What If Your Dog Will Not Budge On A Walk?

When you share your home and your life with a dog, there are so many activities your will be doing together. One of those that is pretty much universal is walking together joined by a leash.

And one of the most common issues people have with their puppy and dog is walking with their dog or puppy on a leash, a loose leash that is.

dog training tips for a stubborn dog or puppy that will not budge on leashI’ve addressed some of the reasons why that activity may break down.  I thought I’d specifically write about tips for solving an issue of a dog or puppy who plants his feet (or rear end) down on the ground and will not budge, as I have seen this happen time and again. I will refer to this as ‘no-budge behavior’.

Before talking about the behavioral modifications, you may first want to consider if there is an underlying medical issue that is giving your dog reason to stop in his tracks – especially if this is a sudden behavior change. Watch your dog or puppy carefully to see if he is favoring one leg over another; or if he seems uncomfortable in any way. If you touch a spot on his body, including his legs, does he wince or growl? If so, you should talk to your veterinarian to see if there is a physical or medical issue going on.

Additionally, take into consideration the outside temperature and the walking surface. Black surfaces can be extremely hot to a dog’s sensitive paws. Also keep in mind, dogs don’t sweat as humans do (much of their heat is released through their paws and panting). Certain dogs – especially those with short noses, thick coats and heavy muscle mass may be more sensitive to heat. And, some dog are more sensitive to the cold as well. Therefore, weather could be a reason for your dog’s unwillingness to walk with you. If weather may be the culprit, you may want to choose a different time a day, a different surface, give your dog more rest time (and bring plenty of water); or choose to find another activity that can give your dog an outlet for his mental and physical exercise needs. (which is a great idea even with walks)

And also, listen to your dog by watching his body language and paying attention to the surrounding environment. It could be that you are walking toward something that is aversive to your dog in some way (maybe he had a negative encounter with another dog or person in the past, in that area before – or a similar area, as an example). If that could be what is going on, then you may want to either avoid that situation or work with your dog to build a positive association with that environment instead.

These are some ways that I have worked through this issue with dogs and puppies.

Keep in mind, my focus is on using the most positive strategies for modifying behavior; and so, I focus on teaching wanted behaviors and building value for those behaviors while trying to avoid situations where my student will practice unwanted behaviors.

So begin by taking account of those situations when your dog or puppy is likely to stop cold in his tracks and not budge. What is the environment, the time of day, your dog or puppy’s previous activity been (maybe he is tired, for example)? Keep a record of this. Sometimes the most simple solution is modifying the environment (called antecedent arrangement) so as to not set that unwanted behavior into motion to begin with. And you definitely do not want your student to be practicing that no-budging behavior.

Practice building value for your dog or puppy walking next to you, following you, and paying attention to you off leash. Here is a link to a game for building value at being by your side. Watch for the criteria you are looking for, mark it with a click or verbal marker, and then give your student a reinforcer (I have used any combination of food, games, or the opportunity to chase me as reinforcers.)

Now, practice this with a leash attached to your student’s flat collar. If needed, you can begin this in a space free of danger of the leash snagging on something and let the leash drag on the ground – or you can hold the leash. If you are holding the leash, ensure that the leash is loose and there is not pressure on your student’s neck.

Practice walking and marking (with a verbal marker or clicker) when your student is walking with you where you want him to be (with a loose leash). Do this first in an environment that DOES NOT have the history associated with your dog or puppy’s no-budge behavior. You may want to begin by standing stationary and building value for your student being at your side, and then take a single step and continuing the process.

Gradually you can add more steps, continuing to mark and reinforce your student for walking on a loose leash. Since you will have kept a record of where and when the no-budge behaviors are likely to occur, you can pay special attention to practicing with a high rate of reinforcement BEFORE you get to that spot; and then walk away from the spot and continue to get closer and closer with each repetition. NOTE that you also should be watchful for any body language your student is using to indicate uneasiness and do not push your student beyond that comfort zone. If there is a fear or other reactivity issue, you may want to work with a trainer who uses positive strategies.

While I work to try to avoid the leash/neck pressure, there are times where it may happen and so teaching your student positive association with that – and to move toward the source of pressure instead of away is also a good idea. Similar to the collar grab game, practice a slight tug on the leash (not so much pressure as to cause discomfort) and follow that with a treat. Then practice waiting for your dog to shift his body weight toward the pressure, then making a small movement toward it, and more movement toward it. (This is called shaping.) Practice this numerous times through the day and you can gradually add a little more pressure.

What you do not want to do is continue to pull on your dog or puppy’s leash while he is practicing that no-budge behavior. When you are both pulling against each other, neither one of you is going to win; and there is the potential to inflict harm.

