Compilation of Tips: Loose Leash Walking (Part 1)

Last week in my review for the Illusion Collar I mentioned an upcoming post on loose leash walking methods. Well, ladies and gentlemen I would like to present my compilation of training tips on loose leash walking.  I call it a compilation of tips because I did not sit down one day and come up with these training tips all on my own. Rather, the tips I will present, explain, and discuss throughout this series of posts are ones that I’ve gathered from training books I’ve read, training classes I’ve attended with Simon and Rosee, and from trainers I’ve talked to. I want to be clear that I am not a dog trainer in any way, shape or form, and my knowledge of dog training comes from the aforementioned sources while training my own dogs. I can assure you however, that all these tips have been tried and tested by everyone here at Play Hard, Bark Often.

Part one of my compilation of tips on loose leash walking pretty much covers what I feel is important when you first begin to teach your dog to walk loosely on a leash beside you. It’s the beginning stages to loose leash walking if you will.

Tip #1: Start as early as possible. If you get your dog as a puppy then you should start getting your dog used to walking on a leash as soon as you can. It is much easier to deal with a small dog pulling on its leash, than it is when they grow to be over 50 lbs. Even if all you do is walk with your puppy around on a leash in your living room or backyard, just do it. Now, if you adopt an older dog (like we did with Rosee who was 9 months when we got her) you should still start walking them as soon as you can. In fact, the first thing me and my sister did when we brought Rosee home was take her on a walk with Simon. The point is, is that teaching your dog to walk loosely on a leash is an important skill to impart to them, at least in my opinion, because taking your dog on a walk can solve so many other behavioral issues. Does your dog destroy things around the house, or continually try to get into things? It could be due to the fact that they have too much excess energy, and no way to get rid of it.

Tip #2: Choose the right collar/lead for your dog. Make sure when you take your dog on a walk that you’re using the proper collar and/or lead for them. Most trainers and training books will recommend using a Gentle Leader, also known as a head halter/harness, or a chest harness that connects to the leash in the front while your dog learns not to pull and walk beside you. Both of these are good options. Unfortunately, for Simon and Rosee a Gentle Leader only helped to a point. As I explained in my review on the Illusion Collar, I felt that this option helped me and Monica control Simon and Rosee better, but they weren’t necessarily learning to walk beside us. In the case of a chest harness, we did try one when Simon was younger (way before Rosee), but he just wouldn’t stop chewing on the material that went across his chest. Then before we knew it, two brand new harnesses were ruined. Other options include a martingale collar, chain collar, prong collar and even a traditional type harness which connect to the leash on your dog’s back. Personally, I found that chain collars are too hard on Simon and Rosee’s necks, and have trouble staying where they’re most effective on their necks. As for prong collars, I have to admit that I just don’t like anything about them. In my opinion, prong collars look, scary, painful, and I feel like I’m telling the word that my dogs are bad dogs when they certainly are not. Martingale collars seem to be a good choice if your dog doesn’t pull too much, and what I really like about them is that they are truly inescapable, unlike head halters. Last but not least there is the traditional harness, which I have to say is my least favorite collar/lead and personally I would never use one. I know for small dogs these harnesses are often the preferred collars/leads to use, and they are most likely better than other collars/leads that can be too rough. For medium and large dogs however, especially dogs that are considered to be a “powerful breed” such as Mastiffs, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and (of course) Pit Bulls I would not recommend using a traditional harness. The problem with using a traditional harness on a bigger dog is that your dog can use his/her weight against you when they pull. Since the leash attaches on the dog’s back, they can pretty much throw their whole body forward to get where they want to go. Also, if, you try to pull them back to you they will rear up on their back feet instead, which only gives them more leverage to continue pulling. Overall, I am not advocating for one collar/ lead over another here. The most important thing to do is to find out what works best for your dog. My experiences with these various options could be different from others. For instance, I know some people who swear by the effectiveness of prong collars. Like I said, you just have to find what works best for your dog.

