Do you see other dogs happily trotting next to their person with a loose leash? Meanwhile, your little gremlin is pulling you down the street with a leash so tense it could be a tightrope. Your dog needs leash training STAT!
If your dog is straining against the leash, this isn’t just less than desirable. It’s teaching bad habits and can be downright dangerous. Let’s talk about leash training, why walking with a slack leash is important for your dog’s safety, and how you can train your dog to ease up on the leash and give your arm a break.
What Is A Slack Leash?
Slack leash, loose leash. No matter what the phrasing is, the idea is the same. A dog trained to walk appropriately will walk next to you without tension on the leash. If your dog is pulling, it means they are distracted by smells and sounds and are not attentive to you and your commands.
Of course, walking on a leash doesn’t feel natural to a dog. They aren’t thinking about the fact that they should walk politely next to you. They want to smell what’s going on in the neighborhood. This doesn’t mean your dog is trying to be rude to you. Instead, their instincts are kicking in. Training your dog to ignore distractions and listen to you is the keystone of slack leash training.
A dog who is distracted and pulling on the leash is not aware of potential dangers. Your dog may dart into a busy road, pulling you right along with them. They may run in front of a jogger or cyclist, and cause an injury, or injure themselves. If there is a more aggressive dog walking toward you with an inattentive owner, your dog may stumble right into them, instead of sitting or being quickly redirected on your command.
A slack leash should be loose and hang in a J shape. Your dog should walk next to you, and they should not take off to randomly sniff or react to other people or dogs. To get the results you want, you may need to go all the way back to the beginning of leash training. It’s worth it to know your dog is attentive and safe on walks.
Slack Leash Training 101
Of course, it's ideal if you can start training your dog as a puppy. For a lot of us, that’s just not possible. That’s okay! Your dog is still trainable. It may just take a little more time to break old habits and establish proper behaviors.
As you work with your dog, remember that positive reinforcement is the way to go. As always, keep treats in your pocket or in a treat bag so you can reward your dog for good behavior.
When doing training of any kind, it’s always best to start with a slightly tired dog. You don't want your dog to be so worn out that they just want a nap. You just want them to have all the wiggles out so they are able to focus. Start a training session with a game of catch, tug of war, or any other fun game that will burn off that excess energy.
If you have a very reactive dog who alerts to everything, but who is used to a leash, start by walking around your house. Walk in circles, rewarding your dog every time they walk with slack on their leash. Rewards and praise are necessary for your dog to understand what it is you expect them to do.
It’s best to start training walks in your home, but if you just don’t have the space, take it to your yard or patio. You want to stick with familiar territory so your dog won’t be distracted.
As your dog starts getting better at walking with a slack leash, start increasing the length of your walks and head out into your neighborhood. Time your training walks so there are a limited number of distractions. If your dog starts trying to sniff and pull, don't yell. Just stop the walk. When your dog stops straining and is standing next to you, offer praise and a treat and continue.
Walk the same route every day. With each walk, your dog gets used to the smells they’ll encounter, and they will become less of a distraction. As your dog progresses, you can start changing your routes.
Use commands or clicks to train your dog to change directions. Start by turning while giving the command or click, and reward your dog. Working on this skill will help teach your dog to stay attentive to you while out on a walk.
How To Set Your Dog Up For Success
Set your dog up for training success by remembering a few key rules.
When you work on teaching your dog new skills, it can be hard not to get frustrated. Remind yourself that you aren’t just speaking a different language, you’re speaking a different species! If you find you are getting frustrated, it may be time for you to take a break. Your pup will sense you are angry with them and won't know why.
If your dog doesn’t seem to be learning as quickly as you want, it doesn’t mean they’re untrainable. Dogs all learn at different rates. Just keep working with your dog, and eventually, you’ll begin to see the behaviors you want.
Do Not Yell Or Punish For Negative Behaviors
Your dog is not doing things to make you mad. They are just acting like a dog. It is up to us to show our dogs the type of behavior we want to see through rewards and praise. Punishments and yelling lead to mistrust and confusion. These are things that are not compatible with dog friendly living.