Wally is awful at loose leash walking. I know this is entirely our fault, but I’m still surprised it happened. I blame it on his small size: I don’t even notice he’s pulling until he’s yanking. For a small dog he sure does pack a punch! Sandi made fun of me for getting yanked off balance until she took the leash one time; I think Wally left an impression.
In the book When Pigs Fly!: Training With Impossible Dogs, Killion is strict about not using a clicker or rewards for loose leash walking. Her reasoning is that you won’t always have treats or toys with you so you don’t want to be reliant on them (this is totally contradictory with the rest of the book, which uses rewards all over the place). The dog is supposed to figure out on his own that pulling = no moving = boring = stop it. But Wally just doesn’t make that connection. He pulls, then strains, then sits — all the while not paying the least bit attention to me. Even if we’re not moving it’s more fun to watch a bush than boring old me. This is the part where boring old me gets frustrated and feels like a carpenter with no tools: how am I to build the correct behavior?
Then I read the loose leash walking section in Click for Joy! by Melissa Alexander. She offered up a few solutions for solving this dilemma and then said something that totally made sense: if you don’t have the time to actively work on the behavior, manage it with a Gentle Leader. Yes, a GL is a cheater way to get around the whole issue. But there are times when I simply don’t have 20min to work on this behavior as we walk around the block before work. At times like that it’s better to use a crutch than to reinforce an undesirable behavior.
So I bought a GL and tried it out the other night, and guess what? I LOVE IT. Wally hates it of course. It was pretty comical to watch him progress from realization to bucking bronco to pouting (i.e. dragging behind at a snails pace). By the second time around the block he had given up resisting and was walking nicely by my side. I can see why people become addicted to these things, they make life so much easier. The challenge is not to become reliant on them.
A GL doesn’t actually train the dog to walk nicely on leash, it just prevents them from pulling. It can, however, be part of a training plan that includes shaping and capturing the correct behavior. And so we embark on the
grueling task adventure of learning loose leash walking.