Sunday, February 3, 2013

Clicker Expo 2013: Kay Laurence: Connect Walking

(I'm placing some key quotable phrases in bold.)

dogs are born knowing how to connect - we don't need to teach it to them, we just need to let the connection between the dog and owner have a chance to develop

she likes the term "heart of the pack" to replace "leader of the pack"

you build a connection by sharing positive experiences, create trust and reliability, security in each other, and feeling comfortable with each other

owners ruin trust/reliability when they respond to the needs of other people before the needs of their dog. this is something people are programmed to do naturally, but we need to teach them to put their dogs' needs first

why should we allow other people to touch our dogs? why should strangers be touching our dogs?
she says that if we are having a controlled interaction with a stranger and we've invited them to pet/touch our dogs, then it's different - precursors/cues tell dog this person is an "acquaintance" petting them and not a "stranger", and is ok to interact with
if you allow your dog to greet and interact with everyone, you will have off-leash problems

all equipment we put onto our dogs is inherently punishing to them
collars (sometimes martingales) and leashes are needed for safety, but she doesn't like using harnesses or GLs unless there is a physical safetly issue for the dog or owner
I didn't get a chance to ask her opinion on small dogs in harnesses (I personally believe small dogs should not be walked on just a collar, unless they are already very well leash trained - potential for injury is too high)
equipment usually functions on suppression, not learning
often designed to meet the needs of the person by "fixing" the problem
extremely well marketed
develops idea of "on lead = bad", "off lead = good"; "on lead = next to owner"; therefore dog learns "next to owner = bad" and wants to get away from owner when let off leash
a piece of equipment cannot build connection, and may prevent it

rather than ignoring a dog who is jumping because he wants to greet you at face level, Kay recommends hooking a thumb through the dog's collar to prevent a black eye, and then going ahead and greeting the dog - afterwards dog is calm, feels that everything is okay between you and him, and will go about his business rather than continually pestering you for that greeting (for small dogs, teach them to jump onto chair or ottoman for greeting)
ignoring dog who wants to greet you is example of trying to suppress behavior, and high cost to relationship and connection - builds frustration, dog feels trapped
letting dog greet you at face level let's him know "I'm okay, you're okay, everything's fine"

puts loop of leash around the back of her hand and then runs it through her palm/fist - like a trapeze artist hanging from ropes - this is physically the strongest way of holding onto the leash
(I personally don't find this comfortable and was taught to put the end of the loop over my thumb and then hold the leash in my fist)
Kay wants people to walk with their arms at their sides, fingers down, which gives relaxed body posture and communicates to dog to be relaxed as well
(I was taught to hold my hands together below my stomach if walking a big dog, as this centers you with a low center of gravity and makes it easier to brace and not get pulled over)

move together at mutually beneficial speed - your speed is dependent on dog's comfortable speed
three compatible gaits: walk or stroll, trot, canter
change direction by turning toward your dog, not away from him

parking - for rest and talking - take dog by collar, lay slack of leash on ground, step on it with both feet, let go of collar - dog has enough room to stand, sit, or lie down, and sniff around in a small circle, but can't jump on anyone approaching - prevents dog from making errors and tells him to take a break
transport - for quickly getting through difficult situations, such as past other person and dog or something else you don't want your dog to investigate - short lead, lock your arm at your side (my experience and training is that that is hard to do for women with big dogs, whereas men can lock their arms that way easily due to more upper body strength), and walk with purpose. you are taking control and will keep dog safe (ie from other passing dog)
walk together - for pleasure

skills for owner: assess the environment - see what's coming, respond to changes, walk at the right speed, energy, and rhythm, alter the length of your leash, set a boundary and block at the boundary (I don't remember what this means - a wait?)

stop and wait at moment of disconnect, do not pull back, move away when dog reconnects
put a little slack in the leash right before the dog reaches the end
give the dog time to enjoy their walk
let dog stop and sniff when he wants, or stop and look at something when he wants
turn body away (to communicate that you want to go in a different direction and are waiting for him), wait for eye contact from dog when he's finished sniffing/looking (as long as it takes), then move in new direction

dog is very sensitive to change in the angle of the leash clip on his collar - did great demo with having person hold their hands in front of them with palms facing toward each other, with collar wrapped around hands. Kay slowly moved the leash that was connected to the collar upwards and the person said that they could feel the subtle shift in the clip's weight when it was at about a 45 degree angle.
dogs can learn to respond to just this subtle shift in angle - can clicker train it if dog has learned to ignore it already

transitioning to off leash: on dirt/open ground, not in woods - 15-30 foot line - use as slow break under foot when dog speeds up/goes out

unrelated: fixing surfing the floor for treats in a performance space: spread bits of paper on the floor - look like treats at first but dog can't get them up, will choose to stop floor surfing - reinforce that decision
for dogs that are obsessed with birds - put a dead bird in a crate and let dog worry at it - reinforce when dog gives up or checks in with you - build from there (I wish she had further outlined the steps between a dead bird in a crate and live birds flying around - I think she said it's in one of her books) (also, where do you get a fresh dead bird??)

My very favorite Kay quotes:
Don't use positive reinforcement on top of traditional thinking.
You may be using positive methods, but is the dog actually left with a positive experience?

My friend boiled this entire 90 minute lecture down to "is she still teaching stop when the dog pulls, wait for eye contact, then continue?" Essentially, yes, though I found the leash work and body language she talked about to be helpful. I stayed for the lab after the lecture, but was disappointed in that none of the dogs who signed up where major pullers. Two were quite biddable and were happy to watch and make eye contact with their owners. One was very distractable, and Kay commented that the dog was calmer after some practice. It was very slow progress for her, but it would have been with any method.

I was skeptical of being able to use the transport with some dogs. I've walked big shelter dogs who, as soon as they felt any tension on the leash, dug in like weight pulling dogs with their shoulders, and I would have had trouble holding my arm at my side and making them go straight in one direction. I usually used two hands on the leash, and held them up to protect my shoulders.

During the lab, she emphasized moving slowly and taking a stroll with the dog. I nearly rolled my eyes because my dog does not have a "stroll" speed setting. I fell into the trap of raising my hand and asking a question about my own dog, rather than dogs in general, which I always find obnoxious about other seminar-goers. Whoops. I said that I had a young, active dog, and that I didn't think that taking a slow stoll with him, as she was emphasizing, would work. She started off by saying to watch him when he's off leash in the yard and watch how he moves. I said that we don't have a yard. You don't have a yard? No, we don't have any fenced space. In the garden, then. We don't have a garden - there's just the street. Kay was surprisingly surprised by this. I know she lives in a little hamlet in the country, but surely she understands that other people live in, say, apartment buildings? Then she asked what kind of dog and said something I didn't understand about how the walking speed isn't dependent on the size of the dog or something like that, and I just dumbly said okay. I think that she was originally going to answer my question by saying to watch him walking around freely offleash and try to match that pace. That ain't no stroll, let me tell you. Cai is either sniffing or quickly trotting. I've found that I can match his pace if I'm speed-walking and he's air-scenting while trotting, which slows him down a bit. If he's not and he wants to move forward, he moves ahead of me almost immediately. We need more help with this.

I did my best to integrate Kay's methods during the past week. The best thing I took away from it was to put slack back in the leash when Cai reaches the end, so that I'm not pulling back. He learned quickly to park himself and watch whatever was interesting him, rather than actively pulling. That has decreased his reactivity noticeably. It's also helped me relax. He's also learned quickly to turn around and look at me, which is helping him learn to disengage from his triggers/interests, which is great, and reminds that me that I should do BAT with him -- looks like it would be a great fit. So I have an increase in eye contact and this good parking behavior, BUT there is no increase in staying by my side. He hits the end of the leash just as often. With his recent decrease in appetite, I haven't been able to reinforce staying by my side very well.

I recounted this to my mentor, Alison. It turns out that she went to one of Kay's seminars way back when and heard most of it then. Alison recommended that as soon as the dog starts to move ahead (because as soon as he does that, you know that he's going to continue forward until he hits the end of the leash), you put all the slack into the leash and turn around to go in the other direction. If you have a small dog, you lower your arms/hands, so that if he ends up getting a jolt it's not so strong and he doesn't get lifted off his feet. But the point isn't to yank the dog -- the dog learns quickly that when he feels all that slack in the leash come down, that's a cue to check in with you, because you're disappearing in a different direction. You also have to be fun to walk with when the dog IS at your side - connecting verbally, pace changes, direction changes, pointing out things to sniff, etc. Alison liked Kay's emphasis on figuring out the pace that's comfortable for both you and your dog. It's not just your dog walking with you -- it's you walking with your dog. Alison also said not to focus on teaching your dog to walk on your left side, but teach yourself to be on your dog's right side. It's the owner's responsibility, not the dog's. Make that connection and closeness be the norm for your dog.

In conclusion, I hate teaching loose leash walking.


  1. Oh, loose leash walking. SUCH a pain to teach to a reactive, non-foodie dog! I feel your pain. Over the last year or so I've been developing a technique of using my own body movement as part of (or all of) the reinforcer: when the dog looks back at me, I turn my body away (still looking at the dog with my head) and do a slight crouch/knee bend (sort of a human version of a play-bow: my "I'm gonna run away" posture). I then move away from the distraction at a slightly quicker pace (or even a jog, if necessary). The "game on" posture and the faster movement are both engaging and rewarding to most dogs, and they reinforce the "personal play", relationship-building stuff that I've been trying to work on.

    The downside is that it's surprisingly hard to communicate those body language changes to clients. I can say it, they can watch me do it, but they have a really hard time doing it themselves. I must work harder on figuring out how to boil it down and teach it better...

    (On that note, thanks for pointing me to Denise Fenzi's blog, by the way! Since starting to read it, I've made some changes to my handling that have made HUGE differences, both with my dog and with client dogs. It's almost magical the way it's improved my ability to communicate with other people's dogs!)

    1. Thanks, Caroline! That's a great tip, and can be integrated perfectly into this "connected walking" technique (or mishmash of similar techniques, as I'm applying it).

      The question of how to communicate these things to clients is a big one. I just wrote another post about working with Cai on leash walking, and as I was doing it, I was thinking, "How can I get clients to buy into this, when it comes from a completely different approach than everything else that's out there?" I'm seeing progress and getting lots of reinforcement already, but I'm also applying it very consistently. I'll need to ponder this more. And get a guinea pig-client to practice on.

      So glad you're enjoying Denise Fenzi's writings! I've learned SO much from her.

    2. I've learned so much just from reading her blog; I can't even imagine how awesome it must be to have her actually give you instruction in person. Lucky duck! :)

      I need to figure out how to break my leash walking handling tips down into TAG points for clients. I also need to figure out how to teach them to be fun (and have fun) while they're training. The fact that most of us learn that school (for humans) is boring and that learning must be done by drilling makes our job even harder. We're not just teaching techniques; we're teaching a whole mental shift.