Ask the Trainer | Yes, Snoopy can walk on-leash
November 25, 2013
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
We are driving to Los Angeles to visit family for the holidays and will be taking our 2-year-old Goldendoodle, Snoopy. We live on several acres and Snoopy almost never walks on a leash and he pulls like crazy when he does. When we are in L.A., we will be in a busy area and he will have to be on a leash all the time. Can we teach him to be better on leash in the next four weeks?
The Hobson Family
Your story is very common! Tahoe dogs do not live like other dogs because they have so much freedom to run and play. You can teach Snoopy how to walk on leash and should be able to make significant progress in four weeks, but it will take work and commitment.
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To make the process as easy as possible, I recommend you buy a front clip harness. This is different than a harness where the clip is on the back. The most common brands are the Sense-ation harness by Softouch Concepts and the Easy Walk by Premier.
I prefer the Sense-ation because it has a flat fit across the chest and the placement of the plastic fastener on the strap that goes around the dog's belly is more comfortable, but either will work.
When a leash is attached directly to a collar, the dog experiences an opposition reflex, which means they naturally pull against any tension. The result is the dog pulls harder. By hooking the leash to the clip on the harness, the dog naturally pulls less. This will give you more opportunity to reward Snoopy when he is walking nicely next to you.
Teaching a dog to walk politely on a leash is much easier if you have a word or sound that tells the dog they've done the right thing. This is called a reward marker. I use a clicker, but the word "Yes" is another common marker. Here's a brief overview of the process:
1. Start working in a quiet environment, preferably in the house after he's had some exercise.
2. Decide on a cue that you want to use which will come to mean "walk next to me".(Heel, Walk with me, Walk, etc.)
3. Have Snoopy seated next to you and a few treats in your hand that is furthest away from him. Be sure there is slack in the leash — you need to avoid causing the opposition reflex!
4. As you start walking, say the cue.
5. When he is walking next to you, give him the RM (click or Yes). Continue to give the RM (without a treat) if he is next to you.
6. Stop periodically and feed a treat. If you feed constantly, the dog will break the side position to get it.
7. If your dog begins to pull or circle around you, stop immediately and turn around, give the cue again and start walking. You may have to do several quick repetitions back and forth before he settles down.
Gradually increase the distance your dog must walk before getting a treat. At first, click or say "Yes" as often as needed to keep your dog's focus, but gradually you will want to decrease this. Once he's mastered walking next to you inside the house, add distractions by moving outside to a deck or the driveway. You need to add distractions slowly at first, but work toward practicing in new locations.
If you use a front clip harness and work hard, Snoopy should learn enough to get through your trip.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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