The Sigma (∑) Method for Inquistorem Loro Trahens (ILT)

Publishing Author : Jay Gray

Date Published : 04/11/18


Inquistorem Loro Trahens

Inquistorem Loro Trahens (ILT) is an issue many dog owners encounter and can be simply broken down into a dog that pulls on the lead.  The reasons for ILT are varied and can be due to lack of understanding, over excitement and arousal or even fear responses.  It is important to distinguish the reason for the ILT before any further training is embarked upon to make sure that the training moving forwards making sure that training does not conflict with any other underlying behavioural issues.  For example, if the dog has severe ILT and is based out of fear (especially directed toward the handler in the case of a newly rescued dog etc), then it would be important that compulsion is avoided at all costs.  Compulsion could indeed extinguish the ILT but would also be likely to further imprint the negative associations towards the handler resulting in one problem solved and three more created.  This is counter intuitive in the bigger picture of training the dog and creating a positive outcome for dog and client.

The most common cause of ILT is over arousal or excitement, resulting in the dog having no engagement with the handler, paying no attention to their whereabouts and subsequently severely pulling which ends in handlers being increasingly frustrated about their dog’s behaviour whilst the dog remains completely oblivious to any issues.  This lack of communication and understanding between dog and handler is the initial foundation that needs addressing in order to move forward with any method of ILT rehabilitation.  The ∑ method ensures that these foundations are addressed before the continuation of training.

∑ Breakdown

The ∑ method was founded after a social study undertaken on 100 dogs (Jay Gray – Unlisted) with ILT issues and resulted in a 100% success rate, each dog completed in under 60 minutes.  It is broken down into several phases.  Understanding these phases individually is paramount to understand and implement the method successfully.  The ∑ method phases are as follows:

1 – Introducing the listening state of mind

2 – Charging the reward marker

3 – Teaching a position

4 – U-turn walking and understanding the end of the lead

5 – Smaller corrections with dynamic movement

6 – Marking and rewarding the correct dynamic position

7 – Phase out of reward and punishment

8 – Proofing

It is important to understand that although these phases are listed in a chronological order, it is likely that phases may occur in conjunction with one another or reverse chronology may occur.  For example, if the dog is in phase six of training, there is a likely chance that phase five will also have to be implemented in a transition phase, or it may also be possible that phase six will have to be dropped entirely and phase five re undertaken from the beginning.  It is the skill and understanding of the trainer to decide which phase is needed at any given time and how the phases should be moved in and out of throughout the programme.

Introducing the Listening State of Mind

Dogs naturally are not in a state of mind to listen to us as handlers.  This is a state of mind that has to be taught in order to ensure that communication between dog and handler is clear and simple.  The reason that dogs are not naturally in this state of mind is due to association.  Naturally, the dog will show little interest to a human (external stimuli) until a conditioned response is established.

Phase 1 of the ∑ method ideally begins before the complete training session is undertaken but can happen in a briefer manner on the day if necessary.  The handler must begin with the foundations of engagement, generally through an eye contact game where the dog looks at the handler and is rewarded for said behaviour.  Basic obedience behaviours can also be a part of this phase to further ground the engagement between the dog and the handler.  Unlocking the listening state of mind is paramount before any progression through the method can be achieved.  Without a listening state of mind, the rest of the method will be difficult to execute due to the dog’s lack of understanding regarding the communication coming from the handler.   It will be clear that this step has been completed to a satisfactory level when the dog is choosing to engage with the handler rather than engaging with the outside world.

NB : Phase 1 should be performed in a minimally distracting environment.  This is not an exercise of proofing.

Charging the Reward Marker

Reward marker charging is an element across dog training and not remotely exclusive to the Sigma method.  The term ‘charging’ refers to creating a clear picture as to what the reward marker means to the dog.  In the beginning, a reward marker (such as a clicker or a verbal word) has no effect on the dog’s psychological state.  In the studies of Ivan Pavlov and his work on Classical Conditioning we could refer to the clicker as an unconditioned stimulus, which would produce a neutral response.  These two aspects have to be transferred and changed into a conditioned stimulus provoking a conditioned response.

This is done in a very simple process where the clicker is clicked (note that the marker can be any audible sound) and then a reward is presented to the dog.  The process is repeated multiple times until the unconditioned stimulus becomes conditioned and the neutral response becomes conditioned.  It will be clear that this step has been successfully completed when we see a positive reaction from the dog in response to the audible reward marker.

Phase 2 usually only takes a few minutes but working on this prior to the initial session for a longer duration of time will ensure that the conditioning to the clicker has been done properly and is having the desired affect on the dog.  The longer this process happens, the deeper the imprinting on the dog.  David R Shanks writes about the connection of associative learning and memory in his book ‘Problems with Associative Learning’, The layers of memory formed over time further imprint the association.

