My saga with loose leash walking continues. My first and second posts about this topic didn’t have all of the answers and I still don’t. Zara is 13 months now and she has developed into a very lovely, well-behaved girl with one exception. We still struggle to walk her without her pulling on the leash. At this point, I feel like we have tried every positive method in the book but I think we’ve also been inconsistent in training her which is probably a good portion of the problem. About two months ago, when she was in heat, I was spending a lot more time walking her because going to the dog park wasn’t an option. After several walks where she was just yanking me around, I was feeling very frustrated. Chris suggested that we try another class at Woofs, so we signed up for Intermediate: Focus on Heeling. This class was tailored to concentrate on polite leash walking so we figured it was worth a try.
The class was seven weeks long and like the other classes we took at Woofs, they used positive reinforcement methods (treats and clickers). We focused on several things: attention from the dog to the handler, walking side by side (heeling), stays, and we used a variety of Rally Obedience courses to practice our skills. Rally Obedience is an official AKC “sport” that uses various signs to tell the handler and dog what to do. They might say commands like: Sit, Turn Left, Halt, Call Front, etc. Each handler and dog walks through the course following the signs.
Zara was a fast learner in class. When I use treats and a clicker, she is a near-perfect pupil. She will walk beside me all day, even outside, and she will stop and sit when I stop, and she will stay in one place when I walk all the way around her. During one of the last classes, each person-dog team went through the Rally course a couple of times and Chris video recorded one of our runs. In the video below, she did very well, except for the last sign, where I had trouble getting her to go into a down.
She’s so good when I have treats with me, but we’ve still been struggling when I don’t. I can walk her for 10 minutes with treats, giving her a treat every time she looks at me, and she’ll stay right beside me and won’t pull on the leash. As soon as I run out of treats, she will lose interest in me and pull ahead.
This past week, however, I feel like we had another small break-through. Since daylight savings time ended, it’s been dark at night after I get home from work. In the spring and summer, we’d usually go to the dog park in the evening. Since that isn’t a viable option anymore (unless we visit the parks with lights), I’ve been taking her on 2.5 mile, 45-minute walks down the main street near our house. It’s a heavily trafficked street and there are a lot of lights, so it feels safe even when it’s dark out. On previous walks, I’d often use the stop and “heel” method, making her stop and turn around toward me. That works, in the sense that she will stop and turn around toward me, but it never really stopped the pulling. I don’t think she associates stopping as a punishment for pulling. In our past couple walks though, I haven’t been stopping. I’ve been walking at a fast clip and with the leash hooked to the front of her harness, I will give it a pull and make a “chhhtt” sound when she pulls. The pulling I do yanks her back a bit and sometimes lifts her front paws off the ground, which she doesn’t like. (Please note that I am not hurting her at all by doing this.) I also hold the leash so she only has about a foot and a half of slack, which forces her to be close to be. With the consistent use of this method, the fast pace, and the long duration, she has been improving. This evening, we walked to the metro station and back (2.5 miles total), which is downhill on the way there and uphill the way back. On the way out, she was trying to pull somewhat. On the way back, she wasn’t pulling at all! That’s right, 20 minutes of loose leash walking! That’s probably the most we’ve ever done.
A small thing to celebrate, but it is so much more enjoyable to walk without feeling like your arm is getting a work out.