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Loose leash walking for rescue dog, HELP, need new ideas please!!!

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I have a rescue BC, 5-7 years old, who I adopted 4 months ago. She was with a foster family for 3 mos. immediately before adoption. They gave her no training, and did not allow her in the house except for few hours at night. She had a large fenced farm to wander during the days. I knew she had shown no herding instinct and that was OK with me. The foster family believed her temperament was very low key and easy going. She is very sweet with people and dogs, has learned basic obedience (come/sit/down/stay) and can do them all indoors/outdoors, but pulls constantly on leash. She also has a very hard mouth, which seems to have gotten worse as we have done more training. One of my trainers suggested her impulsivity is being redirected this way.


I am afraid that she is either obtuse or totally "unbiddable." Or perhaps both. I am an experienced BC owner (had one raised from puppyhood, bred from working stock), so I know what traits she should have at least to some degree, and she seems to have none of them. She has no play or chase instincts for balls, etc. and cannot be rewarded with anything but treats. She has no initiative to offer new behaviors or build on existing ones. She has no retrieval instinct. She has no desire to please for its own sake, or "work" in any sense I can detect. She has no instinct to circle back and "check in" (using a 30 ft lead to test this at various times in the last 4 months). She has no interest in squeaky toys or tugging games.


She listens and obeys indoors but cannot walk on a loose leash despite gradually practicing a variety of methods and "proofing" indoors/backyard, quiet driveway, quiet neighborhood streets and parks. Her training treats are all high value like hot dogs, cheese, chicken, and very smelly "pupperoni".


I have 2 bad shoulders and cannot really deal with a dog constantly pulling and give the dog enough exercise, as she also has not developed a reliable recall, although it is much,much better than 4 months ago. It will quickly become dangerous for me when winter comes. She can't go off leash anywhere near where I live because of the bad recall issue. She also has severe hip dysplasia and all the treats are making her gain weight, which my vet has already warned against. Nothing has worked. I am feeling pretty desperate, and thinking she may not be able to adapt to suburban life at all if she cannot stop the pulling.


She started out pulling massively and hard and zigzagging constantly and unpredictably, and lunging constantly at cars/bikes/ people. I have gotten her past the lunging with massive counter conditioning. She can now sit and "watch me" although she still alerts to moving objects. But she cannot walk on a loose leash, much less follow me versus always going to the end of the leash ahead of me.


Here are the failed methods I've tried so far (with 3 positive only trainers), including lots of praise and treats.


(1) walking and stopping cold or changing direction at the least leash tension. It feels like I have done this 1000 times without results.

(2) walking 5-10-15 steps and unpredictably changing direction sharply BEFORE she gets to the end of the leash. Again, 1000 times it seems like. Varying speeds, going in circles, etc.

(3) the traditional Jean Donaldson method -- get the dog to follow you walking backwards with treats every step held at pants seam/then gradually increase to 20 steps backward/then pivot and get dog gradually to walk with you stepping up gradually and fading treats. She only responds until the treats are used up for the day. Maybe one block in my neighborhood.

(4) playing chase games and throwing treats behind and to the left at unpredictable intervals on walks.

(5) practicing watch me and also treating for watching me on walks when she does it without prompting or luring.

(6) no pull harness with chest and back attachments, which doesn't actually stop the pulling, just reduces how hard she can pull.

(7) head halter. Did a lot of shaping to get her used to wearing it. But when trying to walk, she scrapes it constantly versus walking.

(8) hand feeding to teach "lick" and "easy" while gradually increasing treat value. She immediately reverts to hard mouth and painful mouth with higher value training treats. The longer a training session lasts (only up to 15 minutes, but usually twice a day) the worse the hard mouth.



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I know you are frustrated, but you have only had this rescue dog for 4 MONTHS - not long at all. Based on what you say, there has been improvement, but not as much as you expected. I think loose leash walking is one of the hardest skills to teach a dog (at least for me and many of my dog training friends, some who actually are instructors) - any dog - and can often take many months to a year or more to reach reliability.


Is this the first rescue dog you have adopted? Because she sounds like a fairly average rescue dog. Think about it: this dog is older, and you know her 3 months in foster was just basically a boarding situation (no training, left to her own devices). And her life before that??? There are a lot of possible reasons why she is not catching on as fast as you expect. If she has never been worked with before, it will take her longer to learn IMHO. Once dogs learn how to learn (which often happens when you are training them as a puppy - perhaps she got no training whatsoever at a young age), it makes all subsequent training much easier. Just because she is a BC doesn't mean she is going to catch on to training lightning fast if she has never been worked with before.


