I have a problem with Rush. I failed at teaching loose-leash walking. When I say “failed,” I mean “my dog drags me around unless I use a gentle leader or a front-attach harness.” How I failed is quite simple: I lacked the patience and determination to enforce criteria (as in “we are not going anywhere at all until that leash is slack”) in all situations (including, as just one example, getting into the car). I really enjoy my walks with the dogs and I like to walk with some speed. This is not conducive to training a loose-leash walk with a young dog. Really, his pulling on leash is all my fault.
A few days ago, Jay and I were talking about a friend of his who is trying to break the world record for bicycling (as in pedaling) the most miles in a year. The record was set in Britain in 1939 and is 75,000 miles. Kurt will have to ride more than 200 miles a day for the year to reach the record. At twenty miles an hour (which is a pretty fast clip), that’s ten hours a day. Every day. For a year. (Just an aside here: our company is one of the sponsors of the ride. This makes this post vaguely commercial. I hope you’re not offended. Really, this post is not about cycling.)
As I was contemplating the magnitude of what Kurt is trying to accomplish–I find that ten hours a day thing amazing–I said to Jay “imagine what you could accomplish if you took those ten hours a day and did something different with them.” And I started to imagine what I could train Rush to do if I worked at it for ten hours a day. I could probably teach him to earn his keep by building houses or something.
However, I utterly lack any desire to train a dog for ten hours a day. We’ve established that already: I wasn’t willing to slow down my walks for a few weeks–much less a year–to achieve loose-leash walking.
I continued my thought, though, and got to “maybe if I did a little training every day for a year, just a little, that would make a difference at the end of the year and it wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.” And if it didn’t make a difference, so what? It would be just a little bit of time every day.
How little? I decided to try ten treats a day of loose-leash walking. Just ten. I started yesterday with ten treats and Rush wearing his orange and green martingale leash. I wanted a specific leash so I could train context-specific behavior to start. I put the leash on. I took one step, the leash was slack, I gave him a treat. I did that for another step. He was glued to my side so I took three or four steps, treat 3. It took 47 seconds to do a quick lap around the yard and give him the ten treats. He didn’t pull a single step.
Ten treats a day for a year? I can do that!
Edited on 5/31/2016: Daisy Peel asked me today if she could reference this post. Of course she can. I do want to update a few things, though. First, Kurt Searvogel did in fact set the record for most miles bicycled in a year (76,076 miles), as you can see from this link. His wife, Alicia Searvogel, whom he married during his record setting year, is contemplating trying for the women’s record. Second, Rush now runs with me, loose leash attached to the back of his harness, and today he ignored a squirrel while we were running. I can even walk him around a trial site with the leash mostly loose–right up until it’s time to head for the ring.