Rainy Day Activity – Loose Leash Walking Obstacle Course

Even when its rainy, dogs need exercise. Walking, while certainly the most frequently touted form of exercise for dogs, is by no means the be...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Oct 18th 2010


Even when its rainy, dogs need exercise. Walking, while certainly the most frequently touted form of exercise for dogs, is by no means the be all and end all of exercise for dogs. A wide variety of exercise options are available to pet owners, the possibilities are virtually limitless for the creative pet owner.

Last week, we had a number of cold, rainy days here in Binghamton. While I do generally like to get out with my dogs for a walk, even on rainy days, I admit that there was a day this week when I just didnt feel like going out in the damp cold after an emotionally exhausting day. Because I was so frazzled, I also didnt want two ridiculously adorable dogs driving me crazy with unparalleled energy. I knew if I wanted to relax, I had to tire them out so that they too could relax.

I decided to work on an exercise from a Karen Pryor Academy workshop the Loose Leash Walking Obstacle Course. I wont tell you what distractions we use in the course when we offer workshops to KPA students at our facility (in case any of you want to come learn with us!), I selected a number of distractions for work at home which I will share with you.

  • Husband squeaking and quickly dragging squeaky toy around
  • Ahab the three-legged wonderkitty
  • My husband, encouraging the dogs to pay attention to him
  • Other dog in crate
  • Frozen, whole raw turkey
  • Sandals (these are a big distraction for Cuba, but Mokie could hardly care less about chewing shoes)
  • Bag, wrappers, and packaging from fast food
  • Vacuum cleaner running
  • Pan with water, tinted with green food coloring (mimicking antifreeze)
  • Cat litter box
  • Bowl of leftovers (vegetarian chili)
  • Chocolate bar
  • Deer poop (yes, I bagged some when we were last out in the woods together and put it in the freezer for this exercise)

Obviously, options for distractions are virtually limitless. I used five to nine obstacles per course, and each time I modified the course, at least two of them were changed with a new obstacle.

I set up the course while the dogs were out in the back yard. Obstacles were placed throughout my house, on all three floors. Upstairs, downstairs, on the stairs, everywhere! I then led the dogs into the house.

Mokie went first, so Cuba was crated while I worked with my favorite girl. When going through the course, I wanted to keep track of:

  • Number of times the leash goes tight (if any)
  • Number of times the dog interacts with the obstacles
  • Number of clicks and treats the dog receives

Because this can be a lot of information to keep track of mentally, it may help to videotape your session and review the recording after or to enlist the help of a friend or family member who can keep track of your stats. Periodically review your stats how does your rate of reinforcement or the type of reinforcement you use effect the number of interactions and tight leashes you see?

I like to use a lethal distraction when I work this course because I know that I may and likely will eventually come across them when out and about with my dogs. If your dog does not have a solid foundation of loose leash walking and attention skills, I do not advocate working with lethal distractions which may be dangerous to your dog. Start small and work your way up to these types of distractions.

Including lethal distractions in my training forces me to remind myself of key training concepts look ahead, be proactive, have strategies in mind, plan to manage when and if needed. Its imperative to practice this in a controlled environment before you expect reliability in situations where you have little control over the environment. At this point, I have used pans of real antifreeze as distractions for Mokie both on and off-leash, but I have not yet begun introducing these types of distractions for Cuba, my puppy is not ready for them yet and failure may be fatal.

Your first time walking the loose leash walking obstacle course, you may see lots of tight leashes and interactions with the forbidden fruits on the course. This is to be expected, as your first run is pretty much about establishing your baseline where are we now? Which obstacles were most distracting for your dog? Which obstacles did your dog walk by without fixating or investigating?

Before you walk the course a second time, review this blog I wrote for Karen Pryor Clicker Training about strategies for getting your dog past distractions. These strategies will be the tools you and your dog need to be successful.

We did a similar activity the other night at my games class. I set up a loose leash walking obstacle course with a different selection of distractions. One of my students had a total of nine tight leashes on her first run through, three interactions with the obstacles, and delivered 15 clicks and treats throughout the course. We then strategized as a class to come up with ways that the students could reduce the number of tight leashes and interactions on their second run through. The second time this student walked the course, with new tools and techniques, she had one tight leash and no interactions, after doubling her rate of reinforcement. Certainly as she progresses through training, we will reduce the rate of reinforcement considerably.

This is only one of many exercises you may do in your house to engage your dog and provide her with physical and mental stimulation on rainy days. Try it with your dog and let me know in the comments how you fared what types of distractions did you choose? Were you surprised at your dogs performance? What techniques and strategies might you employ to set your dog up for success?