Leash Walking: Nothing Natural About It! Part 4 Treats! Will I always have to take treats on walks…

Recently in one of our classes a client asked if she would always have to take treats with her on walks. My response was why does it matter? Then it got me thinking.

Not too long ago, if I wanted to go for a walk I just went, I didn’t make sure that I had my phone with me. Now if I realized I did not have my phone I would head home to get it and go back out. I would be worried the whole walk without my phone. What if I got hurt? What if my son was trying to get a hold of me? It’s just better to get my phone then worry.

Not too long ago, if I wanted to go for a walk I just went, I didn’t make sure I had my fitness tracking device on my wrist. I mean really if you walk and it is not tracked did you really walk? How would you make your daily step goal without it on during a long walk? I have more then once turned back to get my fitness tracker.

Then before I had dogs, if I wanted to go for a walk I just went. I had no other thoughts about it. Then I got a dog and before I went out the door I always had to have a poop bag with me. Pre-dog I would have empty pant and coat pockets, now every pocket has at least one poop bag. It became part of what was required for a walk with my dogs. If I didn’t pick up after them I could be ticketed and fined.

So in this day and age we have a lot we carry with us just to take a walk. Why does it matter to have a waist pack with treats?

For my dog, Rizzo, I use very few treats on a walk. She walks beautifully on leash, but from time to time I still reward her for a variety of reasons. The main reason I will reward her on walks is if another dog barks at her and in typical Rizzo fashion she ignores them. I want her always to have the response of ignoring a dog barking and luging at her. I swear she looks at the “offending” dog and thinks dummy, you’re not getting any treats, but thanks to you I am. I would never leave the house without some type of treat for her.

For my other dog Bueller, I use lots of treats on walks! He actually doesn’t need them for the actually walking part of the walk. His walking behavior is totally trained. It is for behavior modification training for his dog-to-dog reactivity. Due to his behavior issues, there is never just a casual walk for Bueller. Every time we step out the door it is a training experience. I will always walk him with a large amount of a variety of treats. I want every walk to be the most positive experience I can provide for him.

So my answer is yes, you will always need treats on a walk with your dog. Really wouldn’t you rather have a reward for your dog for a great job? You never know when that amazing learning opportunity might show up, and of course it can be on your daily walk. We never want those amazing learning experiences to go unrewarded. So go out for your walk prepared with treats. It is not any different then being prepared if they poop and way more fun!

Leash Walking: Nothing Natural About It! Part 3 – The First Step

In the other emails in our series Nothing Natural About Leash Walking, we discussed equipment and two posts about attention. Now, let’s get started on the actual walking!

Remember always when leash walking is not going well, you can stop, stand still and wait – for attention from your dog. You cannot expect to be successful walking if you can’t maintain your dog’s attention standing still.

So you have your dog’s attention, great! Let’s walk, easy right? Probably not! You start walking and your dog lunges in front of you. Why you ask, what happened to that nice attention? You forgot to pay for it! Remember leash walking is not natural, and you have to make it worth the dog’s effort. The biggest problem I see with leash walking is people being “cheap” with their rewards/pay checks to the dog. They are expecting too much from the dog before rewarding.

In the trainer world we talk about don’t lump behaviors together, you need to split them into small bits. You want small bits for your learner (in this case the dog) can be successful. If you lump too many behaviors together, you end up frustrating both the trainer and the learner since no one is being successful. For leash walking the first split of behavior is the attention – see you were splitting and you didn’t even know it!

The next split I find is rewarding the moment you step off. Not three steps down the sidewalk. I find that in the beginning rewarding LITERALLY every step of a walk is what is needed with most dogs. In addition to every step, most dogs need a high value reward – think chicken, cheese, hot dogs, etc. To help this along I would suggest using a waist leash and filling both your hands with treats. With your dog on your side (whatever side you prefer) start walking and every time your right foot lands feed one cookie out of your right hand. Then when your left foot lands, feed out of your left on. Now just keep on walking like this, every step a cookie gets offered to your dog. If you have the right value of reward your dog should be right where you want them. Why would they not be next to you, if they know in half a second you are going to reward them again. I call this the “pez dispenser” method of teaching leash walking.  You now have become a human pez dispenser! If your dog is not where you want them with every step, either your reward is not valuable enough for the situation, you are training in too distracting of an environment or you have been training for too long. Over a period of time, (days, weeks, months?) you will start adding additional steps before feeding. Only when you have multiple outings where you can’t loose your dog. You will go from 1 step feed, then 2 steps feed, then 3 steps, etc. If you loose your dog’s attention then go back to the number of steps you were successful. Here is a video to demonstrate Human Pez Dispenser Polite Walking: Polite Leash Walking – Human Pez Dispenser Method   Notice in the video when Rizzo stops to get a treat that was dropped, I stopped too. There is no point to walking when you don’t have your dog’s attention.