Same with some of the other behaviors you seem to expect from a BC: e.g. retrieving a toy - or even playing with toys. If she never got a chance with toys as she grew up, why should she want to play with them? Checking in? again, why would she want to 'check in' with someone that she probably does not have a strong bond with? Rescue dogs (particularly older ones) may take several months or a year or more to develop the trust with their new owner. That does not necessarily mean the dog is a lost cause, it just means that they are cautious and are still figuring you out.


Gaining weight? Cut back on her daily food if you are using a lot of treats to train.


15 minute training sessions? I would cut back to no more than 3-5 minutes. It sounds like she may be showing some frustration towards the end of your training sessions (she gets a 'hard mouth) which suggests that they are too long. If my dog is not begging to continue to work with me at the end of a training session, the session is too long. Heck, sometimes a 'training session' is only as long as the commercial break in a TV show (while I sit in a chair Ha!) - obviously it depends on the skill I am training. ;D


Experienced BC owner? I have had 4 or 5 and do not consider myself 'experienced'. I am always learning something more from these dogs.

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In addition to GVC-

You've tried eight methods in 4 months. That means, at MOST, assuming you started the day she came home, you've stuck with NOTHING for more than 2 weeks. Or if you have, you've stuck with other things much less.

That's not long enough.

Pick a method, settle in, stick with a given thing for a couple of months. Reassess. She's a border collie, that doesn't make her a robot you 'program', or a mind reader.

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Thx very much for your thoughts, and observations. I will try your idea re shorter session, for sure.


FYI, I have had 2 other non BC rescues adopted at age 6-7, who were able to be trusted off leash almost immediately and were quick to trust and bond. Little background on either but I guess I was just very lucky. So perhaps I've been spoiled by that. As for the 8 methods, I've been doing them ALL pretty much since day 1, using different methods on alternating days or different daily sessions, "capturing" stuff like watch me and rewarding lavishly, or daily exercise walks, vs. just abandoning them after a 2 wk trial. I had been advised to try combining them by the trainers I've been working with, since they are complementary vs. conflicting. They also recommended up to 20 min. a day of structured training, multiple times a day. I have done way less than that most days but not as short as you suggested. One of the trainers I've been working with. who works a lot with shelter dogs evaluating temperament, told me that she thought my BC was low-to-moderate on sociability. Hope that was too pessimistic.


I mentioned the toys because it is hard to reward her work with food only, or give her adequate exercise. She came to me 10 lbs. overweight. I was hoping that she might have some interest so there would be more fun in training/more ways to reward her.I am already counting calories in every treat and her food, of which she gets very little --most days, less than 3/4 cup of kibble, per my vet's recommendation on her recommended weight and caloric needs for her ideal weight.


I do get that teaching leash walking is tough, it's a safety issue for me not just a whim (the shoulder injuries + early onset osteoporosis). Especially with snowy weather coming up around the corner. But as you suggest, I will keep reminding myself to give more time for her to trust and settle in. Fingers crossed.

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While you're teaching her, you might consider using a front clip harness (one of the E-walk things) or something similar to keep you safe. Her learning curve will be what it will be, but there are management tools out there. They won't set back training, you can train with them on, but will prevent her hurting you.

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I found useful to use a martingale collar and having the dog attached to my waist.

I keep the leash quite short, just enough that it is loose when he walks at my side.


you could consider to use something like iron doggy.



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Try giving her most or all of her food as 'treats'- don't use dog treats at all, just use her kibble. Measure it out in the morning and bring it in a bag for training.


Edit: pick a kibble with very small pieces for this. Small pieces are often better for training 'cos the dog eats them faster, and you will get more rewards out of the same volume or weight of kibble.

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Get Pam Dennison's book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training" and use her method for loose lead walking. She developed it because nothing was working for her rescue Border Collie (smile). It is the only thing that has worked for one of my rescue Border Collies. (big smile) Good luck. This is the hardest thing to teach some dogs, and you haven't had her long.


The same dog referred to above would never last for training more than 3-5 minutes at a stretch. You can do it several times a day, but keep sessions quite short.


