Friday, October 30, 2009

New strategy on leash training

We haven't made very good (ahem, any) progress with loose leash walking on the plain collar since this summer, so I've come up with a new strategy. We're working on just getting out the gate and down the driveway, not even thinking about leaving the property yet. She has the yard to exercise in, so 'short' is the name of this game.

She is very reliable about sitting to go through gates once she 'got it' so I'm hoping we'll have a similar break through here.

We start at the gate, I have her sit, and put the leash on. Open the gate, tell her to go ahead through and close it. By that time, she's generally at the end of the leash, pulling a little, and not paying attention to me. So I ask her to touch my hand. Right now I will wait a bit and if she glances back at me I will repeat it and give her a second chance. Sometimes I'll even walk up (but not give her any more leash) and put my hand next to her face so she just has to turn her head. I'm thinking I have to make doing the right thing really easy for her now or she's not going to catch on that it has good consequences.

So anyway, once she touches, we start walking until she hits the end of the leash again, then I ask for another touch. I offer her a treat when she touches too, but at least half the time she doesn't take it - she'd much rather get going.

I make the first touch really really easy to be sure she gets it, but I 'cheat' less and less as she does more. Generally, we get through about three before she spaces out and won't look back at me. Then we just walk back to the gate and are done.

Here is what makes me think this might work:

For one, she really does like going places - and down the driveway apparently counts as 'going someplace'. Obviously, trips have to end sometime anyway, and I'm hoping that 'if you ignore me and stare into the distance, then we go home' is a sufficient deterrent. Since just standing and watching things seems to already be such a huge positive for her, we haven't made much progress getting her to stop doing it by offering other positive things. But associating it with a negative (brushing) was successful in the case of sitting at the door. I'm hoping by using really short sessions here I can associate staring into space while on a leash with the negative of having to go home.

Also, really short sessions keep me from getting cranky about standing out in the cold with a dog that's ignoring me.

I'm also hoping that using 'touch' instead of teaching the loose leash directly will work more immediately on attention, which is the 'mother problem' you could say. 'Touch' really requires her to redirect all her attention back at me. Not just glance at me and think about it, but really mean it.

Previously, when we tried treating for being in the right place, or correcting for getting too far ahead you could tell that she absolutely didn't get it. She really has very little awareness of where she is in relation to you to begin with - she's much more outward focused. Working on 'you need to pay attention to what I want' and 'you need to know where you are in relation to me' at the same time as 'this place is good and that place is not' was just too much.

So, my immediate goal is to get in her head that she has to drop what she's doing and pay attention whenever I say or we go home. (did I mention she doesn't like going home?)

My secondary goal is that once I have her attention, she'll start noticing that I'm a crazy jerk lady who keeps making her touch my hand all the time, and she'll cut her losses and stay next to me so she can get the 'touch' thing over with quickly when I ask for it.

But I like the idea that I'm directly training the first, more important goal. Once that is working better, I'll have more tools to work with on the second one.

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