Time To Walk the Dog!

waking the dogSpring is here in the beautiful Boston Mountains, and if you are anything like me, you are ready to get out and enjoy it! There isn’t much better than a relaxing hike with your best friend, but for so many, walking the dog is anything but relaxing!

I sometimes imagine that, if our dogs could change one thing about us, it would be the speed at which we move.  Our dog’s natural gait is typically much faster than ours, and varies in speed. It’s no wonder they often drag us out the door and down the road!

Training your dog to walk nicely on the leash can be great for both of you. He will get more exercise and stimulation, and you will be able to enjoy his company while getting exercise. While this exercise can take some time, it is really worth doing.

Here are some step by step tips to help you teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash.

1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT. All mammals have an involuntary dogHarnessLeadreflex that causes them to pull against anything that pulls on them. It’s called “opposition reflex”.  The more pressure your dog feels pulling him back, the more pressure he will apply to try and counter it. Switching to a piece of equipment that reduces the pressure on your dog when he pulls will actually reduce the force with which he pulls.  I recommend a harness for my clients. In addition, a harness is safer for your dog. The neck is a sensitive area, and damage to the trachea, esophagus, and thyroid are permanent.

2.  IF YOUR DOG IS PULLING, STOP IMMEDIATELY.  Any behavior we reward will be repeated, and if your dog is trying to get to a particular smell or location and he pulls you there he will receive his reward. This will teach him to pull on the leash to get where he wants to go. So the first thing you need to do is establish a new rule: He no longer gets to move when the leash is tight. When he tightens the leash, stop.  Try and get his attention thewoman walking dog first few times and see if he doesn’t reduce the tension on the lead himself. Once he does, proceed forward. If he stands (or sits) with the leash pulled tight, give him your verbal command for walking (I use “Let’s go!”) and turn and go the other way.

3. TEACH YOUR DOG WHERE TO WALK.  This doesn’t mean teach him where NOT to walk.  There are so many places you don’t want him to walk.  The best course of action is to teach him where you DO want him to walk.  Reward the position with treats, toys, and praise. Be consistent about where you want him to walk.  Practice sits in heel position, and take a few steps at a time, rewarding him as he stays in step with you.  If you focus on where NOT to walk your dog may get confused or even give up.  He may also develop leash frustration, which often turns into leash aggression. We want the walk to be fun for everyone, not torture for all.

Stick with it, keep practicing, and have fun!


Just QUIT!

Chloe sittingBy definition, positive reinforcement is rewarding a behavior to increase it’s frequency.  So how does a positive reinforcement trainer (R+) address unwanted behavior without resorting to punishment?  It’s easier than you think!

The first thing you have to do is find out what reward the dog is already getting from the unwanted behavior.  Dogs don’t have complicated agendas, so we can often figure this out fairly easily.  For example, if your dog is jumping up on you, it is simply his attempt to get your attention. Dogs, like children, will take negative attention if they can’t get positive attention, so any attention you show to your dog when he is jumping is rewarding the behavior.  Behaviors that are rewarded get stronger, so the behavior gets increasingly worse.

You may have heard other, more devious reasons, for the jumping behavior.  Let me assure you, your dog does not have an agenda, and is not trying to take over the world.  In fact, you (or whomever raised your dog as a pup) may have inadvertently trained your dog to perform this behavior by picking him up whenever he jumped on them.  I mean, who can resist that cute little round ball of clumsy puppy cuteness? He jumps on you, you pick him up and cuddle him.  And then he grows up to be 80 pounds, and the jumping isn’t so much fun anymore. So now how do we make it stop?

The first thing is to take the reward OFF of the unwanted behavior. If your dog jumps on you to get attention, then that is the last thing you want to give him.  Don’t look at him, talk to him, or acknowledge him in any way while his paws are on you. The behavior has just lost it’s reward.

Next (and this is where the positive reinforcement really shines) you teach your dog a new behavior to replace the one you don’t like, and you choose a behavior that is not compatible (cannot be done simultaneously) with the unwanted behavior. For jumping, I typically use sit. Your dog cannot jump and sit at the same time, so if the rewards happen with sit, but don’t happen with jumping, your dog will choose to sit.

Learned behaviors are not unlearned overnight. And like a child who is used to getting his way and is suddenly told “No”, the behavior, like the demands of the child, will get more intense before it goes away.  Don’t give in.  Be consistent, and you will find that your dog walks up to you and sits in front of you, asking politely for your attention.