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DOG BLOG - Loose Leash Walking Did Happen... Eventually!

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


It was not the greatest start.


Daphne (my Sussex Spaniel) and I did not pass our Foundation training course at Cowichan Canine Behaviour and Training.


While it’s a superb course, I struggled to put in enough time and effort with Daphne, who was about 5 months at the time. Despite the instructor’s best efforts, we only managed a Certificate of Attendance.


I remember promising myself that we would “get back to it” once the pressures of a recent house move and taking care of another much older dog, as well as an ill husband, receded.


Besides, Daphne was doing so well with other dogs and people, that I was satisfied about how she was developing. Also, and some will relate to this, just coping with her wild puppy energy each day felt like an insurmountable challenge.


I had concerns though. Chiefly her nuisance barking (a topic for another blog) and pulling on the leash. Our attempts at loose leash walking were spotty at best: in class we weren’t too bad but outside, in the real world, all bets were off. We must have made for an entertaining sight:  the classic image of the hapless owner being dragged about by a frustrated dog.


 All the excuses in the world


Naturally, I had a ready supply of excuses as to why we hadn’t mastered loose leash walking. These included all the standard ones like “I just don’t have the time,” to more unusual ones like “my dog’s a hunting breed, so she’s more difficult to train,” to a unique one “my dogs do CKC sport tracking where they need to pull, and I don’t want to confuse Daphne with too much loose leash walking!” Clearly my talent for excuses exceeded my talent for training.


We did try, honest


We did practice a little here and there, but typically I expected too much from Daphne and then got frustrated and didn’t try for another few weeks. Not surprisingly, thinking that we were going to walk nicely on a leash in downtown Duncan with lots of distractions, even through we haven’t practised for weeks, backfired each time.


I took private lessons with two different instructors at Cowichan Canine and one, gently but with admirable candour, told me that I would never get results unless I practiced consistently. She helped me to see that I was defaulting to doing things that Daphne did well – a long list, for sure - rather than problems such loose leash walking.


The final motivator


The motivation that really got to me was my long-cherished belief that the better my dogs can adapt to and live in the human world i.e., the “better-behaved” they are, the richer their lives will be. By not being able to visit places with Daphne on a leash, my wonderful and very deserving dog was quite literally missing out! That made me feel bad.


So, I committed to working a little every day, or as close to every day as possible. I committed to putting my ego aside and I committed to using the techniques that instructors had given me, time and time again.


What worked, and what didn’t


Consistency and regular practice worked. As did setting my dog up for success: going slowly and choosing the right environment each time, to build on previous successes. What didn’t work was when I got frustrated, impatient, and too concerned about what others thought: so, what if it took us 15 minutes to progress down a street.


It’s consistency, stupid!


At first, I struggled with consistency.Yes, we will walk nicely once we get to a place, but I will let you drag me from the car until we get there.” I learned that I needed to never allow Daphne to pull on her leash. I gritted my teeth each time as Daphne pulled on her harness, I saw her struggling to understand why the leash grew taut and we stopped every time she pulled. No exceptions!


Also, baby steps! I soon learned that the kind of environment we practiced in was key. We would be successful on a quiet school field, but not so much on a busy street. So, I adjusted my training and made sure I set her up for success each time in a not-too challenging environment.


Why aren’t you filming this?


Gradually we made progress. Gradually Daphne needed fewer and fewer reminders. Slowly I could put the onus on her to manage the tension on the leash: the slightest tension and I stopped. She responded gloriously: leash too tight, she’d waddle backwards (and yes, she does waddle) until it was loose again, and we could move ahead.


I found myself looking in store windows as we passed. Daphne and I looked normal, just a happy owner and her dog, out for a civilized walk. It looked glorious and it felt glorious.


And I found myself wanting to ask passers-by why they weren’t filming this glorious event? Did they not realize how amazingly well we were doing?


Practice, practice, practice


Daphne and I continue to practice our loose leash walking a few times a week. And yes, sometimes, in a particularly stimulating environment, she needs a gentle reminder or two. But we regularly visit places and people, in shops, banks and all sorts of other places, where she gets to meet people and investigate new things. Both our lives are richer for it.


The best part: we achieved this without a single yank of her leash, or a single harsh word or correction and by not harming the trust and bond between us.


A Cowichan Canine instructor’s take


“Walking politely remains one of the most challenging issues for our clients. But with consistency and regular practice, and by using the techniques we provide, you will succeed. We find that those who struggle often just haven’t done the work or applied the techniques. If you and your dog still struggle with loose leash walking, try a few private lessons to find out exactly what you can do to solve the problem.”



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What Clients Are Saying:

Just want to thank you Lisbeth and also Bev and Karen for the excellent training that Lily and I have enjoyed so much. I know Lily has enough for a pass now but we really are aiming for distinction. We are working hard at home as well to see if we can get this. Lily is so improved now. My husband says that in the mornings when he is playing ball off leash with her that she no longer runs at other dogs, she just ignores them now. I noticed when I took her to another trainer in the summer she was always panting and anxious. At Cowichan Canine she is just so happy and cannot wait to get in the door. It is her favourite place so obviously what you are doing is right and the place has great vibes for dogs. She has not reacted to the dogs in the classes either but is always wagging her tail. I am very grateful for this. We will be back in December and want to go onto greater things in advanced and we are both looking forward to it. Going to bring my other dog Cole as well.

Maple Bay, BC

I just wanted to touch base with you and give a big THANK YOU for your help with Kaiya. Kaiya is such a great dog. My mom and Step-dad came to visit last week, and they got on with Kaiya like gang-busters! She gave a few little grumbles to my step-dad the first evening when he was in the house, and then nothing. One walk and she fell in love with a few more family members. We still plan to continue Kaiya's training as discussed. Matt has worked with her so well that he takes her out into the big fields here and plays fetch with her off leash! I was very impressed.

Karin, Matt, and Kaiya
Mill Bay, BC

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