Friday, July 8, 2011

Loose Leash Walking Breakthrough!

As I mentioned, I went on vacation for a week.

I think I can accurately assume that nobody worked with Elka with the clicker, because 1. I'm the one who does that and knows how it works and 2. I didn't tell anybody where the clickers were. So, our first walk after vacation was a little rough so far as leash work and attention went.  The second walk, though, was so good I thought it had to be a fluke.

See, we were walking, and Elka was in just the right spot, so I clicked.  She didn't look at me.  I counted five steps, clicked again, and she sort of languidly pointed her muzzle in my direction, and I gave her the treat.  She ate it, but didn't disrupt her walk pattern.  I watched her, still walking, and put the clicker and handful of treats away, only keeping a few out.  And she was perfect.

So, today, I obviously thought to try this out again.  I kept the clicker in the "walk bag", and we just walked.  I would praise Elka, and talk to her (per usual), and give her the occasional treat for an automatic sit, or if a dog was barking and she reacted appropriately (either by ignoring it, or by looking at me).  She forged ahead of me a few times, and I stopped walking and said "Excuse me", and she stopped, then came back and sat at my right heel, and we continued walking.
There is a woman in the neighborhood, who has a shelter dog that looks exactly like a German Shepherd but she declares (in her German accent, coincidentally), that said dog is a mutt.  When we've encountered her on walks before, she's made sort of laughing comment about "So many treats!"  She wasn't really faulting me, or at least not in an insulting way, she just didn't get it.  Today, she was driving past and stopped next to us briefly, saying "What, no cookies?", as though she couldn't believe it.  "Only a few!" I answered.

In addition to Elka's sudden loose leash brilliance, I also discovered that it is extremely difficult to take pictures of your dog loose leash walking while you are in the act of loose leash walking.  Elka has a finely tuned ability to twitch just as the picture is taken, so I don't get the shot that I want.  They all came out looking rather artsy, in fact.
During an automatic sit

Walking and happy

So, really, my overall point here is that even though for weeks (months?) I've relied heavily on the clicker and treats for loose leash, position, and attention, Elka seems to have finally processed it, and is now "doing it right".  I'm still giving her treats, as I've said, on something like a lottery system; she doesn't get a treat every time she does something, it's at random, so in theory she'll continue to do it in anticipation of a treat being forthcoming.  Or maybe she'll just do it now for the satisfaction of a job well done; as I've said, she on her own decided not to acknowledge the clicker.

Of course, this could also have been because she went for a week without hearing the clicker at all, and it's lost some of its potency.  I'll likely do a "recharge" session here pretty soon, and I will certainly continue to use the clicker to train new behaviors, as it has been an effective, fun, and low-stress way for us to work together.

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