Thursday, May 31, 2012

Loose Leash Walking, Part 2

First Things First
If your puppy doesn't know about leashes yet, start slowly. Skip to step 3 with a more experienced dog.

Step 1:
Put the collar on, and let her get used to it. You can give her treats or play with her to take her mind off the collar. Once she gets used to the collar its time to move to the next step.

Step 2:
Attach a short lightweight leash to her collar and let her drag it around. Watch that the leash doesn't get caught on anything. Do what you did before, giving her treats or playing with her to take her mind off the leash.

Step 3:

Once she no longer paying attention to the leash, put a very light pressure on the leash. You don't want to scare her, so the pressure must be truly light. Then call her to you, using a toy or treats or smoochy noises, so that she chooses to come to you. Her natural response is to pull, so you are teaching her that she can remove collar pressure by moving toward you. Repeat this until you are sure she understands to move toward you when she feels collar pressure.

Walking With A Goal game
The purpose of Walking With A Goal is to teach your dog how to keep the leash loose, in the context of a fun game. You begin teaching this game in a familiar low distraction place, like your living room. There you can control all the variables, so your dog learns how easy it is to win, keeping it fun for her. When your dog is winning consistently, then you gradually increase the difficulty, in preparation for getting ready to train LLW in the "real world".

You want your dog to understand that pulling on the leash never works. If pulling on the leash is never rewarded AND keeping the leash loose is rewarded by letting the dog go forward... no sane dog would keep pulling. Dogs DO what WORKS for dogs. If it doesn't work, they won't keep doing it. Look at this as the first day of the rest of your dog's life. From this moment on a tight leash will never be rewarded. And remember, use management when you need to.

To begin the game you will need space enough to move about 25 feet in a straight line. At one end of that line will be something your dog wants to get to. The idea is to train in a place that is both familiar and not distracting, so your dog can focus on the goodies at the finish line. I usually use a dish with yummy and smelly treats. The starting place for the game is the other end of the line.

Prepare Your Leash
You'll decide for yourself where you want your dog to walk and you should have a picture in your mind of what loose leash walking looks and feels like. Most medium to large dogs do best walking beside and just a little in front of their owner - with the dog's side or hips even with the owner's hips, making it easy to see the dog with your peripheral vision. For smaller dogs, you may want them farther ahead of you, so they are easier to see and less likely to get stepped on if you misstep.

If you want your dog to clearly understand what a loose leash is, then it has to be distinctly different from "not loose". Some people aren't bothered by a little tension in the leash, but a distinction between a "little tension" and "too much tension" is harder to understand for the dog and an unclear criteria for the owner to train. To make training smoother and easier to understand, the distinction between loose and not loose needs to be clear. Therefore I recommend your loose leash definition include a snap that hangs down and a leash with a gentle curve to it.

Step 1:
Prepare your leash by tying a knot in the right place. Usually a six foot leash is the right size, but if you are very tall and your dog is very small, you could need a longer leash. With the dog standing where you want him to walk, attach the leash to his collar. Hold the handle of the leash with your right hand. With your left arm hanging comfortably at your side and the leash snap hanging down from the dog's collar and then curving up toward you, slip the leash between your middle and ring fingers and grasp it. That is where you want to tie the knot.

Step 2:
You will hold the loop of the leash in your right hand and the knot will be in your left hand, with the leash going between your middle and ring fingers. Your left hand should be gently curled around the knot. If the leash is loose, your left arm hangs comfortably at your side. If the leash is tight, your left arm/hand will be pulled away from your body. Depending on the length of your leash, the size of your dog, and where you want your dog to walk, you may have to take up a loop of extra leash in your right hand.

Step 3:
Place your hand in your dog's collar and walk toward the dish. When you get there, while holding the dog back with one hand, put yummy and smelly treats in the dish with the other hand. You want your dog to be able to a-l-m-o-s-t reach the treats and certainly able to smell them. The idea is for your dog to have a strong desire to get to those treats. Now, with your hand still in your dog's collar, walk to the other end of the line where the start is.

Step 4:
Get your hands situated on the leash and when you are ready walk slowly toward the dish. If/when your dog gets all the way to the dish with a loose leash, she can have all the goodies there - that's the goal - get to and gobble up all the goodies. That's how the dog wins.
If the leash is tight at any time, i.e. the leash is straight or your hand is pulled away from your body, you will back up all the way to the beginning. Yes, you must back up and all the way to the starting point. Then start again. Any time the leash is tightened - it should be like a switch turning on your back-up motor. Keep in mind the idea is not to give the dog a leash correction, you don't want to jerk on his neck. In the beginning of this training, you can let go of the knot and say your dog's name as you stop before starting to move backward, to keep from jerking on his neck and to help him understand you are changing direction. After a short while your dog will be paying close attention to you and won't need that extra help.