Kathy Robbins

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All advice above is good. I would strongly second two things, which I think are the most important. First, do not give up, do not despair, and be patient.


You don't know what this dog has gone through prior to coming to you. Certainly, you know that for at least 3 months prior she basically had no attention. I had a foster dog once, when I was still very new at fostering, who basically couldn't care less about me at first. I could not understand why the dog was not more friendly to me, and was frustrated, until a perceptive friend of mine pointed out that perhaps the dog had tried bonding with people before only to be disappointed by them. And he suggested that I simply meet that dog where he was, trying to get to know him, rather than expecting things from him. I changed my attitude and everything improved. From then on, I took each foster dog individually, not expecting anything from them at first, and focused on trying to understand who each dog was. There is a reason your dog is behaving this way. Try to see the world through her eyes if you can - the insight you could get may surprise you.


Give this dog time. As others have said, loose leash walking is one of the hardest things to train. Even with things that are not so hard to train, sometimes it takes more time than you want it to. Just because the methods have not yielded the results you want yet doesn't mean they won't. You just have to be persistent and always 100% consistent, no matter how long it takes.


Stick with the Easy-Walk or whatever front-attachment harness you are using. Be patient. Four months is a very, very short time for a rescue dog to feel at home or bonded, or to be trained to your liking. And keep in mind that not all dogs...especially not all border collies... want to play with toys, or fetch. It is not a bad sign if this dog has no interest in that.


Second thing: definitely use her food as the treats, rather than using treats on top of the food. Keep training sessions very short - no more than 5 minutes. Pour out into a treat bag her day's kibble ration and use that during the day to train her. By all means do not allow her to gain more weight if she is already chubby.

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Seconding the much shorter sessions idea. Do 5 reps of a behavior then end on an upbeat note. I've never 'worked' with a dog longer than 3-5 minutes at a stretch, with your girl I would drastically reduce the amount of time I was training. 5 very brief sessions a day, less than 10 minutes total, might get you a lot more.


And at this point, I'd advise using ONE method, not several. Your girl might be totally confused and unable to understand why you keep doing different things with her.


Keep your own self 'under threshold', too. If you're getting frustrated, end the session at that moment, with something you know you can reinforce her for. Upbeat tone and posture. Most dogs get a LOT more info from us than we understand, about our own moods.


To recap, you've had this girl 3 months. For the 3 months before that, she was basically fed and sheltered, other than that left to her own devices. You don't know about her past before she came into rescue.


So she went from a 'la la la' existence to a 'bootcamp' lifestyle. And she's got different approaches thrown at her constantly. She doesn't know from one minute to the next what you're going to do and what you expect from her. My brain hurts thinking about it.


Slooooooowwwww down. Simplify as much as you can. Then simplify some more. The hard mouth may well be her frustration at not understanding your shifting approaches. Pick one method of training of working with her, stick with it. Very short sessions. Do fun stuff that she likes to do without demanding anything else of her. Get creative.


I sooo appreciate your commitment to your dog, and your willingness to ask for help. Hopefully some of our experiences/ideas will work for you and her. Please let us know how you get on.


Ruth and Gibbs

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A couple more thoughts:


First, thank you for adopting a rescue dog. Kudos to you for providing a home and training.


Second: I like the idea of a lead attached to your waist. Both hands can be free. It should save your shoulder, but you still have to monitor your dog for sudden jerks. I would look into a cani-cross setup.


There are many stories on this forum of experiences training rescue dogs. For me, the most important message is to train the dog you have. Let her tell you what she needs. A trainer may say that she 'should' be able to do a 15 or 20 minute session, but there are no 'shoulds" for rescue dogs with unknown baggage. Heck, even non-rescue dogs are can not be put into the same mold. Every dog is an individual

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Set a timer for 3 or 4 minutes. When it goes off, you are done training. 15 minutes is a long time.


I personally don't understand why the 'watch me' command is used so much for leash training. For loose leash walking, I do the opposite. And my youngest dog checks in quite a bit on walks. I click when the dog is walking by my side in a calm manner not looking at me. I click when they are not overly alert to something (squirrel, car) and are just walking normally. If she looks up at me, I wait until she looks away and click. Otherwise, I feel like I am rewarding the behavior of looking at my hand with the treats. I want the dog to be weaned off of treats and just go for a walk sooner rather than later.


