For me above all else I need a dog that can walk politely on leash. I am not looking for a competition heel I am just looking for a loose leash and the dog to show some self-control. I want the dog to stay on one side of my body and not pull to sniff and or potty at every chance. This seems like a simple request but unfortunately most dog owners are giving their dogs the wrong idea about how to walk on leash. The dog pulls the owner follows, the dog stops to sniff the owner also stops. Instead of following our dogs around while they do what they want it’s up to us to show them that in order to get what they want (sniff, walk forward etc.) they have to follow a set of rules.
First, as the owner you MUST stop when the leash goes tight. If you don’t do this, your dog is going to continue to pull because it works. I am not saying to stop and yank the dog back, this will only make poor Fido confused. Just simply plant your feet, when the dog gets to the end of the leash, wait for the leash to be loose and then continue walking. I recommend getting a hands free leash. I use the “Buddy System” but it’s up to you what product you purchase. I find that by having the leash around my waist it makes it easier for the dog to understand the boundaries of the leash. This way when the dog gets to the end of the leash I am not extending my arm to give them another foot and giving them the wrong idea.
Second, you mustn’t stop when the dog decides its time to do whatever. The dog should have ample time to potty before your walk begins, that way there is no compromising. If you live in an apartment where you use walks to let the dog potty that is fine but give them time to do their business before you start on your walk. The same rules apply to potty breaks if the dog is on leash. In order to go potty they have to walk with a loose leash. We want to use the fact that ours dogs want to sniff to our advantage and use it as a real life reward. The dog can walk politely on the leash without tugging for a block then I would say he or she has earned some sniffing time! The dog may stop and sniff but only when you decide it is okay. Try your best to keep walks interesting. Walk really fast and then turn and walk slowly the other direction. We want to keep our dogs interested, so if we are always changing things up we give our dogs motivation to stay with us.
Third, you cannot allow the dog to cris cross in front of you and behind you. For me this is a hazard. We live in the wonderful state of Colorado, which has icy conditions a lot of the year. Decide if you’d like the dog to walk on the right side or the left side and then keep the dog on that side. I love using hand targeting (nose touch). So if the dog is crossing you, use the hand target to get them back on the side you want them on and then continue walking. I am not saying you can’t switch the side the dog is on but once again, it needs to be on your cue not just because the dog feels like being on the other side.
Fourth and most important, you must reinforce behavior that you like! Load your treat pouch up with yummy morsels and reinforce the dog for walking next to you instead of in front of you. Be present on your walk and recognize when your dog chooses not to lunge after a squirrel but instead check in to see what you are doing. It’s all about the connection because after all you and your dog are out on a walk TOGETHER.
Fifth, if your dog tends to lunge and or bark at other dogs don’t fret it’s a common problem. What you need to look at is why the dog is barking and lunging. In my experience it is usually not aggression but more insecurity. I am a person who truly values personal space and it makes me feel uncomfortable when someone doesn’t respect that space. It’s the same for our dogs, if the dog has enough space they can focus on you instead of barking at another dog. So do your dog a favor and pay attention to how much space they need to feel comfortable. You aren’t bound to the sidewalk, if another dog and owner are approaching move into the street or yard so your dog can focus on you. If you feel over whelmed by your dog’s barking and lunging, contact a qualified positive reinforcement dog trainer to help you and your dog, chances are it wont take too long for your dog to realize that barking and lunging at other dogs isn’t nearly as much fun as paying attention to mom or dad and getting lots of yummy cookies.
Equipment can be a huge help in the beginning of teaching a dog to walk politely on leash. I highly recommend a “Walk in Sync Harness” as well as a “Gentle Leader”. I prefer a standard 6ft leash as well as the “Buddy System” I mentioned before. All of these tools are humane and safe. Tools that aim to use pain to stop a behavior can cause all kinds of long term problems so please stay away from choke chains, pinch collars, and shock collars. Do your self a favor and pick up a treat pouch at your local pet shop. There are times when you need the treats ASAP and a treat pouch will make your life easier, so that your not fumbling trying to get treats out of your coat pocket and miss the opportunity to reinforce desirable behavior.
So there you have it, some simple steps to take to have a dog that walks politely on leash. If you are over whelmed, don’t get frustrated, seek help from a professional ! For more information or training help please contact me! Rachel@agfdogtraining.com
Rachel Laurie, CPDT-KA
A Good Feeling Dog Training