I took Zillekins for a 2 mile hike today, in preparation for Civil War season. See, I’m a huge Civil War Bore, and attending the events that go on during the spring, summer, and fall takes me on a lot of hikes. Tink has traditionally been my hiking buddy, but her werid medical problems lame her up from time to time and thus the presence of Zille, the Emergency Backup Dog.
However, Zille does not automatically do all the things Tink automatically does that make Tink such a pleasure as a hiking companion, and also I would like to stop Zille doing some of the things Tink does do that make her a slightly less pleasant hiking companion. Hence today’s 2 mile walk down to the end of our road and back, working on loose leash walking. Zille does this pretty well already, but because hiking in the forests and meadows of a battlefield is pretty high-distraction, I want to build up a solid reward history with her for walking where I want her. This little graphic may help:
The little white circle there represents me. Next to me, you’ll see a green rectangle. This is the Mark-And-Treat Zone. When Zille is in this area, the leash is loose, I can see her out of my peripheral vision, and if she suddenly surges because of something like a squirrel, I won’t get yanked immediately. I really want her here, although I don’t care if her head is down and she’s sniffing, or if it’s up, or if she’s walking in a straight line or meandering around in that green zone, so I mark-and-treat (“Good dog!” *cookie*) a lot when she’s in there, no matter what she’s doing. She spends about 70% of her time there on her own inclination. The goal is to get that up to 80%.
Immediately outside the green zone and extending in front of me is the yellow zone. I do not mark-and-treat while she’s in it, but neither do I stop walking or give her a no-reward marker. In the yellow area, she has taken most of the leash slack and may be putting light pressure on it, or I may not be able to see her without making an effort. Still, she’s not really doing anything I actively object to. Tink, when walking, spends a lot of time in the yellow zone no matter what kind of treats I’m carrying, it’s one of the things that makes her a less pleasant hiking buddy. Zille tends to spend maybe 20% of her time in the yellow zone naturally.
The area furthest out, on my right side, and behind me is the red zone. In this zone I will stop walking, give a no-reward marker (“Negative, Zille” or “Ah ah!”), or bring her back to the green zone with leash pressure, or sometimes a combo of two of these things, or sometimes a combo of all three. In the red zone, I can’t see her easily or she’s pulling on the leash hard, or she’s on my right. Tink is trained to walk on my right, and if I walk the two of them together I don’t want them interfering with each other too much, so I don’t want Zille on my right at all, just as I don’t want Tink on my left. Maybe 10% of the time Zille gets into the red zone, and thus the training: I’m hoping to eliminate that 10% or at least get it down to about 1%.
Other behaviors practiced: alerting silently on people who come within view. Eventually I would like her to alert on people I *can’t* see, which is going to take some help from a friend and a trip to the woods where there’s more visual obstructions. Sit or down on stop; it’s her choice. I don’t care what she does but if I’ve stopped moving it’s probably because I’m taking a picture, and then I need a loose leash. Zille will sniff her way quickly into the red zone if I stop moving, which will interfere with picture-taking. The other reason I might stop on a battlefield is to listen to a lecture, in which case she also should be polite and stay still instead of invading the space of other listeners. Watch me; an all-purpose useful way of getting your dog to stare at you and await further instruction.
 TINK IS TOTALLY BLIND IN HER LEFT EYE DUE TO A DETACHED RETINA, SO HAVING HER ON MY RIGHT HELPS MAKE SURE NOTHING BLIND-SIDES HER LITERALLY WITHOUT ME HAVING A CHANCE TO TELL HER ABOUT IT. AT ANY RATE, BECAUSE SHE WALKS ON MY RIGHT, THIS DIAGRAM WOULD BE FLIPPED TO THE MIRROR IMAGE FOR TINK-TRAINING.