Over the last several weeks, as Californians’ social interactions have shrunk, Dilly’s walks have ballooned. Steve and I have been venturing out with him almost every morning, covering anywhere from 2 to 6 miles. Steve also invariably takes him out for a late-afternoon “training walk” where the two of them focus on practicing commands, rather than covering ground for exercise. Sometimes I dash out mid-day and take Dilly along on some small errand — walking to the mailbox, or running to the pharmacy. Sadly, despite all this, his walking form is still far, far from perfection.
Perfection for a CCI puppy is trotting along at his handler’s side, his head stationed at the human’s knee. Roughly like this: Most important: the leash is slack. One or two of our puppies over the years have done this more or less naturally. Alas, Dilly is not among them.This is his idea of the perfect position: leading the way!
Dog trainers have many tricks for teaching dogs where they should be walking. If you’ve got the room, you can make sudden left turns, smashing into your furry friend. Or right turns, surprising him or her into position with a jerk. (This supposedly sends the message that they need to be walking where they can follow you and avoid being bushwhacked.) If the dog is wearing a a halter or a corrective collar, you can give it sharp little “corrections,” as it starts to surge ahead. You can lavish treats upon it when it’s walking in the right place.
We’ve used these — and more — techniques on Dilly. And it’s clear he understands where he’s supposed to be positioned. Sometimes we see him slip out ahead and then glance back quickly, then reposition himself to get a treat. Here’s a video glimpse of what he looks like on a good day. He’s not perfect, but he’s clearly trying to be good.
At other times, however, his memory evaporates. He surges ahead. I stop walking. He glances back and comprehension spreads across this face. He trots back into position. Receives his treat. We start to walk again and he instantly forgets, flowing out ahead of me. We repeat this drill… was it 100 times this morning? 200?
This is different from those moments when he is seized by complete insanity. Walking by grass often triggers this response, most intensely if the grass is shaggy and weed-choked. Then Dilly goes nuts, bucking like a bronco, accelerating, reversing course, oblivious to the yanking force of the halter when he smashes to the end of his leash and recoils. Such episodes never last long. They’re so obviously the result of excess puppy energy, we shrug them off.
Still, in my last Puppy Report to CCI, I mentioned our struggles with the “Let’s Go” command (what we use for walking). The program assistant sent me back a couple of videos of still more techniques for overcoming the forging, one of which we hadn’t seen before (a complex pivoting maneuver that Steve plans to try on his training walks.) But I was most helped by Patti’s assurance, “Loose-leash walking is something most folks work on for the duration of raising the puppy!”
If all goes according to schedule, we’ll still have a little more than a year with Dilly. I’m hopeful we’ll get to the point where he consistently walks on a loose leash. But we may need all that time to reach it.