Displaying items by tag: loose leash walking
Is a Hands-free Leash The Right Tool for You and Your Service Dog?
Hands-Free Leash is NOT a Training Tool
The first thing you need to understand is that a hands-free leash is not a training tool. Training tools are used to teach the dog a new behavior, then faded as quickly as possible once the dog understands and has generalized the behavior. A hands-free leash should only be used AFTER the dog has been taught to reliably walk close to the handler and keeping the leash loose.
Some Challenges When Using a Hands-free Leash
*Most leashes too heavy. To adjust the length, some handlers double up a part of the leash but they add unnecessary extra weight (in the case where the leash has rings to allow shortening).
Hands-Free Leashes Condition Handlers To Not Pay Attention to Their Dogs Needs as They Move
The biggest challenge to using a hands-free leash is that having the leash attached to the shoulder or waist removes the more subtle communication that holding the leash in your hands allows. This usually results in the handler not paying attention to the dog or his needs as he moves along. The dog receives no subtle information about direction, speed or changes or enough time to make those changes like he would with proper leash handling. This adds stress to the dog’s daily job of helping the handler.
What Situations Can a Hands-Free Leash Be Useful?
With service dogs, there are some situations where a hands-free leash can be helpful such as hand dexterity limitations or attaching the leash to a wheelchair.
Hands-free leashes are best used in specific situations and for short periods. Like all other behaviors, teach the dog to walk on a loose leash, add fluency to the leash walking behavior, generalize it to a variety of locations, and do maintainance training. Specific desensitization needs to be done for higher level distractions (other dogs, people, vehicles, road grates etc) that you may encounter while leashed before asking the dog to generally ignore them as he moves past them with you. Only then is it wise to add a hands-free leash to the situation.
Ever wonder how good trainers can teach their dog to walk nicely on leash without any correction tools? No matter if you are teaching your dog to heel or loose leash walk beside you, your wheelchair, walkers or crutches, the basis of the behaviour is the same!
In order to help your dog understand where you want her to be, the key is to heavily reinforce her in that position in many, many situations so she gets a picture in her head of where she is in relation to you. Try These Tips:
Start Off Leash
Surprised? Yes, by training your dog when she is free, she solves the puzzle of finding the desired position herself, with no help from you. This uses her brain rather than teaching her to rely on the leash.The leash should only be used as an emergency connection. The bonus is that you avoid developing bad habits of using the leash to guide your dog. You want her to understand where she needs to be without your help. This avoids having to correct her for positions you don't want.
Have a Clear Picture of Where You Want Your Dog To Be
This is your criterion. You will be rewarding her whenever she stays within that target position. Where is her nose in relation to your leg or the wheelchair? Exactly how far away will she be from your legs or the chair? Or perhaps it's easier to see where her shoulders are in relation to your knee or chair. Whatever way you can make it easy to measure it, use it.
Heavily Reinforce the Desired Position While Stationary
Feed your dog 10 times in a row (one treat at a time) for staying there. Reward her 10 times in a row, being careful of treat placement. Present the treat directly in her mouth so she doesn't have to move to get it.
Change your position by rotating one quarter of a turn (90 degrees) and repeat.
If your dog can't find the position while you are staying still, she won't be able to find it when you are moving!
"Play" With The Position by Rewarding Your Dog for Finding the Position
Take one step to the side and see if she can find the position again. Reward heavily.
Turn left. Reward heavily.
Turn right. Reward heavily.
Keep Sessions Short
Count out 10 treats and dismiss your dog for a one minute break. This gives her time to think about it and build new neutral pathways. This is essential for new learning!
Do a few only a few sessions. Most dogs do well with 3 sessions (3 sets of 10 repetitions). Some can focus for 5 sets. The key is always end the sessions with your dog wanting to do more. If she walks away, you've done too much.
Add The Leash As a Separate Training Criterion
Put on your dog's collar or flat non-restrictive walking harness and attach the leash. This adds difficulty for you, not the dog.
You must figure out how to hold the leash, or where and how to attach it. Perhaps a waist or shoulder attachment might be better for you.
You need to develop the ability to deliver the treat to the same place you did when the dog was not wearing the leash.
Gradually Increase Distraction Levels
This is the most common error people make and then they resort to training collars and harnesses since they don't know what else to do. The sad thing is many people never remove them once they start using them. Training collars and harnesses are supposed to be like training wheels on a bicycle, to help the dog learn the skill, then remove them as quickly as possible.
In order to mimic off leash conditions in areas that are not safe to work your dog off leash, use the professional tip of standing on the end of the leash or attaching the leash to a waist band. This gives your dog freedom to choose to move and be able to find the position without being restricted or tempting you to control her with the leash. At the same time, it gives you the peace of mind knowing she will safe safe if an unexpected distraction comes along.
Each Time You Add or Change Equipment, It Changes The Picture of You To Your Dog
With each new piece of equipment, restart teaching your dog the position.