Another spilt tip for walking, involves a different way to quickly reward. I think of this game as the “don’t wait for a mistake and a reset to reward”. I frequently will use a clicker as a marker for good behavior while training. So here is the training scenario I use for Bueller, who gets a little anxious about a variety of things on walks. Bueller, gives me attention, I click and then I treat. While he is eating he usually does not look at me, but he has not lost total attention on me. So I quickly click again, since he is being correct. He is walking near me, and not pulling, maybe a stride or two ahead, but he has not gotten to the end of the leash. He usually is happily startled, to be rewarded again so quickly. I can see the wheels turning to try and figure out what earned him that reward. We do this time and time again, and we are in a happy successful loop of click, treat, eat, click treat eat. Over time this has helped him learn how not to get to the end of his leash and therefore he is not pulling, and everyone is happy!

The reason I started the “don’t wait for a mistake and a reset” training game, is completely in the name. So often I see people reward their dog for the attention, while the dog is actively enjoying their reward they “get lost” in the moment and are no longer walking well. The person keeps walking, the dog gets ahead of the person, then the dog gets to the end of the leash, which has become a cue to get closer to the owner. The dog “self corrects” their walking manners and gets closer and/or pay attention again, and the owner rewards. Now the dog is a different behavior loop of I get to the end of my leash, I get closer to my person, I get rewarded, so I go to the end of my leash to get closer to get my reward. This is not such a happy behavior loop as above.

I hope these give you some ideas on how to get started on good polite walking with your dog!

Toddlers don’t learn how to walk in a day, don’t expect more from your dog.

Remember practice makes perfect for both you and your dog, this is not a skill that comes naturally for either of you.

Finally, remember to have FUN with your dog training. If you are getting frustrated with the walking process take a break. Make it easier for your dog or go train something else for a little while.

For earlier posts on this topic check out these blogs about equipment, and the first piece of the puzzle attention from your dog and attention from you.

Leash Walking: Nothing Natural About It! Part 2.2 – Attention a 2 Way Street!

In Part 2 of our leash walking series we discussed your dog giving you attention in order to start the training process of polite walking. That is just part of the equation. It is a huge part of it, but what’s at the other end of the leash – you – is the other part!

Why should your dog give you attention if you do not give them attention?

I see examples of this all the time with people walking their dog. Sometimes it is just that people are in their own heads while walking and are not paying attention. More frequently it is actively not paying attention to their dogs. I see people talking on their cell phones ignoring their dogs. I see people talking with another person they’re walking with while not paying attention to their dogs. I see people stopped and talking to a passer-by and not paying attention to their dogs. So often I see dogs paying great attention that is just being ignored. Behavior which is ignored, will eventually extinguish (go away). All that attention you trained is unintentionally being punished by ignoring it!

Many people get dogs to have a walking companion and help make sure they get out and exercise. That is great, but let’s think about what is a walking companion? If you were out walking with a friend and they completely ignored you while you were talking to them, would you keep talking? Probably not! If that same friend talked on the phone instead of talking to you would you be annoyed? Probably! If you had to stop and tie your shoe and your friend kept walking, turned the corner and you did not know what direction they went, how would that feel? Not very good! These are no different than doing the same thing to your dog if they are your walking companion.

We expect a lot out of dogs (sometimes too much!) and they should expect the same from us. We have relationships with our dogs, it is not dictatorship.

Next time you’re out on a walk think about how there are two ends to the leash when it comes to attention. Don’t ask your dog for something you can’t give him back in return. The communication between the two of you will just make that walk all the better!

Leash Walking: Nothing Natural About It! Part 2 – Attention

When it comes to city or suburban dog walking there is nothing natural about it from the dog’s perspective. There is not a single breed of dog that is bred to walk next to you, in a small constrained area (from the dog’s view) of a sidewalk, looking adoringly at you, and ignoring everything else in their environment. If you were to walk a dog off leash in a safe large field, most dogs would check in with you, and go bounding off exploring and then check in again and go sniffing and so on. But, leash walking is what is required in cities and suburbia, so as unnatural as it is we need to teach it to our dogs.

Recently at one of our new student orientations someone commented after the training demo: “Those things are all tricks! I just want my dog to walk on leash and sit.” I quickly answered back, but those are tricks too! Anything you ask your dog to do is a trick. If you think of polite leash walking as a trick it changes your whole outlook on training the skill. Most people find trick training fun, and leash walking should be fun too, for both you and your dog!

