It has been absolutely gorgeous for a couple of days, so Ranger and I have really honed in on our leash walking skills.
Ranger had a bit of a foundation in left side walking and turn to follow in earlier exercises, which is really handy because he already has some clue that staying close to me and paying attention while on leash will be reinforcing. This week, though, I decided to begin the formal Heel since I need it for the CGC test.
How did we start? Not by walking around in the neighborhood! Instead, we began indoors and I used shaping to teach Ranger to find the Heel position.
I arranged the leash and clicker in the hand position that I use for Heel, then started clicking and treating Ranger for any Sit that was near my side. After each Sit, I released him and took a step or a couple of steps to get him to stand up, then clicked and treated the next Sit he did, progressively rewarding only the ones that were closer to my side each time.
Midway through this session, Ranger was eagerly looking for the next chance to Sit at Heel, and we started to move both forwards and backwards one step at a time. Ranger knew that the Sit at Heel position earned him the reward, so he stayed glued to my side and snapped into the Sit as soon as possible once I had stopped moving.
Training the behavior backwards like this – starting with the end and then teaching the middle and the beginning – will create a very strong behavior chain.
That was the start of the Heel!
Loose Leash Walking
The same day, I also took Ranger out for a walk without any treats at all. Ranger loves walking, and I knew I could use the walk itself as its own reinforcer.
That day, I instituted the new rule for the leash – any time the leash is on, fun things only happen when it is loose. This means that the snap is hanging straight down.
We started moving forward, and Ranger dashed to the end to sniff. Nope! I backed up away from his sniff spot until he gave me eye contact and moved in to the leash pressure, then let him have another chance. Tight leash! We backed up further, using a little leash maneuvering to make sure he did not just get to play and sniff during his penalty walk of shame.
Ranger moved forward and this time controlled himself, earning his right to go sniff.
I don’t always do penalty yards – sometimes as soon as he hits the end of the leash, I stop, Ranger will back off and give me eye contact, and we keep going. But the same general concept will apply permanently; from now on, any forward progress, greetings, sniffings, or exploration will need to be done with a loose leash, or they simply won’t happen.
Putting it Together
You can see the progress in the following video. Sorry about the quality – we’ll try to use a better device next time!
In this video, I am starting to teach Ranger how to differentiate between the formal “Heel” and “Let’s Go!” I like to have both choices available so that I can either have a controlled, precise walk around other people or dogs, in an urban environment, or in tight spaces, or I can just let Ranger walk around and be a dog without actually dragging me.
You can see during the first bit that Ranger is offering a very lovely close little snappy Heel, while going into a more relaxed loose leash walk when I switch leash hands and cues.
My hand position as well as the cue “Heel” vs. “Let’s Go” will eventually tell Ranger which behavior we are doing, but he is not quite sure yet, so he falls back into a Heel after our second turn-around. That’s fine; we will continue to practice and teach him exactly when each behavior is expected.
I’m very proud of Ranger and his continued progress, and I’ll update again soon about our trip to PetSmart and the park… so exciting!