If you’ve owned dogs, you’ve probably realized how persistent pulling on leash can be. Dogs aren’t naturally inclined to walk at a consistent, moderate pace the way we are; they like to stop and sniff, or charge toward interesting things.
Additionally, every step your dog takes toward something he wants while he’s pulling on the leash teaches him that pulling gets him closer to what he wants. Given these challenges, convincing our dogs to walk like we do takes quite a bit of training. In order to accomplish this training, you need to teach your dog:
- what he CAN and SHOULD do to get where he wants to go, and;
- that pulling on the leash will NOT get him where he wants to go.
Addressing the first lesson requires that you stop in your tracks any and every time your dog pulls on the leash, and proceed only when he looks at or moves back toward you (when there is slack in the leash). In order to give your dog a viable alternative to pulling, you need to show him that staying near you pays off. In the beginning, this may mean rewarding your dog with a treat every other step. It’s helpful to use a clicker for this portion of the training if you’re comfortable doing so. You will also need to begin with as few distractions as possible (you may even want to start by practicing inside your house). From there, you can gradually decrease the frequency of the rewards and later, increase the level of distraction. If there is a particular object your dog wants to investigate, access to that object may be an even more powerful reward than a treat. In this case, when your dog is walking nicely along with you, say, “okay!” and usher him over to the object of interest.
You now have an understanding of the basic principles of loose-leash training. However, there are innumerable variations on the theme, some of which may work better for your dog than this very basic plan. Furthermore, it’s tough to get the hang of loose-leash training without seeing it in practice. So be sure to check out some of the videos listed at the end of this article.
Leash training can be somewhat monotonous and logistically challenging. In the end, though, all it takes is a few deep breaths and some consistency and before you know it taking your dog out will be a walk in the park!
Further Reading and Viewing Suggestions
Disclaimer – I do not recommend letting your dog off leash on the street at any time. I do not recommend letting your dog off leash under any circumstances unless he is properly socialized and until he has had extensive and successful recall training.
Guest Contributor–Danielle Grand has spent the last decade working to parlay her affinity for animals into a dog training career. While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was involved in an experimental study on canine cognition. She has also obtained her dog training certification from Animal Behavior College and attended numerous dog training seminars conducted by respected behaviorists. At home in New York’s capital region, she works closely with colleagues and mentors to expand her expertise; she hopes to help forge strong, happy relationships between many dogs and their humans.