Loose Leash Walking with High Distractions

It can be done! The other weekend we had another Courteous Canines group class. Our goal for this class was to walk through a few dogs keeping your dog on a loose leash. Loker used to react very strongly on leash so it was such a relief to see that it was possible to walk Loker through dogs without him totally exploding at them – and without needing to choke him to death! Before, corrections would just agitate him and make his reaction intensify towards the dogs. I would get frustrated because that is all I knew how to do, I didn’t have any other tools under my belt. Now with positive reinforcement techniques, I have lots of options to teach him how to react to other dogs and pay more attention to me.

A couple of techniques I like to use are Click the Trigger and BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training). So far I have only used Click the Trigger and it has worked miracles. When Loker looks at a dog (before any high arousal stages) I click and treat. This turns his reaction from “Look! A dog! Bark bark bark bark” to “Look! A dog! Look at owner for treat!”. Eventually, I will phase out treats and turn to verbal praise and petting, but I am not going to rush it so his foundation is solid. I don’t mind carrying a few treats for him while out on a walk if it means he will change his reaction.

Soon I would like to try a BAT session with a fellow trainer. With BAT, you need to set up the situation with a friend because you need someone else and a dog – the “trigger”. This provides a controlled real world experience for the dog. It is not recommended to try this without a professional as your dog can get highly aroused if you are not careful of it’s body language and stress signals. If your dog accidentally gets too reactive, you haven’t taught anything and could even make things worse. So – DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME! During a BAT session, you and your dog approach another dog. You must keep your dog “under threshold”, which means keep it at a far enough distance to keep it from reacting like crazy – whatever that distance maybe. (You need to keep your dog far enough so that it can see the dog, but it won’t start lunging and barking at the other dog.) So you approach the dog and once your dog sees the other dog you stop, wait for a calming signal (like sniffing the ground or looking a different direction), when you see the signal you say “yes!” and turn around to walk the other way. What your dog learns here is if I offer a calming signal my human will reward me by removing me from the stressful situation. This is why knowing your dog’s body language and calming signals is important. Not all dogs have the same calming signals and the intensity of them varies for every dog. After a while at that distance, once your dog relaxes and reliably offers calming signals as soon as he sees the other dog, you can begin to decrease the distance.

Like I mentioned before, Loker and I have not tried BAT before because I haven’t had the time to set this up with a friend. When we do get a chance, I plan on video taping it to share with my wonderful followers! In the mean time, check out the video below to watch our amazing accomplishment! Patience and persistence does pay off!