In the course of leash walking, every dog is presented with choices of how to respond – or react – to passing stimuli. Training in a “walk on by” cue can provide an effective way to navigate those stimuli. (Apologies to Dionne Warwick…) Triggers along the way can vary in intensity. It may take the dog a few moments or a few minutes to stop rubbernecking and redirect attention to his handler. This is usually a challenging training endeavor, so a primary reinforcer works best: high value food.
Assess General Leash Walking Skills
A dog’s walking behavior is often described in one word: “fine”. What does that mean? What behaviors does the dog engage in while walking on leash with his handler? Plenty of dogs can walk along, sniffing or scanning, without pulling excessively, until…. Frequently checking in with the handler by looking at his/her face is often a behavior that is missing.
Here’s a little test: take a walk around the block or a few houses down from your home. Without saying the dog’s name, count how many times he offers to look at you. If/when he does offer you a look, tell him he’s a genius and give him a treat. Good leash walking skills are the foundation of training in “walk on by”.
Multiple Triggers? Prioritize One to Start
As an example, let’s say your dog pulls towards, jumps on, or attempts to sniff someone passing by on a sidewalk. This person may or may not have a dog. The goal is to teach your dog to pass by another person/dog and refrain from interacting. Please know that this is more difficult if your dog expects an on leash meet and greet when another dog approaches.
The skinny width of a sidewalk may push your dog over his threshold. The passer-by is too close! Set up for success by increasing the distance between you and your dog and the approaching passer-by.
Teaching a dog to show only a mild interest in passers-by (canine or human) is no easy exercise. It requires a plan, practice, and patience. Once a starting benchmark distance is determined, 3-5 pass-bys with this criterion can be attempted. Only when your dog is capable of calmly walking by and checking in with you should be move ahead to decrease the distance between your dog and the passer-by. Ideally, you might practice this exercise for 10 minutes, three times daily.
If you have decreased the distance too fast or skimped on the number of successful pass-bys, your dog will let you know. Your program will begin to deteriorate, and progress will by stumped. It NEVER works to ignore what your dog is telling you. Move ahead when HE is ready, and success can happen with the right practice.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC