As amazing and unbelievable as it may sound, after you complete Step Six, you have all the tools you need in order to teach your current dog loose lead walking and to have loose lead walking from day one with every single dog you get in the future.
In riding, any change of speed or direction is called a transition. The single most difficult skill for a horse to perform is to go in a long straight line at an unchanging gait (walk, trot, canter or gallop) while maintaining lightness, balance, suppleness, straightness. So when riding a green horse or one in need of re- training, the rider avoids those long, straight, unchanging lines-- why set the horse up for failure? What the rider does is lots and lots of transitions. As many as 500 to 700 in an hour!
All those circles, swirls, serpentines, turns in the lessons are transitions and they are your tool for getting loose lead walking.
When you take your dog out for a walk in the real world, your dog sees something ahead of you on the path you were intending to take, what do you do? Transitions! If your dog starts pulling straight ahead, veer off at a right angle with a soft hand on the leash, using that chick's heartbeat flutter to get your dog's attention: "hey dog, you're not with the program!" Imagine your dog as a fish on the line in water--let the dog supply the speed but you supply the direction. You don't want to drag that fish against the water because that's too much hard work on your part. You let the fish swim and use the line to guide that fish into circles or into heading upstream.
When walking a dog, your hands should be ever soft. Your hands supply the direction of the movement but do not force the movement on the dog--the dog moves their body in the direction supplied by your hands.
At first, yes, you should click every single transition. Your dog is still learning and the click gives them the information that they are performing the transition correctly. Over time, your rate of reinforcement gradually slows down because your dog will be more and more certain that they are performing correctly.
When walking your dog, remember the training principle of determining what your dog wants as a reinforcer and using that thing. If your dog wants to investigate the tree that the squirrel ran up, go there using transitions as needed; when you finally arrive, encourage your dog to investigate the tree.
With future dogs, you won't need a clicker after the point that your dog learns to yield to pressure. In other words, you will probably be able to leave the clicker behind while you are still sitting in your comfy chair! Your soft hands will have all the timing you need to release the pressure the instant the dog has completed the transition you had in mind and that release will give the dog the information that they have done the correct thing.
And then everyone will tell you "well, it's easy for you, your dog just never pulls!" You can just smile and mentally add the truth: your dog never pulls because you never pull.
M. Shirley Chong
Grinnell Iowa USA
Wednesday, March 05, 2008 3:08 pm