In the first puppy leash skills post, you saw two unedited clips of what the automatic leash pressure method looks like in practice. This post is all about drilling deeper.
One of the laws of automatic leash pressure is that you never get to pull on the leash or reel your puppy in. However, sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you need a puppy straining at the end of their leash to get out of the way. Maybe there’s a kid with an ice cream cone about to stumble over your puppy, or maybe they got off the sidewalk and are trying to cross a busy road. This brings us to our ancillary skills. These skills have a single purpose: they will allow you to move your puppy without jeopardizing the golden rule of never pulling on the leash and never reeling puppies in.
Ancillary skill #1: follow a treat magnet
Teach your puppy – independent of leash training – to follow a treat you hold in front of their nose for at least a few steps. Take the treat between thumb and index finger, present it in front of the puppy’s nose and steer them in whichever direction you want them to go by having them follow the treat. Here’s an example of applications in real-world LLW contexts.
In the video below, Puzzle wants to eat something on the ground that I don’t want her to eat (looks like eggs someone broke). I use a treat magnet to get her to keep going – and the leash stays loose.
Here, I don’t have a video helper, so I just walk up and down with the camera set up at a distance. Puzzle thinks it’s weird that we are turning around to walk back to the camera. She sits down. I wait a few seconds, but she doesn’t look like she’s planning on getting up anytime soon. Treat magnet (in combination with a little treat toss) for the win! I reactivate her with food and we keep going. (Sorry about the blurry video!)
Ancillary skill #2: be comfortable being picked up!
If things are scary and your puppy wants to take off running rather than continuing their loose leash stroll or you realize you are late for a Zoom meeting and have to get back home ASAP, there’s a simple solution: pick them up and carry them. Puppies who learn that they are always safe when you carry them will even learn to seek you out (rather than bolt) when they get scared. Practice picking up your puppy at home and in other low-stress environments to build positive associations!
Not exactly a LLW context, but I’m using the puppy pick-up skill here at a small convenience store (left picture) and at a pharmacy (right picture): I want to take Puzzle places to get her used to the world, but I don’t want her to walk inside these businesses since she isn’t yet housebroken. Picking her up is the best of both worlds!
As a rule of thumb, I tend to use ancillary skills 1 and 3 if the puppy is merely distracted, and ancillary skill 2 if they are scared or if I am in a hurry. That’s because walking voluntarily gives a dog more agency than being carried – and agency is a good thing!
The best way to carry your puppy is either in a comfy bag or supporting their butt and back legs with your arm/hand.
Ancillary skill #3: call them over!
Sometimes, you don’t have treats, feel like the distraction is too low to warrant the use of treats or your Saint Bernard puppy is getting too heavy to be picked up. Being able to call or otherwise entice them to come to you is perfect for these moments: again, it will allow you to move your puppy without tightening the leash or reeling them in. Just like picking up your puppy, this is something you’ll want to practice in a low-distraction environment, outside of the context of leash walking. For me, it tends to just happen naturally as I interact with a puppy throughout the day: I end up building both an informal recall (In my case, “Pupupup!” as well as a kissy noise), and teach them that me squatting down or doing playful piano fingers on the ground is a cue to approach me. When I need it in the real world of LLW, the behavior will be ready!
Here’s a brief example of using a kissy noise, squatting down and the beginning of piano fingers to get Puzzle out of the way of the stranger and their kid:
I won’t necessarily treat when using ancillary skill #3. Just get the puppy where you need them to be and then keep going!
Now that you’ve got a good idea of ancillary skills, there’s one more crucial element missing: you need a way to measure the pressure your puppy is putting on the leash in order to guarantee consistency. How much pressure will cue you to stop? It should always be the same amount, independent of your state of mind, where you are walking or how lazy or high-energy your puppy is feeling. We’ll look at how to develop a simple measuring system in my next post!