This Day 5 post is a technique developed by Seattle trainer and behaviorist, Grisha Stewart. Actually she has more then one method but I’m going to concentrate on the technique she calls “Silky Leash”. It is quite different from the other methods discussed over the last few days and I think you will find it intriguing and worthy of your consideration. The first four steps take place in either a small room or an exercise pen. How small is small? With you sitting in a chair in the middle of the room or pen, and the dog on a leash, the test is that when the dog reaches the wall, the leash is still loose. So, from the get-go the dog cannot pull. When the dog is at the wall, you apply the slightest bit of pressure. Pause and when the dog takes a step towards you, click and reward. Repeat. The next level is for the dog to take two or three steps before you release the pressure. You are not pulling the dog, just indicating that you would like him to walk towards you. Repeat until the dog is consistently responding appropriately. The next level is have the dog walk in a circle around the chair using only the slightest leash pressure. Click and reward. Move in both directions. Next level, the dog responding to only the leash pressure walks in a figure eight. Click and reward. By now the dog (and you) should understand that this pressure means to go in the direction of the pressure until the pressure stops. You cannot pull on the dog as he will only pull against you. The pressure must be light and the dog should follow the pressure – a silk thread. Take your time and be patient. This will feel counter intuitive but it teaches the dog a new way to think and respond. Each step may take several repeats through several sessions.
Now it is time to go to a larger room or area to play follow the leader. You will take turns, he follows you, and yes, you follow him with no pressure on the leash. When you apply a little pressure that is constant until he walks back to you. Click and reward. Repeat as needed. Now graduate to your yard and continue with the follow the leader exercise. If the dog becomes distracted, flutter (gently shake) the leash and turn in another direction. Click and reward every time he follows your cue.
The key to success with this technique is to understand the dog does not pull because you do not pull. The handler learns to use very soft hands and the dog learns to respond to a silky thread. More about this technique and others by Grisha can be found in her book The Official Ahimsa Dog Training Manual or at her website www.EmpoweredAnimals.com. Both can quickly become your favorite ‘go to’ resources for leash manners and other behaviors. Besides this site, of course!