Teaching Holland to Walk on Leash

Holland’s owners communicated that while walked in the neighborhood Holland was regularly pulling on leash. In addition, when walked amidst trucks or congested car traffic on busier collector streets Holland exhibited fearful behavior, whereby she would retreat opposite the vehicular traffic or stiffen and stubbornly refuse to move. The clients wanted the problem solved quickly so that both the humans in the household and Holland would receive more joy from their walks.

Since Holland is a puppy and has nice appetitive drive, the first stage was teaching Holland intuitively, via a combination of positive reinforcement and response blocking, that walking on the left side in heel position is more gratifying than placement elsewhere. We started in the CPT Sandy Springs Training Center, a calm environment absent of potentially provocative vehicular traffic. The referenced first stage of intuitively teaching proper leash walking behavior consisted of multiple component steps that comprise the process of scaffolding.

The first step familiarized Holland with the clicker and taught Holland that the clicking sound was beneficial, since it meant the imminent receipt of a high-value food reward (lunch meat).

The second step was acclimating Holland to a properly fit Gentle Leader head halter collar. The Gentle Leader (GL) was the optimal collar choice to calm Holland, avoid tracheal pressure, and prevent pulling or retreat by using low-pressure response blocking techniques. CPT fits the GL slightly different than is recommended by the manufacturer. We also conduct a unique familiarization protocol that incorporates positive reinforcement, human-dog communication principles, and systematic desensitization. Resultantly, dogs experience less initial discomfort and acclimate to the GL more quickly. On numerous occasions the synthesis of our fitting technique and acclimation methodology has rapidly desensitized dogs to the GL, whereas before visiting CPT the client dog was unsuccessful when leash walking was attempted by a competing training company.

The third step used a two-leash technique to teach Holland to comfortably wear the GL while in-motion. There are two key acclimation periods relevant to the GL. The first period, described above in step two, teaches the dog to serenely wear the nose loop portion of the GL. The second period desensitizes the dog to experiencing the weight of the leash underneath the mandible by predominantly using an alternate leash attached to a neck collar or harness and then gradually skewing to where an increasing percentage of communications are administered from the leash attached to the GL. During this step we also educate the dog regarding heel position, so that the dog reliably keeps his/her right shoulder to ear even with the handler’s left leg.

The fourth step reintegrates the clicker and food to teach upward focused attention while walking. The step also fortifies the heel position education accomplished during step three. Upward attention raises the probability that the dog will focus on the handler, rather than pull toward stimulating environmental distractions. Moreover, when the dog is proximal to a potentially frightening stimulus, upward attention will redirect the dog from the stimulus, which helps the dog to maintain a relaxed emotional state. During this step we praise whenever the dog is in heel position and elevate praise while clicking and treating whenever the dog is in position and attentive. We also mildly response block when the dog migrates outside of heel position.

We usually have a CPT Trainer prep the dog before the handler takes the helm. Trainer prep poses two valuable advantages. First, the dog is already knowledgeable before the inexperienced client handler takes hold of the leash. Second, the client handler has the opportunity to benefit from visual modeling, so that the client has a superior probability of properly employing optimal handling mechanics and human-dog communication protocols.

This article includes two videos of Holland walked inside of CPT. You will see a significant difference in results when CPT Head Trainer Mark Spivak walks Holland versus when Nicole walks Holland. Nevertheless, the job of a dog trainer is not solely to train the dog. To successfully complete the project we must also effectively educate the human client. Therefore, we worked with Nicole until she could proficiently employ the prescribed techniques. Consequently, in the outdoor videos you will observe that Nicole improved tremendously in her handling and communication acumen.

Once Nicole adeptly walked Holland inside the low distraction CPT environment we advanced to the second stage of Holland’s program. During the second stage we emphasized teaching Holland to relax while walked amidst vehicular traffic on a busy city street. The second stage had two steps.

The first step concentrated on desensitizing Holland to moving vehicles, especially trucks. We took Holland outside on a loose leash and located on a sidewalk proximal to Roswell Road. Whenever a truck or a large mass of passenger cars approached we clicked and treated. Soon Holland became counterconditioned, whereby she understood that the approach of traffic was fortuitous and led to a forthcoming click, “Yesss,” and treat. “Yesss” is not a misspelling. The word is a distinctive verbal reward marker spoken in a whisper voice that a handler can use as a secondary reinforcer in the absence of the clicker or as a primary reinforcer in the absence of food.

The second step finalized the project by walking Holland in heel position amidst busy Roswell Road and Abernathy Road traffic. The entire process is called scaffolding, where subsequent behaviors and steps are based upon the knowledge and improvements acquired through earlier foundation steps. As you can see in the accompanying videos, in just one appointment with a CPT Head Trainer Nicole was able to walk Holland alongside a busy road on a loose leash. Moreover, Holland was relaxed, eager, and highly attentive.

This case study provides evidence of the value of Head Trainer private instruction. The same behavior modification improvement may have been impossible in a group class and if possible would have certainly taken much longer to accomplish.


(Sandy Springs, GA)

(Atlanta, GA)

© Copyright Mark Spivak and Comprehensive Pet Therapy, Inc., September 2016. All rights reserved.



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