I have 4 dogs – two raised as pups, the other two rescues, and all of them terriers. One of my rescues, Wes, came to me with lots of baggage. He was food possessive, marked every corner and outpost in the house, would get manic when I would leave, and would escape out of the house at every given opportunity. But the worse behavior occurred during our walks. This is a story about my experience with dog walking lessons, and how I still struggle with it today.
I was an avid walker, and loved my morning walks with my dogs. Good for them, good for me. But Wes was not not very good at being civil on his walks. He would pull constantly, and bark incessantly at any human being that crossed his path. Worse were the encounters with other dogs. He would go mental! I do believe that our early attempts at walks resulted in some tracheal damage, as he would pull against his collar so badly that he would choke himself. All the neighborhood walkers would avoid us when they saw us coming. This hurt deeply, because one of the things I loved most about our walks was the daily greetings and chit chat with my neighbors and their dogs. And Wes all but obliterated that.
About one year (and 15 pounds in weight gain) later, I decided that Wes and I were going to resolve this problem. I never missed a Dog Whisperer episode, yet none of the “Chhhtt” sounds or the rehabilitation stories offered anything helpful in getting Wes to be a well behaved dog on a leash. So I decided to sign Wes and I up for a basic obedience class to see if we could get this problem under control. And once we did, amazing things began to happen.
There is a reason that positive reward training techniques work. Rather than chastise a dog for doing something wrong, you reward them for doing something right. Just like us, dogs respond well to positive reinforcement techniques, and when done properly, will yeild the desired results.
Timing is a key ingredient to successfully training your dog using positive reinforcement techniques. You must reward your dog for the desired behavior immediately, because if you are just one second off, they may not “get it.” Case in point: I was teaching Wes the “down” command. When I gave the command he would sit, then lie down, then sit, and he would keep this up figuring something he did eventually would work. So we started against from scratch. And when the timing was right, he understood immediately. After that all we had to do was focus on reinforcing the correct behavior.
When it comes to leash training, a traditional 4 foot leash works best. When teaching your dog to “heel,” you must lead with the left foot, take a few steps, and stop. If you go too fast they will quickly get ahead of you, leaving you in the position you least desire with your dog in front of you pulling on the leash, and you in the rear pulling your dog back. The idea is to take a few steps slow enough to control the pace while the leash is slack. As soon as your dog starts getting ahead of you, stop. Allow them to walk a bit ahead of you, tug on the leash for them to return to you, and start again. Once they get to the point where they are walking aside you and is is no tension on the leash, drop the treat bomb and lavish them with praise – and watch the magic happen!
Wes and I are still working on leashing walking. Because of Wes’ obsession with other dogs, the “watch” command has been all-important for us. The objective is to get your dog to look at your face when you tell them to “watch.” Theory being, if he’s busy watching you and not the distractions around him, he is more likely to get what what want him to do. And as we all know, dogs are more than willing to do what we want them to do, so long as the “what” is clear to them. But I am thrilled at how well he is progressing. Our walks are becoming more enjoyable, and I get to dress him up in his cute collar and leash sets for all to admire both his good looks and his great behavior!
For further info on positive reinforcement techniques, visit The Humane Society’s site.
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