Walking on the leash is a skill that dogs must learn through training. Many owners are not aware of this fact, and instead, assume that their dog naturally knows how to walk on the leash. This is not the case.
Read on to learn why you should teach your dog leash walking skills, understand why your dog pulls on the leash, and learn how to teach your dog to walk with you rather than ahead of you on the leash.
Why train your dog in leash walking skills?
Walking, sniffing, and exploring is in your dog’s nature. They need it for their overall well-being and happiness. When you’re outside, your dog’s excitement kicks in. Everything is interesting and needs to be explored.
If your dog does not know better, they will keep pulling towards all kind of things that they want to explore throughout their walk. Moreover, your dog might stop at every tree, bush, or pole that you pass to sniff or pee, which can become somewhat of an ordeal for you.
You will become quickly exhausted from being pulled by your dog as well as by trying to pull your dog away from every object in their sight., Your dog won’t be fulfilled either as they will be constantly dragged away. Your daily walk can start to resemble something more like an ‘annoying to-do task’. Moreover, if your dog pulls strongly on the leash this can be damaging to their necks.
When your dog is leash trained, walks will turn into quality time for you and your dog. You will both get exercise and enjoyment. Your dog will learn that it is important to pay attention to you and where you are going, and that it’s you who assigns time for sniffing.
Understand why your dog pulls
Dogs generally travel at a faster pace than humans. Dogs are also curious about everything. Going outside, sniffing different scents, and exploring nature is what they love. Walking slowly in a parallel line next to someone else simply goes against their nature.
Nonetheless, it is important for both of you that your dog is properly leash trained. Your dog will get their sniffling time, but you should decide when that happens. Dogs are very smart, and they have proved that they can adapt to all kind of situations. So be patient and consistent and your dog will learn.
Preparation – What you need
How you can train your dog
There is quite some variation regarding how to train your dog to walk on the leash without pulling behaviours. Ultimately, all of the training strategies aim to reward good behaviour, and never punish dogs for bad behaviour by doing things such as yanking harshly on the leash.
Some dogs learn how to walk nicely on the leash quite quickly. Just a few repetitions of the below-described training methodology will be all that is necessary. Some dogs, especially diehard pullers that have a habit of constant pulling might require more of your patience, but with a little practice and consistency, all dogs will learn it eventually.
Be aware that teaching your dog to walk nicely on the leash means taking baby-steps. Be patient and your training will pay off.
Starting the training
To begin with, take your dog to a familiar place with as little distraction as possible. This can be your yard, garage, or inside your house. You need enough room to be able to walk in straight lines and circles.
Don’t take your dog to an exciting new place and expect them to learn something new with so many potential distractions.
Get their attention
The first step is to get your dog’s attention. You want eye contact. You don’t want any tension on the leash at all. Make it clear that you, and therefore your dog, won’t move an inch until you have their full attention. You can achieve this with a treat. When you have their attention, reward them with a small piece of the food and say something like “yes”.
Keep your dog’s attention and walk
Start walking with your dog’s attention focused on you. The key is to consistently bring their attention back to you whenever your dog is about to walk ahead. Don’t wait until your dog pulls, but instead bring their attention back to you before they even try to pull ahead. Do so by putting your hand in front of their face and move it away towards yourself. Your dog’s eyes will follow your hand until they are looking at you again. If this doesn’t happen, repeat the same hand movement. If your dog’s attention just won’t go back to you, stand in front of the distraction to block it out of their view. Your dog won’t have any choice but to draw their attention back to you.
As a reminder, don’t move again until you have your dog’s full attention.
Reward heavily for small successes
In the beginning, it’s a success even if your dog just walks with you for 1 to 2 steps rather than ahead of you. Reward your dog for these small achievements with the treat, accompanied by the word “yes”. Repeat this exercise over and over. They will eventually notice what you want from them and will do it more often.
If your dog tends to jump on you, try to ignore this behaviour and withhold the treat until he or she stops. Teach your dog one thing at a time and for now, you just want your dog to walk on a slack leash.
Time to go outside
When your dog starts to make progress in familiar surroundings, it’s time to go outside and practice walking on the street. There will be many things that excite and distracts your dog, but your job is to always get their attention back to you by repeating the steps above. Remember to be generous with food rewards at the start and always reward your dog followed for the correct behaviour by saying “yes”. Practise this again and again.
Increase the level of difficulty
Gradually increase the difficulty by changing direction. Do not tug on the leash when doing so, but instead grab and keep their attention with your hand so your dog is mentally with you.
After a while, your dog will start to walk with you more and more rather than ahead of you. You can then start to reduce the number of times that you reward them with food. In time, the reward for your dog will be to walk without constant disruptions. That is, your dog will simply be pleased that you are not constantly in their sight trying to grab their attention!
Don’t forget to give your dog time to do what they love, which is sniffing. Use a command like “go sniff”, to let them know when it's ok with you. When it’s time to move on, use a command like “let’s go” to let your dog know that sniffing time is over for now and that you need their attention back.
Practice is key. Your dog will need a couple of weeks until he or she has internalized this behaviour. Be consistent during this time and you will see that the training will l pay off. You and your dog will enjoy walking time together far more for years to come.
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