Thursday, September 16, 2010

Walking on Lead

Several owners of new pups have asked me how to teach their pups to walk on lead. Two people in particular are having to pick up their dogs, as they simply stop moving.

If a dog does not want to walk I first look around the environment. Is something out there that is causing the puppy to be afraid, to shut down? It could be something very subtle. A neighbor coming out of their house, a trash can that is at roadside that was not there previously. Perhaps the last time the puppy was out for a walk, an automatic garage door opened and closed and scared the pup. Skateboards, planes over head, cars, cyclists, over head air balloons, all can be a source of something your puppy is unsure of. Did a neighbor's dog give your pup a threatening look, again it could be very subtle. If your pup is not accustomed to reading dog language or the other dog is too assertive, your pup has good reason to be unsure. It could be a combination of some of these things.

I let the pup drag a ribbon or very light line, on a flat buckle collar attached to a front clip harness. The harness prevents any tightening around the collar, many dogs get scared, they feel the pressure and they freeze. Others back off, making it tighter. It can be a scary situation during a critical time in their life.

If you have another dog that the pup will follow, pick up the ribbon or line and follow along. If you have no access to another dog, try having the pup follow a person. The person should be someone the pup knows and is comfortable with. Have them play with the pup and then walk away, chances are the pup will want to follow. You will pick up the ribbon or light lead and follow along.

This is your pup's first lesson in lead training. On a separate topic: put on your to do list: find another pup or appropriate adult for your puppy to play with, it is a critical part of his socialization.

Let the pup lead you the first few times. No need to put pressure on his collar/harness. I train before meals...when Melissa is most hungry. Ok, she is always hungry...I am blessed with yet another Borzoi who is a really good eater. But in the beginning she didn't know what to make of the lead. I let her drag it, when she followed a dog or person, she did feel some pressure on her harness if she got too far in front of me and I couldn't keep up. Life is not totally free of aversives......this is one of those cases that life happens. I never pulled on her collar/harness intentionally. In a separate session I taught her to accept hands touching her all over her body, along with mild pressure on her collar.

When she was comfortable dragging the light line, I began to hold it in my hand.....placing items on the ground that she wanted to investigate toy or a treat, she went in a straight line doing just that....and with me holding the light line. That was training session number two.

When Melissa first arrived I fed the first few meals from my hand, she learned that good things come from me. She focused up at me, we practiced walking on lead, a loose lead, while she followed her food bowl. At this point I began to click and treat when she was close to my left side.

If a puppy won't eat while out on the road, chances are something is bothering him, he has shut down. Practice on the side or back yard of your home, in a quiet parking lot or park where there is minimal distractions to worry him. My favorite place for dogs working thru challenges like this, is a mall parking lot before the stores open. Place toys, plates of food around one parking space before you take your pup out of the car. When you have arranged all the items on the ground, take him out and let him investigate while you hold onto the lead. Verbally praise when he is moving forward. Don't cheer lead when he is stationary. Reward for movement. Keep training sessions short....two to three minutes at most.

Attach a light line or ribbon on your pups collar/harness. Put a fuzzy on a string and let him chase it and catch it. Let him play with it, we want him to get excited about it. Then repeat, but this time you hold the fuzzy off the ground a bit. With you holding his lead, and him following the fuzzy, for a feet feet before you allow him to have it, he has yet another training session for walking on lead.

Buckles on leads....get them as small as you can. Melissa had a buckle made for a toy dog the first week of lead training. No need to weight the pup down with a heavy buckle or heavy lead.

Let them have fun on walks. Formal heeling and walking at your side will come in time. Take things in small increments. Melissa is a year old, I have yet to introduce her to the word 'heel'. Instead I am shaping her to being close to my left side, my left hand at my waist is becoming the cue. She looks forward to moving close to my side, it means lots of clicks and treats are coming her way.

Take all training in tiny increments, the final goal will come. As friend and instructor Patty Ruzzo used to say 'enjoy the journey'. And so it should be with all we do with our dogs, from puppy hood to adult hood. Happy training!

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