D Coonhound Logic U
How You Learn to
Walk your Coonhound

            There are a lot of gimmicks out there that promise to help you control your dog on walks. Head halters, harnesses, special collars...there is a thriving cottage industry selling these things to people who don't know that they don't need any of them. Gentle Leader, Easy Walk Harness, Harnesslead, Sensation Harness, ect. Harnesses are generally for pulling, not for preventing pulling. This is why people use harnesses for such things as restrictive tracking and pulling sleds. None of these devices work...at all...in terms of teaching the dog to walk nicely on a leash. They may prevent the dog from pulling, but that is not the same as teaching the dog to behave on a leash.

                Teaching a coonhound to walk nicely on a leash isn't that difficult. The training concepts involved are very, very simple and virtually anyone is capable of fully understanding how to teach a hound to walk on a loose leash. The difficulty arises in your and your dog's habits. If you've been letting your coonhound drag you around the neighborhood every day for the last two years, then you've got yourself a bit of a challenge. But with a little bit of persistence and patience and a great deal of understanding and sympathy, you can train yourself to stop letting your dog do that. That is what this probably boils down to for most people reading this: you've taught your dog to pull you around. Now you have to teach your dog that he can't pull you around anymore. Right now, your dog is the leader and you are the follower. So you need to do two things: you need to start being the leader, and you need to explain to your dog that he's now the follower. The second part is EASY. The first part is the hard part. So here we go...this is how to teach your dog to stop pulling:  

Don't Let The Dog Pull You.

                That's it. That's the hardest part of the whole thing. Well, that and having some patience if your dog has been pulling for a long time. So there are six words that adequately explain how to teach this behavior from start to finish. If you only move when the dog is not pulling, and you don't let the dog pull you, within a few weeks the dog will stop pulling on the lead. However, there are a lot of details and tips that can make things go a bit more quickly and positively, and a lot of circumstances that can make training more difficult. I'll try to touch on some of these.

                I'm going to assume a difficult situation some might face. Let's create a fictional coonhound named Jeb. Jeb is a 6 year old coonhound that lives in a second floor walk-up apartment with his Master. He has no yard, so he must be walked every day to use the bathroom and get some exercise. Jeb is a big, strong coonhound who weighs almost as much as his Master, a young woman. Jeb and his Master go for a walk twice a day at the same times; once in the morning and once in the evening. Jeb, like all coonhounds, can tell time and he anticipates his walks every day. When Master reaches for the leash, Jeb goes crazy with joy! He will barely hold still long enough to get hooked up, and the moment the door opens Jeb bolts out...dragging Master behind him. She barely has time to lock the door and now Jeb is dragging her down the stairs and out to the sidewalk. Master wanted to walk east, toward the new produce stand, but Jeb decided to turn west and Master didn't feel like fighting so they went west. Jeb walks along happily, stopping where he wants and doing as he pleases. A squirrel! Jeb chases the squirrel, reaches the end of his lead, and hears a yelp! Master is holding her shoulder and glaring at Jeb. Jeb wonders why Master is there. A block later, Jeb sees another dog that challenges him! Jeb loses his mind! He's howling and barking and frothing and he can't even think! All Master can do is hold on tight and try to drag Jeb away. Master is embarrassed. She takes Jeb home.

                Okay, I'll use this scenario above to illustrate the problems and solutions involved. This is a pretty extreme case, but it's also probably pretty common. I wrote a lot of this from personal experience. Bobdog was about like this.
First, I want to talk about using the leash. Dogs and people both like to experiment and learn on their own but both need the same direction; they need someone who can teach them when they are right and when they are wrong. This is an important concept in learning to use a leash as a communication tool. If you use a clicker to train your coonhound (you should) then this will be easy to understand. It is fairly easy to condition a dog to understand that a loose leash = good/IGetTreats/MasterLikesMe and that a tight leash = bad/ICantGetToWhatIWant/ICantGoWhereIWant/ICantDragMasterAnywhere/SadCoonhound :(  You do this in a way similar to charging a clicker. But where a clicker only says 'Yes!', a leash can say 'Yes!' or 'No!'. A loose leash gets praise and rewards and a tight leash is met with complete and total resistance to whatever the dog is after and apathy towards the dog. Don't ever get mad or excited in a negative way. Trainers are always telling people to be happy and upbeat when rewarding your dog...and this is true, it is a very valuable trick...but the reverse works, too: if you get upset and agitated over something wrong that the dog did...say, yanking you to the ground....then the dog might place a lot of importance on some part of that behavior and develop a serious problem where none would normally exist. Think back to when you were young and learning something new and you made a mistake and were corrected harshly...it doesn't improve your enthusiasm for learning more. Hounds are the same.