Step 5:
Repeat Steps 3 and 4 over and over again. When your dog is very good at getting all way to the treats, five times in a row, without any tight leash on the way, its time to up the ante.

Step 6:
Upping the ante is all about making the task harder in small increments, so your dog has a chance to win and yet is still learning. There are many ways to up the ante and the more of them you work through, the more solid your dog's understanding of the rules will be. Pick one and play Walking With a Goal until your dog is very good at getting all way to the treats, five times in a row, without any tight leash on the way. Some ways to increase the difficulty include:
  • increasing the distance between the start and the treat dish
  • use even more wonderful treats in the dish
  • practice this game when your dog hasn't had a meal yet and is hungrier than usual
  • use your dog's meal at the end of the line
  • if your dog is toy motivated, place his ball or toy in the dish and when he wins by getting there on a loose leash, play with him before starting over
  • walk normal speed
  • walk at a faster speed
  • rev your dog up at the start line so he's really jazzed to go
  • practice this game when your dog is well rested and ready to go
  • even use a person your dog loves as the goal
  • get creative and have something special as the goal

Gimme here: My person takes me to a great place where I get to run and play off leash. There are many special smells because wild animals live in the woods. Since I know to always come when called, its completely safe for me there. I have always been let out of the car to start running and playing right away. Then one day my person put the leash on me before I got out of the car. I was used to playing and running free, so I pulled a lot when we started walking. Every time I pulled, my person backed all the way to the car. I thought she was broken! That day I learned I must Walking With a loose leash before I can run free. It took me awhile to figure out this new rule and it was HARD. Of course, I did figure it out and then I got what I wanted - the leash came off and I had a really great play fest. I'm glad I'm so smart. I'm just saying...

Loose Leash Walking, Part 1

Loose Leash Walking (LLW) is a very important skill. It saves your arms, neck and back a lot of stress and strain. It saves the dog's neck, throat, trachea and shoulders a lot of stress and even damage. A dog that is pulling like a freight train is no fun and won't get walked except for essential business. You can start training loose leash walking as soon as you get your puppy at 8 weeks or whenever you get an teen or adult dog. If you've had your dog a long time, even if he's a veteran leash-puller, you can begin teaching loose leash walking at any time.

One of my clients started teaching her dog how to walk on a loose leash when the dog was seven years old. She was trying to get her dog to be certified as a personal assistance dog and walking on a loose leash was one of the requirements. Even at that age, after a lifetime of pulling, the dog was able to learn how to walk on a loose leash and is now a certified assistance dog.

LLW has been called both the easiest and the hardest behavior to teach. Its easy because its really a very simple behavior and any dog can learn to walk at your side without pulling (yes, even sled pulling breeds). Its relatively simple to teach a dog impulse control, the basis for loose leash walking.

Its hard to teach because life gets in the way or owners "forget" and randomly reinforce pulling on the leash. And, (if you read the entries on reinforcement you already know this) behaviors on a variable reinforcement schedule are the strongest and most durable of behaviors. Therefore, I recommend a three part approach.

  • Management for those times when training is not feasible.
  • Teaching impulse control with the "Walking With A Goal" game.
  • Training loose leash walking as a lifestyle behavior.
What's the difference between Loose Leash Walking and Heeling?
Heeling is part of competitive obedience and requires the dog to stay in a perfect heel position. The dog has a very small area to stay in during a moving behavior, must be constantly focused on their handler, and must promptly sit squarely in position when the handler stops. While its beautiful to watch and fun to train, heeling is hard work for the dog and not suitable for a long walk. Loose Leash Walking is like gently holding hands and taking a walk. You can enjoy the walk and enjoy your friend without having to be totally focused for the whole walk. Heeling is far too formal and intensive for a long walk. Dogs that do learn to walk casually in LLW position and without pulling, get to go many more places than dog's that don't.

The purpose for management is to keep your dog from practicing leash pulling. Practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes you perfect at what you practice, even if you are practicing doing it wrong. If your dog practices pulling on the leash, he'll get very good, even perfect, at leash pulling.

There are many excellent tools and techniques to help you walk your dog, when:
  • you aren't prepared to train,
  • training isn't feasible,
  • there isn't time to train,
  • you or the dog is too tired or distracted to work and learn,
  • or you are dealing with an emergency.
Keep in mind that you won't be teaching your dog anything. These are tools and strategies to get you through those management times. Even after your dog is well trained in loose leash walking, there may still be times when management is the best option. You may have worked diligently to teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash and have also worked through every distraction you can think of. Still there may come a time when you will find a new distraction and not have time to train at that moment. Or perhaps your dog is frightened by something and temporarily forgets how to walk on a loose leash. This is the time to use management.