To me 'watch me' is the opposite of what I want the dog to do on a walk. I want them walking calmly by my side, not pulling, just looking around their environment, doing dog things. The point of a walk is not to stare at me or my hand with treats in it. If I took a child for a walk and told them to hold my hand and stare at me for most of the walk, that would be unrealistic and not the point of getting outside for a walk. The environment is going to be more exciting than looking at me and I want them to interact with the outside world, just on my terms (no pulling, no barking, etc). That is just my opinion. It has worked well for my two current border collies.


I suggest also going back to the places where you have the best/longest success with leash walking and keep building up the duration that she can go. Continue on with the easy-walk harness for your safety while you keep training. It is definitely a frustrating thing to teach at times but with a dog who may have never been on a leash before or who has 5+ years experience dragging someone, it is going to take extra patience.

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You have gotten really good advice. Sometimes the improvement are baby steps. I took in an eight year old border collie mix in January that needed a home, one month after losing my heart dog (BC) to cancer. I repeatly remind myself they are two different dogs and to not put my expectations on this dog by comparing him to a dog I had for seven years ( who spent 24/7 with me) and lived to please me.


My new dog has so many traits that I am really grateful for...but the leave it command when he is hunting chipmunks, and rabbits totally non existent. If a rabbit goes running by and I am not being vigilant he will try to chase at full speed. I feel pretty confident with my dog training skills, but I look like an idiot when I have to go lift him away from a hole he has his nose buried in sniffing for the chipmunks. I try to remember we are only together eight months and prior to me he got very few walks in his life. So few, that originally he would only venture a very short distance from the house and insist on returning home. Now, his walks are the favorite part of his day. He will go all day exploring.


Just wanted you to know to give yourself a break....it takes time. I understand the safety and snow issues. Maybe you can identify areas of danger ( snowy stairs) and start training that as soon as your dog makes it to the bottom of the stairs he sits and waits for a treat. One rescue of mine that had awful recall got all his treats on a mat inside the front door. That dog could not wait to get into the house for his treat. Good luck.

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gleehibs, I feel your pain. My first attempts to walk my adopted BC were like trying to walk an exploding, zigzag torpedo. Like you, I tried a number of collars/harnesses and training techniques. She was good everywhere, till we reached the end of the driveway. The force of her pulling activated an old rotator cuff injury. I would return home feeling kind of defeated and physically hurting. I settled on a gentle leader head halter (only thing that gave me any control) and the “red light green light method” combined with treats and praise. It still took many months before we could walk more than three steps without stopping and waiting for her to return to heel position and to get more than a block away. I ran the leash behind my back, so if she bolted, the force wouldn’t be on my shoulder.


You have been given lots of advice from the experts, so the only advice I have is to take care not to get injured and also not to give up. It’s been a year for Runa and me, but we have a heel.


Same with the hard mouth. The first bully stick I offered drew blood. Thankfully we are past that, but if she is getting excited, I still have to remind her saying, “gently”.


If you are still looking for a way to exercise her, you might try a lure stick. My last two rescues came with no toy or fetch interests, but both immediately fell in love with the lure stick.


Good luck and I would love to hear about any progress.

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I don't want my dogs LLW to look at me. I have 3. I want everyone facing forward, moving at the speed that the human is moving (sometimes meandering is ok, sometimes we walk for fitness at a good clip). I want them all either on my left, or when cued, in front (in a narrow area). I want a sit and stay if we have to pass other dogs closely.


I teach my dogs to feel for collar pressure. Dogs who pull are often pulling back in an opposition reflex or they simply no longer feel pressure on the collar. Why does a prong collar work? Because pulling is uncomfortable and so they become aware of the pressure and move to avoid it.


I teach that pressure means you have to slow and stop the pressure. I start indoors, with a light lead, and no distractions, and work up to more distractions. I apply pressure, the dog gives to the pressure, turning into it so its gone, c/t or release to some reward. I move slowly to more distracting environments.


I also focus on "soft hands" because our natural human tendency is to pull back or keep tension/tightness on a dog who is unpredictable on a leash. I have taken a half dozen pulling dogs and simply stopped pulling back (soft hands, like a horses reins) and suddenly they are looking back at me and stop pulling. Doesn't always work, but many times its the human doing the pulling, Keep your hands soft and light.


