This is the second blog in a series of four that we will be posting each week in January for Train Your Dog Month. In case you missed it, be sure to check out the first blog, Breaking Bad Habits in Dogs. Read through to see what other behaviors Adopt & Shop trainer and pet safety coordinator Jessica J. will be covering this month!
There are many reasons why dogs pull on leashes, with the biggest reason being that they are simply excited! Dogs need to get out of the house on a regular basis in order to get exercise and to stimulate their minds. Going for walks also gives them opportunities for socialization and to familiarize themselves with their neighborhood, essentially creating a visual and a scent-based map in their mind so they can find home if they ever get lost.
Alas, leash walking is not always the peaceful romp through nature with birds singing, a cool breeze passing through the trees and little Fluffy bouncing happily at our side. It is not always what we imagine it will be when we first decide to get a dog. Our dreams are short lived when we discover what we thought would be a pleasant, peaceful walk turns into a 30 minute stress-filled game of tug-o-war through the gauntlet that is our neighborhood.
Leash pulling might be something you can tolerate if you have a small dog, but leash pulling from a large breed dog like a Husky or Great Dane? Well, walking dogs that big and strong could result in an emergency room visit, with doctors working diligently to reattach your arm back to your body! Ha ha, okay, your walks may not be THAT serious, but leash pulling is still a very rude dog behavior and one that definitely could result in injury if your dog pulls you over and drags you down the street.
So with that said, let’s put a stop to all of that annoying leash pulling, shall we?
Remember last week’s blog where I talked about recognizing what types of behaviors you may inadvertently be rewarding? I hate to break it to you, but if your dog pulls and pulls and you follow your dog over to where he wants to go, you have just taught him that if he pulls you hard enough then eventually you will give in and let them have what they want. Therefore, the golden rule for loose leash walking is: IF YOUR DOG PULLS, HE DOES NOT GET TO GO WHERE HE WANTS TO GO. Moving forward is the reward for walking without pulling, so your dog will only get to continue the walk when there is no tension on the leash what-so-ever.
Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash
- First, begin by walking by controlling the length of the leash with your left hand and looping the handle around your right wrist for safety.
- In a happy tone of voice, tell your dog “Let’s Go!” and start walking. Keep your left arm down by your side. You should not be holding your left arm up causing tension on the leash.
- If your dog rushes forward and pulls, IMMEDIATELY stop walking (even if you are in mid-stride) and do not move an inch until your dog comes back to you and the tension goes away. The SPLIT SECOND that tension disappears, continue your walk.
- Timing is everything when it comes to loose leash walking, so when you first start out your walk may look something like this: Take 2 steps-STOP-GO- take 3 steps-STOP-GO- take 1 step-STOP-GO-STOP-GO- take 5 steps-STOP-GO and so on and so forth. Even if it takes you 30 minutes to walk 50 steps, remain consistent with your leash training and your dog will catch on to the game.
- If you are waiting for a long time and your dog does nothing to relieve the tension, turn around and walk in the opposite direction, tapping your thigh and encouraging your dog to come with you. Praise when they follow and the tension disappears.
- You can even use treats to reward your dog when they come back to walk nicely at your side!
Walking on a leash is not difficult to teach, but it does require consistency. Therefore, when you start leash training it is important that you follow the training every single time you put the leash on. If you have to be somewhere in a hurry, leave for your walk early to ensure that enough time is allowed to reinforce the training. Even if it takes you half an hour to complete what should be a short walk, invest the time and do it right. Dogs are smart creatures and they are always going to test their limits when you first start to teach a new command. If you yield to them, they will learn that they can get what they want if they push you hard enough. So be clear and consistent in what you are asking them to do.
What if my dog only pulls when he sees people or other dogs?
If your dog pulls and also lunges or barks at them, he may be showing signs of Leash Aggression, which stems from being under-socialized. Socializing your dog is an extremely important and essential part of raising a well-rounded and mentally healthy dog, so you should consult a professional trainer about how to safely socialize your dog if they are already showing signs of aggression. If you have a puppy or a dog who just gets excited in the presence of other people or dogs and pulls on the leash to greet them, simply turn and walk your dog in the opposite direction until they discontinue pulling and their attention is back on you. When you have their attention again, you can turn back around and continue walking in your original path again. If the dog resumes pulling, turn around and repeat the process, essentially playing “Doggie Yo-Yo”. This teaches your dog that the more he carries on and behaves inappropriately, the further away he gets from what he wants, and the better behaved he is, the closer he gets!
Tips to Improve Your Walks
- Avoid jerking the leash as punishment or correction.
- Make sure the collar is fitted properly. It should be tight enough so that you can only slip 2 fingers underneath it (not 3 or 4 or your whole hand).
- Keep a hold of the leash at all times.
- Keep your energy calm and neutral, praise your dog when they are walking nicely.
- If you feel uncomfortable with your dog meeting strangers, it’s OK to tell them you would prefer they not meet your dog right now.
- Keep your training sessions positive and fun!
With consistent hard work, you and your dog should be walking in sync in no time! Once your dog is walking nicely on the leash, I encourage you to start opening up your dog’s world by taking them to new places and introducing them to as many people and dogs as you can. A dog that is exposed to the world they live in will be a more confident, emotionally healthy and happy dog in the long run.
Stay tuned for next week’s article in our Breaking Bad Behavior series on Nuisance Jumping!
What common “bad” dog behaviors would you like to know more about? Leave a comment below!