Loose Leash Walking
Teaching your dog to walk next to you without pulling is by far the most challenging behavior that most canine owners will attempt to teach their dog. All creatures have opposition reflex, typically pulling starts because the dog becomes excited and wants to go investigate. Humans pull back, dog pulls harder and so on. Dogs are quadrupeds, if you pull on the neck or any harness that connects to the back you take weight off their front feet, their natural reaction will be to get low and push forward to rebalance. Teaching your dog what you want them to do rather than becoming frustrated when they pull and building clear communication will change your relationship on leash. If you want your dog to walk politely passed distractions on lead, you must show them how to do it first.
*HINT: If you want to work outside, a large concrete area like a parking lot will be less distracting than a smelly grassy field.
Method 1: The Lure.
Pick a side and a word so you can start building consistency. Most people use “heel” or “right here” and chose to walk the dog on the left hand side. This will make it easier for the dog in the beginning if you are consistent. Dogs recognize body language. Play the Play Bow Game, where you bend at the waist, lower your shoulders and move backwards. Have some delicious treats ready and reward your dog for following you.
I use “YES!” as my reward marker every time I treat the dog. When the dog understands the game is follow me you will simply turn your shoulder as the dog gets close and treat them when they arrive next to you. *HINT: If you are trying to work on the left hand side, turn your right shoulder away from the dog and have a treat waiting in the left hand and reward “YES!” when the dog arrives at your side.
In the beginning you will just walk backwards encouraging your dog to follow then turn your shoulder and point to which side you would like your dog to join you on, hold the treat up on your chest telling him “good heel” for a few steps then reward. After the reward, begin moving backwards in the opposite direction, lure your dog into position and reward!
The better your dog gets at this the further you can walk in a straight path. You are building a rewarding default position just like you taught your dog to Sit for your signal or cue.
Method 2: Stop n Go.
This is effective but takes a lot of time and patience. Simply put it is a game of “Red Light, Green Light”. If the leash is loose you walk and encourage with praise. If the leash is tight you stop and wait patiently. Great exercise for children but adults seem to loose patience and pull on the leash. If pulling on the leash never works your dog would not do it.
Method 3: Turns
Best to start with a few of the lure exercises above until the dog has an idea what is expected. Turns is the most simple way to work your dog around distractions and can be done without the use of food rewards or harsh consequences. It is simple really, if your dog pulls you will change directions. *HINT: If I am going to have any tension on the leash I want to first lower my hand holding the leash so it is lower than the head of the dog and pulling the dog so that the leash pressure is either on the side or back of the neck to avoid pressure on their soft little tracheas.
Avoid picking a destination on your walk. Walking in a straight line will lead to pulling ahead. Start simply on your block in front of your home. Walk forward, pointing to the side you want your dog on, praise him for walking next to you. Anticipate he will pull ahead, when he does, calmly say no, turn and go another direction. If every time the dog pulls forward you turn and go the opposite direction he will be forced to pay attention to you. Remember to praise him calmly when he is walking on a loose leash next to you. The better he does the further he goes. The first day you may not leave your block depending on how hard it is to walk your dog and keep the leash loose.
Doing this 3 times a day for 5 minutes a day will build healthy behavior patterns and make it more likely that your dog will know what is expected of him on leash. As he progresses you will add distractions like toys and food piles to walk past.
HINT: Use games with toys inside or play with a dog as exercise and use leash walks as training until your dog is proficient enough to go for long exercise based walks. The more consistent you are the easier it will be for your dog to be successful.
Good Dog Training, 2010.