Friday, 16 August 2013

Loose Leash Walking

The leash should be used only as a safety measure, to keep your dog at your side and under close control when it is not safe or suitable for the dog to be walking with you, under control, but off leash.  Too many people think that the collar and leash are there to control the dog - but if they are used in that way it usually means that you do not in fact have control of your dog.  All dog owners should aspire to be able to manage their dog with nothing more than their voice or hand signals / whistle, and some form of reinforcement for good or compliant behaviours.

Obviously while city-living dogs need to spend a lot of their time on leash, those dogs being walked in quieter environments and away from distractions should be able to spend less time on the leash.  However, different areas have different regulations about whether a dog is allowed off leash or not so be sure you know what is applicable to you and safe for you and your pet in each situation.

Incorrect use of the leash can lead to many problems associated with dog walking and enjoying your pet.  Sadly it also means that certain members of a family are often unable to walk the dog as they feel unable to control it when it meets other dogs or people, or is in a certain situation. It is so much better to stop these problems before they start, rather than trying to stop them when they have become bad habits.

Training for leash walking should begin shortly after your pup has arrived home, as soon as it has settled in to its new home.  You don't need to take it out of the house, initial training should start within the home where the pup feels safe and comfortable, and isn't going to be distratced by new sights or smells.  The first step is to get the pup used to wearing a collar.  This may take several days as some dogs find a collar quite irritating and scratch at it continuously.  If you allow the pup to scratch at the same spot for a long time it could irritate or break the skin, so if your pup does this put the collar on for just a few minutes at a time.  Don't frighten the pup by grabbing him and pinning him down to put on the collar, but turn it into a training-game and encourage him to sit calmly while you put the collar on and then reinforce the calm behaviour (reward him) immediately.  But make sure you don't reward inappropriate behaviour such as mouthing, pawing or jumping around.  Once the collar is on, if your pup tries to scratch or otherwise remove the collar then distract it by playing a game - perhaps chases, tickling, or put the collar on before feeding time.  Try anything that will make the pup associate the collar with something good, and something that will distract him from scratching for a short while.  Try this several times a day and even if pup can only manage a few minutes each time he will soon become used to it.

Once the collar is on, use a house line - a very light, fairly short leash - only when you are home and whenever it is safe to do so as it lets you control your pup if he tries to turn inappropriate behaviour in to a game - such as grabbing and running off with your iPhone or purse.  Your natural reaction will be to shout and run after him and happy pup discovers he has taught you a new game (catch-me-if-you-can) which can leads to hours of fun for the pup, and hours of frustration for the owner as pup grows older and graduates to running off with expensive shoes, leather gloves, precious sweaters etc.  Unfortunately children are excellent students when pup teaches them this game - they shriek loudly, and love the thrill of the chase as much as the pup, so parents have to ensure that they stop this game immediately.  A game of chases with a dog toy is fine, a game of chases with Mum's best shoe is not fine.

When you start to walk the pup outside he will be very excited and try to dash off to investigate every new smell, or head straight to his favourite area.  This is the time to ensure that when he lunges forward on the lead he comes to a complete halt as you implement the "Become-A-Tree" routine. This means exactly what it says - when pup pulls in an inappropriate direction you become a "Tree" or a "Rock" and thus immobile.  Don't jerk the lead, or pull the pup - simply become immobile.  It means you won't get very far as you have to stop every few feet but pup will quickly realise that lunging and pulling mean NO progress towards his goal, and that the only way to progress towards it is for HIM to keep the lead slack.  So he is rewarded for keeping a slack leash by being able to progress towards his goal, as opposed to being rewarded for pulling and lunging by succeeding in progressing towards his goal.  

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