Featuring Jen Larson, KPA-CTP
Concept by Courtney Emken


Loose leash walking is not a natural behavior for dogs. It is a behavior we have to train and positively reinforce and practice with them in low-distraction environments before we can expect them to give it to us out in the real world.


– Hi, I’m Jen and this is Deacon and he’s a little baby puppy, he’s about four months old, and so he is doing some boarding up at the main kennel right now, but he’s also signed up for a couple training sessions with us, down here in the Training and Wellness center, while he’s boarding. So the program that he’s doing is called Charm School. So a couple things that Deacon is working on are just basics, like sit, and recall and come, but a big focus of Deacon’s training is gonna be loose leash walking. So today we’re gonna just show you a little bit of some of the loose leash walking basics that we use during training. One of the most important things to remember about loose leash walking is that it’s not a natural behavior for dogs, and so it’s really something that we’ve gotta train, and reinforce and practice with them in low-distraction environments first before we can expect them to give it to us out in the real world, so in a distracting, stimulating environment, with lots of smells, lots of sounds. Come here buddy, come here. In order to create a polite loose leash walking behavior, what we have to do is create a deep history of positive reinforcement for staying with us, for staying in the position that we want them in. We’ve gotta build enough of a reinforcement history with that position, to compete with all the stuff going on around us. The way we do that, is first, by training some basic foundation skills in low-distraction environments. I’ve never met this dog before, I just met him about a couple minutes ago and so you’re really gonna see sort of just a start from scratch training thing, here with him. First thing I do before I start any sort of training session is a little warm up so I’m gonna just run through that really quickly. So the first thing I would do would be to play a little bit of find it, so I’m gonna toss a treat out, ask him to find it. That’s a little scent and search activity, kinda get him warmed up. I’m just gonna do about 10 seconds of that. Find it. Where’d it go? Come on. There it is. Good boy, you ready? Find it. Good, so this is creating some positive emotional associations for him, with working with me, find it, and being in this space ’cause this space is also new to him. Find it. And so I wanna point something out here. He’s got a really nice little default sit, he’s obviously been reinforced pretty often for sitting and so he keeps offering that to me, so that’s a really nice little behavior. Default sits are great, great thing to set up with your dog. But sometimes what you see with a really heavily reinforced behavior that might be his only heavily reinforced behavior at this point ’cause he’s so little is that that’s the one that they tend to fall back on over and over again. So when you’re trying to train a new behavior, sometimes with a dog, who doesn’t have a lot of behaviors in the toolbox, he’ll just keep offering you the one that they’ve been reinforced for the most. What we can do with Deacon, is build some new behaviors so that we also create a deep reinforcement history for us so he can offer those to us as well. The next thing I’m gonna do is I’m gonna introduce the clicker to Deacon. I’m gonna use the clicker as a marker for behavior. What that means, is I’m gonna during the behavior that I like and then reinforce it. What the click does, is it tells Deacon which behavior is earning reinforcement. But before I can use it as a marker, I need to create some meaning and value for the clicker, for him, so I’m gonna pair it with treats. So all I’m gonna do is just about five of these, I’m just gonna click, treat, click, treat so I’m doing that classical condition and procedure where I’m pairing the sound with the reward. So he doesn’t have to be doing anything in particular, I don’t know if you saw that but his little head kinda went ’cause this sound is starting to have some value for him. Yeah, his little ear is twitching. Good. So it’s important when you’re doing this if there’s a slight pause between the click and then the delivery of the reinforcement. So you don’t wanna be doing two things at once, you wanna click and then follow-up with a treat. So the next thing I’m gonna do is a little bit of attention work. This is where I’m looking for Deacon to offer me some eye contact or attention without me asking for it and then I’m gonna mark and reinforce that. So what happens with that, is that that will increase the likelihood of him doing that for me again. He’s really staring at me right now so I’m gonna move around a little bit, I might toss a treat off, and let him get distracted, and then I’m gonna wait for that head turn back to me and mark and reinforce that. He’s working so hard with his little default sit. I’m gonna crumble a little treat on the floor, let him get distracted, wait for him to look back at me. There it is. Good, so good. Oh good, so you could see how fast that little head turn was. He just whipped his head back to me. Good, good job. Yes, very good. So I’m waiting until he actually looks up at my face and makes some eye contact with me rather than looking at my treat pouch or my hand. Yes, very good. He is ready to start working, he’s really giving me some nice focus and attention, he’s checking in with me, so we’re ready for the last step. The last step of this little warm up that I’m gonna do with Deacon, is to build some name recognition for him. I’m gonna say his name one time and then I’m gonna mark and reinforce his response back to me. The more we reinforce the click response to their name being called, the more we can use it and distract from the environments, we can use it when we’re out loose leash walking, we can use it to ask for other behaviors, so I’m gonna build that up for him right now. I’m only gonna say his name one time and I’m gonna just kinda wait for him to process it, I’m not gonna re-cue too soon if he doesn’t respond right away. Deacon. Good. Deacon. Good. Deacon. He’s too quick for me. Deacon. Good. So I’m just gonna do a couple of these. Deacon. Good, good job. Now that Deacon is all warmed up and he’s giving me some really nice attention and focus, he’s responding to his name well, we’re ready to start doing some loose leash walking training. The first step of loose leash walking training is to make sure that you have the right equipment for the dog that you’re working with. With little Deacon here, he’s working really well with me, he’s not pulling too much and we happen to be in kind of a lower distraction environment, so I’m probably just gonna use his regular collar and this leash. If he were to pull quite a bit, I would then use a management tool like this front-clip harness. The