The Holy Grain of Dog Training

We had our breakthrough moment. For *that* skill. You know.. the one that everyone wants, but has a heck of a time mastering?

Jello is starting to get loose leash walking. We aren’t 100% yet – heck, we will probably never be 100%, but we walked for ten whole minutes today and he didn’t yank on me one time.

I know what you’re thinking. Stop the presses… TEN whole minutes?! It doesn’t sound that impressive, but to me – it is legitimately amazing. Jello – as much as I love him – has never been an easy dog. He is a happy, excited boy – but he is also easily distracted, hyper-aware, and goes over-threshold very easily. I’ve tried front clip harnesses, two point attachment leashes, walking on a flat collar. I’ve tried stopping when he pulls. I’ve tried unpredictable walks. Nothing work. NOTHING.

So what is the magic that allowed me TEN WHOLE MINUTES? What is my special secret that will instantly have your dog behaving like a million bucks???!

**Deliver your reinforcement for good behavior in the location that you want your dog to be**

(Disclaimer – this kernel of indispensable knowledge comes from Hannah Branigan’s podcast (Drinking From the Toilet) – which I am currently addicted to. I STRONGLY recommend listening to the entire podcast about loose leash walking – it was a game changer for me.)

Anyway – I listen to podcasts in my car, and try to remember to implement the things that I have learned, but you know… life happens.

If you follow me on Instagram – you know that I have been dealing with lower back pain. For almost ten days, the dogs got zero activity. Outside to potty and back in. Three days ago, after a lot of drugs and some physical therapy, I was finally feeling up to venturing out for short walks. Armed with a lot of treats, my clicker, and limited mobility – we started out. It was almost an accident; all of the stars aligned, and I started rewarding Jello only next to me, because that was physically all I could do. A tiny lightbulb was trying to go off in my brain… but I couldn’t quite grasp it.

Two days ago, I was moving a little better, but still not great. Something was nagging in the back of my mind as I was walking the wee beasties. About treat placement…

I have been guilty of delivering reinforcement all over the place. I’ve tossed it, I’ve dropped it on the ground behind me. It was erratic, and inconsistent… and we all know that the golden rule of dog training is consistency. Consistently producing a reward, at the place where you want your dog to be, increases the likelyhood that he/she will show up there.

…So I started deliberately rewarding Jello only on my right side, right at the seam of my pant leg – and I immediately saw in increase of Jello presenting himself at my right side.

Yesterday, I went out with some high-value treats, and determination. I focused on actually training a loose lease walk. I rewarded him liberally when he was walking beside of me – presenting the rewards directly beside of my leg. If he got a little bit ahead of me, I called his name and once we were walking forward again together, I started with liberal rewards again. High value rewards. Turkey meatball, high value rewards. My little smarty pants picked up what I was asking of him so dang fast. During our ten minute walk, there were maybe two times when he walked ahead and didn’t self correct. He didn’t dash to the end of the leash . Not once.

You bet your bottom dollar we had a party for that. Celebrate all of your successes, no matter how small they may seem to the outside world.

Today I added one more layer. I brought out the clicker.

We have been working on shaping new behaviors a lot at home the past few weeks. Jello loves clicker training, and will offer up all sorts of behaviors to get his payment. I have never used the clicker on a walk before – I have no idea why I relegated it to the house, because it really seemed to help cement his understanding of what I wanted.

Clicker, freeze dried turkey, can-do attitude, and one happy dog. The recipe for success? Eh, maybe…

We had a couple of challenges that I wasn’t anticipating. Our neighbors very friendly dog, was tied to his porch on a long line. He came bounding out and surprised both of us. Jello responded beautifully, auto-looking at me (something we have worked long and hard for… very VERY hard) and I was able to mark and reward. Another neighbors dog was also out, behind a fence. I saw Jello laser lock onto him – but I was able to gain his attention with a tossed treat, and we moved to the other side of the road. Again, Jello auto-looked to me when the dog barked at him, and I was able to mark and reward. Challenges aren’t always a bad thing. Sometimes they are just what you need to move forward.

His loose leash walking was good today. Not a single incidence of darting to the end of the leash. He auto-corrected when he got more than a step or two ahead of me, AND he crossed the street at a walk , not a darting run. I was even able to mark and reward for disengaging with the neighbors trees – where all the birds and squirrels live.

This is not the end of the battle. I can’t call it done and go back go back to walking the way that we always have. There are still going to be a lot of training walks, a lot of treats, and a lot of frustration. I’d like it if that wasn’t the case, but I know there is no magic when it come to dog training. We WILL get there.

Until then, train on!!!


Published by Band of Nekkids

Just your typical Seattle Cliche. Loves coffee, craft beer, hiking, camping - and all of those things are made better by adding dogs. Part time photographer, part time vet tech, full time wife.

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