Leash Walking: Walking by Exciting Things
If your dog pulls, barks and doesn't listen to you when walking by exciting things you have come to the right place! I am going to refer to "Exciting Things" in this blog post. They could be anything! Small dogs, big dogs, barking dogs, cars, children, people, people wearing hats, children on their scooters, on and on and on!
When walking by exciting things, there are two important things know:
1. What are YOU going to do
2. What you want YOUR DOG to do
If you know what you are going to do, then you can have confidence, be clear in your communication, and have patience for the process. Without understanding the scenario of walking by exciting things, people often see the undesired behaviors and they feel emotions like anxiety, stress, or frustration.
I want you to know that walking by exciting things is hard for you AND your dog. However, if you know what you want your dog to do and you communicate that to them, it will get easier and easier for you and your dog to walk by the exciting things.
Let's break it down. View the picture below:
Distance A: When the dog starts doing undesired behaviors (pulling, not listening, etc.)
Dogs need distance from things (people, dogs, etc.) in order to be responsive to you. Distance A will be different for every dog and for every 'Exciting Thing'. For example, your dog may start pulling towards large dogs from a farther distance than he does for smaller dogs. Distance A might be 100 feet and that's ok, you need to know the starting point.
Right before Distance A is where the training begins.
Step 1: Your dog notices the 'Exciting Thing'.
Step 2: At that moment, you say your dog's name to get their attention on you instead of the 'Exciting Thing'.
Step 3: After you get their attention, you ask them to do a behavior - walking next to you. Whatever you call it is fine - "with me", "heel", "walk", etc.
Step 4: When they are next to you, say "yes", and give them the treat.
Step 5: When they leave your side again - which they will! - get them back into position (next to you) by saying their name, luring, or handling the leash. Then say "yes" and give them a treat.
Distance B: When you are the closest to the 'Exciting Thing'
Distance B is the hardest for your dog. They are the closest to the 'Exciting Thing' and you are almost invisible. Your goal is to keep walking, create distance again from the 'Exciting Thing' and ask for the behavior of walking next to you.
An important takeaway for you is for you to understand that this time is the hardest for your dog. It is like a kid right in the middle of the candy aisle and he wants to grab everything. Instead of explaining that he can't have any candy right in the middle of the aisle, you get him out of the candy aisle! You're going to do the same thing with your dog. You aren't going to ask them for a really hard behavior when it is really hard for them and then get annoyed that they aren't listening to you. You are going to get further away from the 'Exciting Thing' and ask for the behavior when it's easier.
Distance C: When you can get the dog to walk next to you again
After you pass Distance B, keep asking for your dog to walk next to you and see how long it takes your dog to be able to do so. As you create distance from the 'Exciting Thing', it is going to be easier and easier for the dog to do what you want them to do: walk next to you.
We bookend the undesired behaviors with the desired behavior so the dog understands what behavior is expected of him while passing the 'Exciting Thing'. You are teaching the dog what you want him to do and motivating him to do so.
Note about treats:
When you are training a dog, and the behavior is unreliable, you need treats to motivate them to do a behavior. If your dog is walking by exciting things and doing behaviors other than what you want them to do, you will need treats.
Motivation is a Win-Win Scenario: You want them to walk next to you, they want the treat.
As you and your dog get better at walking by exciting things, you will find that not only does the gap of undesired behaviors shrink, but also that you need less treats to walk by the 'Exciting Thing' nicely.
You may need ten treats to walk by a dog nicely at first. That is ok. You stay consistent with what you are asking of your dog and they will understand the expected behavior. Find success and build from there (as opposed to walking by things poorly and reinforcing the undesired behaviors).
Few extra tips:
Keep Walking: You will notice in the visual that the 'Exciting Thing' is in one spot. Typically when another dog is walking by you on the street, they are also walking. As a result, the walk-by happens faster but it is easier to get the desired behavior after you pass the other dog because they are creating distance at the same time as you.
Create Distance: Be creative about how to create distance. Cross the street, go into a driveway, etc. You will find your dog will respond to you better with added distance from the 'Exciting Thing'.
Ask for One Behavior: You are only going to ask them to walk next to you. Don't confuse them by asking for leave it, or come on, or saying their name. Be clear in your communication.
I promise you this gets easier and easier. Your first step should be to notice when your dog locks in on the exciting things you're walking by. I bet they are farther away than you think.
I hope this helps you feel confident in knowing what to do so you can clearly communicate to your dog what you expect of them. And, of course, motivate them to do so.
If you need any help at all, don't hesitate to reach out!