Head Halter
There are several brands and they work on the same principle as a halter on a horse. If a small person can control a 1500 pound horse with a halter, surely a dog isn't an issue. If the dog pulls, his head is turned toward the owner and where the head goes, the body must follow.

I once put a head halter on an unruly, untrained 2 year old Great Dane and within minutes the owner (post surgery and in a knee brace) had truly fingertip control. It's important to follow the directions to acclimate your dog to the feel of a head halter.

It is a key safety rule that you NEVER allow your dog to build up speed and hit the end of the leash while wearing a head halter. A head halter should never be used with any kind of flexi lead. Also any breed or individual dog with a pushed in nose, protruding eyes, or a very straight or arched face (without a "stop") is not a suitable candidate for a head halter.

Front Attachment Body Harness
The ring for leash attachment on this harness is located on a strap across the dog's chest. When the dog pulls, their own pulling action turns them back toward the owner. Ideally the owner should stop and wait for the dog to return to a more neutral position before proceeding.

A really large or especially powerful dog with a small owner, may still be able to pull, so the owner needs to use their own center of gravity to stop the dog. To do so, lock both hands into the loop of leash and keep the hands near your waist. When the dog pulls, move both hands to one side or the other at hip level and turn your body 180 degrees in that direction, while bracing against the dog (one foot in front of the other). By doing this you are using your best center of gravity to hold the dog, instead of trying to do so with your arms.

Standard Harness
If your dog is small to medium, a regular harness with the leash attached to a ring at the back is a viable management strategy. Yes, the dog is pulling, but not against its collar. To a dog, that is a clear and readily understandable distinction.

Gimme here: I am learning canine nosework and tracking. I have learned that I can pull all I want when I wear my pretty blue tracking harness. I've also learned that I can't pull when the leash is attached to my collar. I'm sure your dog is smart enough to understand the difference just like me. I'm just saying...

TTouch®  Balance Leash
If your dog is medium to large size, the balance leash technique might be the way to go. I recommend that you try this indoors first to sort out how to do this, to determine which style of Balance Leash works for you and your dog and to get comfortable with the technique. Also, you can go to youtube and search on "Walking In Balance with TTouch". Select the video by trainer Jenn Merritt.

Using a regular leash, attach it to the dog's collar. With the dog on your left side and facing forward, grab the leash with your left hand at a comfortable resting arm position. Your thumb should be pointed toward the back of your dog's head. In simple Balance Leash, you would just loop the rest of the leash in front of your dog's neck, holding the other end with your right hand.

If your dog tends to back or spin out of simple Balance Leash, you can solve that by letting the front loop go down just behind his elbow and then come up between his front legs and up along the right side of his neck. If your dog is a expert at spinning out of Balance Leash, you can slip the handle end up through his collar as well. In Balance Leash you can use two hands, like the reins on a horse, or when the dog is not pulling, you can put both parts of the leash into the left hand. It is easy to switch back and forth between one and two hands as needed.

Carry the Dog
If your dog is on the small side of medium or smaller and you just need to go a short distance - then pick her up and carry her. This is a good approach when you only need to get to the car or into the veterinarian's office.

Lure the Dog
In a pinch, it is perfectly acceptable to lure your dog a short distance to prevent letting him pull on the leash, so you don't have to worry about practicing leash pulling. You can lure your dog in a few different ways.
  • You could put a hot dog or a stick of cheese right in his face and let him nibble on it all the way.
  • You could buy a Go Toob from a camping supply store and fill it with tasty goodies, such as peanut butter, regular butter, cream cheese or baby food meats. Flip the top open and let your dog lick at it as you lead him to where you need to get to. You will need to refrigerate between uses, except with peanut butter (Gimme's personal favorite).
  • You could lure your dog over a short distance with a favorite toy.
  • You could play tug all the way.
The key to all of these is to pick one or two tools/strategies and try them out to see which works for you. Then be prepared, so when life intervenes, you can get your dog safely from one place to another, without undoing your work on Loose Leash Walking.

Monday, May 21, 2012


What are Jackpots?

A Jackpot is any reward that is unexpected from the dogs point of view.  It may be unexpected because they are used to doing the behavior without being rewarded.  It may be unexpected because its special either in amount of reward or quality. 

