One of the greatest joys of being a pet parent is taking harmonious leash walks. However, if your dog tends to pull when put on a leash, taking your dog for a walk can be an extremely uncomfortable chore.
Is it possible to train your dog to walk on a leash without pulling you? Of course it is! Below, you will find tips on how you can train your dog to stay close by you when you take him out for a walk.
Starting Leash Training
Before you start to leash train your dog, make sure that you have purchased the equipment that will be comfortable for both you and your dog to use while walking. Make sure that you choose a flat collar that properly fits your dog- it should be snug, but still allow you to slide two fingers in.
You also want to make sure you’re using the right length leash. Typically, a good length is somewhere between four to six feet- this will give your dog the room he needs to do his business, but still short enough to keep him close enough to you to avoid danger. If you choose a leash that is shorter than four feet, it can be difficult for you dog to be able to do any exploring and do his business without taking you with him.
You want to consider the weight of the leash as well- avoid heavy leashes that might not be too comfy for small dogs. The leash clasp is also very important, as some of them can be unsnapped while walking if they’re hit just right.
You might want to consider using a harness instead of a collar. It’s a good idea to use a harness on small breeds- because after a while, pulling on a leash can cause the trachea to become damaged- and these breeds are already likely to experience collapse of their trachea later in life.
Besides making sure that you have the proper leash and collar, you also might want to consider carrying treats to have more pleasant walks. Before heading out, make sure that you have plenty of small, yummy treats. The point is to use the treats when your dog is doing what he is supposed to and not pulling.
The treats that you are using should be moist, meaty, and smell good. After all, the treats must sufficiently distract him from the distractions of the environment such as other dogs, squirrels, and anything else that he might find interesting.
Tips for Leash Training Your Dog
- The first thing you must understand is that good leash walking does not necessarily mean that your dog is kept in a strict heel, right by your side. While this type of walking is perfectly fine- and accepted- in a competition, there’s no reason for it on a leisurely walk with you. When you take your dog out for a walk, he should have the freedom to do his business and to also do some exploring of the area. A polite leash walk is pretty basic: the leash should be kept loose, your dog should walk close to you, and should check in with you every now and then.
- A polite walk begins as soon as you pick up the leash. If your dog is going crazy and being pushy when you’re getting ready to go out for a walk, lay the leash down and walk away until he calms down. This is very important for teaching your dog that engaging in unacceptable behavior makes you stop what you’re doing (heading out for a walk) and polite behavior will get you to continue. Repeat this process until your dog is able to be patient for you to clip on his leash and head out.
- Since you are going to be in competition with many different distractions while on your walk, it’s critical that you use a “marker” to indicate to your dog when he is where he’s supposed to be and will be getting a treat. A clicker is a great tool that makes a noise to indicate when your dog is doing what he should. In addition, you can use a specific word to acknowledge when your dog is being polite- just say the word or click the clicker and follow it with a treat. This creates a bridge between the word/click and the treat. When you do this enough, your dog will understand that when he hears the word/click, he’ll get rewarded. Make sure that you give your dog a treat in the same spot each and every time- such as on the right/left side of your body so that your dog will associate that as a “hot zone” to get rewarded.
- When you first start leash training with your dog, make sure that you’re generous with the treats- don’t expect him to be right next to you to get a reward. Simply walking close to you without pulling on the leash should be enough to warrant getting a treat during the early stages. In addition, make sure that you reward him when he looks up at you while walking. Focusing on you when in an environment full of distractions is a compliment, let him know how much you appreciate it with a tasty treat. Eventually, as your dog starts walking closer to you, start making him work a bit harder to earn a treat. For example, make him walk close to you longer before treating him and/or only give him a reward when he’s in your “hot zone.” Slowly wean down the treats until he’s only getting one occasionally instead of all the time.
Tips to Stop Your Dog from Pulling on the Leash
Your dog pulls on his leash because when he does, you follow him. The very first step in stopping your dog from pulling is to teach him that it does not work. When he starts pulling, you should stop walking. Of course, this means that you need to pay attention when you have your dog out for a walk- it can be easy to let your mind wander and not even realize that you’re being pulled.
When you do stop walking, chances are that your dog is going to do one of the following:
- Look back at you as if to ask: “Why are you stopping?”
- Ignore that you’ve stopped and keep pulling
If your dog does respond in the first way, mark his look with a click or a word and then encourage him to come back to you with a treat. Then, keep walking and try to mark him again for staying close to you as you walk.
If your dog does not stop and look back at you- give what is known as a “penalty yard”, which is a gentle punishment that shows your dog that when he’s pulling, he’s actually getting farther from his goal. Therefore, walk backwards with him without jerking him until he focuses on you- this should only require a few steps.
When he does stop and look at you, mark his look with your clicker or word and give him his reward in your “hot zone.” If your dog is pulling toward something such as a food wrapper, you may have to do this a few times before he realizes that pulling you is not going to work. After a few times, you should only have to do one single “penalty” step and your dog will return to you.
Teaching your dog to walk politely requires that you also stay focused and to be ready to work when you take him out. When it comes to walking, there’s no difference between a “training” walk and a “regular” walk.
Every single time you take your dog out for a walk, he’s learning a lesson. As long as you are patient, and spend time with him (and bring plenty of treats), you can easily train him how to walk without pulling.
Safety/Etiquette for Walking on a Leash
While it may be true that a flexible leash gives your dog a little bit of freedom, it can actually be quite dangerous for you and your dog. The thin rope/pulling mechanism can result in rope burn/other injuries and can also give your dog more freedom to misbehave because he’s able to get farther away from you. In addition, the flexible leashes are known for malfunctioning, sometimes getting stuck at full length, which is a problem if you need to reel him back in.
Even if your dog is the goodwill ambassador for the neighborhood, don’t allow him to rush up on people or other dogs that he is not familiar with. After all, not all dogs are tolerant of dogs at a close range- this can lead to scuffles. You should always ask the other owner if it’s okay to approach and if they say no, you must respect their wishes.
Finally, when you go for a walk, don’t forget to bring along bags with you. Keep in mind that dog waste is considered a contaminant and no one wants to accidentally step in your dog’s poop because you failed to clean it up.