Tip #3: Employ the use of treats. I am a big believer in positive reinforcement when it comes to dog training. Of course, I am not saying that you need to ply your dog with treats in order to get them to listen and behave accordingly, but I am saying that it is important to praise your dog for what she/he does correctly. It’s usually so much easier to tell your dog “no” when they’re doing something wrong, however how often do you tell your dog “good boy/girl” when they do something right? I get it. I really do. For a long time I was so focused on what Simon and Rosee weren’t doing right, that when I realized how many times I was telling either of them “no” in one day I knew something had to change. Therefore, when you’re training your dog to walk loosely on a leash I recommend using some type of treat. Now, a treat in this case can be anything that lets your dog know they did what you wanted them to do. Most dogs respond well to food treats, but treats can be a favorite toy, or some heartfelt praise. No matter what type of treat you use, treats can be very helpful because your dog should soon recognize that when they do what you ask of them they’ll earn a reward. Namely, it’s just positive association. You do have to be careful though, as there is a fine line between rewarding your dog and bribing your dog to do something. In the case of learning to walk loosely on a leash, treats should be given whenever your dog is walking next to you on your walk. Anytime your dog is next to you walking nicely give him/her a treat. Over time as your dog gets better at staying next to you, you can start to slowly phase out the tangible treats by using more praise in their place, and sooner or later loose leash walking should be as instinctive as “sit.”

Stay tuned for Compilation of Tips: Loose Leash Walking (Part 2) coming soon. In the next part I will explain and discuss more specific methods to use when actually walking including the turn-around method.

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Carrots: The Alternative Dog Treat

Rosee hurt her left rear leg a couple months ago. At first no one noticed anything different in her, except sometimes when drinking water from her bowl she would lift her leg up and down, not resting much weight on it. Pretty soon her lifting turned into holding her leg up all the time and hopping around the house. She never cried when someone touched her leg or her hip, she never whimpered in her sleep because of discomfort, and she never acted unlike her normal self, except for holding her leg up. It became clear after a few weeks of cutting down on walks and rambunctious playing that home remedies were not going to get her leg back to normal, so off to the vet she went.

After a quick examination by the vet and a trip to the scale, it was determined that Rosee had probably sprained a muscle in her leg. Nothing too bad to worry about, but it would require two weeks on an anti-inflammatory medication. . . . oh, and no walking, no running, no jumping, no wrestling, basically no moving of any kind that isn’t slow and steady and doesn’t put extra stress on her hurt leg.

In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear throughout other parts of this site Rosee is young and energetic. Simon is young and energetic. Put the two together and they create quite a formidable pair to keep still. Simon’s always moving, always needing to be wherever he thinks the action (or food) is. Rosee, with her need to always be first, sees him move and works to get in front of him at every occasion. The idea of keeping her mostly still for two weeks, at minimum, and somehow keeping Simon entertained as well seemed daunting, but necessary. However, along with her hurt foot the vet also mentioned that Rosee was slightly, a little, just a tad overweight.

Now, I had always just seen Rosee as a built, muscular little girl. But when she hit almost 85 lbs. and she looked more like a short log, with no real definition in her sides, it became clear that losing weight could do her some good and it could also help take some stress off of her hurt leg. The vet told my family that to help Rosee lose weight along with cutting down somewhat on her dog food, giver her only vegetables as treats.

Cut to changing the way I look at dog treats.

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Treats are no longer crumbly bones that fall apart, or beef-smelling little nuggets that linger in my nostrils long after serving their attention-getting purpose. No, treats can be bright and colorful and healthy, without smells that make me never want to eat a hot dog again as long as I live.

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You remember carrots, celery, and cucumbers? You know, those little orange and green things most people find julienned on top of salads? Yup, those are what you can give dogs, without negatively affecting their waistlines. I know, amazing! Spectacular! Unheard of! (Unless of course, you are more evolved than I am and already know of said healthy treats to give your dog, then I applaud you.) The fact is I never thought I had to stray from what could be found down the aisles of pet stores, and that everything in moderation would be motto enough. It all seemed to work well enough for Simon, but alas though they look extremely similar Rosee and Simon are not the same.


