We all want to bring our dogs out, let them experience the world outside of their fences. We want them to get exercise (and us too!), but often it’s the dog walking the person. How many times do you skip taking walks because it’s more of a tug of war than a relaxing experience?
Not only is this not fun, but it can be dangerous for both the dog and the owner. A dog that overpowers the person can pull the person into traffic, cause them to trip and fall. The dog that is not controlled can get into trouble with other dogs or get hit by a car themselves.
Training a dog to walk along side of you without pulling is easiest when the dog is young and ready to learn. But it can be taught to any dog, if the owner is patient enough. The focus is on teaching the dog to ignore distractions and listening and obeying the person on the other end of the leash.
Collar – a dog’s necklace
One of the first things to consider when walking a dog is what type of collar to use. If you think your dog may slip out of a regular flat buckle collar, you may want to consider using a Martingale Collar. These collars are a training tool, and they work well. The difference between the martingale collar and a regular flat buckle collar is that the martingale has a small area that tightens when the dog pulls. They do not tighten completely on the neck, so they do not hurt the dog, but they do prevent the dog from slipping out of the collar when fitted properly.
Once a dog is trained to walk loose leash, a traditional flat buckle collar should be used.
A New Leash on Life
Who thought there could be so many choices of leashes? If your dog is just learning to walk on a leash, or is a puller already, I would eliminate the retractable dog leash right away. These leashes are counterproductive to training. You don’t have the dog close enough to correct him, he has so much freedom that he doesn’t have to pay attention to you, and generally the dog will still pull to the extent of his freedom.
Other than that, any leash will do. I suggest a 6-foot leash because it gives enough room for the dog to be able to explore and still stay within close enough contact with you. Leashes come in all sorts of materials, and what you use should be based on the size of the dog. Don’t use a heavy chain leash on a Pomeranian and don’t use a thin nylon leash on a German Shepard! Here is an example of a flat buckle collar
Using a leash that is the same length every time also benefits training because the dog will get used to just how much freedom he has. If you use a retractable leash, it gets very confusing to the dog to know his limits as they are constantly changing.
If you are working with a puppy that you just brought home, connect the leash to the collar and play with him in the house. Let him get used to the leash in a positive setting. Don’t, however, leave the leash on the puppy when he is not being supervised. It can be a choking hazard.
Bring small easy to dispense treats to encourage your dog along the way. If your dog does not like treats, try to find something he does like such as cheese, small pieces of meat, etc. Have the treats already cut into small pieces and handy in a treat pouch or something similar (even a sandwich baggie in your pocket works).
Be ready with the commands you will use, so the dog will understand what is expected of him after he learns the meaning of the words. To start out, something as simple as “let’s go” works.
Your dog should also know some basic commands ahead of time, or work them into this training. “Sit” and “down” are great places to start, and when the dog becomes proficient at these simple commands, they are also very useful in controlling your dog.
Handling the leash
Decide which side you would like your dog to walk on most of the time. The “heel” side is on the left, but use whatever is comfortable. Hold the leash in your hand on the opposite side so the hand closest to the dog can dispense treats easily. I say easily, but this does take practice to do it with any kind of skill. Don’t get frustrated with yourself (or your dog!).
Have a good grip on the leash, but don’t wrap it around your wrist. If your dog takes off at a run you could be seriously injured. If you need to shorten the leash, keep the loop in your hand and hold further down the leash also.
Dogs do not naturally want to walk along side of us. They want to go off in all directions and investigate the smells and movements that catch their attention. So, we need to make it more rewarding to pay attention to us! This is where the treats come in.
I suggest starting in your own yard off leash. The dog then can understand he has the freedom to walk around the yard, but you want him to choose to pay attention to you. Also, in his own yard there are few distractions he hasn’t already gotten bored with. Call your dog to you, reward him for coming, and start to walk around the yard while talking to him and encouraging him.
Keeping a few treats in your hand closest to the dog right near his nose, take 2-3 steps and then dispense a treat to the dog. Repeat this until the dog gets the routine. Take turns to the left and right, rewarding every few steps that the dog follows you. Change your pace to slower or faster.
Talk in a high happy voice, making the whole lesson fun and exciting for the dog. Praise him for keeping next to you. If everything else is more interesting than you, you will not keep your dog’s focus.
If the dog starts to focus elsewhere, change direction. Make it a game where the dog has to pay attention to you or lose the game. When he follows you in the new direction, praise him and reward him. Make following you a rewarding and fun activity he will choose again and again. Teaching the dog this is going to take practice and time. You probably won’t be walking loose leash on day one.
As your dog figures out that he needs to pay attention to you to know where you are going to go, go outside your yard and add the leash. Slowly add in more distractions. Go to a park, or on a street. Walk in circles. Stop and ask for a sit. The distance you walk is not significant at this point. With changing directions and turning around, it is more of a training session than an actual walk.
If the point of taking a walk is to give your dog exercise, then find ways to make it fun. Throw in other obedience training during the “walk”. Keep it exciting. For a dog, walking straight down a street and back without being able to explore will be boring.
You can schedule a point in the walk for him to do his sniffing and exploring so he gets to do his doggy things, but on the path to and from this point he should be focused on you. Keep him guessing where you might go, or what might be expected of him, and he will enjoy the training as much as you do!
Keep up the good work! Practice often so your dog remembers what is expected. If your dog does not get out often, he can be too excited and high energy to be able to focus. If it’s an activity he is used to, it will not be such a big deal. So repetitive activity reaps many benefits.