Successful leash walking hinges on the dog’s ability to resist lunging toward every interesting smell and object you pass on your way. This game introduces your dog to the idea of walking right past those temptations. It’s open-ended, so you can work up to walking past piles of hot dogs and tennis balls, and people cooing at the cute puppy!
Setting up the game:
Temptations will be set up along a line. In this instance, the children in the family held treats in their fists. The three of us stood a few feet apart, and as the dog successfully passed each person, she would run to the end of the line and set up again.
The girls were instructed to NOT let the dog get the treats out of their hands – that would have rewarded him for ignoring the handler and pulling toward distractions! Later on, you can practice with food or toys on the ground, but at the beginning it’s critical that the dog is not able to get that reward. The helpers should also not talk to the dog or touch him.
Goal of the game:
Reward dog for ignoring distractions and walking with the owner. Start with carefully controlled distractions, and work up to exciting, uncontrolled temptations, such as squirrels and cat poop. The dog learns that things out in the environment are simply new aspects of the game.
How to play:
Make sure that the dog can focus on the handler before they even approach the line of distractions. Start walking toward them, generously rewarding the dog for walking nicely on leash and looking at the handler, and stopping to reset if the dog pulls.
As you get close to the temptations, the dog will inevitably leave the handler’s side to try to get the treats – of course, he won’t be successful! The handler should call the dog back, or, if the dog is too engrossed, simply wait him out. He will give up when he doesn’t get any treats or attention, and then be ready to return to the handler. Reward!
Repeat until the dog doesn’t bother to go toward the helpers, and instead chooses to stay with the handler for his treats.
Raising the bar:
Once the dog is able to ignore the first set-up, you can make the temptations gradually more difficult to resist. For example, the helpers can wave the treats around, or place them on the ground (ready to cover them if needed to prevent the dog from self-rewarding). You can switch to toys, or have the helpers hold their own dogs on leash. Later you can put out objects without any helpers. The first few times, have the leash short enough to prevent the dog from self-rewarding! With practice, you can start to rely on the dog to resist temptation without any help or leash control.
The dog won’t leave the distractions alone even after a minute of not getting any treats or petting from the helpers: Make the distraction less intense – maybe just people without treats, or have them hold boring kibble, or a non-food, non-toy item.
The dog was accidentally allowed to access the temptation: Oops! That teaches the dog to be persistent and pull hard toward tempting things. Back up in the training to a level at which he can be easily successful, then rebuild his skills, going slowly so as to prevent more mistakes and get a reliable response from the dog.