Saturday, November 7, 2009

Zen and the Art of Leash Training

I am training Bisou to walk on a loose leash. This is no fancy trick with no relevance to the dog's well being. If Bisou learns to walk by my side without pulling, it guarantees that she will get to go a lot more places in her lifetime. It also means that she has accepted me as her leader. So it's an important thing to teach her, even though she only weighs 12 pounds and I can easily pick her up and put her wherever I want her.

The modern technique of leash training is as follows: place the puppy by your side and wait until she settles and relaxes her pull on the leash. The instant that happens, take one step forward. If the leash is still loose, take another step, and then another. But if the leash tightens, you must be quick as a hawk, and stop, and wait patiently until the puppy decides not to pull anymore. Then you can take another step.

I have been practicing this with Bisou, and we have not gotten very far--literally. She will sit calmly by my side, but the minute I take a step forward, she charges to the end of the leash (I keep the leash pretty short—three feet or so). I stop, and eventually she does too, and the leash loosens. I lift my foot to take another step, but before I can put the other foot down, she's at the end of the leash, pulling with all her might. So we stop. She settles. I lift one foot...and she's at the end of the leash. We stop again.

This morning, not being in a particular rush, I took her with me to the vet to pick up some flea medication. I let her out of the car, made her settle, took a step, she pulled, I stopped, she settled, I took a step, she pulled, I stopped. It took us about eighteen months to get from the parking lot to the office, and by then my arm was starting to hurt.

We went through the same drill on the way back to the car. Then I drove to the feed store, did my shopping, and took Bisou out for another tortured little stroll. Settle, step, dash, stop. Settle, step, dash, stop. On and on until my arm and my nerves gave out and I put her back in the car. But Bisou didn't give out, not one bit. She was as determined to charge ahead at the end of the walk as she had been on the way to the vet's office.

This is no fun. And, if you're actually trying to get somewhere, it's sheer hell. The only way to survive this process is to not attach to outcomes. So what if you only get three feet down the driveway? What's the hurry? Who says you have to reach a destination? Just be in the present: settle, step, dash, stop.

This reminds me of Zeno's Paradox. You know, where he proved that an arrow can never get from point A to point B because first it has to travel half the distance, and before that, half of that, and half of that again, ad infinitum. So the arrow never leaves the bow.

That's Bisou and me. We never actually make it out the front door. But by golly, she's not pulling on that leash.

3 comments :

  1. oh lord you have patience, lali. i tried and tried to do this training with riley. it was doubly hard because i had to walk boscoe at the same time, usually, and that made it impossible.

    after eight years riley has calmed down and hardly ever pulls. only when he sees a squirrel or a bicycle or a rollerblader or a small shrieking child. the rest of the time he walks as nice as pie.

    good luck and i hope it doesn't take 8 years for bijou.

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  2. Laurie, I did the same thing with Wolfie: tried to leash train him while walking with my husband and Lexi. It doesn't work. You can't want to actually GO anywhere. Yes, age helps a lot. At 11 (!) Lexi walks beautifully.

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  3. (This comment is from Indigo):

    My favorite line:

    "It took us about eighteen months to get from the parking lot to the office, and by then my arm was starting to hurt."

    Thank you. Delightful reading.

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