2005-02 - Leo with a Toy and a Shoe 1

Leash Skills Series #7: Limitations of “Be a Tree”

What is “Be a Tree”?

You’ve probably heard of the “Be a Tree” technique, where you stop when your dog reaches the end of the leash.  Some people suggest you turn and go the other way when your dog gets to the end of the leash.  Both of these techniques result in the dog feeling pressure from the leash. He’ll potentially feel a jerk on his neck as you suddenly turn and go the other way.  With “Be a Tree,” the dog may hang at the end of the leash for an extended period, to the point where you lose patience and your dog becomes frustrated.  

You certainly don’t want to walk with your dog as he pulls you. But the best way to teach leash skills is in small doses of success. Your dog can learn to walk at your side on a loose leash, no matter what happens. He can learn without having his neck jerked or pulled.  And you can keep moving, for the most part – with “Be a Tree” you’ll be “parked” on the sidewalk a lot.  

Whatever your dog is doing is what he’s learning to do better.
Help him practice what you like!

Open the Bar to help your dog pass an interesting distraction.

The “Open Bar” technique is helpful when something is threatening to grab your dog’s attention away. Simply associate a high rate of reinforcement with a distraction you’re passing. Stop giving treats when you’re past it enough that your dog isn’t reacting to it any more. Practice with a minimal distraction before trying to use it with a big distraction out on a walk.

See the blog post on the “Open Bar” technique here.

Observe and respond

Make sure your observation skills are top-notch and don’t lose focus. At the first hint your dog is being “sucked in” by a smell or visual stimulus, re-engage him. Don’t wait until he’s so focused he can’t pay attention to you. As you develop your observation skills, develop your “prediction” skills, too! If your dog is a couple of steps ahead of you instead of at your side, the leash is about to be tight.

Act now!

Put some of your tools to use right away if you see him move ahead of you. Stop walking and re-set. Get the dog to your side before starting to walk again. Call him to you or encourage him to turn in a circle with you to get to the starting position you need. If your dog knows how to target your hand with his nose, use that little trick to get him where he needs to be, in a way that’s fun for both of you. He may follow your hands as you clap softly or wiggle your fingers, even if he hasn’t learned to target yet. Pay him a treat for getting there. Get him to sit. Re-group and make a plan for how to proceed again.

Allow your dog to take a sniff

Once you have your leash skills well on the way to wonderful, you can develop a cue for your dog to “go see”. Give him this cue to reinforce checking in with you, and let him check out something he’s clearly interested in. Your partnership with your dog allows this. You can and should let your dog check out interesting things when it’s safe and convenient.  But you can ask him to continue on with you when it’s not. You have to be able to get your dog back to your side after letting him investigate something. It’s best to start by teaching him to stay at your side. Then you can use sniffing things as a reinforcer or reward for doing so.

Bit by bit, you can create your dog’s habit of keeping the leash loose as you walk together. You can also teach him a cue that releases him to sniff something interesting. You can use your recall training to call him back when you’re ready to continue forward.

Every walk is a leash-training walk; make sure your dog is learning what you want him to learn.

Watch for the next installment in our series on Leash Skills!

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