Teaching a Position

Unlike in competition heelwork, the position for general loose lead walking does not have to be strict and exact but a position does indeed need to be taught so the dog has a clear understanding in a static position before dynamic movement is introduced to the process.

Teaching the static position is usually done with a luring method, where the dog is lured into a rough desired position, the marker is sounded, and the reward follows.  The position does not have to be exact, but it is important that the variables between each repetition are kept the same.  The dog will struggle to learn if the first twenty rewards come on the left-hand side, three feet behind the knee of the handler and then the subsequent thirty repetitions are marked on the left-hand side, three feet to the left of the handler and three feet in front of the handler.  These two positions are not close enough to create association in the dog’s mind so even though the position is a rough one, it needs to be the same rough position each time.  The position taught in the ∑ method is directly to the left of the handler with the shoulder of the dog in line with the knee of the handler.

It is important that no dynamic movement is made in this step, but the position remains static.  The position will be further reinforced after the dog has understood the consequences of hitting the end of the lead.  Unlike competition heelwork, this is just a precursor to the steps that follow and not a direct link to the loose lead walking itself.

U-Turn Walking and Understanding the End of the Lead

Phase 4 of the ∑ method addresses the dogs understanding that hitting the end of the lead is the precursor to the positive punishment (in most cases a lead correction although the method of punishment is largely unimportant, and each dog should be understood in a case by case basis to understand the severity and type of punishment needed to show clarity to the dog with minimal stress).

The handler should walk forward at a normal pace and ignore the dogs initial attempt to lunge forward into the pre-learned behaviour.  Once the dog is in front of the previously taught position the handler should spin in the opposite direction whilst simultaneously correcting the dog and walking forwards.  At this point, the handler will, again ignore the dog and repeat the process.

In the beginning, dogs often show confusion and minor stress during this step, but studies have shown that the stress felt during this phase of the ∑ method far undermine the stress felt by the conflict between handler and dog over a prolonged period of time when the ILT is not addressed.

This very basic step is repeated until the dog is not lunging forwards and out of basic position.  At this point, the handler can check the dogs understanding by turning about more slowly and observing whether or not the dog chooses to follow the path.  If the dog still continues in its own line of travel, then understanding has not been achieved whereas if the dog follows the handler it is fair to assume that the dog has understood the process and the following phase can begin.

Smaller Corrections with Dynamic Movement

Once the dog has understood to follow the lead, dynamic, singular direction travel can commence.  The handler should walk forwards and as the dog creeps forward out of the initially taught position, a light lead correction should be administered.  If the dog reverts back to high levels of ILT then it is advisable to retreat back to the previous step to further proof the behaviour before moving on.

Once the dog is walking correctly in position with minima corrections, the handler should offer benefit of the doubt time where the dog oversteps position and is given a chance to rectify its position without any occurrence of correction from the handler.

Marking and Rewarding the Correct Dynamic Position

During the previous steps of the ∑ method, there has been no reward present in the training.  This is to ensure that beginner handlers especially are not overwhelmed with the mechanics of the method and more advanced trainers can make faster progress whilst using it.  The introduction of rewards in dynamic, singular direction motion is extremely important to further communicate the correct behaviour to the dog.

Just as in the initial phases of the method, the behaviour should be marked and then rewarded to aid the correct timing from the handler, allowing the dog to more clearly understand the correct behaviour.  In the beginning, the dog should be rewarded after 3-5 steps of correct position and correct walking and then as time progresses the duration between rewards should gradually increase.

It is important that during the increasing of duration of reward that the process is not linear, but sporadic, tending off to one direction.  For example:
Reward after 3 steps

Reward after 6 steps

Reward after 9 steps

Reward after 2 steps

Reward after 11 steps

This sporadic but tending directional reward system prevents boredom in the dog and keeps the behaviour clear.  It is important that the dog does not become disheartened with the system so frequent rewarding must continue at least through the proofing phase and can then be gradually faded out over time using one of the many fading methods.


Proofing, as with any other method should incorporate the three D’s of Dog Training which are distraction, distance and duration.  Distraction can come in many forms when addressing ILT, such as the surface the dog is walking on, the weather, external stimuli like other dogs or people, walking with multiple dogs or even passing vehicles.  It is important to practice the method in a multitude of different environments.  Distance and Duration fall hand in hand, but the most important aspect of the latter proofing area is the fading of the reward.  Ultimately the reward should be faded out completely until the behaviour becomes self-rewarding and habitual to the dog, but this can take some time.

In Conclusion

The ∑ method is a proven and practiced method that currently has a recorded result rate of 100%.  It is important that the steps are followed carefully and accurately and also important to remember that although the steps are intended to be linear, there may be deviations from the order of phases based on different dogs, their abilities and the handlers present in the training.


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