Most people fail at training leash walking by going too far, too fast without the right foundation of training. I would not ask a toddler who is just learning to walk to take a mile walk with me. I most likely wouldn’t even ask them to walk down my driveway. Yet, this is what we do to our puppies, and remember puppies are not very different developmentally from a young toddler. Instead of that mile walk with a toddler we would practice walking in a safe environment inside the house. I might choose a carpeted room so if the child falls it won’t be hurt. Or maybe I would make sure there is furniture around to grab onto in case they were to fall. We need to set our puppies and dogs up for success the same way as a toddler who is just learning walk.

This is what the ideal attention can and should look like. Notice the dog is engaged with the owner and the owner is engaged with the dog!
This is what the ideal attention can and should look like. Notice the dog is engaged with the owner and the owner is engaged with the dog!

The foundation trick for polite walking (and really all training) is paying attention. Frequently, we call this checking in. We know our dog is paying attention to us when they are looking at us. If they are looking at us they are not stalking birds, barking at the neighbor dog, or sniffing grass to learn about the squirrel party from last night. It is a huge trick for a dog to learn to turn off all of that genetic wiring to pay attention to us instead of those awesome things.

We need to make it worth their while to pay attention. We get to do this with rewards, usually food rewards. So start training in the most boring room in your house – usually it’s a bathroom – and start rewarding your dog for giving you eye contact. You can acknowledge (mark) the moment you get eye contact with a verbal reward marker or a clicker and then reward. In this case you should put the reward on the ground, so your dog is ready to give you eye contact again. Most likely your dog will be in front of you, because that is the easiest way for them to look you in the eye. That is fine for now, but soon we’ll need to teach them how to give attention at your  side. You can’t go for a walk very easily if your dog is in front of you facing you, unless you have a dog like my Bueller who likes to walk backwards, but that’s a video for another day!

Use the reward placement to help the dog be successful. Here we rewarded the offered attention, in the location we eventually want the dog - next to you.
Use the reward placement to help the dog be successful. Here we rewarded the offered attention, in the location we eventually want the dog – next to you.

Once you have your dog riveted to you with attention in the bathroom, it’s time to move to different rooms in your house.

Practice the same thing. Slowly over time start putting those rewards next to you so your dog starts to learn being next to you is rewarding also. Once you can’t shake your dog’s attention when next to you in all the rooms in your house, it’s time to move outside. I suggest to go to your garage with the door up and start the game. This way it’s “outside” on one side but not completely outside. Oh, no – do you no longer exist to your dog now? No matter what you are doing you just don’t exist? Now it is time to look at your reward value! What might have been an awesome treat inside your “boring” house, is no longer so awesome when we could be treeing squirrels! So go back in the house and get something better – maybe cheese, roast beef, bacon, who knows. You’ll know it is a good paycheck once you can’t shake your dog’s attention again.

Now we take it to the backyard! Same drill as before, wait for your dog to pay attention and reward them next to you.

Here Lynn is waiting for Emmy to pay attention. No reason to walk if the dog is not paying attention.
Here Lynn is waiting for Emmy to pay attention. No reason to walk if the dog is not paying attention.

In the backyard, you’re going to need that high paycheck again. Your dog is used to being able to run around the yard chasing things and now you’re asking him to hang out with you on a leash and pay attention. You’d better not be boring and your rewards must be better then a squirrel! This whole process can take days and even weeks so don’t panic.

Wow, we have just done a lot of learning, but we haven’t walked anywhere. I hear you now: “but my dog needs exercise!” Yes, but all that learning is exercise, for both the body and the brain. I bet you’ll have a tired dog without putting mileage on them. This learning is laying the foundation to good walking. Your dog has not learned any “bad” walking habits that need to be “unlearned” as they get older and bigger (and harder to retrain). Also, your dog has not done any damage to their neck or throat while pulling on leash.

You have many, many years ahead of you for long walks in the neighborhood and about town. Now is the time to make a commitment to laying a great foundation. Take it slow, to do it right, in the long run you’ll appreciate those future awesome stress free walks.

Stay tuned for the next steps is leash walking – the first step!

Holiday Dog Travel Tip!

This year I have had to travel a lot. I’m always looking for ways to make my life and my dog sitter’s life easier!

I recently found these great snack bags! Yet another reason to love Target – as if I needed another reason.

Food Bags

First, they are marked for 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 & 1 cup marks. So as you fill them with kibble you easily know how much kibble to fill them per dog. Then I love that there is a spot to easily write your dog’s name. As you can see I laid out all of the bags I needed to fill for both Dara and Bueller AM & PM. All of my dogs have different supplements and medicine for either the morning or evening. I do not want any confusion on what needs to be fed when and to who. 

