2. Walk Nicely On A Lead Continued...

Exercise 2.13 300 Peck - For Increasing Distance & Duration

One of the big challenges of increasing the duration of complex behaviours like loose lead walking is that it’s hard to increase the difficulty level gradually without making it too hard for the dog to progress.  We tend to have things nailed in the garden but as soon as we try to practice out on a walk the behaviour breaks down very quickly.


If this sounds familiar then help is at hand – enter 300 Peck which I think you’re going to love!


300 Peck is a very interesting training method that makes increasing the duration or criteria of a behaviour easier for both the learner and the trainer i.e. you.  It’s simple and systematic whilst maintaining an effective rate of reinforcement especially amidst distractions.


Any behaviour that requires an increase in duration can benefit from this type of approach, but none more so that loose lead walking!


300 Peck was first discovered during experiments with pigeons were a scientist was investigating variable reinforcement schedules on behaviours.  The birds were trained to peck a bar for a food reinforcer and then gradually required to peck more and more often in order to earn the same reinforcer.  The experimenter found that by gradually building the number of pecks she was able to progress the behaviour onto a variable reinforcement schedule of 300.  300 was the average amount of pecks the pigeons would offer in order to earn a reinforcer.


So how do we use this when training dogs? 


When training a stay you can simply add an additional second to each trial in order to gradually increase the duration from 1 second – 300 seconds.  That’s our 5 minute stay we talked about last week. 


Likewise 5 minutes of loose lead walking for one treat is pretty impressive work, as is 300 steps if that is your preferred measure of success. 


I always use 300 Peck in puppy classes to help new owners get going with training a beginner sit-stay because many people find the systematic approach so much easier.  It gives both the handler and dog something to do!  Before long most people are getting up to a 20-30 second sit stay in their first class even with the distraction of other pups nearby – it’s so great to see!


In the context this week of really nailing loose lead walking out and about where it matters most, the only skills needed are the ability to count to 300 and the motivation to practice and develop the behaviour during your daily walks!


Do remember, setting criteria for loose lead walking should consider both ends of the lead – for family pet dogs I think the only requirement is for the lead to be loose; beyond that the dog can be doing as he pleases – sniffing, moving from side to side, looking around and such like, so that you are both enjoying the walk and you’re not being dragged down the road. 


If you are training your dog for a specific sport or purpose, like a gun dog for example, your criteria would be different as you would want your dog to maintain a very close heel position for an extended period of time.


Either way this technique is the same once you have decided on the criteria.


The first step is to decide upon your degree of measurement, the options are time or steps.  For simplicity let’s use steps as an example.  We walk on a loose lead and count 1 step and then click and treat, then count 2 steps then click and treat and so on.  This is the critical part - if your dog pulls you should go right back to the beginning and start again.


Your training then looks something like this:

1 – Click/Treat

1,2 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3, 4 – Click/Treat

1, 2 – ooops he pulled – stop and begin again!

1 – Click/Treat

1,2 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3, 4 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Click/Treat


And you keep going until you have achieved 5 minutes (300 seconds) of lovely lead walking.


……. 299, 300 – Click/Treat – you’re a 300 Peck champ!  So, count to 300 again before you click and treat and you’ve now got 10 minutes of lovely walking!


At the start it may take a while to even get past 10 steps, especially with those dogs who have a reinforcement history of pulling, but seriously don’t be disheartened!  In fact the higher level of reinforcement that this technique causes at the early stages will help establish an even stronger behaviour and I find that it makes the latter stages go even easier. 


This is just one of many ways of building criteria and duration in behaviours, but one that I really like because it is so easy to implement for you and your dog; it’s simple, systematic and, above all, effective.  Once your dog is happily walking for 5 minutes for each treat you will have pretty much cracked loose lead walking and there will be no looking back!


Give it a go and let me know how you get on!