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Leash Training a 4 month old and reasonable expectations?


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Hi everyone! I'm writing to ask you all some advice on leash training my pup, Tama. He is now 4 months old, and we've been working with him extensively on how to walk politely on a leash. We started indoors, moved out to the hallway, and then out to a quiet street. He definitely knows how the leash works by now, understands "let's go" perfectly, and generally waits for us without pulling. However, there are two areas where I'm struggling and could really use some advice. I live directly adjacent to a busy street and directly adjacent to a park. In order to leave our block, we can go either into this street or into the park. We're having a lot of trouble with both directions.

1. The park

I used to walk him into the dog park without too much trouble, simply by keeping his leash a little longer and walking at a brisk pace. Once there, he would run around lots and play with the other dogs, and then we'd walk nicely back without much trouble at all. The past week, however, I've been trying to be super strict with the way he walks, so I move slower and keep the leash shorter, and soon as there's a pull I stop dead in my tracks. I try to have him walk in a heel position, clicking and treating with each step we take that doesn't result in him passing me (and pulling on the leash). This upsets Tama tremendously. He pays no attention to me and wants SO BADLY to go play and the park, and doesn't understand why I'm holding us back at all. He gets so upset that he begins to cry, whine, jump up on me, pull forwards, etc. We end up getting nowhere, needless to say, and both end up going home frustrated. I'm frustrated because he's upset, he's frustrated because he didn't get to play, and he ends up having pent up energy the rest of the day. Not good for either of us.

The second park issue we're having is his obsession with sticks. I vaguely remember someone posting earlier about their pup being obsessed with leaves, and someone replied saying that this should be stopped immediately so that he doesn't develop an OCD-type thing, which could ultimately end up being really disturbing to him. So I'm not letting him pick up any sticks on our walk, saying "AH" firmly and pulling him away. Sometimes he still snatches one up, and when I take it away from him (or when he drops it accidentally and I don't let him pick it back up) he gets really, really upset as well. A few times he's actually thrown mini temper tantrums, jumping up and me and ripping my coat, biting at his leash, etc. The first time he did this, I was at a loss. Then I worked out a system of immediately picking him and carrying him away from the situation as soon as he had a temper tantrum, and this seems to be working - he still gets upset but doesn't jump at my coat or bite at his leash as much. 

2. Busy streets. 

I'm actually slightly less concerned about this one. He's still very, very scared of large noises and trucks, and going into the streets is extremely overwhelming for him. He can't take a single step without him running ahead wildly and pulling against the leash, but not because he WANTS to go somewhere/is being stubborn (as with the park), but more because he's so freaked out and overwhelmed that I'm pretty much nonexistent to him. So my plan of action here is to lead him to the corner between my quiet street and the busy one, have him take it all in, and click and treat every time he looks at me. Hopefully, if all goes as planned, he will slowly start to pay more and more attention to me and then we can start working on walking along the street.

I guess the most frustrating part of all this is, is that I can't go anywhere with him, and he doesn't get to play and run around in the dog park. We used to have such nice mornings together, until I tried getting much more strict about the leash. Are my expectations too high? 

Lastly, here's a picture of my sweet boy (coincidentally, holding a stick :rolleyes:) . He really is, all in all, doing very well and learning lots.

 

 

Tama1.JPG

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Sorry in advance for brevity - stuff going on and mobile - but teach him leash walking separately from trying to take him anywhere/have an outting with him.  Start in your yard.  When you have somewhere to go, just use a no pull harness or similar to prevent pulling and get there.  Frustrated and excited aren't mental states conducive to learning.  (plan for streets is a good one - same deal.  Work it when he's in a better mental state. Fear doesn't work for learning, either.)

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In the park we find letting our guy pick up sticks helps any frustration and he soon drops it when a more interesting sniff comes along. We let our guy enjoy success by doing little bits of nice leash walking and then telling him ‘go sniff’ in a more relaxed way. Then as he’s got older we are able to increase the time he walks close to us. Frankly i’m More concerned that we focus on what we want him to do when other dogs, people, cars go by. We do a ‘walk nicely’ eg sniff and walk without pulling me along - Rather than walking to heel, he lies down for cars (admittedly he doesn’t encounter too many) and bike and pushhairs and we do ‘walk on’ for Other people and dogs  :) 

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Tama is really cute. 

I also use the "go sniff" command. It's pretty nifty!

If he is getting too amped up to do the behaviors successfully he likely isnt quite ready to walk nicely at the park or busy streets.

I concur that practicing in the yard is really good. Once he's got that down visit a quiet road or a quiet park and then once he's got that move on to busier places. 

I have a 10 month old I am working with on this same stuff. Heeling is just straight up hard to teach. I could teach Wallace to get me a beer from the fridge faster than I can teach him to heel nicely. 

I found a nice article with some tips for keeping attention, which is pretty important for nice walks. I especially like the two-treat game. If I am out someplace and Wallace cant focus and do the two-treat game - I know sure as heck know he wont be able to do complex behaviors like heeling. When that happens I try to find a quieter spot where he can do the two treat game and then work on more complex stuff.

https://www.kindredspiritsk9.com/training-articles/beyond-basic/twelve-tips-to-build-focus-and-attention/

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Ah, those tantrums sound so familiar - we're still working with Kevin on that. He is 6 months and I think a biiiiiig realization for me (simple yet mind-blowing) is that you have to meet him where he is. It's frustrating not to be able to just go out into the world and take nice, non-stressy walks - but these guys are still pretty young for our expectations to be so mighty as (ha) a pull-free walk! I agree with leash training being its own exercise - and work on it a ton. Because I've grown tired of the tantrums you described, which were a staple of the end of longer walks with him, I've limited our leash walking to only out on the 4ish blocks around our home - that way we can just practice, practice, practice, without the pressure of "oh-no-you're-falling-apart-and-we're-half-a-mile-from-home". Luckily we have a big, closed off courtyard so we can get physical exercise right outside our door. Meanwhile, leash practice is just that: practice.

Also: look at that cutie pup!!!!

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I think you are asking a lot of a four month old puppy. I am not saying you should not be asking for what you are, but just to remember how young he is and just continue, be patient and be persistent and 100% consistent and it will come along. And do not combine the more strict training with the dog park, or a fearful place, or a distracting place. That is too much for him right now, and he is letting you know that. Concentrate on getting it down really well in non-distracting places for now. You moved forward with your training just a bit too fast. Believe me, I know how tempting it is to do that! But if you run into this kind of behavior, it is telling you to back off a bit. What you were doing before you got more strict seemed to be working; I would say go back to that and do lots of praise. 

As for the sticks, what about getting a stick-like toy and when he grabs for a stick replace it with the toy? It is not good for dogs to chew sticks or play with them, as they may splinter and injure them. Redirection seems to be the way to go with that.

Your pup sounds to me as if he is doing fine. And is beautiful as well.

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