                The first thing Master needs to do is teach Jeb that the leash contains information that goes two ways. This is going to be hard because the only point during a walk that Jeb isn't pulling with all his might is when he's waiting for the door to open. Perfect. Don't. Open. The. Door. Master has a 6 foot leash and Jeb is wearing a Martingale collar so he can't slip out and get away. That isn't a problem right now as we aren't going to open the door. Jeb has set times of the day when he goes out, morning and night. Master plans to start her training session a couple hours after Jeb's morning walk...let's surprise him! At the given time, Master gets her clicker and treat bag and the leash and shows it to Jeb. He acts surprised, but he's been doing this for 6 years and he's a professional. "Harness me up, Ma, I'll pull you wherever I wanna go!" Master stands about 6 feet from the door and puts the leash on Jeb. Jeb runs to the door and pulls on the leash a little, enough to make it tight. Master just holds the leash enough so that Jeb can barely reach the door. She doesn't jerk it or anything, just hold it tight and waits. Master waits for one of two things to happen: Jeb backs up and the leash slackens slightly, or Jeb looks back at Master. Either behavior earns a click, immediate complete slack on the leash, and a treat, in that order. Do this 10 - 20 times, depending on your dog's enthusiasm for it, then quit for at least a couple hours.

                Jeb is confused. Once every couple of hours Master plays some bizzare game where she puts the leash on poor Jeb and feeds him treats when he looks at her. He doesn't understand, but hey, treats. After Jeb learns that paying attention to Master gets him more than trying to charge out the door, he starts paying attention to Master. Master taught Jeb to sit when he was a puppy, and as a result Jeb has been a Jedi Master of Sitting for years. He starts offering a sit and Master, being a wise and observant teacher, rewards this behavior. Soon Jeb has learned to sit in front of Master with his leash on. However, if Master even touches the door, Jeb breaks his sit and goes berserk again. Master slowly desensitizes Jeb by clicking and treating him for sitting as she progressively moves towards the door, touches the handle, turns the handle, and opens the door slightly. When Jeb fails and breaks his sit, Master picks up the leash and walks him back and places him in a sit again. In a short time, Jeb has learned that the only way the door will remain open is if he remains sitting. The moment Jeb's butt begins to rise in the air, the door begins to swing shut and this is easy for Jeb to understand. Especially since Jeb hasn't peed since training started 6 days ago...lol...

                  Finally, Jeb can run and be free!! Jeb has learned to sit nicely with his collar and leash on while Master prepares for the walk and opens the door. Jeb trembles with delight as he intently watches Master picks up the leash. All of his attention is fixed on her. Now, Jeb! Go! And Jeb bolts out the door. Hey, it's still a walk, right? Master doesn't allow Jeb to have enough rope to hurt himself, but when Jeb reaches the end of the leash and it becomes tight, he cannot go even one inch further. Master stops him and she waits again for either slack in the leash, or Jeb to look back at her, or both.

                  Most of the time, a dog can't both pull on the leash AND look back at you unless you are already moving, and in case I haven't made it really clear: NEVER EVER EVER GO IN THE DIRECTION YOUR DOG IS PULLING WHEN THE LEASH IS TIGHT. You can go in that direction, but only when the leash is not tight. Another way to look at it is...if the leash is tight, you should only be moving if you are dragging your dog. You should avoid dragging your dog. So most of the time, if the leash is tight, you aren't moving your feet.

