Yesterday I went out to observe an MBA negotiations class focused on nonverbal communication. The class was held out at a ranch, and was led by a horse whisperer. He put the MBA volunteers through increasingly complex paces, starting from just walking a horse around the paddock to turns to who-knows-what, because I left after the first session. But the walking thing was very interesting to me, since I’ve failed so spectacularly at conveying the concept of loose leash walking to Banjo and Petra especially.
One of the MBAs took the bridle really close to the horse’s mouth and led him around. The horse whisperer said the technique got the desired result, but was basically the equivalent of a mom at the end of her rope steering a toddler out of a store by the upper arm: it’s removed the element of choice. In a better scenario, the horse follows willingly.
I always keep Petra and Banjo on a short leash. So I’ve been taking away their choice, terms I hadn’t thought about it in before. So when S and I took the dogs on a walk last night, I started to use that technique I’ve heard about ad nauseum but never really embraced: changing direction. Every time Banjo pulled ahead, I brought him around in a big loop so that I ended up in front again. S pointed out that he was actually enjoying it, that he was trotting and alert. So then we switched dogs and Petra, the horrible puller, turned out to view this as a really good game. I didn’t do loops with her so much as just frequently and unpredictably change direction. I could feel her dancing around behind me (not looking but assuming she’d follow) and she’d pull up beside me (still not pulling) and I could see her avidly watching my feet to see what I’d do next. She didn’t pull at all.
This was the first time I can recall ever maintaining their attention out on the street without a bag of treats. A breakthrough? Perhaps. The next step is trying to figure out how to recreate the effect with both dogs instead of just individually.