Loose lead walking – are you getting the criteria right?

Dogs pulling on the lead is one of the most common behaviour issues that people contact me about.  Whilst pulling for a number of these dogs is influenced by fear of traffic, people, other dogs or the environment and will require specific behaviour modification, for most it is simply a learned behaviour – dog pulls, they move forward and the behaviour is reinforced.

Even when I have been called to help with non-related behaviour problems, it is very common to hear “…. he also pulls on the lead”.

When teaching dogs to walk nicely it is important to consider both ends of the lead – the goal of loose lead walking is that you and your best friend both enjoy the walks.  Setting increasing criteria as you learn together is the key to success – but like all good training, you should always have your goal in sight!

For me, the only criteria when walking is that the lead is loose – for my dogs, I want them to be doing dog stuff – sniffing, marking and finding out what’s been in the environment before them – that is the goal.

I don’t want them to be focused on me, or worse walking beside me and looking up at me as if we were doing heelwork – heelwork and loose lead walking are completely different concepts with much different reinforcement systems at play. Don’t get me wrong I love heelwork and all forms of training – but walking is leisure time and more importantly downtime for me and my dogs.

So think about the criteria that you are setting when teaching a dog to walk on a loose lead – if you start with and maintain that one criteria (loose lead), your dog will quickly understand that it’s the loose lead that allows the forward motion that enables them to sniff and enjoy their walks.

When teaching loose lead walking we tend to start in a boring place – we begin to reinforce the dog for being on a loose lead and also for offering focus and attention.  We then gradually transition to walking with a loose lead whilst encouraging more natural dog behaviour – it can be uncomfortable at this stage to allow our dogs to ignore us and engage in the environment, but that is the key to success.  The Premack Principle is at play here – eat your broccoli and you can have your ice-cream.  The low probability behaviour (loose lead walking) is reinforced by the high probability behaviour (sniffing).  Everyone’s a winner!

The speed of progress and transition differs for every dog and you should expect this all to take a few weeks of training, but the one constant throughout – you guessed it … maintain that loose lead!

So think about what your best friend wants from his walks as well as what you want to get from it – aim to meet both your needs and you won’t go far wrong.  The reinforcement provided by the environment will increase and maintain the loose lead walking and you will have cracked it!

Let me know how you get on and if you tried the 300 peck method from my previous post!

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