Finally, Lara on a Leash!

September 28, 2010 Month 7

I know it has been a long time coming, this blog on Lara's progress, but it comes along with great news. After weeks of painstaking work each day with a leash we have finally accomplished the training goal of 'walking on a leash.’

One of The DogSmith key training skills is just that, we actually do a special 6 week course called 'walk nicely' as it is such an important skill for our  pet dogs. What I had overlooked until my experience with Lara is that before you can teach a dog how to 'walk nicely on a leash' you have to teach them how to be on a leash, not ‘stand nicely on a leash’ but to actually accept the leash without 'freaking out' the minute it comes into sight or is connected to a collar.

From day one, for those of you who have followed this blog on Lara, we had to train her from a distance as she was so frightened of people; in fact she was scared of everything. Most of Lara's training had been done at 10 feet or more as we could not get her any closer to us. We have moved her around the farm for exercise using the other three dogs, where they go she will follow.  As a result of this distance handling we do now have a nice ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and ‘stay’ behavior at ten feet, something many pet dog owners never achieve.

When we first introduced the leash it was for safety and so we could catch her. She has chewed through many a long line and can expertly grind through a 20 foot line in about 3 seconds. If you actually held the 20 foot line or any leash while she was on the end of it, if it became tense she would 'freak' (howl, jump, spin in mid-air at three feet, all in about 4 seconds) and then shut down. She would just sit, tuck in her tail and refuse to move.

So this is the pattern and process of her training for the last few weeks.

1.      Any contact I have had with Lara has included a leash draped around my neck. At first when we started this she no longer came in for strokes, she would keep her distance. We gradually shaped her back in for strokes with the leash still draped around my neck.

2.      Then we worked on her ‘sit’ in the context of me being next to her with the leash around her neck.

3.      When we got out her food bowl and filled it, the leash came out just before. The leash began to predict that she was being fed.

4.      Then we worked on shaping a hand holding the leash down towards her face.  This took a couple of weeks because she would jump back as soon as the clasp of the leash got close to her face.

5.      Then we worked on connecting the leash while giving her lots of yummy treats.  We normally did this first thing in the morning when she was at her hungriest.

6.       Then we worked on waiting a couple of seconds with the leash connected, in a stationary position, before we gave her a treat.  We gradually shaped this behavior ‘sitting with the leash connected,’ for several seconds.  Then we shaped it for longer durations.

7.      Then we worked on clicking and treating for any calm behavior she did while connected to the leash, lots of reinforcement.

8.      Finally to get her into motion we used a hand for a target. The first behavior we ever shaped was to target a hand.  We had used the targeting a hand behavior to help desensitize her to human hands as she would run away whenever you moved a hand near to her.

9.      The leash walking started with one step, target the hand, click and treat, to two steps, target the hand, click and treat.

10.  I then worked on the ‘let’s go’ cue. When you say let’s go she now moves towards you and then she gets her reward.

So yesterday, finally, I had her walking around my yard on a leash with a happy tail. Yippee. The brakes did go on the minute I attempted to take her through the gate into the front yard. Now we have a lot of work to do to generalize this behavior to other locations. Progress is great, however small.