13. One Little Step At A Time!

Here’s a really simple exercise to start building your dog’s desire to check in with you and stay in close proximity. I’ll assume you’re starting with a dog who might just blow you off otherwise, so…


Have your dog on lead, in your living room, with no distractions. Have some tasty treats in your pocket or hand, but not in your dog’s sight.

Then, just wait. For a minute, or ten minutes…however long it takes for your dog to get bored enough to look up at you. The moment your dog looks at you, deliver a treat, and take one step away. Don’t pull your dog with you. (The leash is just to keep him from wandering off.) Having just rec’d a treat, he should follow you. When he arrives and looks up, deliver another treat. Deliver it at your left hip, so the dog doesn’t cross in front of you. Make it a point to always deliver it there, so your dog gets used to that location as “treat central”.

If Rover doesn’t follow you, you may need to lure him once or twice by leading him with the treat, but no more than that. Eventually, you need to wait for him to work it out. Keep going, one step/treat at a time. When he obviously “gets it”, and follows along consistently, take two steps. Do that till he’s reliable. Then go to three. When he’s following along for 3 steps (this might take several five-minute sessions over the course of two or three days), try him without his lead. Since he wasn’t pulling on the lead anyway, this should be a fairly easy transition.

Also, after he gets the idea, start waiting for him to sit before you deliver the treat. If you’ve done any work with the “sit” command, this should come easily. If not, this “Kikopup” video is a good primer on training the “sit” command.

The next step is taking him out (on lead again) into the back yard, or some other outdoor location with no distractions. The lead is just to keep him from blowing you off. Do the exercise for just a couple minutes at a time, but do it several times a day.

Next, try it on your regular walk. Here’s a quick and dirty video of Suki, just to give you the idea. She’s off-lead here, but your dog should be on lead:

Eventually, you can stretch out the number of steps. Then use a variable number. Go 4 steps and treat, then go 12 steps and treat, then go 8 steps and treat…gradually raise the average amount of steps. (I’ve gotten Suki up to 40 steps while maintaining eye contact and walking at my side…after that, I get bored.) Sometimes I just walk along with her next to me for a long while, then give her a scritch behind the ears.

But the real payoff is this: Suki knows that it’s often rewarding for her to show up next to my left leg and check in with me. She’ll do it on a fairly regular basis, and sometimes she just gets affection, sometimes she gets affection and a treat, sometimes she just gets a treat. And, in situations where she needs to be on a lead, she knows there are no rewards available if she pulls. They’re only available when the leash is loose, and she’s next to my left leg.

Give this a try, one little step at a time!

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