If you do have a dog who is on supplements or medication I would suggest filling these bags with medications and food at least one week ahead of time. This way you find out in plenty time if you need to refill or reorder any thing. This past summer I went out of town for 10 days. Thankfully, I started filling my bags ahead, because I would have run out of Dara’s Canine Cognitive Dysfunction medication half-way through the trip. It usually takes a day or 2 to have the pharmacy re-fill the prescription. Crisis was adverted by preparing the food and medication early. Who needs the extra stress the day before your trip to find out that you don’t have enough medicine to make it through!

Good luck our your holiday travel! Hope this little tip will make life a little easier on you.

Leash Walking: Nothing Natural About It! Part 1 – Equipment

So, you have a puppy or a new dog, yeah! You now have a new buddy to walk with in the mornings. He’ll be a reason to get out of the house, even when the weather is dreary. It will be the best ever!

Then reality sets in! You clip your leash on your dog’s collar, open the door and you almost have your arm pulled out of the socket! Who knew a 10 weeks old puppy could have that much pull, but away you go. Half way through your walk, 4 blocks away from home, your 7-month-old, 55 pound “puppy” decides he’s done. He lays down and there is no way you are getting him home without carrying him. Help! You just want to walk your dog.

Great! Now let’s take 2 steps back to start this process on the right paw.

First things first is equipment, the stuff you’re gonna need to train right. So you have the dog, first thing on the list for dog walking, is now checked off.


Next important thing is the leash. It is called “leash walking” after all. Let’s talk leashes. There are lots of options out there. I have lots of cute leashes, but some can be subpar construction or made of slippery materials that are hard to hang on to. For the most part, I prefer a 4’ braided leather leash. For most situations 4’ is more then enough. I find going up to a 6’ leash there is too much extra leash. When your dog is walking politely, too much leash gets in the way. Along with length of your leash you need to consider the width. Width is a factor in two ways: 1) How big is your dog? 2) How big our your hands? I have smaller hands, I cannot handle a 6’ long 1” wide leash easily, it’s just too much leash for my hands. So even if I have a larger dog, I will use a strong leather leash that is narrower in width. I need to be comfortable in the thought that I can hold on to the leash no matter what.

Marie & Divine working in Urban FLEX class.
Marie & Divine modeling both a Buddy System Leash and a leather Perfect Pace head collar.

Which leads me to the next thought in leashes – waist leashes. Frequently the best leash is the one that you do not need to hold on to, especially while training leash walking. I have used just about every waist leash on the market and my two favorites are the Buddy System Leash  and Quantum Leash by Kurgo. Sometimes it is hard to handle a leash, your treats, your attention all at the same time trying to manage a dog learning to walk on leash. Waist leashes take that stress away. They are also great for strong dogs with small people on the other end of the leash. Your waist is your center and there for your strongest part of your body, so you can anchor a pulling dog. Also if you have a tendency to use your leash as a steering wheel, the waist least helps eliminate that habit. My only complaint about many waist leashes is that they are designed for large dogs. I do not want a big clip hanging on my small dog or hitting them in the back. The Buddy System does make a small dog version that is great.

Harnesses and Head Collars
Tio modeling a freedom harness.
Tio modeling a Freedom Harness.
Bueller wearing a Perfect Pace Head Collar.
Bueller modeling a Perfect Pace head collar.

The next important piece of equipment is what is your dog going to wear as they walk? I do not suggest attaching their leash to their collar. While a dog is learning to walk, they will pull, lunge and other such silliness. If the leash is attached to the collar, even a flat leather or nylon collar, you can do a lot of damage to their tracheas and necks. So, I suggest using a harness or a head collar. My first choice for most dogs is a harness. There are lots of choices and some that are designed to discourage pulling such as the Freedom Harness. There are a couple of no pull harnesses, by far the Freedom harness is our favorite. My dog Bueller has trachea damage from being in a shelter and walked on slip leads. So he uses a Choke Free harness or a head collar. Not every dog gets used to wearing a head collar, but they can be very useful for strong pullers and anxious dogs. I use both the Gentle Leader Head Collar and the Perfect Pace with great success, but they do take some time to train the dog to wear them comfortably.

Treat Pouches

The last piece of equipment you need is a treat bag. While teaching your dog to walk politely it is going to take a lot of training and making it “worth the dog’s effort”. Remember, dogs don’t naturally walk politely next to us. So we have to make this “trick” worth the effort. I like using a treat pouch because the rewards are easy to access. Plastic bags are a no-no. Your puppy can jump up and grab them and eat all the cookies or just tear a hole in the bag. Also, pockets are not that practical since it can be hard to get a reward out quickly. Plus, there is a good chance if you leave the treats in your pocket, your dog might nibble a hole into the pocket. (from experience, trust me!) So, that takes us back to treat bags. I personally like the ones that “snap” close with a metal hinge. That way if you lean over all the treats don’t spill out. I also like my treat bag to be pretty good size. I like to always have a variety of rewards during training and a little bit bigger bag helps. People like all different sorts of treat pouches and bags. You just need to try a couple before you find your favorite.

