Unpredictable Loose Lead Walking
Like the name suggests, the goal with this game is to be as unpredictable as possible. In an unpredictable state a dog will look to someone of familiarity for direction and guidance. This will be you and you are going to capture and reinforce it like crazy.
To play the game you will have your dog on lead. Hold your lead correctly and keep it loose but not long enough to touch the ground - if you are standing still and your dog is in the reinforcement zone next to you, the leash should make a J shape from you to your dog's collar/harness. The principle of the game is to make unpredictable movements - forwards, backwards, left, right, stop, start, slow, fast, U-turn, pivots, walk on the spot, etc. Make your movements random, make yourself fun, interesting, engaging, and move with purpose so that your dog has to pay attention to you because they don't know what is going to happen next. The have no choice but to focus on you and follow you to keep up. And when they do they will get lots and lots of yummy reinforcement.
This game is fantastic to play in your front or backyard prior to starting your walk. Not only does it help them to rid the initial excitable energy and arousal that is usually a hinderance on walks, but it sets your dog up with the expectation to focus on you going into the walk. It puts your dog in the mindset that if they look to you for direction and focus on you then great things happen.
Another time this game is really helpful is at times in your walk when your dog "disappears mentally", they become aloof, focused on something else, off with the pixies, etc. They are in a state of mind that you know that no matter how much you try to encourage them or work with them, anything you say or do, goes in one in ear and out the other. When your dog is in this state no matter how much you fight to get their focus back, you never win it. Your dog can go into this state for a variety of reasons such as; trigger stacking, also their sense of smell is amazing and when engaged it is like they have noise cancelling headphones on, their is something of huge motivation to your dog around (dog, cat, person, bike), you have set unrealistic expectation and are asking too much of your dog in that situation, etc. As you see your dog enter this state, stop walking where you are (as long as it is safe) or move to a more appropriate area and spend a couple of minutes playing this game. It is like a reset button for your dog. Once you find your dog is repetitively looking to you, finding that reinforcement zone and following you, that is your indication that you have lowered your dogs arousal levels and they are in a much better state to focus and continue on their walk.
How to teach Unpredictable Loose Lead Walking.
Step 1: Hold the lead correctly - Hold the lead correctly and allow your dog as much of the lead (J shape when in the RZ with no tension) without it being a hazard that it will dray on the ground where you can trip on it or it can go under your dog's legs. You want the lead to be loose but not dragging so that you dog has to consciously make the right decision not you forcing the behaviour through the tension on the lead.
Step 2: Move in an unpredictable way - Start to move and walk around in an unpredictable way. Try and avoid falling into movement patter. We are creatures of nature and very easily do so be conscious of this. The more unpredictable and random you are, the better - slow, fast, side to side, pivot, circle, forwards, backwards. Aim to make yourself as interesting, engaging and exciting as possible.
Step 3: Eye contact - The moment your dog gives you eye contact (whether in or out of the reinforcement zone) bridge and reward them by holding the treat in the reinforcement zone next to your leg as your continue to move in an unpredictable way. If your dog is not in the reinforcement zone, this might mean they don't get the treat straight away. This is okay, you have bridged them. Do not go to your dog's mouth to treat them, they must come to your hand in the RZ. Continue to hold the treat there for however long it takes for your dog to catch up to you and keep moving. .
Step 4: Enters reinforcement zone - The moment your dog catches up and enters the reinforcement zone, bridge and reward them as you continue to move in an unpredictable way.
Step 5: Stays in the reinforcement zone - Increase the duration your dog has to catch up and then stay in the reinforcement zone focused on you as your continue to move before your bridge and reward. Make sure that you heavily reinforce this with multiple yummy treats in a row.