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I have a four-year-old Schnauzer. Before a walk, I put her lead on her; she gets so excited she starts screaming/howling with excitement. She also grabs the lead and starts pulling it like a tug-of-war.

I have tried everything to make her stop this behaviour: using treats, taking her out more often, ignoring the behaviour. I have taken her to dog classes, but when she is there, she walks and behaves like an angel.

I would love to walk her early in the morning (5 AM) for a few hours, but the problem is that she makes so much noise, it will wake all the neighbors! :(

Any suggestions?

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For a few hours ? That's a long early morning walk ;) –  Cedric H. Feb 27 at 12:04

3 Answers 3

When you want to stop unwanted behaviours, I think there are two key points:

  • Do not try to "train" the dog when you want to go for a walk. Train at other times when you're relaxed, when you wouldn't worry about the noise, etc. Do short training sessions and repeat that everyday if possible. Then when the dog progresses you can move the training to a "field training", but without stopping the specific training sessions.

  • You want to teach an alternative behaviour first, before stopping the unwanted one. That way you'll be able to redirect her to another behaviour, which is appropriate and which has been reinforced. For this problem, that means "staying calm when on leash inside".

In your case here I would do like this:

  • Define what your real call is: imagine what the end result looks like. You will have to reinforce every step going in the direction of the goal you've set.

  • The excitement comes from the anticipation, so you have to teach the dog another way to react to that. You want the dog to stay calm, possibly sit or lay down close to the door and wait without barking.

  • When you have time, put the dog on leash inside. It will get very excited. Ignore everything, but reinforce every small step towards a more calm behaviour. Take some treats. When it stops barking, say "yes" and treat. If it's running around the house, when it stops, "yes and treat", etc. Don't hesitate to reward small steps.

  • Continue until the dog is calm enough, then go out. If you don't have time for a walk, come back, remove the leash and play a bit. You can then do that again, immediately or a few hours later. Don't expect the first sessions to be perfect. Keep them short and end the session (that is, go for a (real or not) walk) on a positive note (eg. no barking for some time, or when the dog lays down).

This is for the excitement part. On the other hand your dog seems to be conditioned: leash means walk. Part of his response is "automatic", like a dog drooling when you take out the food, the dog doesn't control how he'll react.

Consequently you have to change this automatic response into one that involves the dog thinking, this is the first part above: the dog has to think and understand that only a calm behaviour will be rewarded.

On the other hand you can also counter-condition your dog. You take the leash, the dog gets excited. So you can from time to time take the leash, or even put the leash on the dog, but then you totally ignore the dog. Eventually the automatic response will fade out. This is the same of for Pavlov's dogs: you ring a bell and then feed the dogs. After a few repetitions, the dogs will start drooling after the bell even in the total absence of food. But if then you keep ringing the bell without feeding them, that automatic response will eventually disapear.

Additionally you could watch this video How to train a dog that is over excited over food, different from your case but the same principles apply.

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You can try to change your pre-walk ritual.

Currently, it seems like you get the leash and then call the dog (with leash in hand) and put it on and then go outside.

Instead, you can first call the dog and make him sit near the door, and then get the leash and put it on him. Don't allow him to grab the leash. If he starts howling, then put the leash back in the closet. If he remains calm, then reward him (especially in the early stages of the new ritual).

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Leslie McDevitt wrote a great book called Control Unleashed (you can find it here http://controlunleashed.net/book.html) that has a bunch of great training exercises for dogs that need to build up self-control. The exercises help teach the dog that in order to get the reward (the walk) they have to give you the behavior (settled, calm, attentive) you want.

The other answers here are good too... just wanted to add this for further reading.

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