Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Clicker Crossover: Loose Leash

Everybody wants their dog to be a dream on the leash.  Some dogs are such maniacs with leash clipped on that they don't get walked, which makes it that much worse. I've been lazy at times, I'll admit it, and Elka has not been so great on the leash in the past.  Not out of control, necessarily, but certainly not in control either.  And a big puller, certainly; it isn't as though she was even being "bad", she just wanted to see what was over there. Right now.

I've tried a variety of methods, so you can add "inconsistency" to the list of things I've done wrong.  I've tried to "Be a tree", where I just stand there if Elka is not in the position I'd prefer, waiting for her to smarten up and get there.  It turns out, she can wait at the end of a leash, staring off into nowhere, for a good long time while I be a tree long enough to grow some leaves.  I've tried to change direction erratically, so that she needs so pay attention to keep up, but it turns out that Elka is very perceptive, and can change direction and sprint ahead of me again before I've made it very far. I've tried positioning her collar up behind her ears and walking her on a very short leash, which keeps her by me (and walking as though she should've had a V8), but isn't at all pleasurable for either of us, and is punishing rather than teaching.  Briefly, when she slipped a previous collar, Elka wore a choke chain, but I switched that out very soon. Elka didn't really care if she was being choked, for one, and I knew I was doing it wrong.  Really, I'd much prefer my dog to go along with what I'd like, rather than be muscled into it.

With the clicker, if I'm on my game and have my criteria straight, walks have become fun, Elka's attention has become excellent, and those darting around frustrations are fading away.  At first, I would click and treat her for pausing and looking at me with the leash slack, regardless of where she was standing.  It's early in the game, so frequently we need a little refresher as we're just starting out on the walk, when the thoughts in Elka's pointy head are "WOOO, walk!" and not "how do I get the treat dispenser to work?"  Now, after our refresher, I can count steps with Elka's shoulder at my knee and her happy face looking up at me as I talk to her (of course I talk to her), saying things like "All right, we'll get to the next driveway, and you'll get a treat.  Yes! *click, treat* Now to the corner!" etc.  A lot of clicker work is waiting to capture the dog "doing it right", but Elka has not been clicker trained all along, and if I don't talk to her, she reads it as my being strangely silent and not paying attention to her, so rather than offering behaviors, she throws it out the window.  So, I talk, and she responds very well.  If I had a third hand, we'd have a picture of this lovely scene here.

We went on a walk one day last week, and there was a Jack Russell across the street, bouncing and yapping furiously, and a boxer mix on a porch next to us, thumping around in a play bow at the end of his leash, and I said "Elka, sit". She sat, not looking at me, I clicked, her head whipped around, I gave her the treat and we went on our way, her attention never returning to those other dogs.  Today, there was a Jack Russell running back and forth along her side of the fence, barking and snarling, little ruffled dress whipping in the wind (I kid you not).  Elka looked at me. Click, treat.  Looked at the Jack Russell and then back at me. Click, treat.  We continued on our way without pausing and without my having to comment, other than snickering at the ruffles.  

I would tell you here that I anticipate doing a Command Clinic regarding excessive barking, but Elka doesn't bark much.  She'll give one really big "I mean it" Doberman bark if she thinks she hears somebody or something outside, but nothing on the scale that I hear from the houses we pass.  So, I will say honestly that I have no experience dealing with problem barking, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

Of course, when I run out of treats at this stage (because our clicking for leash behavior is in its nascent stages), all bets are off, because she isn't considered "fluent" in the behavior. If I'm smart, I remember to bring a toy, and we use that as a reinforcer, in a different way. I still have criteria in mind, and still want ultimately for Elka to be at my side with the leash loose. But I'll show her a ball on a rope, and talk even more, a steady stream of "Walk with me to the next driveway, and you'll get your ball. Do you want your ball?  With me! Come on, you're doing good. Do you want your ball? You're so good! Yes!" And when we get to the driveway, the toy comes out, we play for awhile, rinse, repeat. Less clean, but she seems to have a lot of fun with it.  The addition of tapping into her "play drive" has worked well, and is fun for me too.  Also, I've adjusted the amount of treats I bring on our walks:

And, I'm trying to listen to Elka once in awhile and not just do the talking all of the time.

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