A "smiling" lead is the key to an enjoyable walk
by Amy Healey // July 2017
A “smiling” lead is the key for an enjoyable walk
Learning to love the loose lead
In my previous blog I mentioned that I started Molly’s lead training in the back garden as I know that is where she will give me 90% focus during her training session. Well that’s unless the local pigeon decides to sit on our fence!
After providing her with the signal of “training mode” by clipping her lead onto her collar, I then showed her a piece of liver cake to get her attention. This was achieved by waving the food in front of her nose; if anyone owns a Labrador then you will know how quickly I had her attention - before I had even removed the treats out of the fridge! Also, when I mention “wave the food” I don’t mean I’m dramatically throwing my hands around her nose I just mean I’m moving the food slowly around her nose just so she gets the scent – she does not eat it at this stage either.
Facing Molly, I took three steps backwards and turned my body towards my lead. Remembering the lead must be held in the opposite hand to whichever side you walk your dog, so for me, I turned right as I want Molly on my left side. Now when you turn, you only need to turn 180 degrees not 360. If you get “swirl happy” and turn 360 degrees you will get tangled in the lead and confuse your dog – trust me, I have experienced this! Once I had achieved the 180 degree turn I stopped, stood still and rewarded Molly for being by my left thigh. Rewarded meaning, I gave her a piece of liver cake.
By adding the turn, this allows me to guide Molly into the correct position without any tense, tight or tangled leads. This will also allow Molly to make the right choices when going for a walk in the future.
Complete the turn
Once I had completed the turn and rewarded Molly, I began to put one foot in front of the other to slowly walk towards the top end of my garden and the house. As I began to walk, I guided Molly by using a “marker” word before I give her the treat. A marker word is a verbal cue that I use to capture any desired behaviours that Molly achieves. An example of this would be:
If I want Molly to walk nicely on the lead, every time I see a loose “smiling” lead, I will say “good” and then reward her after with the food.
This marker word also allows Molly to recognise when she has achieved the right behaviours and is more likely to repeat this behaviour again.
As I continued to walk down the garden, one step at a time, I rewarded Molly for every step that we took with the lead remaining nice and loose. If she became a bit too keen and pulled the lead tight, I stopped and walked all the way back to where we started from, the bottom end of the garden by the shed and started the whole process again. By doing this, I was not allowing Molly to walk any further until she walked nicely. Now you may find that you end up going back and forth from the bottom of the garden numerous times and you may get dizzy but trust me, it works! After a 15minute training session, I was able to get Molly from one end of the garden to the other without any tension from her lead. Yay! But that doesn’t mean we have accomplished it, we haven’t tried it outside…. In the big wide world yet…. Scary I know!
The big wide world!
Now Molly has understood the loose lead walking in her garden, I can now begin to adapt the training outside – but there is no point in me trying to get her to walk nicely as soon as we leave the front door, she’s too excited. It’s like asking me to walk nicely to the local chocolate shop – it just won’t happen! So before we leave, I put on her harness which gives her the cue of “permission to pull” and only for the last ten minutes of her walk I attach her lead to her collar and begin the training on the way home. After exiting the playing field, I started her training right from the very beginning, the basics. This was achieved by doing those turns I had previously done in the garden, marking and rewarding for every step we took that did not involve me being pulled into the brambles. If she did pull the lead tight, I walked her straight back to the field and started all over again. I must admit, it took several attempts and a couple of dizzy spells before we accomplished a lovely walk back home without my arms being pulled out of their sockets but we got there and Molly learned to love the loose lead!
Why not give it a go? See if you can get your dog to walk with that “smile”. Let us know how you are getting on….. by either Twitter @wmdogschool or Instagram @dtwestmidsdogschool