Sometimes the best topics occur quite by chance.
I had a friend discover my blog last night; the ensuing conversation (via facebook) compelled me to write this post.
My friend has a three-year old chocolate lab that won’t walk with the leash. If I understand the situation correctly, the dogs are used to being outside in the yard with no leash. When it comes time to leave the yard and the leash comes out; the dog panics and runs away. The last time she brought the leash out, the dog became so upset he threw up. 😦
In our brief exchange I told her she will need to desensitize the dog to the leash.
Some of you may have already heard of this, but it is always good to get a refresher course. 🙂
My dogs are sensitive to their collars. Because they have an indoor collar and an outdoor collar, they know when the outdoor collar comes out that they are usually taking a walk or going for a ride. I can literally stand on my porch and shake Sampson’s collar and he will come running from any point in the yard.
Delilah use to be extremely sensitive to her collar, she would get so excited that she couldn’t sit still; moving her head this way and that way in the best impression of Stevie Wonder that I have ever seen. She is much better now although I admit sometimes she still wiggles.
So just exactly HOW do you desensitize a dog?
For my friend’s dog I would start out by picking up the leash and setting it right back down many times throughout the day. Of course, at first the dog will probably run away, but that’s ok. Eventually the dog will get that you aren’t trying to put the leash on and will simply stay and look. When this happens, I would immediately treat the dog and compliment him with a “Good Dog!”
Once the dog is just looking at you holding the leash, I would approach the dog while holding the leash and then set the leash back down. At this point you don’t want to clip the leash on, you just want to be able to approach the dog. I would do this many times throughout the day as well. Once you can approach the dog without the dog running away, then they get the treat and the “Good Job!” or “Good dog!”
Now that you can approach the dog without him running away, clip the leash on him and leave it for a couple of minutes, then remove it. Each time you do this, reward and praise him.
To start out, once I got the leash on him and he was comfortable running around the house with it, I would begin picking up the leash and walking him in the house. I would gradually ease him into the yard, then outside the fence (maybe just on the sidewalk or a quick two-minute walk) eventually easing him into a full-blown walk.
It is very important to note, that any time you want to try to walk the dog, you mustn’t have some where to go; you must be very willing to turn around at any point in this training exercise and say this isn’t the expected behavior and go back to last step that your dog was successful at. 🙂
Always end your training on a positive note, with your dog succeeding and feeling happy with themselves.