Intoduction Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 6 Step 7 Example Another Example Discussion

Loose Lead Walking
Step One

I was hoping to get maybe three or four people who might be willing to test drive the instructions and had planned to take it off list. I didn't realize there would be such interest!

No, loose leash walking is no myth. Once you teach it, it STAYS TAUGHT! I have Donna Fefee as my witness--we taught Justice to walk on a loose lead and he has retained that training except for one occasion where he forgot himself when a motorcycle went by (I think the only time there are motorcycles in Grinnell is when Phyllis is in town!)

I've been musing over this method for several months, since last summer and thought I'd try it out with Miss Annie but noooooo, her breeder just had to go and teach it to her before she came to me. Breeders are sneaky and they teach puppies all sorts of stuff if you don't clamp down on them!

Then I was reading a discussion about riding in another forum and remembered my teenaged years riding Thoroughbreds that were mostly off the track. They don't teach racehorses to have soft mouths, rather the opposite. Ever see a jockey pull up after a race, standing in the irons, bracing his 97 pounds against the reins? That is not the sort of riding that produces horses with soft, silken mouths who take whispered cues; those cues are more akin to bellowing through a bullhorn.

So after we got them sound again (they mostly came off the track because they were lame, usually bowed tendons), the first step was to teach them soft mouths. The problem was not that the horses had lost sensation in their mouths, the problem was that they had learned that only big, huge, "loud" movements meant anything. They didn't respond to anything below a 10 on the dial.

How we taught them soft mouths was to get on them in an indoor arena, nudge them into a walk and then apply a featherweight pressure to one rein. Sooner or later, usually by random chance, the horse would turn towards the pressure and relieve it, at which point the rider released the pressure, petted and praised. No clickers back then and using one would have greatly sped up the process! Horse would wander around the arena at a walk with the rider applying occasional featherweight pressure to one side or the other. Fairly quickly (within fifteen minutes or so), the horses were responding to featherweight pressure.

Over the next few weeks, we practiced walking them, then trotting them and then cantering them while guiding them with extremely light pressure. Nowadays I understand that the norm is for people to put off cantering on OTTBs for six months or more; we were doing it within the first three weeks or so after they were sound. We were, after all, immortal. <G>

The very first significant benchmark for progress was when the horse would yield to pressure at a walk, reach out with their neck, relax their topline and start very gently chewing or mouthing the bit. That was what told us that they were really getting the idea.

And that's where I got my insight! Most dogs really don't know what to do with pressure on the leash and most handlers use the equivalent of the bullhorn in using the leash to communicate. And there's the whole death grip thing that seems to take over even sane people when you put a leash in their hands.

So, to change all that, to turn a puller into the equivalent of a horse with a silken mouth, get your treats, get your plain buckle collar (limited slip may work but not so well--you really want a collar with no give), and a leash. Sit down on a comfy surface so that your hand is as close to the horizontal plane of the dog's neck as possible.

The vast majority of dogs are going to be riveted to the handler's eyes or to the container of food. Apply pressure against the leash, the lightest feather of a touch possible. The instant the dog relieves the pressure, whether deliberately or by accident, click and treat. Spend about five minutes applying pressure in different directions, clicking and treating as your dog releases the pressure.

What if your dog doesn't release the pressure? Then you can use the old rider's trick of very slightly vibrating your hand by opening your fingers just a hair and then tightening your fingers very rapidly. Don't apply heavier pressure! Just apply pressure that isn't constant. You want that vibration to be tiny because you need to give your dog room to relieve the pressure. Your fingers shouldn't be moving any further distance than the heart of a chick moves when beating.

What if your dog isn't interested in what you have to offer? Get better treats!

What if your dog just stands there and stares at you? Keep up that chick's heart of vibration on the leash and wait for your dog to take a deeper breath (releasing it will release the pressure on the leash-- catch that instant!), shift their weight, shift their eyes from one side of your face to the other. Any tiny movement!

Try this and then report back. Any questions?

M. Shirley Chong
Grinnell Iowa USA
Friday, February 08, 2008 7:31 pm