Tuesday, February 9, 2010

oct 2009: loose leash walking

We tried a number of different things over the years (sensible harness, gentle leader, "be a tree", silky leash, etc). Here's what worked best for us:

"Teaching loose leash walking (LLW) has been quite a struggle for me with my
young, reactive pitbull. We've tried tons of different methods, and they've been
about 90% successful, but when he sees something he really really wants, he
pulls. I finally (this week!) figured out a method that works. It's pretty
obvious, of course, why my dog wasn't learning before: I was increasing criteria
too quickly, and my reinforcements weren't strong enough, and the rate of
reinforcement was too low. So I sat down, with my nifty new toy the Manners
Minder (which has quickly become my dog's favorite thing on earth) and wrote
down a plan. It's a mixture of Lindsey Newman's LLW game (posted in the files
section on the Clicker Solution's yahoo group website, at
http://tinyurl.com/lpehpl) and a modified version of the penalty yards game
posted at http://www.clickertraining.biz/nopull.htm

This may seem obvious to everyone else, but breaking the process into tiny steps
and writing them down really helped us.


Start with the foundations: rewarding the dog intensively for being near you
when you walk. Teach her what you want him to do. Start inside with no
distractions. Then work up to larger distractions inside, then move outside to
the yard, and only then try a walk. Use wonderful treats and use a lot of them.
For 3 days, the dog gets all his kibble as treats during this game. Every single

a. start in your living room without a leash. Play with your dog for a moment
to get him interested, then walk away, and c/t when your dog follows you. Turn
and walk in another direction, c/t for following you. Do this 10 times
(quickly--it's a game).

b. then raise your criteria: only c/t when he's within 6 feet of your left side.
Do this for a minute (I set a timer which keeps me from cheating), offering at
least 10-15 c/t during that minute. Then stop and call him over for a sit. Then
start again. Repeat the minute-long game 5 times quickly.

c. then take a break, and later that day, do it again. Vary your speed a bit and
do lots of turns, c/t whenever your dog is close to your left leg. Do this for
one minute intervals, with a brief break in between each time, and repeat 5
times. Keep the reinforcement rate very high.

d. then put on the leash, and repeat. C/t at least 15 times in a minute, repeat
5 times. Your dog should be merrily chasing you around the living room. You,
Lee, are the Treat Machine and Archie is playing the world's best game: making
the Treat Machine dispense.


Now go outside in a fenced, boring yard, then start the game over from a through
d, this time with the minor distractions of the yard.

Then go back indoors, and add a friend (or spouse) trying to distract the dog
while you are practicing. Increase the distractions one at a time, with tossed
balls, squeaky toys, etc.

Then move outside to your boring back yard, adding in distractions. Make the
game fast, merry, rewarding, fun.


Now it's time to try a walk down the street. Give him lots of aerobic exercise
in the yard before you head out for practice walks, of course, since you won't
actually be going far--maybe 100 yards, if that.

Practice for a moment inside, then in the yard, then move onto a boring road.
Keep your rate of reinforcement very high--you might be shoveling treats into
his mouth.

Pick a leash length you want him to stick to (I use 6 ft), and C/t BEFORE he
reaches the end of that length. Vary your direction, run around a bit, make this
FUN. Set him up for success, keeping distractions at a minimum, using tons of

He should NEVER have a chance to get to the end of the leash in this first set
of walks. Rinse, lather, repeat. A lot.

Keep a written record. It helps.


Then I add a cue word--I use the word "easy," meaning "walk with me on a loose
leash." Some people don't like to use cues for LLW, because they want loose
leash to be the default behavior, but I'm more comfortable with a cue.

Repeat using lots of c/t.


After 3 days, with ALL the kibble coming from this wonderful game, your dog may
now be ready for the Penalty Yards game. The beauty of the game is that it
allows you to add powerful distractions in a controlled manner, once you have a
strong set of foundations.

To start the game, move into a low distractions outdoor setting. Place a Truly
Wonderful Thing your dog desires intensely (i.e., a huge pile of stinky treats),
and put it in an obvious place, say on your quiet driveway. Let your dog watch
you place it there, and let him get a good sniff of whatever you've set down
there. Make sure he really knows it's there, and make sure he really wants
what's there. (I use the Manners Minder, now my dog's favorite thing on earth,
especially when it beeps telling him that food has been dispensed.)

Then run cheerfully (with several yummy treats in your hand) with your leashed
dog to about 20 feet away, where your dog can see the Wonderful Thing. Make sure
this starting point is obvious to both of you--I mark it by placing a jacket
there, since we'll be running back there a lot at first.

Then give your LLW cue and start walking quickly toward the Wonderful Thing.
The instant the leash goes taut, back up quickly all the way back to the
starting point. (I cheerfully say "oops! Back to the beginning!" but it's
probably best to do this silently).

Then cheerfully say your LLW cue again and walk quickly back to the Wonderful
Thing. Move forward quickly when his leash is loose, and instantly reverse
direction and zip back to the beginning the instant the leash goes taut. Make it

When your dog finally makes it to the Wonderful Thing, throw a party. Jackpot!
Let him devour his wonderful thing, and then give more treats. Then run back to
the start point and repeat 3 times.

It took my dog 3 very frustrating attempts to get at his Wonderful Thing until
he finally reached it. But when he got it, he really understood.

After a break, repeat, and begin the play the Penalty Yards game in different,
more distracting places. Make sure the Wonderful Thing is truly wonderful for
your dog, something he desperately wants to reach. The more alluring it is, the
faster he'll figure out that LLW gets him what he wants.

Good luck! The lesson from my experience is: work on the foundations first;
increase criteria slowly; use great reinforcements at a high rate; and add
distractions in an orderly fashion. And keep records. (Yes, I know, that should
all go without saying.)

Nancy in WI, with a very tired Vany

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