If you want more details complete with step by step videos, join our foundation skills classes to learn several ways to teach your dog the desired position, and loose leash walking classes to learn how to apply them in motion in different situations like stairs and locations or take our loose leash walking class specifically for wheelchairs. We offer classes for other skills as well!
Audio version of this blog post
Teaching Your Service Dog to Heel
There is much confusion in the service dog world about what is heeling is and isn't. Before we can start talking about teaching a dog to heel we need to know exactly what you are asking him to do.
dog stays in a specific position next to your body, within a few inches, usually with eyes looking at you. The handler is usually upright and staring ahead holding their body in a somewhat rigid position. This skill takes much concentration and as is very hard for a dog to maintain for even short periods. Heeling is typically seen in competition, military or other hierarchical based situations. Even the high level dogs are only asked to do it for 5 minutes at a time. Service dogs only need heeling when negotiating tight spaces, high distractions or crossing streets. Teaching this takes incredible concentration on both ends of the leash. A typical cue for heeling is "heel".
Here is a golden retriever showing how to do off leash competition heeling. You can see how much effort this would be for a dog to maintain for long periods. Thank you to Ada Simms and Lexi from Reward That Puppy Dog Training Inc. for the demo video.
Loose Leash Walking:
the dog walks with a 6 foot or shorter leash, keeps slack in the leash (hangs down in a U or the clip hangs down) but is allowed to sniff and change position. Dogs may look at the hander or use their peripheral vision and other senses to keep track of the handler's position. Most handlers are comfortable with their dogs 3-4 feet away in any direction. While in indoor retail in crowds or narrow busy sidewalk type locations, service dogs are required to stay within 2 feet of the handler but do not need to be that close in general. Loose leash walking should be a 'default' behavior. 'Default' means that the dog does it when he is not told to do any other behavior. He can rely on the equipment, the handler's body position and context to know what behavior to do. It takes much training to get to this stage.
Here is another golden learning to loose leash walk in public with her handler. She doesn't have to look at the handler, just stay in close distance and keep the leash loose.
A Challenging Behavior
The challenge for both heeling and loose leash walking is that it requires the dog to have a high level of impulse control (to resist distractions and stay in position) and that they must hold that position for a long time. And it requires the same of the human.
Being attached by a line is not natural for a dog or a human. We are free ranging individuals. Even formal dancing for short periods is difficult for many people. Both partners have to learn how to work together to keep it a comfortable experience for both. The teaching process requires short frequent training periods with high level of reinforcement in many different carefully chosen environments to help both partners succeed. If done well, can really build the bond between the two team members.
Do Corrections Work?
Corrections such as collar pops only work in the short term. If you have to keep using them, they aren't working. Head collars don't teach the dog anything except to give in to the head collar. Take it off and the dog moves away from the handler. Both of these approaches are aversive for a dog. To build and enhance a strong relationship with a service dog, we need to teach the dog the behavior we want, not punish him for what we don't. Time has to be spent specifically focussing on teaching your dog the desired position no matter what is going on around you, how good a scent or who may be approaching you. That needs to be taught specifically and incrementally, not just as a byproduct of doing other training.
How to Help Your Dog be Successful
The dogs that are successful loose leash walkers are the ones who understand the position you want them to be in first. Most dogs do best with learning to walk leash free first. Most importantly, the handler learns to let the dog learn to control herself, rather than direct the dog all the time. For some people this can be a hard habit to change.
Another aspect is if your dog is off leash, you are more likely to be aware of where your dog is in relation to you rather than rely on the leash pressure to tell you that. This awareness (including eye contact, physical proximity as well as changes in tension on the leash) is a big part of the connection between you and the dog when you are working. Many people are disconnected from their dog partner and oblivious to what is going on for him. He is half of the team and needs to be given full attention during training and then that will be faded to half your attention once he is fully trained. When you are dancing with your partner, you need to be aware of where your partner is no matter if he is dog or human. The leash is added after the dog knows the desired position and you have developed a feel for where he is. Dogs that can work off leash are much more reliable on leash.
Do a search on Youtube and Vimeo and most videos will start you off, and show great early success, but not show the steps later in the process. It can be a long one and different approaches are needed for different dogs and different situations they are in. Creativity is needed.
LLW is a Prerequisite as a Service Dog
Since loose leash walking is a necessary prerequisite for all service dogs.
and if he cannot walk on a loose leash walk with distractions, he is not ready to start public access.
If you want to follow a step by step procedure to teach your dog to loose leash walk successfully, check to see if my Loose Leash Walking classes are being offered online this month. Check the SDTI catalogue page to see when registration is open next.
If your dog generally does well except with high level distractions or has fears etc, you will want to look at our Harnesses and Vests class. Or for large dogs that lunge or yoyo or if you have little arm strength or stability our Head Halters class that will teach you how to safely introduce your dog to a head halter and how train with it with the goal of your dog walking without it down the road.
Donna Hill B.Sc. B.Ed.
Service Dog Training Institute