A Perfect Circle

… is not only a band worth checking out, but may also be your ticket to a relaxing walk with your dog. A few months ago, Denise Fenzi started experimenting with walking the dog in a circle around the handler in order to reduce leash pulling. Her method has since grown into a pragmatic approach that doesn’t only address excitement-based pulling, but also reduces reactivity and anxiety in some dogs.

I experimented with my own as well as my clients’ dogs, and found Denise’s circle method to make an excellent addition to my leash walking toolbox. It’s both simple and powerful, and it lends itself to being combined with and used in addition to other leash training strategies I was already using. Clearly, it needed to be part of the new FDSA class I was working on as well: Out and About already included several leash walking approaches for my students to choose from.

Three of my Gold students chose to use circles on their urban walks and nature hikes. Their dogs were very different, and all three of them uploaded multiple videos of their leash walking assignments. The circle method turned out to be helpful to every one of them. Here’s what I learned from further exploring it with my Out and About students and their dogs while also continuing to play with it in real life:

  1. Most people find it easier to circle on a collar or front-attachment harness than on a back-attachment harness.
  2. If your dog has a hard time allowing you to lead him into the circle, practice giving in to leash pressure at home. This seems to do wonders for the dog’s understanding – especially if you use the leash pressure game to walk your dog in a circle around your own body.
  3. Going back and forth over familiar terrain – for example, walking the same short loop two or three times rather than walking one longer loop – helps highly excited dogs calm down.
  4. If your dog speeds up, trying to get out of the circle and pull as soon as he gets close to his starting point, add another circle immediately. This tends to slow the dog down, and decrease his speed even on the first circle.
  5. If you’re on a trail that’s too narrow for you to get a radius of more than a few inches, walk ellipses rather than circles.
  6. Walk at your normal speed – don’t run just because your dog would like to go faster. Channel his energy into the circles until he has learned to adjust to your walking speed.
  7. If it makes sense for your dog, combine the circle method with food (food scatters; treat magnets; mark/treat for auto check-ins; the LAT game; counterconditioning; eating as an alternative behavior etc.). While the circle method doesn’t require food, treats can make a big difference if your dog doesn’t “just” pull, but is also reactive, fearful or anxious.
  8. Unless your dog is circling, always encourage and allow sniffing. Most dogs find sniffing to be relaxing, and I’ve seen it reduce both pulling and anxiety.
  9. Acknowledge your dog’s checking in with you! You can mark and feed, or simply praise your dog.

Speaking of circles: Denise’s Cutting Corners webinar will be offered for the third time on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Check it out!

6 thoughts on “A Perfect Circle

  1. Naoko says:

    I’m not sure that I’m doing it properly. I try to circle but it doesn’t stop the pulling – my dog just pulls at the outer edge of the circle. If anyone has the time to drop a tip on what I’m doing wrong would be appreciated. I tried searching youtube but couldn’t find any vids that show the same issue.

    • Chrissi Schranz says:

      Hi Naoko! Have you taken classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy? If so, you’re eligible to join the “Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Alumni Group” on Facebook. Use the search function within this group, and you should find lots of video examples and discussions of the circle method. I’m sure someone has had similar issues as you!

      In general, with a dog who keeps pulling out of the circle, I’d just keep circling. I’d give them as much leash as I can to ensure their radius is bigger than mine. Most dogs will walk themselves down relatively quickly!

  2. martaandhugo says:

    This method is so simple and effective. It’s great it doesn’t require food because I think it’s still a problem for many people to take some treats on a walk.

    With my dog sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m still looking for more patterns to find a solution. He’s not a puller per se, he has dog issues.

    I mannaged with him pulling towards dogs but I believe circling main strenght is that it reduces frustration and lowers the arousal so I actually believe that at some point it will help us with coming near the dog or even have a short “greeting” without an outburst. Time will show.

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