Loose leash walking

Doggie Dialogues
By Doris Dressler, CPDT-KA

  DorisDressler
  Doris Dressler

Canadian-American chemist and author O.A. Battista once observed “a dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.”

For many dog owners, though, walking the dog can be a nightmare. Dogs walk faster than we do and their exuberance in being outdoors often results in owners being yanked and pulled along.
It’s easy to forget dogs are not born knowing how to walk nicely on a leash; dogs need to be taught this skill.

So, how do you teach your dog to walk nicely on leash? There are probably as many variations to teaching this skill as there are dog trainers.

Because most of my clients are pet dog owners, I prefer teaching loose leash walking as opposed to an obedience heel.

In an obedience heel, the dog stays on the handler’s left side in a straight line next to the handler’s knee. With loose leash walking, the dog is allowed more freedom in where he is positioned. My definition of loose leash walking is as long as the leash is loose, anything goes (well, almost anything).

  Doggie Dialogues
  Shelley Johnson-Garstin keeps the leash loose as she walks backwards, facing Cocoa, a Big Canoe Animal Rescue resident.

Loose leash walking groundwork

  • Start by walking backwards, with your dog facing you. The point of this is to teach the dog to pay attention and understand the walk involves both of you.
  • Walk backwards for a minute or so, rewarding your dog with high-value food rewards such as hot dogs, cheese or Bil-Jac treats. Do not allow the dog to jump up to get the treat; reward at dog level or drop the treats on the ground.
  • Next, pivot to your right and walk sideways next to your dog; it’s OK to continue rewarding with treats.
  • After a few seconds, pivot again, so you now are facing the same direction as your dog.
  • Take only one step forward, then stop and ask your dog to sit. Praise your dog verbally (no treat) and either release or repeat the exercise. The dog should only be treated when actually walking on a loose leash.
  • Repeat the exercise but, once you are facing the same direction as your dog, take two steps forward and then stop and have your dog sit. Repeat and, when you are facing the same direction as your dog, take three steps forward. You get the drill: Slowly build up the number of steps you move forward each time you perform this exercise.
  • Keep your initial training sessions to five or 10 minutes, and repeat twice a day.
  Doggie Dialogues
  Shelley pivots and walks sideways next to Cocoa.

What next?
Once your dog “gets it,” what do you do if your dog does pull toward something and the leash tightens up?

  • The instant the leash gets tight, stop and stand still.
  • Wait until your dog (at some point) turns around to see why you’re not moving. The leash will loosen up slightly when this happens.
  • Call your dog back to you and continue walking forward. What we’re teaching the dog is if the leash goes tight, the walk stops. If the leash is loose, the walk continues.
  • If the dog hesitates, move backwards (be lively and interesting) and slap your thigh while calling your dog in a happy, high-pitched tone; reward with a food treat. Now the walk can continue.
  • If you’re having difficulty, go back and repeat the groundwork steps.
  Doggie Dialogues
  Shelley pivots and walks sideways next to Cocoa.

Helpful hints

  • Be sure to start your walk with a calm and tired dog. Work the edge off with a rousing game of catch or Frisbee before starting out.
  • Establish manners before the walk. Have your dog sit and stay at the door before leaving the house. If your dog goes crazy when he sees the leash, you are starting your walk with an out-of-control animal.
  • Be consistent. If the dog is allowed to pull on occasion, he always will continue to attempt to pull. This may mean using a product, such as a head halter, when you do not have time to train.

And speaking of not having time to train, the reality is many do not have time to train. Next month, we’ll talk about some training tools to help with pulling.

Happy training!

 

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