Looking for a game to help students improve their leash walking?

As Dr. Sophia Yin pointed out in Take The Lead (a blog post she published last May), dog owners tend to do weird things with leashes — like hold them up above their heads and pull them forward or backward.

And thanks to dogs’ natural opposition reflex (video below) it tends to result in the exact opposite of what they intend.

What is opposition reflex?

While there are a number of games that you can use to help teach  a dog to walk nicely on leash, this one is intended to teach the owners.

How to Play The Spoon Game

frenchieNote: You will need 2-4 plastic spoons for this game.

I usually break my class up into 2-3 teams, depending on how many students we have that day. I set up 2 cones as “starting lines” and 2 cones on the other end of the room as a turnaround point.

The first person in each line receives a spoon.

The Rules for the Spoon Game

I explain the rules:

  1. The spoon and their leash must be in the same hand.
  2. Place a treat on their spoon.
  3. Walk all the way to the cone on the other end of the room and back without dropping the treat on their spoon!
  4. When the first person returns to the starting line, the next person goes until everyone has gone.

If they drop their treat before getting back to the starting point they must pay a “penalty.”

I usually start the game out with a low penalty — something like stop and get a sit from your dog before resuming — and work my way up to something more extreme, like having to start back at the beginning!

I tell them each person will go down and back twice.

Their first time, they can use any method they can think of to get down and back without letting their dog pull, even if it means luring. The second time, they can do anything except lure their dog.

An Added Benefit

I’ve found it even helps those dog owners who struggle to remember to reward frequently enough — rather than worrying about looking silly for over-rewarding their dogs, suddenly they’re more worried about dropping the treat in their spoon, so they tend to use more rewards.