Now that you have all the equipment, it’s time to start training your dog to walk politely on leash!

Check out our next blog for the foundation of polite walking.

Mixed Breeds, DNA Tests & Burnham Terriers

For years I have helped friends and clients make up names for their mixed breed dogs. I find it fun, and makes for great conversation. I think I was first introduced to this concept years ago when I volunteered for the service dog organization. One of the founders had the funniest looking dog named Dixie. Dixie probably went to 100 or more demos a year! Her owner eventually got sick of her “just” being a mutt, because Dixie was so much more. She became know as a Great Icelandic Shepherd. It made her much more dignified and seemingly more significant.

I think this is also seen with our Doodle culture. Here we have a purposely bred mixed breed. People spend thousands and thousands on mixed breed dogs. In many situations these dogs are being produced just to make money. There are Doodle breeders out there doing health checks, and raising great puppies but it is few and far between. The other thing we are starting to see is the English Cream. An English Cream is just a Golden Retriever who happens to be very light colored. No it is not a new breed! English Cream name has such a level of splash that Golden Retriever doesn’t.

Now we have theses great new DNA tests for all dogs. They are now different tests for designer mixed breeds and pure bred dogs then the guess the breed tests. This way you can test to see if your dog is truly the breed you were sold. If not then what? Who knows. These tests can helpful if you live in an area that bands certain breeds and you are trying to prove that your dog is not a pitbull. Otherwise these tests seem to just be fun entertainment.

I ran Bueller’s DNA. Sadly, it was a bit of a rip off. I learned that one parent was half Pomeranian, other then that it was ALL mixed breeds, every generation. At least that explains the curly tail and barkiness. So truly Bueller has no breed, as we already knew he is a breed within himself.

Recently in Costa Rica they were having a problem with too many mixed breeds languishing in their shelter system. People just were not interested in mixed breed dogs. So some one came up with the great idea of running the DNA on some of theses dogs. From that DNA they started to make up breed names for these dogs. Then the shelter group went on a local morning talk show showing off all of their Collidors, Dobesschnauzer, Fire-Tailed Border Shepherds and such. Facebook blew up with people wanting these unwanted dogs! People were now using these new names to refer to the dogs. Hundreds of dogs lives were saved by giving these nameless mutts a breed name.  Here is the video talking about the project: http://vimeo.com/68726839

So we now come to what is a Burnham Terrier? A Burnham terrier is a small terrier type dog, weighing between 10 and 20 pounds. A rough coat is preferred, but a wire and even smooth coat are allowed. They are primarily white with tan markings. Some black (or tri-coloring) is allowed but should not be prominent. They should have a naturally long tail that curls up and over their back and rests on the side. They should be tenacious with small rodents and game but kind and affectionate with their families. They are easily trained and do require a fair bit of training to focus their high energy. Aggression is not to be tolerated. Sounds pretty cute, huh?

Bueller is a Burnham Terrier, which is a totally made up breed. Why Burnham Terrier? Well I went through a number of names but settled on this one. At first I was going to use an Native American tribe name that lived in Wisconsin. Most of those names were too hard to pronounce or spell. I mean really, I already have a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, that is hard enough to explain. The Milwaukee Area Animal Control is on Burnham Ave in Milwaukee. His crate at he Milwaukee Animal control was the first address I knew for him. Then there is the fact Daniel Burnham is such an important part of Chicago history which I love. I am truly a Chicago girl at heart. Then a terrier because that is what he looks and acts like most of the time. So we had it, a prefect breed name for a perfect little scruffy mutt!

I love telling people he’s a Burnham Terrier. They seem so impressed. Sometimes I even have to tell a back story to convince people. Over the last 7 months I have perfected the story. Every now and then I feel guilty that I’m not being 100% honest with people. Then I remember that he is truly to even a mix of any certain breed. He’s a breed all in himself. He’s the cutest Burnham Terrier you will ever meet.

Just go check out Instagram and see what I mean by searching #burnhamterrier.

Leashes: Seat Belts not Steering Wheels!

My new mantra for clients is: Your Leash is a Seat Belt Not a Steering Wheel! Ok, let’s say it together, Your Leash is a Seat Belt Not a Steering Wheel.