I can tell you that recently several puppies who had a history of the no-budge behavior, eagerly walked by my side after my spending time working through these steps.

And always remember – to have fun!

 

Tips For Stopping A Pet’s Problem Behavior

I get the question all of the time…”How do I STOP my pet’s (unwanted) behavior?”

Many times when I ask follow up questions, I learn the question was asked because attempts at stopping the behavior Tips for solving dog and parrot problem behaviorhave failed.

Here is the thing to keep in mind about behavior. If it is occurring, it is happening because it has a reinforcement history. Simply stated, behavior is a tool that living beings use to get consequences. If the behavior serves to get the animal something of value (to the animal) – meaning the behavior is followed by something the animal values – then you will see more of that behavior. Researcher Edward Thorndike named that relationship between behavior and its consequences the Law of Effect; and it states that the strength of a behavior depends on its past effects on the environment. (Paul Chance: Learning & Behavior, fifth edition)

Okay, so what does this have to do with why those attempts at stopping unwanted behavior are not working?

The simple answer is because that behavior is still getting your pet something it values – maybe it is not every time, but at least sometimes, your pet can count on a consequence it wants. This is called an intermittent reinforcement schedule and it is the best way to build long lasting, strong behaviors as you are also turning your pet into a gambler. That reinforcement may not necessarily be from you (it could be the release of adrenalin when your dog barks at a stimulus or it could be the sensory stimulation of having something in his mouth when a teething puppy grabs a cloth), but it could also be reinforcement you do not even realize you are giving.  Maybe when your dog jumps on you, you ask him to sit – a behavior that was taught with a VERY STRONG reinforcement history which makes sitting a reinforcer for jumping because you asked for it immediately upon your dog jumping. Uh oh!

It could also be that the competing reinforcers for doing an unwanted behavior way outweigh any negative punishment you may use (such as a leash jerk). Your dog will then continue to run to the end of a leash toward the distraction because past history tells your dog that action is off the charts in terms of sensory stimulation, adrenal rush, possibility of play, etc. Withstanding a leash jerk may be worth the effort – or it could be that your dog becomes so focused on that distraction that he just physically cannot think about you.

Complicating matters further, in the times that you try to simply just ‘ignore’ a problem behavior, you have probably learned that it is a nearly impossible task to do. You may inadvertently do something that could potentially be reinforcing your pet’s behavior without realizing it, like batting a pawing dog which could be a sign of play or looking at a screaming bird.

Something else that will more than likely happen when you try to ignore an unwanted behavior is that your pet will increase the intensity of that behavior. The scientific explanation for this is called ‘extinction burst’. In operant learning (learning from the consequences of behavior), extinction means withholding the reinforcing consequences of a behavior. While the overall effect of extinction in dogs, parrots and other pets is to reduce the frequency of the behavior, the immediate effect is often an abrupt increase in the behavior. (Learning and Behavior by Paul Chance)

During the extinction burst, you may think you have just made your pet’s problem worse; however, if and only if you can continue to withhold reinforcing consequences from that behavior, then you will more than likely see a fairly rapid decline in the behavior. But if you can not continue to withhold reinforcing consequences and you ‘sometimes’ give in by paying attention to your pet, getting him a treat, etc, then guess what? Congratulations, you have just taught your pet that only the escalated behavior is what gets him that valued outcome.

There is a lot to think about here. The overarching theme, however, is that failed attempts at modifying unwanted behaviors make it that much more difficult to create change. The good news is that animals are constantly learning, and so there are teaching opportunities within every day.

How can you solve it?

In a very simplified explanation, begin by focusing not on STOPPING an unwanted behavior, but by arranging the environment so as to try to prevent your pet from practicing (and building a reinforcement history from) that behavior (as much as possible, anyway) while teaching your pet another, acceptable behavior that can serve to get him the same or higher value than the unwanted behavior. On the occasion that your pet does do the unwanted behavior, pay attention to assure that behavior does not get anything of value – or as little value as possible.

For the dog who is on leash and working around distractions, several things his caregiver can do to help him succeed include having enough distance from the distraction where he can be below threshold; and having his caregiver mark and reinforce him for noticing the distraction while continuing to have loose body language and maybe even looking back at his caregiver. In other words, having enough distance so that he is least likely to practice running to the end of his leash (and getting reinforced for it) while also teaching him that staying near his caregiver with loose body language in the presence of a distraction is pretty awesome.

Below is a three step process.

