Are you tired of your dog dragging you down the street like a sled dog in the Iditarod? Do you dread walks because your arm feels like it's going to be pulled out of its socket? Well, fear not, because we have some tips and tricks that will help you teach your furry friend how to walk nicely on a leash. In just 15 minutes a day, you can transform your walks from a nightmare to a dream come true.
Why Does Pulling Happen?
Before we get into the tips and tricks, let's talk about why pulling happens in the first place. Walking is one of the most exciting parts of your dog's day, and it's easy to see why they might start pulling on their leash to get where they want to go faster. One of the most common reasons dogs pull on their leash is that they've learned that's how they get to move forward. Whenever your dog pulls, taking just one step with them gives a clear signal that pulling works. Pulling simply becomes reinforcing, and that means it will continue to happen again and again.
Lastly, dogs simply walk faster than us. So, how do we stop our dogs from pulling? Well, it's almost impossible to teach anything to not do something. Instead of trying to stop pulling, we want to teach our dogs what we want from them instead of pulling.
Teach Them an Alternative to Pulling
We want to achieve that walking nicely is more reinforcing than pulling. Dogs are very clever animals, and they get through life by learning to pick the most favourable outcomes. So, if walking nicely will give them a more favourable outcome than pulling, then they are going to choose that.
The equipment you use can help or hinder you. We often see people with short leads, believing that they will keep the dog closer to themselves and, in turn, the dog will walk nicely eventually. From experience, we can say this never happens and results in pulling. The shorter the lead you use, the less distance the dog has to travel before the lead tightens, and pulling is induced.
We recommend to our clients a lead a minimum of 2m in length, and my personal favourite is our 3m training lead, The Evolve. It's a great length and, if you want to have double clips attached, it still gives you a decent amount of lead to work with. We also recommend a harness and collar or a harness with 2 points of attachment (which will become evident why later).
The last recommendation is a treat pouch. Yes, they don't always look that cool, but they allow you to be more effective when training. You can keep a lot in them: food, phone, poo bags and keys. They also keep those smelly little treats out of your coat pockets.
5 Hints and Tips for Loose Leash Walking
Start in a Non-Exciting Area
When it comes to teaching your dog how to walk nicely on a leash, one thing you want to avoid is setting them up to fail. Pick a quiet time of the day and practice walking down the street. Go for an evening stroll during dinner time when most people are indoors, go to a park during non-peak hours, or best of all, if you have space, start at home. If you take your dog to a crowded park before they have good leash skills, chances are they're going to be far too excited and stimulated to pay attention and learn anything.
Small sessions are a great way to build habits and patterns in your dog. So doing small sessions of 5 minutes at home on top of what you
do can really make a difference. Remember, if you are training a puppy, they only have a small capacity to learn in the beginning, so end on highs rather than push.
The food we use can make all the difference. As our training progresses, we will encounter higher distractions, and in the beginning, we want to have the best we can use. I like to use little bits of human food like cheese, chicken, or sausages so it's really high value. If you think of the dog's kibble, they eat this every day, and although they still eat it, having it every day will lower the value and make it boring. If we can carry something they only have once in a while that is super tasty, we are already winning half the battle.
Pick Your Reinforcement Position
By picking where you will deliver your dog the treat and sticking to that position, you are clearly communicating with your dog. As above, dogs will pick the most favourable outcome, so they will hang out in that position more. If you deliver the treat in different positions all the time, like sometimes behind, sometimes by your side, or even in front of you, then there is no clear picture for the dog of where you'd like them to hang out.
My favourite position is at my right-hand side, and I give the dogs treats towards the back of my thigh. This will eventually stop the dog walking in front of you as they know that the good times happen right by your side.
Consistency is Key
Be consistent with your training each time you go out with your dog. By being consistent, we can give our dogs a better understanding of what's expected of them when eventually out walking. So using the same length lead, for example, is essential. How confusing it would be to have a 1m lead one day and a 3m lead the next and so on. Consistent with your training, the more you do, the faster the results essentially. Just like going to the gym 3 times a week for 3 months is better than going 6 days a week one month, not at all the next, and twice in the last. Make it a routine, and you will benefit from it much quicker.
How Long Does it Take to Train Loose Leash Walking?
Practice loose leash walking as a separate training exercise before expecting your dog to walk nicely in public. Training sessions should be around 5-15 minutes at a time, and ideally, 4-5 sessions a week. The more you practice, the faster you will see results. Don't try to multitask and train loose leash walking on the way to the park or the shops. Set aside dedicated time to train this or you're likely to give up because you are in a hurry or get flustered because you are juggling your kids and groceries at the same time.
It is important to keep in mind that progress will depend on your dog and how long they have been practicing and gaining success with the previous behaviour. For example, you'll see faster progress with a 7-month-old puppy than an 8-year-old dog. This does not mean it's not possible to teach an older dog how to walk on a loose leash. It just means that you'll need to be more patient and be willing to keep practising. After all, you are training to override 8 years of pulling reinforcement.
Loose leash walking is a hard behaviour to teach our dogs, and you have to walk your dog, but you've been told they can't pull ever again, and some days training is impossible! What do you do?
Well, if you remember above, we spoke about a harness with a front and back attachment or a
collar and harness, well, this could be your saving grace. If you don't have either, it's well worth the investment, I'd say. So just how does it save you? If you have a collar and harness, you can do all your training on the collar and use the harness for times where it's just tricky to train or you just don't feel like it. The same goes if you have a harness with a front and a back clip. You can train your dog the loose lead skills on the front clip, and the back clip is for those times you can't train. I call it leisure mode and training mode.
What this allows you to do is practice your training and never undo the good stuff you have put in by allowing your dog to pull again. Because the point of contact on the dog is different, it feels different, so you never lose out.
All Dogs Can Learn to Walk Nicely on a Lead
From a puppy to a long-time puller, all dogs can learn to walk nicely on a lead. Yes, some will take longer than others, but you will be super pleased with the time and effort you put in to make that walk with your best friend ever more enjoyable.
Remember to start in a non-exciting area, keep your training sessions short, use high-value treats, and pick your reinforcement position. Be consistent with your training, and remember that progress takes time. Use a harness with a front and back attachment or a collar and harness for those tough training days, and never give up!
By following these tips, you will be able to enjoy long, relaxing walks with your furry companion. No more pulling, no more stress, and no more frustration. You've got this!