What do I mean by that statement? Most of us live in areas with neighborhood dogs, other people, and lots of distracting things to dogs. Most of us also live in cities and suburbs with lots of traffic and busy streets. No matter how well trained, a dog is still a dog. They come pre-wired with prey drives, the desire to be social with other dogs and humans. These pre-wired behaviors can be very hard to override. It is what makes dogs, dogs and can be the things we love about dogs. These pre-wried behaviors can also be dangerous. Dogs can be hurt or even killed if they run into traffic, or get in a scuffle with another dog.

We want our dogs to be safe, so we use a leash. This is where leashes should be taught of as  seat belts. Seat belts are your safety device in a car and leashes are your safety belt while walking.

Bueller Polite WalkingFor neighborhood walking I recommend a sturdy 4’ – 6’ leash. In most cases a 4’ leash is more than enough. I personally prefer leather leashes, but no matter what you use it should be sized appropriately to your dog. If you have a small to medium sized dog you do not need a 1”+ sized leash. Usually the clips are much to heavy for the dog, and there is too much leash to hold onto for many people. The clip should be sturdy, in good working order, attached to the leash securely and well stitched. I have seen leashes fail, leather or clips break, and stitching unravel, usually happening when a dog is “misbehaving” making a bad situation worse. For this reason you should inspect your leashes from time to time.

Do NOT use a flexi-leash. Flexis are not safety belts. Flexi-leashes are like putting a child in a car seat but not belting them in. These types of leashes have a vague resemblance of being safe, but both you and your dog have a high chance of being hurt while using a flexi-leash. Here is a great article about the dangers of Flexis from Veterinary Information Network and another one from Consumer Reports.

Now for the Steering Wheel part of the Mantra. I see people who do not have control over their dog they start using the leash as a steering wheel. Their leash is tight, and they want to go another direction, they just go, trying to steer their dog where they want to go. There is no partnership, no need for the dog to pay attention. At this point both dog and owner end up working against each other. Why would the dog pay attention when they’re just going to get dragged around? Why would the dog pay attention when, they have no choice, knowing they’re going to be steered away from what they want.

When your leash gets tight and you realize you are steering your dog, not just keeping them safe, it is time to go back to training! Look around your environment and ask yourself why has my leash become a steering wheel? What is distracting my dog that he cannot pay attention to me? Am I not paying enough attention to my dog on the walk? Am I asking my dog to walk in a situation he is not trained for? Have we been walking for too long? There are so many factors to leash walking failures, you just have to think about what part is effecting your dog, and then go train for that situation.

Remember dogs don’t need steering wheels, they just need to be safe!

The Myth of the Militant Dog Walk

For anyone who has been “in dogs” for more then a handful of years remembers being taught that your dog MUST walk next to you on your left side with their collar inline with the seam of your pants. The leash shall make a letter J to show how loose the connection is to the dog. Ideally the dog is looking up at you with riveted attention. We all just did as we were told, because that is why you pay for a class, to learn from a person more experienced that you.

Back in the day (as recently as 10 years ago) most of all dog training classes were being conducted by your local American Kennel Club (AKC) obedience club. These clubs sole purpose was to train you and your dog to compete in AKC obedience competitions, even if you “just wanted a nice pet”. These clubs were staffed by volunteers, who had little to no formal training in behavior and were teaching classes because they had put an obedience title on at least one dog. Many of these volunteers taught because they loved dogs, loved the sport of competition obedience and wanted to share their love with new people.

Why were they teaching the left side heeling? They taught what is required in the sport of competition obedience. How did that become the requirement of the sport? Competition obedience is mainly based on hunting dog skills. So, when it comes to heeling this is why they choose left side heeling. (many, many years ago)

1) Most people are right handed. So if you are holding your shot gun while walking the stock would be “under” your right armpit and the barrel in your right hand.

2) If you gun is on your right side then you are not hitting your dog in the head with it while you walk.

3) If you go to raise your gun to shoot, you want your dominate hand on the trigger and your other hand steading the barrel. Your left hand becomes that steady hand. You don’t want your dog in front of you because once again you will hit it with the gun.

4) You want your dog next to the seam of your pants so when you raise the gun to shoot and actually shoot, you don’t shoot your dog.

5) You want your dog paying great attention to you to listen for when to be sent for a downed bird.

I do not walk my dogs while carrying a shot gun.

I do not hunt with my dogs.

I live in suburbia.

I walk my dogs on sidewalks, streets, and marked trails.

I do teach my dogs “competition style” heeling.

I do not require my dogs to heel while on walks.

My dogs can be ahead or behind me while walking.

My dogs do not pull me.

My dogs are taught to walk on both sides of me.

My dogs stop and sniff.

My dogs have choices on walks.