When we start outside, I like to go to an empty park or school yard, and give them 10 minutes to acclimate. Then I apply pressure, and when they move into it c/t. Once outside, I find sometimes the dog shifts to relieve the pressure but is still not really "engaging" with me. In those cases as i c/t I turn and move rapidly away from the dog cheering and brandishing the treat and suddenly the dog cares more about what I do. Then I can slowly work my way to making gentle loops of walking (without trying to go somewhere like I would in the street).


I also do a bit of Look At That, a CU game teaching my dogs they can look at things that distract them, and soon they are satisfied to look and then re engage with me. Sometimes if they are always being forced to NOT look at the thing, they become determined to sneak in a look or can't stop focusing on that, when given permission (nay, encouragement!) to look they look and are satisfied.


Based on your posts, you need a front hook halter that fits her well and prevents pulling and lots of short training sessions. Not all front hook harnesses fit every dog well. I also thing she needs an acclimatization period in a new place to be able to focus. Sometimes I take my dog somewhere, ask for a down stay and just let him look. He has to stay in a down, but I don't care what he looks at. Then he can focus on me and work.

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I'm catching up after not having had internet connection for a week or so, and have not read all the replies, though I did see that some folks whose advice is generally excellent, so I apologize if this has already been offered.


M. Shirley Chong is a trainer I greatly respect. She's got instructions for loose leach walking here: http://shirleychong.com/keepers/LLW/


Perusing the rest of her website would be time very well spent.

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Hi, you asked a specfic question (help with loose leash walking) but there are a lot of general things in there, and I've been through the same thing with my new/current dog, Sonic, so I'll just add in about teaching the play with toy thing...

My guy did not play with toys, yet had/and has, a very high (crazy dog!) prey drive for squirrels, muscrats, canada geese, doves, rabbits, you get the picture.

I used a tug and treat frisbee https://www.cleanrun.com/index.cfm/product/3936/doggone-good-flying-treat-tug.htm

to teach him to tug and fetch the easy way. He loves it now, and I finally (nine months later) had him tugging on a street walk (one of the most distracting circumstances) and in front of some geese!!!. So that tidbit might help you find a way to interact in a fun way with your new dog.

It also handles the issue of time--nine months!

I was here in winter freaking out because my rescue dog would not take treats from hand, or play, or have fun, and a nightmare on a leash, and now I'm pretty happy with him. Still more to go, but FUN is happening, and he's looking pretty sporty, as in, would make a good sport dog if I cared to be serious about that. So, yep, you're in the early days, relax.

In the first four months, I and Sonic, where both still feeling pretty miserable about things, and now things are exciting--in a very good way.

Time is on your side.

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I agree with the above as well. I just want to add a little about how brains work.

Like humans dogs require a neural pathway to be first created for each new behaviour. This then must be strengthened over a min of 21 days of continuous repetition in order for the neural pathway to become " knowledge or habit" .

The same things occurs with bad experiences and behaviours, every time we trigger that particular neural pathway, we strengthen it.


This is why we use "replacement" behaviours when we want changes in behaviour. It's the same for dogs, you may be triggering a bad experience or behaviour each time you put a leash on him.


Remember, we must bend to the world of our dogs and learn how to read their micro expressions and behaviours in order to understand what's going on with them. The funny thing is we think we are the smarter ones , yet they can read us better than most humans can read their own dogs.


For a rescue dog, this dog may of had zero neural pathways created relating to the training that all of us would normally give our puppies, He may of been chained to a concrete slab everyday all day for the first 6 years of its life, just like a recuse BC a friend took on. That dog was abused and had very little understanding when it came to basic training , zero instincts that most BC have as well. It took her 1 X year for her to be able to walk her dog on a leash and 18minths to teach her to come as she was so afraid of everyone.


Baby steps, create a foundation of basic neural pathways first.


Making friends first before "Come , sit stay, drop etc. it could take this dog months just to start a bond with you. Like children, if they are left to electronic devices too often their frontal lobe will shrink, this dogs frontal lobe may be incredibly small, yet can be rehabilitated...it will just take a lot of patience and more time than a dog that had had their brain stimulated at a younger age.


As for your shoulders, let me know if you want some help there. I'm a Myotherapist that specialises in body structure and alignment and NLP qualifications.


Ps. "4 Cyte" is a fantastic supplement for any pain that may be caused by the hip dysplasia , it's also human grade and great for arthritis too. I would also avoid all processed food and red meat as they all create inflammation.


Good luck your new BC is lucky to have you.

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