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Here at the Clicker Leash Co. we believe you can shape the dog of your dreams through positive reinforcement training but we also recognize that sometimes our dogs’ personalities or natural instincts may make some of our goals unrealistic. We have all felt moments of disappointment when we realize we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. That is why we found this video of a dog who had been bred and trained from birth to be a service dog so touching. This special dog’s instinct to chase birds unravelled her handler’s plans but instead of giving up on the dog completely, the inspired handler transformed her into a “Surfice Dog.” This is an inspiring story for anyone dealing with a challenging dog. Sometimes they won’t be what we want them to but they may make an even greater contribution to this world than we could have imagined.
We’ve all seen them – the dogs who take their owners for a walk as they pull them down the sidewalk at break neck speeds. When puppies are very young, they are not capable nor do many want to pull their people down the street. In fact, we often hear the complaint that a new puppy doesn’t want to walk at all. So how does it get from one extreme to another?
The first thing to consider is it takes two to tango and it takes two to pull. When your young puppy becomes more adventurous, he will begin to enjoy smelling new smells and meeting new people and these will be very rewarding experiences for him. When you allow him to do these things while he is pulling or lunging forward, you are telling him he is being a good dog and you really like it when he pulls you toward things by giving him access to these things. If having a dog walk politely and safely on a loose leash is important to you, then you have to make sure your puppy does not get rewarded for moving forward on a tight leash. Timing and clear communication are important here. With a Clicker Leash, simply click as soon as your puppy offers you any slack in the leash and then reward by moving forward, being sure to stop again if the leash becomes tight. Make sure your puppy does not get access to people and places when their leash is tight. You may feel like you are playing a game of red light green light but with young puppies this method will typically begin to work quickly as long as your timing is good and you are consistent. If you allow your puppy to pull occasionally, they will try more and more often to do so in the hopes that they will get to whatever it is they want to explore even faster.
This method has proven to be effective with many puppies but the easiest way to train a dog to walk beside you and something that makes the red light/green light technique even more powerful is rewarding the dog for passive attention.
Begin by clicking and rewarding any attention your dog gives you. Do not ask for your dog to “watch” or “look” or try to get their attention. Just observe them as you are walking and if they pay any attention to you, click and reward next to your side closest to the dog. For some dogs this may be as little as an ear twitch or brief glance in your direction. Don’t reach out with the treat, feed it at your leg to build some reward value for the space around you. As your dog comes to understand that orienting to you and walking near you is a rewarding activity, he will begin to offer you more attention for longer periods of time. As you practice this activity, you can increase your expectations and begin delaying your click for longer periods of time, gradually fading out the click and rewards when your dog is conditioned to walk nicely beside you. Make sure to practice around a lot of distractions that your dog is challenged with on a regular basis, rewarding heavily if your dog can maintain their focus on you as you approach and pass the distractions.
We first learned about passive attention exercises in Leslie McDevitt’s wonderful book “Control Unleashed” and Jane Killion’s equally amazing “When Pigs Fly.” If you have a difficult-to-train dog, one that becomes overexcited and reactive or shuts down due to fear, these two books paired with a Clicker Leash will help you effectively nurture your dog through their issues.