I teach my dogs how to heel, because sometimes I like to participate in competition obedience sports. I teach a group class that only teaches competition heeling because I find when people training these behaviors it helps their general leash walking skills. Once taught these skills do not need to be used with military precision! Competition heeling is a behavior I ask for in certain contexts, for a short duration of time. These skills can be used in real life situations like walking in a crowded outdoor market, or crossing a busy street. I do not suggest, recommend, or even encourage duration heeling on your daily walk.

Stroll on the Beach

For most of our clients we teach Polite Leash Manners, instead of traditional heeling. Why, because it is easier to teach the team, it is a more natural way for the dog to walk, and more pleasurable for the team. For me Polite Leash Manners is just that, be polite. I ask the dog not to be pull me around. I ask the dog not to trip me. I ask the dog to be able to respond to simple directional cues, when needed. I ask the dog not to loose their brains when people, dogs, bikes, etc pass us. All of the above are separate skills that I teach my dog and put into my leash walking. Most of these skills take a long time to master in a variety of situations. For all of these skills I reward (pay) my dog an appropriate paycheck, because none of these skills come naturally to most dogs.

So is it time to reevaluate your leash walking requirements to more fit your lifestyle? I know over the years I have, and both me and my dogs are happier for it.

This is the first of a series of posts regarding leash manners. Watch for our next post soon!

New Thoughts on Humping

“Hump Free!” 

Flash back to the late 1990s, my husband used to have a service dog named Bailey. One of Bailey’s funniest commands (due to how Bailey was trained I will use the word command) was Hump Free. It meant stop humping whatever you are currently humping. It could have been a person sitting on the ground, a pillow, dog bed, another dog or a large stuffed animal. If he did not stop humping, he would be corrected, either by a leash correction or a shock from his shock collar. He would slowly slink off and hang his head down avoiding everyone. The trainers deemed him dominant and that the behavior could not be tolerated.

Flash forward to 2015. Understanding humping is evolving research. We are starting to understand that humping as a very hard-wired behavior that can have a variety of “reasons” behind the action.

It’s Not All About Sex!

Humping during Puppy PlayPuppy play is where most people first start seeing humping behaviors. It is amazing how fast even the most educated person becomes uncomfortable when their dog is humping or being humped. I have seen everything from yelling, grabbing the dog off, to angrily removing him from play. Humping in puppy play is totally normal and natural. No, it does not mean they are trying to have sex with the other puppies or that they are dominant. Nor does it mean your puppy is “gay” when it only humps other male dogs. (Trust me I have heard this more than once!) When does humping become a problem in a playgroup? It is a problem when a puppy targets one particular puppy and will not stop. It becomes necessary to intervene if the puppy being humped is trying to communicate to stop and the dog does not, or grabs on harder. As an instructor you need to look around and evaluate why this puppy is humping. If I see a lot of humping it is a red flag to me that something else is going on. Most puppies would rather wrestle or run and chase then hump.

But what about the dog that will hump anything – beds, people, stuffed toys? What we understand more and more now is that humping is a by-product of arousal. Most often that arousal is in the form of stress. Imagine a dog who is stressed. It is a dog who “would never bite in a million years”. Maybe it is that dog who is submissively compliant, the dog you can do anything to, no matter what. It’s that dog that avoids having its nails trimmed but does nothing to show it is bothered other than laying down with its paws tucked in, not letting you have access. Imagine having all that bundled up stress but having no outlet for it? What does a dog do? Some turn to humping to relieve that stress. You can see the stress in their faces and other body language, even while humping. Over the years it has become more and more clear to me how humping is a product of stress.

Sometimes It’s Just Stress.

Many years ago I had a client, a Jack Russell Terrier, who had a number of obsessive compulsive disorder habits. One of his habits that greatly bothered the owners was his licking of the metal on their sliding glass door. He would lick this non-stop for hours if not interrupted. If interrupted he would grab his bed and hump it on and off until he was exhausted and fell asleep. The owners decided this was a behavior they could live with so when he started licking, they would cue him to “take to another room” which meant go to the guest bedroom for his bed to hump. In their house humping the bed was a better outlet to his stress and OCD behaviors.

Another client is a beagle who we have been helping deal with inter-pack aggression. The beagle attacked and put puncture wounds into her female housemate. In addition to many changes that were set up in the client’s house we Stress Humpingdecided to muzzle train the beagle as a safety measure. We wanted the older dog to be safe as we were counter conditioning the dogs to live together peacefully again. The beagle had a history of humping when stressed. We started shaping her to wear the muzzle. She was happily working with me putting her muzzle on and being rewarded for wearing it. We stopped to take a break in training and she immediately grabbed my leg and started humping. We let her, no interruption, she stopped, exhaled and was ready to work again, by choice. We trained a little longer and when we stopped she immediately started humping again. We knew that even though she was working with us in training, she was highly stressed. It was not our intent to stress her so the training session ended, much to her relief.

