Updated: Mar 1, 2021
You are ready to explore outside of your home with your dog but there's one problem - you don't have a foolproof recall and there are leash laws; so you need to walk them on a leash. Walking nicely on a leash, is easily one of the top contenders of pet owner concerns. Let's save tug of war for play time and look at some tips and techniques for creating good leash etiquette!
Start with the problem and work in a focused and intentional manner. Here are a few things to look for:
Are they wary of the leash?
Are they pulling as soon as you attach the leash?
Do they walk fine with stimuli (dogs, strangers, squirrels) at a distance?
Are they food motivated?
Are they interested in play?
After this period of observation you will have a good sense for where your problem areas are and where you need to focus training.
What does your dog think of the leash? Does it equate to work, play, stress? The first step is to ensure that your pup thinks of the leash positively. The sight of the leash should make your dog think GOOD things are about to happen. This can be created by associating it with food or play, if the idea of going for a walk doesn’t get your dog excited on it’s own. This may take time. Getting to the point where you can clip the leash with your dog while calm, then hold the leash while they feel safe and eventually go outdoors with the leash on is each a step of your dog’s journey and the goal is for it to be a good one.
Does your dog know you are on the end of the leash? It should not be a universal goal that all dogs walk in an attentive heel at all times. It IS important you are comfortable walking your dog AND your dog is comfortable while being walked by you. I bring a high value treat on walks and a pocket sized tug toy if they have interest. It will be important to reconnect your dog to you if they are going to be cognizant of where the leash ends.
Tools. It would be irresponsible for me to overlook what TOOLS a handler is using to get results with their doggo. There are many. There are many opinions. I’ll share mine: Almost any tool can be used safely, but most tools in this category are a shortcut to training time and to increase response from your dog. I understand a harness is a tool for pulling. It engages a dog’s drive to pull. I understand a choke collar bends a dog’s trachea. I understand a prong collar limits choking, but causes pain. I understand anti pull harnesses come in many forms. I understand head halters can safely control a 2,000# horse. Which is my preferred tool? In order, I like a flat collar, then a chest clip harness, lastly a head halter. I will often use a dual clip leash attached to the flat collar and one of the other tools if I think we can graduate away from the more invasive tool, but I digress. Each tool is effective with a different method and needs to be used as directed for safety and efficacy.
Go for a walk and if your dog pulls you freeze until they allow slack in the leash. Sounds simple, but requires ALOT of patience. This is helpful for mild pullers.
Come this way.
As you are walking and your dog starts pulling, start running backwards and calling them to you. Once your dog refocuses and comes to you, YES and treat.
While you are walking, stop and cue your dog to focus on your eyes by saying their name. As soon as they make eye contact, YES and Treat. You can also try this while walking, but if they are ahead of you it can be challenging.
You pull; You work.
Your dog pulls so you call them to you, then ask for a sit, then down, then sit, then come, then through your legs with a tossed treat, then another sit. Do you have their attention yet? You are now more interesting than the scent on the trail. As much as you are interesting, they may like to get back to sniffing. The rule follows - You pull; you work. They will soon associate pulling with activities unrelated to exploring the great, wide world and keep the pulling in check. This is NOT to say that you make the work UNFUN, but the truth is, as fun as you and your treats are… most dogs would rather explore while on a walk and they would rather save the training sessions for another time.
Make note of what your walks are like today and how it is different after practicing these games for the week. You may be able to scale back your tool of choice - or find it’s just the adjustment you needed for an enjoyable walk by all.
When play is work, work is play.
Jackie Ward; Citali Dog Training