When to use a Jackpot

There are four basic times when you might jackpot your dog, they are:

1.  Maintain motivation
2.  Emphasize something
3.  Create a good association
4.  Special reward for special effort

Maintaining Motivation

When your dog is well trained, some behaviors just don't get rewarded anymore.  Its like when you were a kid, your parents rewarded you for brushing your teeth, because you were just learning.  Now that you are grown, no one is rewarding you for brushing. 

Like a slot machine, sometimes rewarding in an unexpected way keeps your dog motivated to keep doing that behavior.  Your dog may have done this behavior a thousand times without reward and wasn't expecting one.  Rewarding now and then when its not expected, keeps the dog's enthusiasm up.  It may be a long time before you reward that behavior again.

Emphasize something

If your dog is having trouble "getting" something and they have a momentary breakthrough, you will want to emphasize that moment with a special reward.  If you don't emphasize it, the dog will likely just offer the same behavior he was doing before.  If you make the reward really special the dog will think "Hey!  That was really cool.  Now what did I do to make it happen?  How can I make it happen again?"  This helps your dog focus on what he just did to get you to pay up and makes it more likely he'll do it again.

If your dog is stuck and at a plateau of learning, where the rate of reinforcement is falling low, he might feel like quitting or be making less effort because what they are getting isn't worth the effort.  Giving an unexpected jackpot will keep your dog in the game.

Create a good association

The idea here is to create a better association for the dog about something that may be yucky or neutral.  Any time you give a lot of treats for little effort from the dog, they will be scanning their environment to figure out what makes this special.

Gimme here:  When I was little I got sick and had to go to the doctor.  I didn't feel good to begin with and it was not a fun experience.  My person knew I wouldn't want to go there again, since that was only my second time being there.  So she took me twice a week for several weeks.  At first I was a little scared because I remembered how bad it was.  We sat in the waiting room and I got lots of treats for being brave and cute, and then we left.  This happened many times and I learned that this place was a great place to get treats.  Then one day she took me in the little room and put me on the table.  People came in petted me and gave me more treats.  We visited there and I got to stand on the table for treats and petting.  I like my doctor now.  He is nice to me, gives me yummy things to eat, and says I'm beautiful and smart.  He's very smart.  I'm just saying...

This is classical conditioning and is used in both desensitizing and counter-conditioning.  It can even be used to increase the value of a place the dog already likes - especially if you know that might be a distracting or sometimes stressful place.  It may not even be a particular place, but instead something in the place that is worrisome to your dog.

The idea is for the dog to recognize the environment or see the icky thing that makes them worry and instead of feeling bad, to see that thing and anticipate a big payoff - so they feel good instead.

Special reward for special effort

If your dog makes a special effort, you want to reward them in a way that recognizes that effort.  Perhaps your dog does well while you are training in a very distracting environment.  This combines both motivation and emphasis into one reward that helps the dog learn and perform.  

Its like getting a bonus at work.  If you put in extra hours and work extra hard on a project and your boss gives you a bonus for your special effort - you will certainly be more likely to put out a superhuman effort next time around.  Your dog responds in the same way.  When your dog realizes that he'll get special compensation for special effort, he'll be more likely to give his best, even in difficult situations. 

How to Jackpot for Best effect
  • Your dog will think they are getting more reward if you dole out several treats one-at-a-time than if you give them a handful in one gulp.  I like to count out loud and really emphasize each one, one after another. 
  • A special reward that is used infrequently will really catch your dog's attention.  For instance, Gimme loves peanut butter, so I use that.
  • Rewards that have an element of pizazz are good - like getting to put their head in a bag of popcorn and get a whole big mouthful is a memorable experience.  Running from where you were working to where the treats are adds a playful moment to the experience.
  • For the category of creating a good association, usually you want the treats to come one right after the other, as fast as the dog can gobble them up. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Martha & Lily

Martha asks: We rescued Lily, a Yorkie, from our local humane society. She is about ten months old and the reason given for surrendering her was "lack of time". She was spayed by the humane society and we have since learned she was in season at the time of the spay. Our vet said she will be fine when her body recovers from the hormone changes. We have noticed that she is dribbling urine from time to time. She’s had some real accidents in the house, all in one spot, but the dribbling is happening as well. I did see that at the humane society before the spay. When I say dribble, it is tiny spots in a line, as she walks. She is adjusting well to us and the other two dogs. She does scratch at the door to go out and we take her out frequently. Why is she dribbling and what can we do to get it to stop?

There are a number of things that can cause urinary incontinence and they fall into two categories: behavioral and physical.

Behavioral -- Many dogs, especially young meek dogs, do what is called "submissive urination". Some will roll over, belly up, while peeing, while others just dribble as they walk or may do a squatty kind of walk. Although its called submissive, some dogs that do it are overly excited, not fearful.

