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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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Dear Lisbeth, With lots of practice through your guidence and instructions, I am beyond excited and pleased to inform you that Tina has conquered her fear of brooms and mops! It took about a month, slow consistent practicing and desensitizing, and I am now at a stage where Tina literally follows me around, tail wagging and smiles, while I clean the floors! Another fear checked off the list! Thank you so very much for your continued support throughout our journey. With the private training we took with you, then Confidence Class, and now Agility with amazing Glenda- Tina has turned into this confident, joyful, and content little dog that just loves life. School is Tina's absolute favorite thing and I am so glad to have found Cowichan Canine. Thank you for everything, to both you and Glenda for all fun we get to learn and experience. Tina's quality of life she so very much deserves just keeps getting better and better!

Hanna Quinn and Tina the Toy Poodle
Crofton, BC

I have taken my Pembroke Welsh Corgi through Puppy Classes, The Foundation Programme, Starters Agility and we are now in Advanced Agility. The overall results have been excellent. Reba is now competing at Agility Trials and will soon move from Starters there to Advanced. Lisbeth, Bev, and Karen helped immensely along the way, but Reba's Agility success is solely due to Jody. She is amazing in so many ways - knowledgeable, patient, able to adapt her communication to different clients at different levels beautifully, and so much more. She is encouraging and Reba runs to see her when we attend class. A big Paws Up to Jody and CC.

Brenda Burch
Duncan, BC

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