  1. Ignore the unwanted behavior. Period. If your dog is pushing your knee or whining to get your attention, it is best to get up without any eye contact and simply turn away or leave the room.
  2. Differential reinforcement. While you are ignoring the unwanted behavior, reinforce either an alternative behavior (one that takes the place of the unwanted behavior) or an incompatible behavior ( one that cannot be physically done at the same time as an unwanted behavior – laying on a mat is incompatible with bumping your knee)
  3. Thoughtfully arrange the environment. If you do not want your dog to bump you when you sit on the couch when you watch tv, some solutions can be putting him in another room or tiring him out with exercise prior to your favorite show so that resting is his more valuable choice.

My favorite parts of solving behavior issues this way is that you are actually providing enrichment opportunities for your pet as you are teaching these new skills, you are making learning positive, and you are strengthening your relationship with your pet.

Tips For Teaching Your Dog Loose Leash Walking

Pulling or reacting to passers by while on a leash is such a common complaint I hear from people about life with their dog. And, understandably so.  If you have ever been that person on the other end, you know it can turn what was supposed to be a care free walk into a major stressor very quickly.

tips for training dog loose leash walkingWhen I observed several handlers recently who were having this issue, I noticed something in common. One thing that struck me was the disconnect I saw between human and dog, even in an environment with fairly low distraction – on a driveway.

Sure, they were tied together by a cord known as a leash but there was no REAL connection. The dogs were focused on everything else around them. If they wanted to sniff something, they would stop and sniff. If they wanted to get somewhere quicker, they would just walk faster (with their owner following).  Two things the dogs did not do were walking by their owner’s side and occasionally looking at their owner.
In each case, it was as if the owner was not present except for the tension or jerk on the leash when the dog behaved in a way the owner did not like.

If those dogs were so disconnected in a low distraction environment, it was of no surprise to me that those same dogs would react by barking, jumping and/or moving toward other anything else that gets their attention, disregarding the human at the other end of the leash.

The problem is, with every practice, the dog is learning all kinds of unwanted behaviors. And he is learning that the environment is far more important than paying attention to his owner.  With each walk, I predict their disconnect will continue to grow.

Here are just a few of the reasons why loose leash walking may break down:

  1. Lack of clarity in criteria. Ask yourself, what exactly do you want your dog to do when you go for a walk? (Do you want your dog to be at your side or a little in front of you? Do you want your dog to sit when you stop? What do you want your dog to do when a person or dog approaches?) If you cannot answer that question, then you cannot give your dog the clarity he needs. Without clarity, he will come to his own conclusions about what to do during a walk. And guess what? You may not like his choices.
  1. Lack of practice and proofing. When you know what you picture ‘loose leash walking’ to look like, spending up front time teaching him that criteria with consistency in an environment where you both can focus will greatly impact your success. Then ‘proof’ this behavior with distractions, adding difficulty only when your dog can continue to loose leash walk as you want him to. Please click here to read more about proofing behavior.
  1. Lack of consistency. If you ‘sometimes’ follow with a taught leash as your dog runs toward a distraction, then guess what? You may be contributing to an even stronger behavior of running toward a distraction as you dog becomes a slot machine player. Please click here to read more. Know that once you begin teaching your dog about loose leash walking that you need to consider every walk a training walk.
  1. There is a weak reinforcement history associated with you. This is a really important foundation. If, in other contexts, you intentionally or unintentionally use aversive strategies to modify behavior (like yelling at or squirting your dog with an irritant or simply do things that make your dog uncomfortable), then the value for him to focus on you may have been weakened. Remember, every waking moment your dog is taking in feedback from his environment, and is learning where the value is for him. The more you teach your dog with clarity and positive reinforcement, the more he will want to listen to you.
  1. There is a strong and established history of reinforcers from the environment that are competing against you. If your dog has had a lot of practice paying more attention to the flowers, fire hydrants and moving animals, and they give him all kinds of good things like sensory stimulation and an outlet for his energy and prey drive, it very well may be worth his while to do all that he can to get to those stimulus as quick as possible. The value would far outweigh the value of responding to you. Plus, when he is in his over aroused state, he may not even notice you yelling or pulling on the leash. I’ll point out here too that this also goes for reactive issues. If your dog has a history of getting a heavy jerk on his neck at the presence of scary dogs or people, then those dogs and people may likely become even more scary as past experience has taught your dog an association between them and unpleasant jerks on his neck. However, great for you is that you can actually use those distractions to build value in your dog’s eyes for doing the behaviors you want him to do. Please click here to read about the Premack Principle.

Now that I’ve gotten these reasons out of the way, I want to remind you…you can have a training walk and still have fun together. In the middle of your walk, ask your dog to do another behavior you have worked on or after a few ‘good’ steps, pull out an awesome toy.For some reasons why you may be having problems teaching your dog loose leash walking. please read further. Remember, pulling on a leash can lead to heightened reactivity.

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