Walking your dog should be a way to spend some time with them and get some joyful movement into your life. If your dog is pulling you down the street and through bushes, then walking is definitely an area of training you and your dog need to focus on.
The truth is, you don’t need your dog to walk right next to you constantly “at heel.” Ideally, your dog should walk with slack on the leash. They should have a little room to be able to sniff and “do dog things.” But they should still be attentive and ready to listen to commands.
Dog’s aren’t naturally inclined to walk on a leash, so you need to teach them the behavior you expect from them. Whether you’re working with a puppy or an adult dog, consistency and patience are key. Let’s stop talking and start learning how to master loose leash walking with your dog.
Getting Started With Loose Leash Walking
Dogs learn best when they are trained using positive reinforcement. Make sure you have training treats close at hand to reward positive behavior.
When selecting a leash, avoid the retractable kind. A dog that pulls can easily break the locking mechanism causing you to lose control. This puts them in danger of altercations with other dogs or breaking free and running into traffic. If you grab onto the narrow rope to regain control, you risk friction burns and even severe lacerations. A standard 6-foot leash is best when walking your dog.
If you’re torn between a harness and a collar, give extra consideration to a harness. Harnesses don’t place pressure on the trachea, which is especially important if your dog pulls since this can cause injury to your dog’s throat and neck.
Do not use choke collars, E-collars, or prong collars. These can increase stress in your dog, can cause injury, and are not a part of positive reinforcement training. They are aversive training tools and their use can damage the bond and the trust you have built with your dog. With the variety of head halters, harnesses, and martingale collars on the market, these punitive methods are harsh and unnecessary.
Before you start any kind of training, play with your pup and make sure he’s got all the wiggles out. This makes it easier for your dog to focus. Trying to train an excited, wiggly dog is just setting them up for failure… and giving you a real lesson in frustration.
Loose Leash Training Steps
If you have a puppy or dog that is not used to a collar or harness and a leash, start by getting them comfortable with these tools. Let them sniff the leash and harness before putting these on your dog. When you approach with the collar and leash, give your dog a treat when he lets you put them on. You want your dog to have pleasant associations with his leash.
Start inside by attaching the leash to your dog’s harness or collar. Then allow him to walk around. This helps get him used to the sensation. Once he acts like he barely notices the leash, it’s time to practice walking.
Keep practicing inside. For dogs that are newbies to leash training, it’s easier to focus when they aren’t distracted by new smells and sounds. Start walking your dog around. If he starts to pull ahead, stop and don’t move. When your dog moves and you feel slack on the leash, offer praise and treats. This reinforces that the feeling of a loose leash is the behavior you want. Repeat this until your dog is able to walk through the house while maintaining a loose leash.
Once you can keep a loose leash inside, it’s time to head outside. Expect your dog to experience a minor setback as he gets used to a new environment. Make sure you have treats in your pocket as you go outside. Repeat the same method you used indoors. If your dog starts to pull ahead, stop walking, wait until you feel slack in the leash, and immediately reward your dog. Start outdoor training on a route that isn’t that busy, or go out at a time when you know things are slow and there won’t be as many distractions.
Introduce a cue to your dog any time you need to change directions, so he knows to pay attention and follow you. Give your dog the signal and as he follows, give him a treat. He may be slow at first as he learns what the signal word means, but stay patient and keep on going. Your dog will eventually catch on.
Any time your dog looks up at you, reward this behavior. In training circles, this is referred to as checking in. This means your dog is paying attention to you and looking to you for direction.
Remember every step of the way that you need to practice patience. Your dog will take some time to learn what you expect, especially if they are older, but don’t get discouraged. Remember consistency will pay off and stick with it!
If you have a puppy, leash training isn’t the only thing you need to work on. Whether you’re a new dog owner, or you just need updated puppy skills. You can benefit from Dog Friendly Living’s Puppy Prep Course. You’ll learn about all the stages of puppy development and how to respond to the changes you see in your puppy as he grows. This course is meant to help you understand your puppy's needs and train them in a way that helps them grow into a happy, well-rounded dog.
If you have an older dog, maybe you feel their training has been neglected or that they need a refresher course, try one of our training services. You can sign up for an online, virtual session or an in-home session in the New York area.
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