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How To Leash Train A Dog

Lay of the Land and the Leash

After much delay, the crate finally arrived! It's about four times Maui's size. A bit too large for now, but knowing he's at least half an Australian Shepherd, I imagine he still has a lot of growing to do. Crate training will come later because for right now, it's time to do three things at once: Let Maui explore the yard, do a bit of beginner leash training, and let him see the cats.

My friend gave me a body harness and retractable leash for him which was passed down from her mother.  I've never walked a dog with a harness before, but I imagine they have some pros and cons compared to a flat collar. I've seen professional trainers use head halters on dogs, especially the aggressive ones, but Maui doesn't seem to be the aggressive kind, instead, he looks to be more of a cowardly dog. However, I've dealt with cats enough to know that fear doesn't mean they won't be aggressive, in fact, it might just fuel Maui to lash out if he feels too much anxiety. I also have to remember to keep rewarding positive behavior, even with just praise. I've heard before that a dog often copies the habits of its owner. If I'm a couch potato, which I sometimes am,  Maui might end up being the same. It's all about what Maui associates with a positive experience versus bad ones. If staying on the couch earns him a hug and a scratch on the head, then he'll likely do it more often. That's classical conditioning right there.

At least one con I'll say is how difficult putting the harness is. It will probably get harder when Maui grows. With the harness properly fitted, I allowed Maui to walk around with it. He seems to be okay with it already, despite wearing it the first time. 

According to my leash training homework, I have a few things to do when I go out with him on a leash. 

  • If Maui walks parallel to me, I should praise him and give him a food reward. 
  • If Maui pulls in a different direction while we're walking, I will stay still until he decides to go close to me. No pulling or tugging of the leash and when he does return, praise him and give him a treat. 
  • If Maui decides to jump or lunge at something, I should call his attention with a treat or whichever I have at my disposal preferably before Maui could actually do it. I hope commanding him to sit will work. 
  • If I stop and Maui stops beside me, I also should praise him and give him a treat. 

Once again the first training steps do not involve punishment. No scolding or tugging, no negative experiences.  Or so I thought.

According to the "Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning", the part where I stop when Maui pulls in a different direction is technically called "Negative Punishment." In operant conditioning, punishment means "decreasing unwanted behavior" and the Negative part of that means "Removing" or "Delaying". 

To break the steps down, the "Good thing" is me walking with Maui and the "bad behavior" is when he pulls in a different direction, I stop, hereby delaying or removing the "Good thing" until he stops the unwanted behavior. By doing this, again and again, Maui should understand that if he pulls in a different direction, he will stop getting the good stuff, therefore reducing the chance of bad behavior happening. 

When you really get down to the science of things, something as simple as stopping when my dog pulls in a different direction becomes a training method in molding my dog's behavior. 

The other side of Negative Punishment is called Positive Punishment, which sounds like I'm going to punish Maui by doing something good to him. The definition is simpler. If negative punishment is delaying a good thing to reduce unwanted behavior, positive punishment is adding something to reduce the unwanted behavior. 

For example, Instead of just stopping when he pulls, I'll instead scold him or tug the collar. I'm adding that stimuli to directly reduce Maui's likelihood of pulling the leash again. This means when we do something to dogs or even kids like putting them on time-out when they do something bad, is in fact, Positive Punishment. In comparison, denying my daughter's TV time if she doesn't finish her homework, is Negative Punishment.

Since Maui hasn't once complained nor found the collar uncomfortable, I attached the retractable on his harness and we decided to walk around the office first. To my joy, Maui seems to already get the idea of walking around with me. When he feels the slight tug of the leash, he quickly follows until the leash slacks. Whenever he does that, I praise him and give him a treat. This is supposed to be the foundation of loose leash training, I hope it sticks.

We walked around the house a few times and prepared to go out of the yard. Once again, I realize that nothing ever goes smoothly. Maui hesitated going out the door with me and I quickly knew why. One of the leaner (and actually meaner) cats aptly named Mars was close to the door. I had to make a decision whether to close the door and prevent a potential conflict or let this take its course. Maui should be aware of Mars' scent already, but I worry that Mars might decide to create a show of might. He's already standing his ground and Maui's already quite tense. 

Promptly, I showed Maui a treat and asked him to sit. It did distract him enough to look at me and I had my daughter put Mars somewhere else. With that out of the way, I guided Maui out the door and into the front of the yard. 

The other two cats were nowhere to be seen, probably sleeping somewhere warm. It's a good time to start the training. With the cats out of the way, Maui seemed more comfortable and curious. The wagging tail seems to be a good sign so we started walking. 

With a new environment, new sights, sounds, smells, and crannies to put one's nose in, Maui's behavior was different from the inside. There were plenty of moments where Maui would decide to go in a different direction while we walked around. I suppose this was expected. Whenever he decided to swerve, I stopped and waited for him to walk back to me. At first, he doesn't come back and kept pulling the leash. Soon enough, he does so randomly and I quickly praised him and gave him a treat. 

This is where I also realized another con to the harness. Maui isn't a large dog yet, but it takes a considerably higher amount of strength to keep him since I'm trying to pull him from his center of mass. I wouldn't recommend this for big dogs if you don't have the power to handle it.

The pro, however, is that Maui doesn't end up choking when he tries to pull the collar. I would recommend this for medium-small and small dogs. 

I started teaching him a "Let's go," command so that I can have Maui drop whatever he's doing and go with me, instead of pulling on the leash. It's less effort on my part too. What I did here is that when Maui stops to check something out, I'll stop too, but as soon as he goes back to me, I say "Let's go!" then give him a treat, then we start walking. I did this somewhat on the fly, testing if I had the right idea. It seemed to work. After doing this about five times, he stopped randomly, then after a few seconds, I said "Let's go!" and started walking. He responded somewhat hesitantly, but when I praise him and gave a treat, he seems to understand that he did the right thing.

After a couple of rounds around the yard, I had the perfect cue to stop. Mars is apparently nearby and was hiding in one of the bushes, looking like he's stalking Maui. The dog is twice his size but Mars seems to think he's a playmate. That's cute. but I can't afford Maui getting a bad experience. When cats play, claws are involved. I have to figure out how to introduce him slowly, but surely. I could find the laziest one of the three cats, but that will be for another day. 

Maui seems to be getting the hang of Positive Reinforcement. He's starting to understand that training sessions with me is a delicious, or a fun time at least since he repeats the behavior faster than when I first taught him to sit. It's all positive impressions for now. I'm starting to get the idea too, that with dog training, we have to get the dog used to the idea of training first, rather than starting the specific behavior training.

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