Tension on Leash

For those of you that have ever had a dog that pulls excitedly or becomes reactive with environmental distractions you know that there are many times where you will find yourself in a position where your dog is out in front of you when a distraction presents itself unexpectedly. You may not have time to reposition yourself. This is why you will want your dog to learn to respond to tension on leash as a nonverbal cue to check in. In order to do this exercise you will once again need to have two pieces of food; one piece will be used as a distraction, the other as reinforcement.

Your dog should be on harness and leash. Lure and reinforce your dog for moving to your left. In a moment you are going to be tossing a piece of food in front of you and you don’t want it to sail over your dog’s head where it might be tempting for them to try and catch it. Give your dog about 4 feet of slack on the leash and toss one piece of food 7-8 feet in front of you. Your dog will likely pull to end of leash as you hold steady pressure. When your dog shifts his focus from the food on the ground back in your general direction, you are going to mark, by saying an enthusiastic “yes!” and reinforce. You will use your verbal marker the very moment that your dog begins to turn his or her head back in your direction, but you will deliver reinforcement only once your dog has taken a step or two towards you for the food.

Give your dog time to think and problem solve, but if they seem stuck and they are fixated on the food distraction for more than 4-5 seconds you can help them out by making a “kissy” sound to get their attention. Mark and reinforce the moment that they shift their focus away from the food and back to you. Again, you’re not looking for perfect eye contact. Be emphatic when you are marking for your dog’s turning head, it will make it easier for your dog to understand what it is you want your dog to do in this context. Do 4 tosses per training session, once or twice a day. Discontinue exercise when your dog goes 4 for 4 tosses without dashing towards the food. Even if your dog rocks these exercises with a food distraction, don’t not expect these skills to immediately generalize to real life distractions on walks. We will talk about how to help your dog “connect the dots” when we get into the fifth week of this training program.

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