Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It’s All About Self Control

Just two big goofballs waiting for a treat

Well, Doppler’s almost as big as Fire now (and Fire is BIG). Little Dop is a solid, 10-month-old, 70-pound ball of awkwardness. Although he’s not tall and gawky like most teenage dogs, he still seems to be figuring out exactly how his body moves. Half the time his feet are sliding out from underneath him.

But this giant puppy has been soaking up everything he can. I think about half of it sticks. The other half, well, we’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Take loose leash walking, for example. When he was a little puppy, he was the best loose leash walker. He’d walk right next to me and the leash would be in this beautiful J-shape. I used to think, hey, teaching loose leash walking is a snap! No problem! We got this.

Then Doppler discovered smells. And people. And other dogs. And grass, bushes, trees, garbage cans, and random spots on the sidewalk that just smell awesome.

My puppy who walked with a loose leash disappeared.

We’d take a few steps together, and I’d click and treat. He’d walk a few more steps, I’d click, and he’d surge ahead, completely ignoring the click and the fact that he was about to get a treat. It didn’t matter what kind of treats I had—goldfish, hotdogs, peanut butter—he didn’t care.

For a while, I used the penalty yards method. Every time Dop Dop pulled, I’d walk backwards until he was next to me again. Then we’d start walking forward again and I’d click and treat him for staying on a loose leash. But after that first click, he’d surge ahead to the end of the leash again. It would continue like that down the entire street. He wasn’t learning anything.

Well, today, I decided I’d had enough. It was time to try something different.

This time, when we headed outside at lunchtime, I chose a spot in the alley to serve as the starting spot. We’d walk down the street from that spot toward the grass by the river. Of course, Dop really wanted to get to the grass. We walked a few steps. Click, treat. Dop ate the treat and pulled ahead.

This time, instead of walking backwards until Doppler was next to me, I turned around and we headed back to the starting point. Once we reached the starting point, we turned around and started again. He got clicked and treated for staying right next to me. The second time, we made it about ten meters before he pulled and we had to go back to the start line. Same thing the third time.

The fourth time, we made it halfway down the street.

The tenth time, we almost made it to the end. Dop could see the grass. Yank! on the leash. Back we went to the start line.

Interestingly, Doppler walked perfectly every single time we were walking back to the starting line. It was only when we were walking toward the grass that he had a problem.

Fifteen minutes and half a treat pouch later, Doppler finally walked the entire length of the street on a loose leash.

Needless to say, he got tons of praise and the best reinforcement he could have wished for—lots of free sniffing time.

You know what’s really awesome? After his super sniffing treat, he spent the rest of our walk with his head right at my knee. Perfect loose leash walking.

I have no doubt that we’ll have to go through this again, but now I know what method works for Dop Dop. Eventually, this giant puppy will be a top notch loose leash walker.

Next time you leave me in the car by myself, I'm just going to drive away.

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