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Training Tips: Leash Walking

Does the above scene look familiar? Pulling on the leash is a very common and very frustrating dog behaviour! I will help you with some tips to manage and train your dog to walk nicely on the leash. It should be made clear that these tips are for training a dog to walk politely on a leash – not to heel. Heeling is a formal exercise where the dog walks precisely beside you at full attention and is very difficult to train. Polite walking is teaching the dog not to pull on the lead whatever length leash they are walking on. It effectively teaches them that pressure from the leash = slow down!

1. Switch from a collar to a harness. If your dog pulls and you are walking them on any type of neck collar you should immediately switch to walking your dog in a harness. There are a few reasons for this, one is that your dog constantly pulling on their throat can cause major damage to their trachea. The other is that often switching to a harness will solve the pulling problem. A dog pulls against a collar as a reflex in order to keep their balance. Switching to a harnesses eliminates this problem and in some dog will stop pulling completely.

2. Play Red Light/Green Light. Red Light Green Light is a simple “game” you can play with your dog that positively and clearly communicates to him that pulling on the leash will not get him where he wants to go! Dogs pull because they are excited and we follow. We must commit to teaching our dogs that pulling = not going anywhere. Red Light Green light works as follows: When the dog is walking nicely with a loose leash we move forward. If the dog begins to pull at any time we stop. Then, wait for the dog to turn back and check in with you. At this point say a quick “good dog” and continue walking. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. It will take a bit for the dog to “get it”, but after the initial burst of stopping you should only have to do it occasionally. You should get results quickly if you are consistent and patient. You are asking a huge amount of self control from your dog for this! If the dog has an established pulling problem, you may have to up the ante by actually turning your dog in the opposite direction and walking for several feet. You should give your dog a head’s up before you turn by something like saying “Oops!” when he starts to pull. It’s important not to turn so sharply that you jolt him harshly. The idea is not to hurt him, but to show him that pulling is not desired and not only will it not get him where he wants, but he’ll have to move away from it!

3. Practice Good Management. There will ultimately be times when you just don’t feel like playing Red Light, Green Light with your dog. Leash training will take some time and it requires patience and ultimate consistency on our part. That means we must commit to never allowing pulling on the leash to get the dog where they want to go even if we are just walking down the driveway. For the times when you just don’t feel like training and would like to just have a plain old leisurely walk your dog I recommend using an anti-pull device. I prefer a no-pull harness (one that attaches on the front only) but some dogs do well with head halters. These go over the dog’s nose, and around the back of the head (like a horse halter) and the leash connects under the dog’s chin. These usually work very well however it may take a bit of work to get your dog used to it and it is important you never yank them as it can cause neck injury. No pull harnesses (Sense-ation, Freedom, Walk in Synch) where the lead clips on at the dog’s chest are my preferred choice great choice. Dogs adapt instantly to these, unlike a head harness, and these drastically reduce pulling or eliminate it completely. They work by simple physics – when the dog tries to pull, their body turns around towards you. Pulling is basically impossible. Please note these are management tools and will not actually train your dog how to walk politely. They are, however, useful in instances when you can’t commit to training.

4. Treat the Sweet Spot! While your dog is undergoing training I recommend in addition to playing Red Light, Green Light you also arm yourself with a bag of small, tasty treats and a clicker if you can handle one. If you do not have a clicker or do not wish to use one I recommend using a happy, fast “Yes! or Good!” to mark good behavior prior to delivering his treat. This will make it more clear to the dog exactly what he is getting the treat for. Click (or say yes) and give your pooch a treat when your dog is in what I like to call the “sweet spot”. This is your heel position – right beside you. You should find that when the dog starts to get rewarded for sticking right beside you he will start to walk beside you more and more. Keep clicking and treating. You will want to do this steady for quite a while, then you can begin to wait for the dog to walk several steps in the “Sweet Spot” before you click and treat. Continue working on this and your dog should eventually not only not pull, but will spend longer and longer periods of walking right beside you.

Until next time, be kind to your dog and happy walking!