School Days: Leash walking and toy play

Last week we reported on the Dude’s first night of a six-week class which will (hopefully) teach him to be basically obedient. We’re now finishing up week two, and headed to the third class tonight!

Dude’s second session focused on proper leash walking, as well as the importance of toy play. Duderino was already good and exhausted relaxed from having spent all day at the training center with mama, who was working all afternoon. So he was nice and calm by the time class started in the evening.

We started the session with some tiedown approaches (where we clip his leash in to a carabiner and walk away, waiting for him to sit and relax before coming back to pet on him and praise him). Only a few of the dogs in class struggled with this exercise, but the Dude really blew the others all away — in fact, he was laying down in frogdog pose within seconds of being clipped in! We often start class with this exercise because it’s so helpful in focusing and chilling out the dogs.

Next, we were introduced to loose leash walking, with a strong focus on using the handler’s voice and emotion to help the dog remain engaged. When a dog feels the leash pressure on his neck, it’s easy for him to just walk on without worrying about whether we’re coming or not– he knows we are there. But if he is taught to walk on a loose leash, he has to be focused on where his walking companion is! A loose leash walk is much more work for the dog — mentally — than a pully one, and this is one of the goals of walking — an exhausted dog.

We also got to play with different walking equipment, to see what worked best for our dogs. The Dude is not a reactive dog, so a simple martingdale (no-slip) collar works just fine for him. But we also tried a step-in harness, which is attached via two points of contact and a double-ended leash (one clip to the dog’s back and one to the dog’s chest). The Dude seemed to respond well to this one too, and we’re adding it to our collection to use in more challenging walking situations. We refrained from trying any head-collars, which work nicely for more reactive dogs, especially when paired with a harness or martingdale and — again — a double-ended leash. More on these various equipment another time!

Finally, we worked on toy play. I know what you’re thinking — what does playing with toys have to do with basic obedience? Turns out it has a lot to do with it! Teaching a dog to love toys not only makes for a far more reliable recall than food does, but also builds a stronger relationship between the dog and the person — and if your dog thinks you’re fun, then your dog is going to be much more likely to do what you ask.


(1) practice loose leash walking in the back yard, setting up some cone-substitutes to do figure eights and weaves, turning frequently if the dog is tempted to pull. Once this is easy, start walking in front of the house — first just 40 feet, out and back. Once this is easy, double the distance. Once that’s easy, double again.

(2) Practice toy holding and play, by only petting the dog when he’s holding a toy in his mouth — all week! Put all the toys away, and only produce one when you decide it’s playtime. When the game is over — again — you decide — the toy goes away again. For the toy holding practice, if Dude approaches seeking attention, offer a toy. If he takes it, pet, praise, hug, whatever. The second he drops it, turn off all attention. This is a hard one, but a building block for future activities!

(3) Continue sit/release exercise, tiedown approaches, and sitting for food bowl from week 1.

So how’d we do? The leash walking was slow going, but we made some progress. By the fourth day, we were able to get down the front walk, down the driveway, and two houses away from ours on a loose leash. Then on Monday we tried out a new harness, and were able to make a lot more progress. We’re now juggling back and forth between the two, and hope to become proficient in each. The toy holding went well — when we remembered to do it. We often found ourselves petting or scratching the Doodlebug with no toys in sight, just out of habit — oops! But when we did offer a toy, he got better and better throughout the week at holding it while receiving his massage. This is a big deal for the Dude, who was most decidedly NOT a toy fanatic a couple of weeks ago. Score!

An update on Week 3 to come next week!

19 responses

  1. Very cool stuff. I am a training lover, but have little time to do any outside of work, so I enjoy reading about what you all do. That is a very interesting toy idea, i will have to keep that in mind for clients who want theirs to be more toy driven. Wyatt will fetch/chase anything you throw… and well you have seen Luna and all her toys, she frequently carries them to bed with her and will play by herself with them.
    Good luck on loose leash walking, that and stays are two of the hardest things for people to learn I think. Soooo much has to do with building blocks.

  2. Nice work with “the Dude.” He is quite the model for the camera. Can’t wait to hear more about all the different equipment. Wolfie wears a harness and I use a 6 foot leather leash when we walk in public. I only use a retractable leash when we are in the yard.

  3. Hi Aleksandra, Great post! We just started the Love-a-Bull basics class with our pup last week. She actually came to us as a loose-leash walker, so that bit has been relatively easy for us. BUT she has very little interest in toys. It wook her about two weeks with us to become food motivated, but toys haven’t interested her yet. She looks at us like we’re fools if we try to act excited about toy in order to entice her to play with it. We’ve tried different textures, sizes, etc. No luck. Any tips you could share? Thanks, Nora (and Ruthie)

  4. Sounds like an awesome obedience program if your homework is to play with toys! I’m looking at several trainers near us, and I’d like to drop in and check out a class at each location before making my decision. Thing is, I’m not exactly sure what I should be looking for, other than “positive training methods”. Do you have any tips for evaluating whether a training program is a good fit?

    • That’s hard, because it’s so individual. I would look at whether the training seems very formulaic and rigid, or whether there seems to be some flexibility — is the trainer tailoring techniques to each dog’s “personality” and abilities? Is the trainer helping students adapt lessons and homework to their specific situation? And what is the dog-to-trainer ratio? You want it to be 6:1 or smaller, I would think — if the classes is bigger than 5 or 6 dogs, there should be assistant trainers. And finally, do the people, dogs, and trainer(s) look like they’re having fun? Basic obedience should always be fun for handler and dog — if you drop in on a session and it looks like there is much frustration and nobody is addressing it, you may want to think twice. And if there is any intimidation going on — jerking the collar, harsh words, etc — move along.

      Just some thoughts.

  5. I’ll have to try that trick for toys – Gwynn isn’t all that interested in them, and I’d love for him to play with me, especially when a toy is a great reward during other training.

  6. It sounds like the Dude is doing great!

    It sounds especially neat, the way that toys get worked in. Another tool in the toolbox, and once he decides to play with toys on his own too (or with Chick?) that’ll be a lot of fun!

  7. Pingback: School Days: Recall, sit/stay, and hand targeting « Love and a Six-Foot Leash

  8. Pingback: How To Teach Your Dog Come Back When Called | Serious Dog Training

  9. Pingback: School Days: down/stay, impulse control, and leash walking continues! « Love and a Six-Foot Leash

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