Recently in my own house my middle dog, Rizzo the American Water Spaniel, has started humping our youngest dog, Bueller, the Burnham Terrier. Most would think this is a “power struggle” in dominance. It is not. Rizzo is the dog in charge of the dog world in our house, in most areas. (Remember these things can be and usually are fluid
and are item, location, and/or situation dependent.) Rizzo has been in charge since she walked in as a young
Rizzo and Sucky Ballpuppy. It’s just her personality, as it was in her litter, and did not change once she moved in here. So why is she humping Bueller so much? Stress! Our dog world recently has had some changes. Our oldest dog Dara was recently diagnosed with cancer in her head and neck. It has changed how she is interacting with the other dogs. It has raised my stress level. It has changed how much everyone is getting exercised and trained. All things that lead to Rizzo’s stress levels. When Rizzo is stressed Bueller gets humped. Bueller does not need to be Rizzo’s stress relief so we interrupt this and give Rizzo her alternative stress outlet, her sucky ball.

Sometimes It’s Just Arousal. 

Some dogs will hump as a result of other types of arousal too. My Toller Dara loves to train. She has been my competition obedience dog for years. Frequently we train with reinforcers other than food, since we can’t take Dara's Wubbafood into the competition ring with us. One of Dara’s favorite non-food reinforcers is her Wubba toy. If I took the Wubba out and set it in the area where we train she would start air-humping – making the humping action but not on anything. She knew that reward for work would be the Wubba, way too exciting for her. She would settle in and work, and then earn her Wubba and the air humping would start again. Wubba, oh Wubba how we love our Wubba! She would never air hump when training for food or even tennis balls. That is how we knew it was about the excitement of the Wubba and not the stress of the training.

So Now What?

Clients frequently ask me what to do when their dog is humping. First, look at the situation. Why is your dog humping? The whys becomes important, because it will determine how we will work with the behavior. There are three important ways to deal with the humping.

The first is to recognize if your dog is humping is due to stress and if so why? What can you do anything to reduce their stress, therefore reducing their humping? If you can’t reduce the stress how can you manage the situation to help your dog? Is there conflict between two dogs in a playgroup with one of them non-stop humping? If so, it would be time to end the playtime and go home. Being proactive (leaving while it is “just humping”) will most DSC_0943likely stop the behavior from escalating to aggression. Maybe the arrival of a new baby (or any other major life changing event!) in the house has caused the stress? It is never too late to start desensitizing your dog to the baby sights and sounds. Also, start working on a relaxation protocol with the help of a trainer. Doing this before the baby is mobile will help your dog for years to come. Is your dog humping your mother-in-law’s leg? (Oh the horror, on so many levels!) This may be an example of your dog reacting to your stress in the situation. Remember how sensitive our dogs can be to our moods and anxiety. Management might be the best solution for both you and your dog. Putting your dog in its crate or another room with a yummy filled Kong for some “chill-out” time, is probably the easiest solution for everyone involved!

The second is to realize that humping might be a behavior that needs help beyond behavior modification or management. Is humping one of the symptoms of a dog with a general anxiety disorder? If a dog is humping as just one of the many signs of his anxiety you might want to talk to your vet. It might be time to investigate holistic-based supplements or medication for anxiety. As the case with my Jack Russell client with OCD behaviors, medication was the best solution. It greatly reduced the humping. Then when he did hump they taught him to go into a separate room.

Lastly making a decision to let them hump. I make this decision much more frequently than I used to! The decision making process has to include: are they hurting themselves, antagonizing another dog or in a “human socially unacceptable” situation? If the answer to all of those questions is no, I let my dog hump. Dogs deserve the ability to self-relieve their stress. (Remember it’s not sexual!) Imagine if someone told you that when you had a really rough day you could not have chocolate or wine! It could get ugly. So why would you not let your dog have the same ability?

Looking back to Bailey, I now realize that his humping was one of the first signs of his stress of being trained as a service dog. The organization did not recognize this, instead they corrected him for the behavior, putting more stress on the situation. Bailey quickly learned that humping was not a way to relieve his stress. He stopped humping. The organization thought they “fixed” the behavior, because the humping had stopped. Shortly after the humping behavior was extinguished Bailey developed a variety of other stress displacement behaviors. The final stress displacement behavior was becoming dog reactive. His dog reactivity was the end to his service dog career. We finally realized it was too much stress for him to be a service dog. He retired and lived a stress-free, hump free life being a house dog with us for many years. I am always thankful for Bailey for starting me down the path of peaceful, positive, stress-free training.