The Considerate Canine: Leash Walks 101
The Problem: How do you train a virtually untrainable 9 year old to walk on a leash? -Angela Guerry-Charters
I wish we could chat so I could ask a lot of questions about your dog. You haven’t told us what he does on leash: does he pull, refuse to walk, bark and lunge at other dogs?
So -- I’m going to make the assumption that he pulls like crazy, since that is the most common complaint that I hear.
In your dog’s defense, walking politely on a leash must be fairly strange. If you watch dogs walking about off leash, they tend to move in different directions at varying speeds, as the mood strikes. Many dogs are led about by their noses while walking, going from interesting smell to smell. Others are constantly watching the environment for interesting things to chase and investigate -- squirrels and cats come to mind. Rarely do you see a dog, off leash, just walking in a straight line, at a steady pace, ignoring everything around him.
With dedication and training, we can help our dogs learn to walk with us and have fun doing so. After all, what is better than a nice walk with our best friend at the end of the day?
That said, at 9 years of age, your dog has a LONG history of walking his way. So patience is the first and most important ingredient. The second is your commitment NEVER to move forward when your dog is pulling. It is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, your desired 30 minute walk around the neighborhood may turn into a walk up and down the driveway, for several days. Remember, every time your dog drags you forward, he is being rewarded for pulling. But, if you are consistent, have the proper equipment, and dedication to the process, you can have a great walking companion.
Let’s talk about equipment. A front connect harness, my favorite is the Sensation Harness) or a head harness, such as a Gentle Leader. Both of these products will give you more control over your dog’s body. The front connection harness turns the dog’s shoulders back towards you when he pulls. The Gentle Leader turns the dog’s head toward you, much like a halter on a horse. If you choose a Gentle Leader, you will need to introduce your dog to it, in a positive way, before using it on walks. The harness and Gentle Leader will keep pressure off of your dog’s neck, and they are gentle, humane and effective. You will also need a 6’ leash that is a comfortable fit for your hand. Please, no flexi-leashes, which actually encourage a dog to pull. No choke chains, prong collars or shock collars, please. After all, the goal is to help your dog learn to walk politely and enjoy it.
The next ingredient is to walk/train when you are not stressed or in a hurry to dash off to work.
In most cases the tone of the walk begins before you ever leave the house. Have your dog sit for the leash to be connected. If he can’t restrain his enthusiasm for the walk and jumps about, put the leash away, leave the room for a few seconds, return and try again. Only attach the leash and prepare to exit the house when he is calm. If he is really amped up, try walking in the house for a few days to help him become comfortable with the leash. There are fewer distractions inside.
Now that you have made it outside, things get a little harder. It seems to be human to pay attention only when the dog is making a mistake. It is your job to pay attention to him and let him know when he is right by praising him or giving him some type of reward. When he makes a mistake, your response must occur before he is at the end of the leash, pulling. You have several options and need to find the one that works best for you. The common denominator is to make a move BEFORE he is at the end of the leash, dragging you forward.
In all of the options below, you want to use your body language to help him move with you instead of relying on the leash. So keep the leash as loose as possible.
Option 1: the about turn:
If he begins to move ahead of you, simple say something like “oops” (to let him know he made a mistake), turn and walk in the opposite direction. Be sure that the leash is held low and loose so that you are not jerking him around. Be sure to take 20 to 30 steps to break his fixation on his goal. When he is in position with you, praise or give him a small treat and continue.
Option 2: back up (my favorite):
As he begins to move ahead of you, cue “oops” and start backing up. Again, the leash is low and loose. He must turn around and follow you (you have the leash). When he is at your side for a few steps, begin to move forward. Wait a few steps to praise or reward with a treat.
Option 3: stop and wait for him to realize that you aren’t moving (my least favorite).
Again, as he moves away from your side to pull, stop moving and wait for him to realize that the human part of the equation has disengaged. This works for some dogs, but requires a lot of patience to use successfully.
Some other thoughts.
- When he is walking where you want, reward him by increasing your speed or giving him a treat in position.
- Change direction often to keep him focused on his unpredictable human.
- Use a smear of peanut butter on a long kitchen spoon to reward him for being in the correct place.
- Reward for eye contact. If he is watching you, the odds are he is close to your side.
- Teach him to target your hand.
- Talk to him so that he can focus on your voice and position.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait until he is dragging you down the street to respond. Watch his body language and leash position and make your decision about what to do before he is dragging you.
- Make walks interesting. Stop and let him sniff or wander about for a few minutes. Just be sure to add a cue to sniff time.
Don’t give up! It is a wonderful thing to enjoy walking with your dog. The more he walks with you, the more rewarding it becomes for both of you.
Hope you have many wonderful walks in your future.
Cindy Carter, CPDT-KA
Mindful Manners Dog Training