My best friend Jack is spunky, as you know from one of my previous posts. My 55 lb. pup certainly has a big personality and a mind of his own. That mind of his is on overdrive when we go out for walks (or W.A.L.K.’s as I have to call them when I’m not ready to go on one, for fear of having him leaping at the door in attempt to make me feel guilty).
Like most dogs, walks are the highlight of his day. He is determined to get where he is going. It doesn’t matter that he is half-choking himself while pulling me along. But at 55 lbs. of muscle, the walks were becoming a tug-of-war and my arms were sore by the end of each one. I had to put a stop to this: I called the local Dog Whisperer, better known around here as Kirsten, owner of The Gentle Canine.
Kirsten taught me how to get Jack in the habit of following me around using food, and then to translate this behavior to the outside world where the distractions are many. And much to my surprise, when I finally got up the nerve to try it on the street, Jack picked it up fairly quickly. If you have the same problem, here are the steps I used to alleviate the insistent, uncomfortable leash-pulling:
1) I got a treat pouch. Yes, it’s a little dorky, but I got over that because they make the job easier!
2) I found some treats. Treats can be your regular dog food. Or Cheerios. I have found that sliced hot dogs are Jack’s favorite. More about that later.
3) At Kirsten’s instruction, I put on the treat pouch and started walking around the house. (If your dog doesn’t automatically follow you, give him a call. He’ll pick it up once he sees that you have food.) After every few steps, I took a treat and placed my hand at my right side (you can do whatever side works for you). This got him used to following me for the reward. (Try not to lead your dog with the treat though.)
4) I kept practicing this inside and tried it on a leash too. The trick was to get Jack used to this action.
5) Next, we took it to the backyard. Basically, you are looking for an outside space that is not as hugely distracting as the outside street world. Then, we tried it again. I led Jack around in the yard on a leash and gave him treats at random intervals. Then I kept on practicing out there!
6) Once Jack was doing pretty well in the yard, I began to feel ready to attempt the Big Time. The only thing left to do was try the W.A.L.K. out on the street. And dig up that patience that eludes me most days. I put on his leash and grabbed my treat bag. Off into the world we went.
The first try wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t used to it, and I was only using Cheerios. But I could tell he was figuring it out. I upped the anty the second time. I brought out the Big Guns: some sliced hot dogs. They are to Jack what chocolate is to me. Heaven. I had his complete attention. He didn’t care about what dog peed on which post. He cared only for me (read: hot dog). He walked by my side and took his treats as they came. We did a whole block. It was amazing, and my arm didn’t hurt at the end.
And now, we are continuing to practice. Jack’s not perfect when I don’t bring hot dogs, but he is getting there. When he is having a distracted day, I employ some other tricks hiding up my sleeve. I ask him to Look (at me) which reminds him that I have some treats, and he’ll come back beside me. I also started walking backwards when Look doesn’t work. Then he is all of a sudden coming towards me–again a reminder. Eventually, he won’t even need the treats because he’ll be so used to the behavior of walking beside me.
For some reason I felt like this was going to be extremely hard to teach him. I was fearful of tackling this daunting task. But surprisingly, Jack picked it up pretty quickly. I am a proud Doggie Mother. Thanks Kirsten!
PS: If you are having dog troubles, I highly recommend finding a trainer like Kirsten. Her positive reinforcement training really works, and it builds your confidence as well as your dog’s. And, you’ll learn a thing or two along the way.