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Not a Drag: ClickerExpo Faculty Member Offers Tips for Teaching and Learning Loose-Leash Walking

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Editor’s note:

For many high-energy dogs and their owners, a walk around the block can present a range of challenges. Leash issues are one of the main complaints from pet owners, and a large reason why many dogs end up in shelters. At ClickerExpo 2016 in Reno, Nevada, Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) and ClickerExpo faculty member Laura Monaco Torelli will present tips to help with leash training. Here are just a few!

Let’s relieve the pressure

It can be overwhelming for a new puppy or dog owner to juggle the boatload of information coming at them. Pile up the pressure of being told to teach their new canine family member loose-leash walking, and frustration might not be far behind.

Why? Because the phrase “loose-leash walking” is a construct. Dr. Susan Friedman provides excellent resources about the fallout of using labels and constructs. They are all around us! What does a loose leash look like? What if the leash isn’t loose? Is the handler failing? What if the dog is the one doing the pulling? Is the dog failing? What if you have to navigate close quarters and you gently collect the leash while it tightens a little? Uh, oh. The leash isn’t loose, and that’s a bad thing, right?

The pressure is there for professional teachers, too. In a world of quick fixes, fast answers, and the desire for split-second solutions, we are all feeling the pressure. And it’s not all coming from the leash.

Let’s work together to relieve that pressure and take back the joy in walking with our canine buddies.

Learn about the human learner

Come Learn with
Laura Monaco Torelli
at ClickerExpo in Reno, NV
January 22-24, 2016.

Register Now!

We are all individuals with our own reinforcement history. Maybe a dog slipped out of a collar once. Perhaps a dog lunged at another person while on leash, and the handler views walk time as aversive or punishing. Take the time to ask yourself, or the client, “What does walking with your dog look like?” Have the client show you the baseline walk. Then ask about their expectations. Many times the client is perfectly fine with how things are going. But, the client heard that any tension on the leash is bad, and now s/he is confused. Maybe the handler was told to apply techniques that exacerbate the original concerns. Maybe a six-foot-tall man with a long stride has a little dachshund doing her best to keep up with him. The information-gathering process is endless!

Let your teaching skills shine

What an exciting time to be a part of a team approach! While you are assessing the baseline walk (take video as an excellent tutorial), start to create specific success points. This is where TAGteach comes in handy. “Stop pulling back on the leash! Can’t you see what you are doing wrong?” Yikes. Instead, let’s ask what can they do with the leash hand instead? We don’t advocate the application of flooding techniques with animals. Therefore, we shouldn’t be flooding clients, or ourselves, with too much information either. Theresa McKeon has observed my group classes over the years while I was earning the Level 2 TAGteach Certification. Learning how to assess my teaching skills has been a huge asset for the dog teams in my classes.

What a great time to teach about canine development!

At a previous ClickerExpo conference, I had the joy of watching Kay Laurence teach a class about improving walks with dogs. In her book Every Dog Every Day, she writes:

“Taking your 5-month-old puppy for a walk is quite different to a 2-year old-dog that is following an agenda driven by his hormones or innate hunting behaviors.”

Take the wonderful opportunity to teach about the very moment where the puppy or dogs’ development is. They might not be to their PhD yet (Philosophy of Dog), so use this chance to set up for success during the present time.

Equipment soup

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the vast array of collars, leashes, harnesses, walking “aids,” and other products on the market. If you can take the time to shop around for a comfortable pair of shoes for yourself, then you can take the time to find the right fit for your puppy dog. Thankfully, I am not forced to wear the same shoes I wore when I was in my teen years. Dogs are as individual with their structural and behavioral needs as we are.


Let’s take a stroll together to learn some different perspectives. Join me for Not a Drag: Teaching and Learning Loose-Leash Walking at ClickerExpo 2016 in Reno, NevadaI look forward to joining you !


About the author
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Laura Monaco Torelli, Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) and a member of the KPA and ClickerExpo faculties, is the Director of Training for Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago. Since 1991, Laura has worked with and trained beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals, river otters, and penguins (at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago), primates, large cats, birds of prey, reticulated giraffes, Arctic foxes, horses, parrots, macaws, tree kangaroos, and red pandas (at the San Diego Zoo and Brookfield Zoo), and, of course, dogs (just about everywhere). Laura has spoken at many professional conferences and has appeared on various broadcast media.