                Jeb likes treats. He's learned that looking at Master earns him treats. He's also learning something else: pulling doesn't get him anywhere now. When Jeb gets to the end of his leash and starts pulling, Master doesn't move. When Jeb turns his head to look back, Master clicks. Jeb now has to walk back 6 feet to get his treat. Once Jeb has eaten his treat, Master can take a step in the direction Master wants to go. Jeb bolts to the end of his leash, anticipating the direction Master is going to go. When the leash gets tight, that is becoming a signal to look back at Master. Since training started, every time the leash gets tight a look back at Master loosens it and earns a treat. By now Jeb is starting to clue in to this information. Now Master is clicking Jeb while he's returning rather than turning his head and looking. Pretty soon Master can take a step without Jeb rushing to the end of the leash! His charges seem less powerful now and he seems to be anticipating the whole routine. He's looking back now before he even gets to the end of the leash. Soon Master can take a few steps in the direction Master wants to go while Jeb watches.

                The rules never change. Tight leash is bad, slack leash is good. Nothing good can happen...from the DOG'S point of view...if the leash is tight. Good things can happen if the leash is loose, though, and 'good things' doesn't always mean 'food'. Initially, food or a toy is the easiest reward to use, but in the long run there is a better way to train your dog and keep him in tune. It requires that you understand what your dog wants and the appropriate ways for your dog to earn what he wants. Car rides and dog parks are good examples. Once you get your dog to the point above...where you can take a step or two and the dog won't try to bolt to the end of the leash...you can take advantage of something the dog naturally likes to speed up the learning process. Car rides and dog parks hold extremely high value for some dogs...greater value than any hot dog you might have in your pocket. If your dog is one of those, you can use that passion to great effect in training loose leash walking. I'll use the car ride as an example.

                So far we've worked on teaching the dog the mechanics of walking on a loose leash. Now the dog is starting to understand that there is as much value in a loose leash at there used to be in a tight leash; and that there is less value in a tight leash than there used to be. Now we'll use something of great value to teach the dog how to apply these things he's learned. Right now all he knows is that you'll give him treats if the leash is loose and nothing happens if the leash is tight. This is the equivalent of charging the clicker in clicker training...it's the very first step. The dog doesn't know why. So this will help teach him. Assuming the dog both knows what a car ride is and likes them a lot, lets go for a car ride. Assuming the dog knows what is happening, he will be excited and try to pull...don't let him. When he comes back to you to get his treat, try to make a little forward progress. The dog should catch on fairly quickly that he makes more progress towards the car when he's watching you and not pulling than when he pulls.

                This is a good point to introduce the idea of penalty yards and leash pressure. Once the dog understands what is going on...that if he's calm and doesn't pull, he'll get closer to the car...he'll try all sorts of things to cheat or hurry you or just plain pulling. You and the dog will start to get sensitive to leash tension or pressure...this is how you know you are both learning the difference between good and bad. Instead of pulling as hard as he can...since he's learn that earns him nothing...he may try pulling half as hard. Don't tolerate that. Let's say you are practicing walking to the car and the dog is excited but he knows you'll stop dead if he pulls too hard. He's going to test how hard that is. It is up to you to decide what to tolerate. When they push too far, you not only stop, you take a few steps backwards, away from that precious car and the ride they want. The first time I did this with Woody, he freaked out! He was really mad and completely understood...he'd worked hard to earn every step towards the car and when I just casually erased some of his progress for testing me, he understood that there could be negative consequences to his behavior. That is penalty yards. In conjunction with something extremely valuable it can be powerful. So you kids behave or we aren't going to Disneyland this year.

                The dog park works the same way. There are times...especially in the beginning...where you won't make it to the car or the dog park gate or...the front door...or wherever. It is pretty important to do this training a lot in mock circumstances and not just try to do it every time you need to get the dog in the car. This doesn't take long to teach IF you commit some time (20 minutes twice a day or more) to it and just be patient. I trained Woody in about 3 weeks when he was 8-9 months old. With the car or the dog park (or any other high value thing) you can quickly stop using food and the clicker...the end reward is in sight and the dog understands what it will get. The dog will then just be battling his own excitement and trying to stay calm. 


Coonhound Logic