Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Walking our dogs is something we all love doing. Being outside, taking in the fresh air, getting some exercise for us and our dogs. And of course, having our dogs walk nicely next to us makes our walks much more enjoyable and more likely to occur. After all, having a dog that pulls us down the sidewalk is not only frustrating and unenjoyable but can be dangerous as well.
In the last article, I provided the initial steps and building of the expectation of what we want to see from our dogs. If you haven’t read that and followed all the steps, go back and read and follow those steps before moving on to the steps contained below. Rushing foundation only causes confusion and conflict in our dogs and sets our training backwards!
When your dog is doing well with the training in the previous article, you are ready to move to the next steps.
First Advanced Phase:
Now that your dog is doing well staying by your side with circles, continue to keep some food in your hand (the one closest to the dog!) and start to walk in a circle but half way through, take 2-3 steps in a straight line, then continue with a circle. Continue adding in 2-3 steps in a straight line with each half circle you make. Be sure to mark and reward when you are getting the behavior you want! You may be in the basic position with your dog sitting by your side, a few steps into your half circle, a step or two with your straight-line walking, etc. – whenever you are getting what you want, mark and reward!!
Remember the reward comes AFTER you mark, not at the same time and not before. Think of them as separate events. This way you can fade out the food easier.
Spend 2-5 minutes (depending on the age of your dog – younger dogs go shorter) and then take a break for a few minutes and repeat 1-3 times. Doing this 2-3 times a day will go a long way in building the behavior you want in your dog.
Notice we have not named the behavior yet. This is because we are still building it. Once we get the behavior we want and it is consistent, we will then add a word to it. If you attach a word to quickly to a behavior before it is built, the dog will associate the word with whatever they are doing at that time. And since mistakes tend to get made by us and the dog during the building phase, we want to be careful not to attach a word to something we don’t want.
Second Advanced Phase:
As your dog is getting better at staying by your side, staying focused on you and you are seeing more and more of the desired behavior, begin to shorten the circles and add more straight-line steps. Again, be sure to mark and reward when your dog is doing what you want!
Issues will arise and it’s important to not get upset when they do.
Remember, during the building phases, the behavior won’t look pretty all of the time. That’s okay! You and your dog are learning. The important thing is to capture the moments when your dog is doing well and mark and reward them – often!
When an issue comes up, or your dog is having trouble following directions, stop what you’re doing and assess the situation.
Did you train too long? Is your hand too far in front of you so you are encouraging your dog to get ahead of you? Do you have your dog on your left but rewarding from the right hand? (This will cause your dog to forget ahead and cross over in front of you in anticipation of where the reward is coming from.) Did you move to quickly in the steps?
Create an image in your mind as to what you want the picture to look like. This helps me so much when I am training with my dog. If I can visualize what I want, then I know what I don’t want and can be proactive in my training, not reactive.
If your dog casts out or pulls away from you, no worries – it is going to happen. Take a deep breath, tell them, “nope, try again” and circle around to get your dog back in the basic position – sitting by your left (or right) side and focused on you. Mark and reward that a few times, release your dog, get them back into that same position, mark and reward a few times and begin to make your circle.
If you feel yourself getting frustrated or not sure how to get back on track, stop training! Bad training is worse than no training. Take a break for a while, think about what was going on and how can you set it up better the next training session?
Training is like a roller coaster – it has its ups and downs.
Even those of us who are professional dog trainers go through this so don’t sweat it. It will all work out!
In the next issue, I will address removing the food and adding your cue word to your loose leash walking!