”(and I am being generous by calling what many are doing “teaching”), your dog how to walk on a leash while out on walks where the dog is distracted by smells, sounds, and the visual stimulation of a very active world?!?!?!?
Let that marinate for a moment.
You’re Not Being Fair To Your Dog
After those examples I presented you with along with the appropriate time to contemplate, you should be able to see where I am going with this.
You absolutely cannot expect to teach your dog not to pull on the leash when you put the dog in incredibly stimulating environments when you are doing this teaching. The dog is being set up for failure, and you are the one setting them up. Then you get frustrated. Then your dog gets stressed because it knows your frustrated but doesn’t know why.
That’s not fair.
Most people slap a leash on and go walking. They train the dog to pull almost from the start. Yes, I said they train the dog TO pull. Every time you take a step while the dog is pulling, you are reinforcing the pulling itself. So either you are training the dog to pull, or the dog is training you to follow, pick whichever reality helps keep your tears away, but pick one.
After the first 6-12 months of reinforcing this behavior, they then notice it gets even more severe and difficult to manage when the dog sees other dogs, squirrels, cats, or a stretch of upcoming grass that is a highway of doggie odors. All of these things are over-the-top stimulating for your dog. Your dog who has never been taught how to walk on a leash. Your dog who know is confused at your sudden frustration. Frustration at the dog, for not doing something, you never properly taught it to do, that you now expect it to do, under extreme distraction.
Marinate on that too.
Now For The Solution
I really hope I don’t have to spend another 500 words delving deeper into what’s going on here. If so, then you need more than a blog post to solve your problem anyway.
You haven’t taught the dog the exact behavior you want it to do, and you have been expecting it to do this behavior in highly stimulating environments where even a well trained dog would be challenged to the max.
Start at home.
Remember, it’s not about stopping the pulling as much as it is teaching the dog to walk with a loose leash.
If you think those are the same thing, stop right now. Go back and read it again with the intent to discover the difference between the two. Don’t continue reading until you get it.
Now that you have thought about it and realize that stopping the dog from pulling involves punishing the behavior of pulling as opposed to the alternative which is based in reinforcing the behavior of maintaining a slack leash (you didn’t cheat did you and read ahead?), you have also realized that it is always better to work with your dog in situations where you can use positive reinforcement if you are trying to teach the dog what you want him TO do.
All new behaviors that you want to see more of should be taught using positive reinforcement.
Starting in at home, in your super boring training area, put the dog on leash.
Put a SLIGHT bit of tension on the leash in a specific and deliberate direction.
The moment the dog yeilds to the pressure, and takes a single step in its direction, MARK AND REWARD.
This is the very beginning of teaching the dog the concept of yielding to the pressure of the leash and going WITH it.
Start small and simple. Then in time, starting adding your movement. Take a few steps in a straight line and if the dog is walking nicely, mark and reward. As you get farther, you can start adding in stops.
When you see the dog getting in front of you, simply stop and let the dog reach the end of the leash. Maintain the tension. Don’t MOVE the dog with the leash. Let the dog move itself!
When the dog deliberately REMOVES the tension in the leash, mark and reward!
Do all of this in silence.
This is how you TEACH. You are in a simple and stress free environment and you are setting up a situation that the dog is likely to experience success. You now are in a position to be able to provide reinforcement for that success which ultimately teaches the dog what you want from it. If you haven’t done anything like that previously, then you need to realize you simply haven’t done anything close to teaching the dog what you want it to do.
This will take several weeks of practice. Like all training sessions with your dog, keep the sessions short and fun. Have several sessions a day.
In the meantime, stop going to places where you know the dog has issues and expecting him to do what you want.
When you set the dog up to fail by putting them in situations that deep down, you already know they can’t handle, YOU become the dog’s biggest problem, not the environment.
You know better.
Now that you are seeing success and clarity with the dog in boring empty environments, SLOWLY start increasing the distractions. I like to throw a piece of food just outside the reach of the leash. Let the dog hit the end of it and don’t move so much as an INCH. The moment the dog puts slack in the leash, mark the behavior then BIG reward from YOU, not the food on the floor.
This shows the dog that whatever is on the ground or outside the length of the leash is nothing compared to the reward it will get from you for putting slack in that leash.
Avoid the temptation to move from the house to the busy street. This will take steps, lots of little steps.
Go from the house, to the back yard, to the front yard. Move slow and make it easy for the dog to succeed to you can continue teaching the dog what you want it to do.
This takes time. But you should be spending time learning to communicate with your dog anyway ….right?
For an in depth explanation on the concepts behind loose leash walking check out the video I made on the subject below.
**special thanks to Amy and Crystal for sharing these awesome pix of their pups**