Monday, November 1, 2010



• Establishing that both ends of the leash understand what a loose leash FEELS like. The leash snap hanging down becomes a conditioned cue for the dog that we are now walking on a loose leash.

• Learning to pay attention to the leash (J-shape and leash snap hanging down) and developing the handler's role in keeping slack in the leash during the stages of training the dog.

• Understanding the need for good mechanical skills so as to give the dog a high rate of reinforcement.

• Using a high rate of reinforcement to both teach the dog the required skill and to keep the dog having fun while learning.

• Learning to work in baby steps towards a training goal.

• Learning to handle one's leash with soft hands -- almost transparent as far as the dog is concerned. The leash is nothing but an accessory required by our culture. To that end, training loose-leash walking with 100% positive reinforcement means making the leash "invisible" in its impact on the dog.

The first three steps:
1. Set Up for Success -- clicker, leash and treat handling.
2. Standing with a Loose Leash -- do this for one full minute.
3. Slow Drift About -- do at least 25 click/treats before moving on to the next step. If you see that your dog has any difficulty, then repeat this step until your dog looks as ready for something new as Jack does in the video.

Make these three steps your warm-up to every Polite Walking training session. Revisiting these steps with a high rate of reinforcement further conditions the dog to the *feel* of a slack leash -- and the handler too!

It's important that your rate of reinforcement be very high -- click/treat continuously if the leash is continuously in the J-shape. Hold several treats in your hand so that you can get a treat to the dog quickly after the click. It's important that your treat hand remain still until after the click. These mechanical skills should be practiced without the dog in the picture until they are second nature. If you cannot hold several treats in your hand, use a food tube with lickable food to present for a quick lick as the treat. For a small dog, use a long-handled wooden spoon with something lickable on it for a quick lick as his treat.

Practice that type of treat delivery first without the dog.

By starting your Polite Walking training with the dog facing you, he has no need to pull -- and, of course, you will start this in a location that has the least number of tempting distractions! Notice how quiet the trainer is with Jack. She is quiet so that he can concentrate only on the information from the click.

In this part we continue to build the handler's mechanical skills. We begin to vary the rate of reinforcement for the dog -- raising it as criteria become harder, lowering it once the dog is adept at the new criterion.

Each of these steps requires more effort on the part of the dog. That means the rate of reinforcement will be lower for him. When you can see your dog eagerly performing the task without sniffing, wandering, becoming unfocused, then move on to the next step.

Whenever you start your Polite Walking training in a new location, warm-up with the steps from Part 1, then move to One Step Back, then Two Steps Back, then Three Steps Back. That will re-acquaint your dog with the shaping process for this task and get him a good rate of reinforcement that is then gradually thinned out based on his success at each step.

Be sure to stop to treat. Being able to eat a treat and keep on walking is a higher level skill. At this level, we want it to be as easy and doable for the dog as possible. Stopping to treat also means that the dog never gets enough momentum to pull ahead of you suddenly.

Step 4: One Step Back
Step 5: Two Steps Back
Step 6: Three Steps Back

Step 7: Pivot to Face Forward -- practice this pivot without your dog until it is second nature. Remember good mechanical skills -- treat with your left hand if your dog will be walking on your left. Deliver the treat to the spot where you want the dog's head to be. Be smooth, clear and consistent in your treat delivery and your dog will learn to be right there, in the pocket, for every step you take.

Step 8: Alternating Single Steps Back with Pivots -- pivots take some time to do. To keep the dog in the game, be sure to alternate Pivots with Single Steps Back. That will keep his reinforcement rate high with an "affordable" drop at each pivot.


Step 9: Pivot, One Step Forward .
The journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. Practice that one step forward many, many times so that the dog, right from the moment you step off, is never ahead of your body. Make your movements fast and snappy, click and get the treat right to the "sweet spot" immediately. Remember, if you can't hold treats in your hand, a food tube of canned dog food works wonders. Be sure to stop to treat!

Step 10: Human Mechanics for Connect the Dots
Connect the Dots is a game from Karen Pryor that starts of with a high rate of reinforcement and lots and lots of "first steps" of walking. The human half of the team needs to have clear, consistent, mechanical skills. Again, practice those without the dog until you have them down pat!

The cones are targets for the human. As you approach a cone, click while you are in motion and stop to treat -- right at the spot where you want the dog's head to be. Be sure to step off quickly -- just before your dog finishes eating his treat. Give your "Let's Go!" cue to let him know it's action time again!

Step 11: Connect the Dots with a High Rate of Reinforcement

Step 12: Connect the Dots -- Start to Decrease the Rate of Reinforcement
Once you are successful with a row of targets (dots), remove 2 or 3 to create bigger spaces. This will cause a drop in the dog's rate of reinforcement. He should be ready for this now!

Due to our desire to finish videoing Jack, we went a bit too far with him in this session. You can see his attention start to wander, his nose drop to the ground, he looks around.

Continue making bigger spaces adding your removed cones to the end of the line. Work in short sessions leaving the dog wanting more.

Step 13: Ready for Real Walking
When you are ready to go "cone-less", check to see that your dog can eat and walk at the same time. Keep up a nice rate of reinforcement when doing training walks and start to lessen the rate by going for more and more steps before you click then treat. Remember to keep your mechanical skills in place -- leash in the right hand held at your navel, treats in your left hand delivered to the right spot.

Lily, the Poodle Puppy
Jack, the German Shepherd Dog
Trainer: Lynn Martin, KPA CTP
Producer and Director: Helix Fairweather, KPA CTP
Special Thanks To: Sue Ailsby, Shirley Chong, Karen Pryor

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