The vet mentioned that Rosee’s metabolism is simply slower than Simon’s 110 and her needs have to be met accordingly. So, carrots became Rosee’s go to treat. When we are on walks, when she stops barking at the garbage trucks, when she rolls over on command—she always gets a nice orange sliver of carrot as a reward.

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Luckily, Rosee is happy to get as many carrots as I’ll give her. She sees them as an incredible prize that she is always in the mood for. Simon, however, is a dog of a different color. He loves carrots, but he deigns them as undeserving of his palate when something more interesting has his attention. And by something I mean a bird on the lawn, another dog at the park, a person across the way, or a smell in the air. He is prone to fits of distraction caused by pretty much anything. My sister and I have been working with him to conquer his wildfire personality, and he has come a long way with learning to control his impulses, though he still has some work to do (and always will). However, he does not have a weight problem, his metabolism keeping him revved up twenty three hours most days. It is not such a big deal that Simon does not only consume carrots as treats. He finds enjoyment through many other outlets, including walks and toys. Most days I’m lucky if he decides hot dog is a worthy opponent to swallow, so food treats are not always the way to go with him.

Long story short, alternatives to traditional dog treats do exist and are worth looking into if your dog needs to lose some weight and can’t handle the calories that come with beef-flavored ones. Carrots, and other vegetables safe for dogs, are easily digested, haven’t caused Rosee or Simon any gestational discomfort (i.e. farts), and are cheap to buy at any grocery store. Carrots haven’t turned her poop orange or anything weird, and I am proud to say have helped her lose ten pounds. She is now a svelte 75 lbs. that moves better and more comfortably.

So, if you find yourself needing something better to give your dog as a treat, look no further than your own salad toppings. Carrots have really made a positive difference in Rosee’s life, which is odd enough to say, but it’s true.

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However, if your lovable canine is anything like whirlwind Simon who spits carrots out (if he even decides to take them) then you are better off finding out what exactly makes your dog tick and using that as a treat, as long as it’s still good for them of course. And don’t be afraid to use unconventional things like walks and toys as treats as well alongside food treats.

You never know what could be your dog’s orange and crunchy prize. (But don’t be surprised if it’s carrots.)

Review: Illusion Collar

Recently we decided to invest in the Illusion Collar developed by Cesar Millan for Rosee. While this collar may look a little complicated it is actually pretty easy to use. As can be seen in the picture, the collar has a black rope that slips over your dog’s head and the two buckles wrap around your dog’s neck in order to keep the rope in place at the top of the neck.

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The point of this collar is to keep the rope part of the collar in place so that when your dog pulls it cinches and she/he stops pulling. It works similar to a chain collar or even prong collar, which are often used when training a dog to walk without pulling. However, the nice part about this collar, and the main reason I decided to try it, was because it’s designed to keep the collar in place on the neck where it is most effective. In the past, Monica and I had tried using a regular chain collar because, frankly, it was easier to put on than a head harness (also known as a gentle lead), and we were hoping the dogs wouldn’t rub their faces so much. You see, while a head harness was a pretty nice option because it went around Rosee’s nose and she couldn’t choke herself, both Rosee and Simon could not stop rolling around on the ground and rubbing their faces. At first, I thought they were doing this because they weren’t used to having something on their faces, but after using these harnesses for some time it was clear that these leads made them uncomfortable. Also, it seemed everywhere we went people assumed that Rosee had a muzzle on just because she was wearing a head harness, and would make not so nice comments about how mean she must be, which is ridiculous since with a head harness she was still able to open her mouth fully, but I’m getting away from the point. In general, the regular chain collar worked out okay, though we were still having issues with the chain falling out of place, and Simon had trouble with the chain collar anyways. Therefore, we eventually settled on using a head harness. After a few months of using this lead I found that Rosee wasn’t necessarily learning to walk on her leash loosely, but rather she was just more easily controlled. Mostly, I feel as though I hit a wall with Rosee. She was doing better out on walks in the sense that she wasn’t pulling a whole lot, however she wasn’t getting any better at the skill of loose leash walking. When she saw something that scared or excited her she would start to pull and not pay attention to me at all. The biggest issue though was that in these instances she would become very anxious due to the straps that wrapped around her nose and mouth. Another big issue was that while this harness was supposed to be inescapable, Rosee and Simon could always manage to get the straps off of their faces. Overall, a more reliable collar that wouldn’t cause Simon and Rosee so much anxiety was needed.

