So I got lazy a couple weeks ago. Phenom and I just wanted to get to the park.
We have to walk about half a mile to the park where she gets to stretch out and race and play and retrieve. We try to walk there every day. I usually reward her for walking by my side with a loose leash – but as you might imagine it’s much harder on the way there than it is on the way back. And it’s also a lot harder for her (and me) when I walk all three dogs together. Well – I got lazy and thought – ugh, I just want to get there. I will let her pull me there. Oooohhh – bad me. Because of course, I know that she is just being reinforced for pulling by getting to go forward. So our walks were becoming less fun. And the wrong things were being learned.
Being lazy is really hard work.
That’s when I decided to make it easier on both of us and actually get back to training. While some people might think that addressing a challenge or training a behavior may seem like hard work – it’s nothing compared to ignoring it or letting it get worse. Now that is really hard.
So we got to it. I measured out her dinner along with a few treats, put them in a ziplock bag in my pocket and we headed out. Lots of treats at first for being by my side, then switch it up – every now and then I give her a handful, then we walk several paces for just a few pieces of kibble or treats, then maybe another handful. Lots of reinforcement.
Here are some tips for those of you working on this too:
• walk faster (believe me – it works)
• change up your pace so it’s more interesting
• stop or go in another direction if she/he pulls out in front
• be focused on your dog and distractions that may be headed your way
• reward right down by your side/leg
• mix up your rewards
• mix up the amount of rewards and pace of reward delivery
• be ready to reward attention on you during distractions
• ask for behaviors along the way – we do some perchwork pivots to reinforce her staying by my side along with a few other things like backing up, sits, downs, spins, etc.
• a handsfree leash helps
• work on the skills individually – not always as a group
I’m sure there are so many other great ideas, but these are a few that have worked for me.
And there is much more to do – which is fine – because it’s fun. That’s so important for me because if it’s not fun – I’m not going to want to do it and Phenom certainly isn’t. She loves fun – like me!
So the other night as we all three walked to the park after dark and the street lights cast our shadows out in front, I could see a glimpse of progress ahead. It was in the form of three loose leashes. And it looked good. I was proud of all of us.
Of course the solution to our challenge is simple – at its core is consistency and making walking by my side the most reinforcing place to be no matter how much both of us want to get to the park to play. It’s a lesson in patience and faith that we will get there together. And because of that – the journey is so much better.