Drayton Michaels, CTC works on leash training with Seymour in NYC

Seymour is a dog living in foster care in NYC. I have worked with him three times since this blog and the corresponding video have been released.

http://youtu.be/8cgLdBBs_mY

Seymour is roughly 7 – 8 months old and a mix of we are not sure what. He has had a rough past; which I will not get into for the sake of time. Suffice it to say he has suffered some traumas in his young life from children abusing him.

He is now is a good environment and lives with two adults. They are dedicated and are working closely with me on his training and his behavior modification.

Seymour learns fast and is very keen with sits, stays and waits, following lures, speedy orientations to prompts and he has a great mouth, meaning no known bites and no known aggressions towards humans. He may grab a shirtsleeve or a hanging purse however!

His main issues are his apprehensions and fears. The behavior he displays as a result of events that trigger his fears are cowering, not taking food, lowered head, tucked tail, pinned ears and fleeing.

This “lack of confidence” is not debilitating for him though. As with all dogs that display fear we want to “pad and desensitize and counter condition as fast and as effectively as possible so the dog stays sound and fears are reduced.
In the end we have to acknowledge that nothing is 100%, but we can surely try and make an attempt.

In addition Seymour he has been known to jump on people, jump out at passing people, lunge at people carrying bags, passing strollers, passing dogs, prey; birds especially, and passing bikes.

The lunging may have an accompanying mouthing of shirtsleeves or scarves etc…so it is crucial that this behavior not be rehearsed and that we create a positive association to these things and create the sequence of impending stimuli that triggers lunging results in getting paid if he does not lunge and or bark.

In essence a one to one association so he disengages and looks to the handler when he is triggered by environmental stimuli.

Sudden environmental contrasts in general will alert him and cause him to orient. His threshold for not reacting is pretty good, maybe 5 – 7 seconds. That depends on the level of the environmental contrast though. A running child will cause him to lunge faster than a slow moving child. Though both fast or slow moving stimuli may cause a lunge depending on the severity of appearance.

So the environmental variables are always at play, especially in a context such as NYC.

Seymour will focus for at least 3 seconds before he escalates his behavior in some way. He may lunge, he may bark, he may whine or he may simply raise his ears and furrow his brow.

Like most dogs, with a high rate of reinforcement and a combination of working the distance and management, Seymour will stay under threshold and not lunge and bark.

You will see in the video that NYC has many advantages and challenges for the leash reactive dog with fear issues.

The advantages as anyone that has worked with reactive dogs has seen, sometimes, the dog has so much environmental stimulation/distractions/scents they tamp it down. Also tons of environmental blocking or antecedent interventions, such as cars or trees or trash cans.

However that is never a given or a criteria. As we all know dogs have different days and even one street to the next may pose challenges.

In fact the criteria is pay i.e. reward or reinforce for the known big - ticket items as much as possible as soon as the dog gets wind of them. Do not let the dog get too invested in any triggers for more than a nanosecond.

The second level of criteria is pay for the general orientations to low - level stimulation of any kind. This also helps fearful dogs like Seymour feel better in general. Some call it rewarding for calm behavior.

When a dog stops taking food it is a sign they are stressed out.
The taking and or not taking of food, especially high value foods are both good gauges for fearful dogs like Seymour when in hectic environments. Remember fear trumps food.

The urban environment criteria of; pay for big and small triggers, serves two very important functions in learning for the dog.

1 – The dog learns very fast that the handler has a high rate of reinforcement, especially with things that are fearful or spooky.
2 – The dog checks in more, stays closer to the handler more often and is much more focused when handler needs dog to disengage.

Street Communications
Using your voice in dog training is not like speaking with people or babies. This is especially true when the dog is distracted and needs disengaging on busy streets.

Far too many people spend time cooing or saying “good boy” when they should be marking YES reinforcing a behavior with food reward that they want reliable. I.E. “Leave it”, or dog follows human around corner to avoid dog approaching, pat the dog for the following.