way a front-clip harness works is that it fastens under the dog’s tummy and then on his chest. The leash clips right on this center ring so when the dog pulls, it just kind of gently redirects their motion off to the side and actually changes their gate a little bit so they’re not pulling as much. What we would never wanna use with a dog who pulls is any sort of aversive equipment, so prong collars, choke chains, shock collars, things like that. What happens when you use aversive equipment, is that it tends to create a lot of negative side-effects for your dog. So it can create anxiety, fear, it can create negative emotional associations with whosever walking the dog or things that are out in the environment when they’re getting poked by the prong collar or choked with the choke chain, and it’s just really unnecessary. The key to loose leash walking is really teaching, and practicing and reinforcing the behavior that you want rather than punishing the behavior that you don’t want. ‘Cause when you’re punishing your dog for pulling, you’re not actually teaching them anything and you can create a lot of other negative affects. We are not going to use this front-clip right now, so I’m just gonna toss this out of the way. Yeah, where did that go? Come here, good boy. I’m gonna start by teaching Deacon where I want him to be. I would like him to be over here on my left in kinda of a more formal heal position. I’m gonna bring him over here, I might use a lure or just my hand. Once he gets to this side, I’m gonna mark and reinforce him for being there. I might ask for a sit or he might just offer it to me ’cause he’s got such a nice little default sit, or I might just mark him in a stand. Come over here buddy. Good boy. Good. That’s nice. Gonna do that one more time. Come on buddy Good. So he’s starting to realize that he gets reinforced on my left side. Come on buddy. Good. That’s very good. I’m just gonna move around with him a little bit, good job, and I’m gonna keep marking and reinforcing him. After walking around with Deacon a little bit and just really reinforcing him for being on my left side, so another thing that I want to remember to reinforce him for is any of those little foundation skills that we did during the warm up. So responding to his name, checking in with me, all that kinda of stuff. So he’s got such a strong little default sit he just keeps offering this sit to me, I’m gonna work on just creating a couple other little behaviors that I can ask him for that I can reinforce when we’re out on a walk. What I’m gonna do with him right now is create a little nose touch, so a target behavior. So I’m going to present my hand, just kind of right in front of his little nose. He’s gonna lean forward and probably bump my hand, I’m gonna mark and reinforce that, and then I can use that little targeting behavior out on walks, to kind of keep his attention on me, if I need it. So I’m just gonna present my hand right in front of his little nose. He’s probably gonna lean forward and bump it. And if he does, I’m gonna mark and reinforce that. Oh, so he also offered me a little paw which I didn’t actually wanna click, but I did click it so hopefully I haven’t changed those behaviors. I’m gonna see if I can just get a nose touch instead of the paw. Good. But he started to give me his paw but I think I clicked it soon enough that hopefully I can fade that paw and just get a little nose touch. Good. There we go. Once he’s given this behavior to me a few times and I feel that it’s consistent then I might go ahead and add a verbal cue to it. So I’m just gonna see if I can get it, oop, right here baby. You did it, just a couple more times. Good. So I don’t want that paw. I’m gonna just kinda try to reset him a little bit. Good. So he’s still a little bit uncertain about which behavior that I’m asking him for here. Good. There we go. So I’m gonna add a cue, a verbal cue, to this now because he gave it to me a couple times in a row. Touch? Good. And sometimes when we put a verbal cue onto a behavior that a dog is a little bit uncertain about, it can kinda solidify for them which behavior that I’m asking for. Touch? Good, very good. So now I’ve got this little tool in my toolbox of this touch behavior, so when I’m out on a walk, come on touch good I can use that to kind of refocus him, get him back at my side. Touch. Good, so good. Oh, I dropped one. Touch? Good, so I’m making sure that when I ask him to touch it’s right here in left heal position so he’s still getting reinforced for being exactly where I want him. Come . Touch? Good, such a good puppy. So a couple other little behaviors that I can add to my toolbox that I can use for loose leash walking, and he’s already got this really nice default sit, so I’m gonna use this to build a new behavior that I like to call come front. So this is a behavior, where you’re walking along, dog is at your side, he might see something off in the distance that you don’t really want them getting fixated on, so you can ask them to come front, sit in front of you and offer you some eye contact, while you reinforce that. So we’re just gonna be walking along here. Come on buddy. Come on buddy, yes, good boy. So I’m get him moving around with me. Gonna be reinforcing him for being at my left side for checking in with me, maybe giving me a little touch good. And then, I’m gonna freeze and I’m gonna kinda use my little hand signals to lure him out in front of me. Good. And then I’m gonna mark that sit. So I’m gonna do that a couple times, and then I’m gonna name the behavior and I’m gonna use a cue called come front. So we’re just walking along reinforcing some nice healing here and then I’m gonna swing back around and I’m gonna get him out in front of me. Good. So now I think I’m go ahead and add a cue to this. So we’re moving around. Good boy. I’m reinforcing him for being in heal and then I’m gonna do this but I’m gonna pair it with my verbal cue, come front. Good, very good. I do that a couple times. Come front. Very nice. Let’s walk. Good boy. That’s so good. Good job. Come front. Good, pretty good. Seems to be a little bit off to my side but that’s okay ’cause we can kind of refine the precision of this behavior as we go. Come front. Very good, good boy. So come front’s just kind of another little behavior that you can put in your loose leash walking toolbox. So loose leash walking training can often kind of be a little bit frustrating, sometimes we get frustrated with our dogs and so it’s really important to build this for them from the bottom up. And remember, that this is a difficult thing for them, it’s not a natural behavior. It’s something that we really need to teach them. So always remember to start in a low-distraction environment and really build some of these foundation skills before you take your dog out into the real world and expect them to be able to perform. So just keeping in mind all the things that we covered and I hope you have a good walk.