We have talked about rewarding Nemo as strangers approach. My concern is that I am also trying to work with him on not pulling the leash when we’re walking. You taught us to use leash corrections and/or frequently reward the dog for maintaining a slack leash. If I am rewarding him frequently for maintaining a slack leash, but also rewarding him when strangers approach, won’t the messages be mixed? Does rewarding him for keeping a slack leash diminish the excitement about a reward when strangers walk by?
I wouldn’t worry about sending Nemo a mixed message when rewarding both a slack leash and when strangers approach. It is true you cannot shape for more than one aspect of a behavior at a time(a straight and fast sit, for example). However, once you are getting a reliably straight sit (by way of example), you can then begin to selectively reinforce the faster responses to shape for fast sits. Once the sits are straight and fast, you could then shape for another aspect of the behavior if you wished, i.e., straight, fast and with eye contact. You can however, reinforce more than one behavior when you train. If Nemo gets rewarded when the leash is slack as well as when people approach, both behaviors will become stronger. There is merit in your concern that rewarding Nemo for maintaining a slack leash could diminish his excitement for the reward when strangers walk by. If he is highly motivated by the reward, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. If that’s not the case, you may want to set up situations where you and Nemo are stationary and you’re only rewarding him as people walk past. The distance between Nemo and the passerby should be such that Nemo is comfortable enough to stay at your side and eat the reward. If Nemo tries to hide behind your legs or refuses the treat, you are too close. In time and with practice, you will be able to move closer to the approaching person while still keeping Nemo comfortable, as the rewards will have changed the way Nemo feels about the situation. There are other things that can be done to make Nemo more comfortable with people and I would be happy to discuss this further next term.
Director of Training
Canine Training Center
Carol Hein-Creger has been training dogs and their owners for over 30 years. She has trained thousands of people, including many local dog trainers. Carol is currently teaching at AnnaBelle’s Pet Station in downtown Lansing. Check out her her upcoming class schedule. Do you have a training question for Carol? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Carol’s Corner” in the subject line or use the “Contact Us” form.