Enter, the Illusion Collar. When Monica first showed me this collar I thought it would be a great alternative and that there was no way either of the dogs could get it off of them. Initially, we only purchased one for Rosee because they are a little pricey (about $45) and we didn’t want to buy two if it turned out not to work for either dog. When you order this collar it comes with both a collar and a matching leash. Depending on the size of the collar you purchase that determines the length of the leash. For instance, the collar we purchased for Rosee was a size large and so the matching leash was a shorter leash to help aid in keeping your dog close to you.

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This collar definitely took some getting used to. It was not one of those magical fixes that made Rosee instantly perfect the first time we put it on her and went on a walk. In fact, the first few times I walked her with it all I did was walk around a nearby park and treat her every time she walked next to me. As a human, it took some understanding of knowing when it’s the right time to tug, gently of course, on the leash. To be frank, it took me and Rosee and good week to get the hang of this collar and it was a good three weeks of using it every day before Rosee learned to walk next to me. Of course, that’s not to say that she doesn’t still have her moments where she pulls because she certainly does. For the most part though, Rosee is doing really well with the Illusion Collar and I couldn’t be happier.

For Rosee this collar was a great buy for many reasons. First of all, it is much more secure and there is no way she can escape from it. Secondly, not having any sort of restraints on Rosee’s face has lessened her anxiety pretty significantly. Not only did she stop rubbing her face on the ground whenever we pass a large grass area, but she has stopped getting as anxious in situations that usually cause her anxiety. Lastly, or should I say thirdly (or is it third of all?), having Rosee on a short leash has made a huge difference. Rosee is forced to be right next to me, which has made it easier for me to recognize when she starts to become anxious or fearful of something and I can redirect her attention or distract her right away. Her behavior isn’t allowed to escalate, and so she has been able to make positive associations with typically stressful situations. Furthermore, she pays much more attention to me instead of worrying so much about what another dog in the park or person on the street is doing, which is extremely important because it means she trusts me to protect her and be what she needs. Honestly, for Rosee the Illusion Collar turned out to be a great buy.

Before I end this review I do want to make a few things clear. This collar is not for every dog. It is for dogs with, let’s say, sturdier necks and definitely not for smaller dogs either. Particularly, if you have a dog that’s an extreme puller who doesn’t respond to the cinching I would be wary to recommend this collar because then all you would be doing is choking your dog and that can lead to some very serious consequences. In fact, despite the success I had with Rosee and this collar, I was hesitant to buy this collar for Simon because he’s never done well with collars that cinched to get him to stop pulling. In the past when I’ve used a chain collar on him it has never bothered him that he couldn’t breathe when he pulled, and I didn’t want to use a collar that could potentially hurt him. However, after much thought Monica and I decided to go ahead and buy an Illusion Collar for Simon because his anxiousness in a head harness had gotten out of hand, and he needed a collar that did not sit on his face. I certainly do not regret buying him an Illusion Collar, but learning to use it with him has been quite a different experience than it was with Rosee. One of Simon’s biggest issues has always been his impulse control, and so learning to walk on a leash that is loose much less beside me has been difficult for him. As a result, my approach to using the collar with him has been quite different in that I use a longer leash, employ the “turn around” method when he pulls, and make sure to treat him when he’s walking next to me and especially if he looks at me. (These are all methods I’ll explain in more detail in an upcoming post about loose leash walking.) It has taken him a bit longer to get the hang of the Illusion Collar, but the hard work on both our parts has paid off. This collar has bee much better for Simon than any other collar I’ve used in the past, and almost immediately he stopped rubbing his face on everything. Finding the right collar has definitely made a big difference for Simon and Rosee, but I do want to remind everyone that this is only half the battle. Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash is a skill that takes training and time. For most dogs it doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right tools and some perseverance it can happen.