If you’re struggling with loose lead walking, the auto check-in method can help.

Auto check-in

You can do this anywhere, anytime – sitting at home, while watching TV, in the garden, kitchen, anywhere. Reinforce all unprompted check-ins! 

The goal for you: become attentive to and aware of your dog; to heavily reinforce any voluntary “check-in” 

The goal for your dog: when faced with a choice, to voluntarily check-in with you without prompting. 

  1. Stand (or sit) quietly with neutral expression and body posture, but attentive to your dog. 
  2. No tension on lead. Lead tension not only increases arousal but also provides dog with information as to your location; without this, your dog must remain attentive you. 
  3. Give your dog a small area (roughly 2-3’ of lead) that the dog may explore. 
  4. Stand and wait for your dog to turn back to you. Be patient! Several minutes may pass. This is ok. Resist the urge to call them. 
  5. When your dog voluntarily looks at you with you, become very excited & animated while providing generous reinforcement e.g. high value food treats paired with verbal praise. 
  6. Once the reinforcement has been given, your dog can return to sniffing/mooching.
  7. Repeat the process. 

How far from distractions? 

This varies with every dog, but you need to be far away enough from the distraction so that your dog doesn’t react. 

Your dog should be able to split their attention between you and whatever is out there in the environment. If that’s not possible, back off to a distance where they can. 

The goal is not to have your dog focused on you and ignoring the environment, but splitting their attention without becoming reactive or aroused. You may need to back away to a greater distance, or lower the intensity of the distractions. 

Voluntary

It’s important that this is a voluntary check-in and not a prompted or lured response such as the “watch” command so often taught. 

Very rapidly, dogs learn that it is highly beneficial to check-in with you. It’s not simply the food reward that makes this so powerful, though food certainly helps at first. What the dogs apparently find deeply reinforcing is the social contact with you, so that verbal praise, a smile, touch – all these become valuable reinforcers even in the absence of food rewards. Use a variety of reinforcers but especially interaction and gentle, pleasant physical contact. 

If the check in is prompted (‘name’ / ‘watch me’ / ‘look at me’), it does little to change your dog’s motivation and/or internal state – it’s just an interrupter. Often, their attention quickly shifts back to whatever was happening before being interrupted. This is choice-based training; your dog chooses to seek social interaction with you. 

Think of the difference you would feel if intensely watching an interesting TV programme and having your name called, versus the process and feeling of watching that video but even as you’re doing that, choosing to stop watching in order to give your attention voluntarily to someone. One is a response to an external prompt; the other is driven by and internal, self-directed choice. 

We are not aiming for prolonged eye contact from our dogs as that will be uncomfortable for them and they won’t be able to enjoy their walk, but an occasional check in can be reassuring for dog and human. Moderation is key – especially for smaller dogs who have to look up further and if you do it on one side, make sure you then have the lead on the other side so as not to overwork one side. Mix it with Sniff the Dog or a treat search to keep it balanced. You can reward on the ground rather than from your hand so you are not reinforcing the twisted position.