January is National Walk Your Dog Month, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about loose leash walking. A basic, but sometimes elusive behavior.
We love being on the go with our dogs at all times, but some owners encounter a frustrating problem with pulling. So as much as we want our best friend to go everywhere with us, sometimes they simply don’t because we also value our arm remaining in it’s socket.
Why do dogs pull?
Simply put, most dogs pull because being outside is exciting. Being out for a walk is typically a stimulating and exciting part of their day and our feeble human legs don’t move fast enough to keep up with all the smells and excitement.
Leashes are a vital safety tool for our dogs, but they can be frustrating for our dogs. Being tethered to a person basically prevents a dog from being able to act natural.
You know, sniff - sniff - piddle - stare longingly into the distance - zig - zag - zag - sniff - piddle…
Our dog’s idea of a walk is simply different than ours. Walking in a straight line on a paved sidewalk is drastically less fun then the bushes, gutter, neighbors lawn, etc.
That being said, walks should ideally be enjoyable for everyone involved, so teaching your dog to walk on leash is important. A walk should, in a way, be a bit like structured exercise.
Things to remember
It’s only fair that if you’re asking your dog to curb his enthusiasm of basic behaviors, that you’re present and connected with him during the walk.
::cough:: put the phone away ::cough::
You should be ready and able to respond when your dog offers both good and unwanted behaviors. Which brings us to the next tip…
Never under-estimated the power of a pocket full of food. Even when your dog knows the rules of a walk, it’s always great to randomly reward and reinforce good behavior. It doesn’t take much effort and it will help you maintain great leash behavior for years to come.
Sniffing isn't the devil’s work
When you consider that on a basic walk, very few dogs get adequate physical exercise from an on-leash walk (humans are far too slow for that), we should understand what our dog is getting from the walk.
- Some form/amount of physical exercise
- Time outdoors (don’t underestimate sunshine and fresh air)
- Bonding time with you
- Mental stimulation
We shouldn’t ban our dogs from sniffing, after all it’s a natural behavior. Always trying to stop our dogs from sniffing could actually increase his desire to sniff. So it’s important to let your dog know that you’re not a barrier to this activity, simply a gateway. In other words, teach your dog that sniffing is ok, but only when allowed and if you’re called away it’s time to go.
Loose Leash Training Techniques
Coming to a stop
Pulling becomes a habit for most dogs because they find it’s often successful.
“I want to sniff that pole”
“Yessss… totally worth it, this pole is amazing”
You’re inadvertently reinforcing their behavior. Pulling = getting what they want [the reward]
So a great way to teach a dog to stop pulling is to change the consequences of pulling.
- Whenever your dog pulls, immediately stop and stand still until the leash relaxes (usually when the dog takes a step back or turns to give you his focus).
- Once the leash is relaxed, reward your dog and proceed.
- Repeat until his little doggy brain is rewired
- When your dog pulls, give him a verbal cue (like “let’s go”), turn away from him and walk off in a different direction.
- You can motivate him to come with you with treats or if you’re comfortable with who you are as a person, you can use a fun and exciting voice that your dog loves, but bystanders find extremely weird.
- When your dog starts following you and the leash is relaxed, you can turn back and continue on your way.
This could take a few turns, but your verbal cues and body language will make it clear to your dog that pulling won’t be reinforced with forward movement, whereas walking calmly by your side (or slightly in front if you don't mind him doing so) on a loose leash will allow him to get to where he wants to go.
Shake things up
- Once your dog is listening to you, you can vary the picture by becoming more unpredictable. This will keep your dog attentive because he won’t know where you’re heading next.
- You can reverse direction and turn toward him, go in a circle, do a figure eight or anything else you can think of.
Like all training, this can take a bit of time, especially if your dogs been allowed to practice his pulling habit for long stretches of time. It’s all about repetition and rewarding your dog.
Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable or find it difficult to make progress, find a trainer! Cause while you might not find it very fun, your local dog trainer sure does. Their passion for it has made it their living. So do your due diligence, find a reputable trainer and be the owner your dog damn well deserves.