If its submissive urination, it will happen most often when the dog is approaching a person or being approached. It may also happen if something scary is happening, such as yelling or other loud noises. If its over-excitement, it will happen when the dog is very excited. So your first action is to observe Lily for a few days and see if the times when it happens fits either of these patterns. You might want to take notes and see if you notice any other pattern.

In most cases, dogs grow out of this behavior, provided they gain confidence as they mature. Its very important that Lily never be corrected for this, since she isn't aware that she's doing it. Plus, correction undermines confidence and actually makes the problem worse. This is not a house training issue, so you have nothing to correct in any case. You will want to use all reward based training, specifically geared to increasing Lily's confidence. If you think she is generally fearful or uncertain, I recommend following the approach outlined in Leslie McDevitt's book "Control Unleashed" or Leslie’s new puppy book.

In the meantime, whenever you call Lily or when she approaches you, turn your side to her, so she isn't approaching you face-to-face. You can also squat down to her level so you aren't as intimidating. Naturally you'll want to try to make these approaches outside or on linoleum.

Also be careful when you talk to her or when others talk to her. Tiny cute dogs like Lily just naturally cause people to say "Ohhhhhh, isn't she cute." When we make the "Oh" sound, our mouth gets small and round which closely resembles an offensive pucker, a threatening canine expression. Some dogs are very sensitive to that expression and may think you are threatening them. Remember, dogs don't speak English. So try to use wide mouth smiles instead. If you think that expression is an issue for Lily, its possible to teach her with counter-conditioning that the expression is a good thing, predicting treats.

If your observations don’t identify a pattern that suggests submissive urination, then you will need to consider physical causes.

Physical – Two very common causes for dribbling are spay and geriatric incontinence. These result from lack of certain hormones. Geriatric incontinence can also be caused by weak muscle tone. Of course, neither would apply in this case.

The next most common cause is Sphincter Incompetence. SI is fairly common, occurring about three times as often in females as in males. It can also be a matter of degree. Some dogs have truly impressive bladder control and can hold their urine for really long times (although they shouldn't have to). Other dogs need the opportunity to relieve themselves more often than normal. In its simplest form, this is easily controlled by medication.

There are many other physical possibilities, including: diseases that cause frequent urination, birth defects, bladder infection (acute or chronic), partial blockages, stones, tumors, geriatric diseases, senility, and even brain injury.

Your veterinarian can evaluate Lily and determine if there is a medical explanation and what the best course of treatment is. Once you have observed Lily for a pattern to her dribbling, you will be better able to answer the vet’s questions. You may want to call ahead and ask if you should wait awhile for her body to recover from the spay and hormonal changes before scheduling an appointment.

Mary & Grafton

Mary asks: My dog Grafton likes to jump up and grab my arm when he wants to play. I know he doesn't mean to, but he's big and sometimes it hurts. I’ve tried turning my back on him, walking away and coming back after 5 minutes, but he hasn't stopped. What do you suggest?

Always remember, dogs do what works for dogs. So if this behavior doesn't work, then he'll stop. Even better, teach him an acceptable way to ask you to play with him.

When he jumps on you, cross your arms as you turn away, but don't walk away. Instead, just keep turned away and look up and to the left or right, so its clear you are shunning him. Start with just waiting 20 seconds before turning back to him. If that doesn't work, you can increase the time. Be neutral when you turn back, not forgiving or the "make-up-sex" could be worth it.

You will also want to teach him to bring you a toy when he wants to play. Its always a good idea to give them a better behavior to replace the one you want to get rid of. The fastest way to teach this is to watch for him to interact with a toy and then call him to you and join in the play. He will figure out that coming toward you with a toy gets you to play with him.
Gimme here: I've learned that my person is really delicate, so I don't put my paws on her except when she says I can. When I want to play I bring one of my toys to her. I drop it in her lap or on the keyboard several times. If that doesn't work, then I dance around in front of her playing with my toy and showing her what fun it is (and what fun I am)  . Most of the time she just can't resist and stops what she's doing to play with me. We have a lot of fun playing together.

Also, it might be worthwhile to teach him a "stop that" cue. I've taught Gimme "enough" and interestingly for the same reason - mugging me for play. I'd say "enough" and take her by the collar and hold it for 30 seconds - thus removing any possibility of a fun interaction. Since we already have a strong history of collar grabs being fun and rewarding, this won't teach her to avoid my hands on the collar.  If your dog is soft temperamentally, the collar hold might be too much like a correction. To teach "enough" to a soft dog, simply say "enough" as you turn away to begin the shunning.