One of the most common complaints I hear from my clients is “my dog is terrible walking on a leash!” This is a BIG problem. It often makes walking your dog such a miserable experience that eventually the dog doesn’t get walked at all. This is hugely detrimental to the dog, both physically and behaviorally, not to mention what it does to the dog-human relationship. Our dogs need to be walked outside every day. Exercise requirements vary from dog to dog but walking is not only for fulfilling that exercise requirement, it is also for basic stimulation – your dog needs to sniff, see people, places and things in order to be happy!
There are some basic steps to getting your dog to walk on a loose leash but before I get to those steps, here are some points you need in order for the steps to work…
1. You need some way to get your dog’s attention. I teach a “look” command to my clients but there are other ways too… maybe you say their name, use a “tsssk” sound, slap your thigh etc..
2. When you are beginning, think of your walks as “training” time not as your dog’s daily exercise. Do something else to get his exercise requirement fulfilled. If nothing else, throw a ball for 10 minutes before you attempt to start leash walking.
3. Keep your walks short at the beginning and don’t expect to get very far very fast. You will be stopping and starting often.
4. Socializing and experiencing the world around him (sights, sounds and smells) are important too. Have time for this as well as structured time to practice leash manners. My basic rule is: if you are moving, your dog is on a short leash and moving with you. Your dog is allowed to explore once you have stopped moving. I’ll even put it on cue for some dogs; I stop walking then, “ok, go sniff”.
5. Keep your dog on a short leash. You want him close enough to get his attention and close enough that you could step in front of him and block him with your body.
6. Bring high value treats with you every time you go out for a walk. You may need them to get his attention and for desensitizing him to unfamiliar or “scary” stimuli.
7. You must be watching your dog and giving him your full attention when working on leash manners; you cannot talk/text on a cell phone and train your dog at the same time!
Ok, now we are ready to walk! Here are the steps to stop pulling on the leash:
1. STOP – When your dog pulls simply stop your body, no verbal command. Most dogs will not hang out there too long, instead they will turn and look at you with the “hey, why aren’t we moving” look. If they look at you at that point skip to step 3 if not…
2. GET YOUR DOG’S ATTENTION - “look”, “tsst, tsst”, slap your thigh, call his name etc. Wave a treat in front of his face if all else fails!
3. PRAISE him for paying attention to you. When he looks at you give him a “good!”
4. RELEASE - at this point you can simply start walking again. His reward for not pulling and paying attention to you is that he gets to start walking again. To move forward say your release word (mine is “ok”) and a proceed command such as “let’s go.”
Hang in there, be patient and stop, start, stop, start, stop, start. It will happen and the rewards are HUGE for everyone involved!
Danette Johnston, a Licensed Veterinary Technician in the state of Washington and a Certified Pet Dog Trainer , owns and operates Dog’s Day Out, a dog training and day care facility in Seattle. She has published articles on dog day care and dog-on-dog interactions for The Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). She has lectured on dog behavior to Veterinary Technicians and students at the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians conference. Danette is also a Licensed Canine Good Citizen evaluator for the AKC and has worked as a Delta Society Pet Partner’s (animal assisted therapy) Instructor and Team (with her dear departed dog Georgia). She shares her home with two cats, one dog, a preschooler and a very tolerant husband. Connect with her on Twitter at @DDOSeattle and http://www.facebook.com/DDOSeattle.