People spend too much time repeating cues when they need to simply mark the dog (YES) and then reward the dog. Or at least prompt the heck out of the dog with a verbal sound that gets the dogs attention EX: pupuppup…or kissy smooch sounds. The dog will respond due to getting paid for responding to prompt in the past when not as distracted. Charge your prompts! Make a noise and when the dog orients, mark YES and then reward the dog.

This can all be filed under economic use of voice in dog training.

If you say the cue or the dogs name more than once, maybe twice, you are complaining not training.

Economic use of verbal interactions with dogs is a key component of concise, reliable dog training, especially when the dog is distracted!

Say less and pay more.

Seymour, like many dogs will pull towards dogs he sees or smells.

There is a portion of the video where I address leash pulling and leash mechanics. In many cases once a dog figures out that the handler is not “paying for pulling” they decrease it.

Seymour has been known to jump on his handler and grab a sleeve or leash. The results in the video are based on my mechanics and timing. The results with another handler would yield results based on their leash mechanics. You will see that in a future video.

With Seymour my main concern is he was taking food on the walk indicating he was not too stressed out. Past that as long as I could keep his focus when needed and was able to counter condition him to the things he needs to have positive associations to, like kids and bikes he was free to smell all he wanted.

The key is stop for pulling, shorten the leash and then let it out accordingly for loose leash walking. This is a Quadra limbed event for the human and it will take practice.

Stay Fleet of Foot
One thing I noticed through out the editing of this video and all the video of myself training is the placement of my feet.

The footwork of dog training and dog wrangling is something that needs more addressing. In the future I will write in more detail about it.

I see many dog handlers having trouble with their dog due to misplacement of feet and an overall disconnect with the dog and the flow the walk/environment etc…add in a dog that is strong, will pull has no reward consequence history of the leash context and it becomes stressful.

The good news is once you find the groove of the dog and yourself based on reward consequence the dog usually relaxes and walks very well with the occasional light pull top a scent which is more than acceptable.

There is a symbiosis that must occur in leash walking. Training a dog on a leash is an all-encompassing physical endeavor at times.

This unified relationship between dog and handler is achieved through staying flexible literally in a physical sense and mentally as far as reacting to the dog and the environment.

Learning how to commandeer your body with a good deal of balance and awareness of weight distribution will do wonders for your leash walking and dog training in general.

If you need work in this area I suggest taking a dance class or learning to play tennis. Or perhaps get back to that sport or instrument you once played more regularly.

Dog training is a mechanical skill and in some cases it is just like dancing. There are two beings at work in the equation so both need focus.

Dogs are keen on kind consistent sequences, period. Don’t even get caught up in any other fictional assessments of how a dog is learning to walk on leash. It is all about sequences that work out for the dog to get to the next scent or that provide a reward for a behavior.

Sequences, sequences, sequences…keep saying it. Now say Kind Consistent Sequences and you now know what a dog is “thinking” most of the time when they are learning.

Far too many people tug and jerk the leash and or have a very difficult time with a leash handling. This creates stress and dogs at some point start reacting in various ways, usually none of which the handler likes. Stress is the precursor to fear, anxiety, and aggression or a dog that shuts down. Or perhaps a combination of all of these will be in the dog’s pathology? Then the dog is labeled “unpredictable”. When in fact to the legitimate observer it is very predictable.

Take some time and consider your mechanics. Stop fretting about the dog so much and how the dog walks on leash.

How are you training the dog when the dog is on leash?
How well equipped are you to walk the dog?

These are the questions that need to be asked.

Work on your leash skills in the back yard, a playground, a park or work with someone that knows how to teach you leash mechanics. Notice I said how to teach leash mechanics and not someone that knows how to walk dogs, big difference.

One thing I recommend is stay fleet of foot and be aware of the leash and the length at all times. This is especially true in hectic urban environments where literally anything could occur at any time.

There is a dog on the other end of the leash and it is a big responsibility to walk a dog in general let alone through public spaces in big cities. So please give your leash walking skills some consideration before you blame the dog, think about what you are doing or not doing.

Enjoy the video, have fun and be safe when doing leash training with your dogs!

The Dunbar Academy Top Dog Academy – 4 books, 13 videos, 9 seminars and workshops