Tag: loose leash walking

The Power of Peanut Butter

21Group Classes, Helpful Hints, Reactive Dogs, TrainingTags: , , , , , ,
Peanut Butter

Behold! One of the most versatile dog training tools known to man. (Photo Credit: Victoria Chilinski)

What’s your favorite training tool? Dog trainers are always looking for the latest and greatest items to add to their bag of tricks. My answer can be found at any supermarket or convenience store: peanut butter!

For Agility Dogs

My passion for peanut butter began while attending agility classes with Tessie. She is a whiner, and would anxiously await her next turn on the equipment by making all sorts of strange noises. Springers are capable of making some pretty bizarre sounds and Tessie is no exception. (We call her the canine tea kettle.) A PB-stuffed Kong kept her quiet and relaxed while waiting in her crate.

Later in her agility career, I discovered that Clean Run sells refillable squeeze tubes. By filling one with peanut butter, I could keep Tessie’s focus ringside. This was something I struggled with because Tessie doesn’t enjoy tugging away from home. (Canned dog food works really well in squeeze tubes, too!)

For Reactive Dogs

My next great peanut butter discovery came while working with our puppy Finch. He is reactive towards people and other dogs. Finch strongly prefers playing with toys over eating treats, especially outdoors, which is where he sees his triggers. PB was the answer. It was valuable enough to him that he would take it while working outside. I also use crunchy peanut butter to disguise his pills — the broken pill pieces blend right in with the nut chunks!

I think that there is more to this than enjoying a tasty snack, though. My theory is that the act of licking is calming to the brain. I think it may have its roots in nursing behavior. Horses exhibit a “lick and chew” displacement behavior which is sort of like an equine calming signal. Perhaps someday someone will research this — does the use of a “lickable” treat promote calm, relaxed behavior?

Kong toys are perfect for enjoying peanut butter! (Photo by OakleyOriginals)

I have noticed other benefits, too. Other dog trainers often use peanut butter for dogs that tend to bark during group training classes. The PB basically glues the dog’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, allowing the owner a chance to reinforce quiet, polite behavior.

For that reason, I began using PB with my Reactive Recovery students. That class is the noisiest, with several dogs that will start barking at the drop of a hat (literally!). It did help to quiet the class down, but it had a wonderful side effect. The dogs made the silliest faces as they licked the peanut butter from their muzzles, and the owners began to laugh!

The tension level in the class dropped dramatically. With the laughing came more relaxed handlers. They felt more comfortable in class and progress came more quickly as a result.

Peanut butter also provides another benefit while working with reactive or fearful dogs: counter-conditioning. Typically, counter-conditioning is done by feeding the dog lots of tasty treats while being exposed to a trigger (like a person approaching). No trigger = no treats.

Using PB takes some of the work out of counter-conditioning, because it takes the dog several seconds of licking to fully consume it. The whole time this is happening, the brain is making the association between the trigger and the wonderful taste of peanut butter.

For Excited, Jumpy Dogs

In one of my Basic Dog Manners classes, I discovered another fun use for PB: teaching four-on-the-floor to a very bouncy dog. Capturing moments of calm was difficult, particularly when working on loose leash walking. But we soon found that the little dog couldn’t eat peanut butter and jump at the same time!

As she licked and licked to get the PB off the roof offer mouth, she walked calmly with all four feet on the ground. Another student remarked that the change was so significant that it was if that dog had been drugged. Never before have I so desperately wished for “before and after” video clips. It was quite remarkable.

In conclusion, now I crack open a jar of peanut butter and prepare a few plastic spoons before all of my classes! I’ll leave you with this video clip of Finch enjoying peanut butter as a five-month-old puppy. If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will! 🙂

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Training How-To: Loose Leash Walking

00Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: ,

What is loose leash walking? Loose leash walking is an informal leash walking behavior. It’s not “heeling”, which is a precision walking behavior required for obedience competitions, but it can be a precursor to that. While loose leash walking it is acceptable if your dog sniffs, lags behind you, or forges ahead of you a little bit, as long as the leash stays loose.

Keeping the leash loose is a two-way street. Remember, your dog can’t walk politely if you are pulling her! (Photo Credit: Dave Fayram)

Why does my dog need to know it? Leash manners are invaluable for all dogs. Imagine taking your dog for a walk around the block, on a hike, or even just out to pee without getting dragged around. It is also important to teach for safety’s sake – a pulling dog is dangerous on icy sidewalks or steep stairs.  Plus, your dog walker will love you for training it!

How do I teach it? LLW is a duration behavior. Duration behaviors are taught in tiny increments. Remember, we don’t ask for a 15-minute sit stay right off the bat, so we don’t ask for 2 minutes of perfect LLW immediately either. Start teaching loose leash walking in a quiet, neutral environment like your living room or bedroom. To teach it, shape it step-by-step: take a step forward, and click and feed your dog a treat right at your side before your dog has the opportunity to sniff or wander off. Take another step, and click and treat for the same behavior. Repeat.

Using a head halter can decrease the likelihood that your dog will attempt to pull. (Photo Credit: Robert Tadlock)

If at all possible, try to feed your dog in motion, without stopping, when giving the dog a treat. It builds the behavior faster. Also, make sure treats are soft and very tiny so they can be eaten quickly while the dog is moving.

Gradually work up to taking two steps before clicking and treating. Then three steps. Once you have worked up to three steps, randomize how many steps you take before clicking and treating. Don’t always make it harder and harder (for example, 5 steps, 6 steps, 8 steps) because it reduces motivation. “Ping-pong” it by randomizing how many steps you ask for (3 steps, 1 step, 5 steps, 2 steps) for the best results. By varying the duration in this manner, you can work up to longer periods of LLW without losing your dog’s focus.

Remember that loose leash walking on a busy road or near the dog park is a lot harder for your dog than doing it in your backyard. As a result, be sure to decrease duration back down to 2-3 steps per click in exciting environments, and use high-value, super tasty treats when working near a lot of distractions to ensure your dog is successful. Loose leash walking is a hard behavior for dogs to learn – do not ask for too much too soon! It takes weeks of training to teach this behavior reliably, so be consistent and practice often.

We recommend that owners purchase a front-clip harness, such as the Freedom harness, and use that while taking their dogs for walks while the dog is still mastering LLW. Front-clip harnesses discourage pulling by gently turning the dog back towards you if he pulls. It is much harder for a dog to pull you anywhere when he is wearing a front-clip harness. Head halters can be used in a similar manner. Regardless of the equipment you decide to use, success comes from using a high rate of reinforcement to reward the dog for staying by your side and not rushing forward. Happy training!