Wouldn't it be great if our dogs were born knowing how to walk nicely on leash? Unfortunately, that's not the case. Walking on leash without pulling is a skill that must be taught to your dog, and it can be a more time-consuming process than many people are prepared for. But don't despair – this article will walk you through this training.
There are endless varieties of leash walking equipment, all promising to fix your dog's pulling problem, but nothing substitutes proper training. So let's talk about the most humane and effective equipment to teach your dog to walk on leash, and what the teaching method looks like in practice.
Pick your equipment.
I suggest choosing something that takes the pressure off of your dog's neck, and gives you a bit more management ability.
-The Freedom Harness is my harness of choice, as it clips at the dog's chest, essentially turning them around if they lunge ahead.
-For extreme, strong pullers, a head collar may be appropriate. This works similarly to a bridle on a horse, but must be used carefully and acclimated slowly. My head collar of choice is the Top Paw brand. Here's a great video on acclimating a head collar properly.
-Neither of the above options work by causing the dog pain or discomfort. Equipment that works in a "don't pull, or else" context can range from being unpleasant to your dog to downright traumatizing. I work many cases where this type of equipment actually created leash reactivity, because the appearance of another dog or person became associated with the pain from the collar.
Good things happen in "heel position."
Once you're ready to get started, it's time to begin teaching your dog that good things happen when they walk at your side. This can be the left or right side – personal preference.
Try walking just one or two steps forward, and reward your dog from the hand that's on the side your dog is on. If your dog is on the right side, the right hand rewards. This is very important! Your dog will return back to the location of the reinforcement. Continue this setup, rewarding less and less frequently as your dog becomes proficient.
What to do when pulling happens.
So now you know what to do when your dog is getting it right. But what happens when your dog pulls ahead?
It's as simple as this: pulling doesn't get to work for them anymore.
Your dog pulls because in the past, it has worked to get him where he wants to go. So now, when that leash becomes tense, you have two choices. First, abruptly change direction and head another way. Your other option is to stop, back up until your dog is back at your side again, and then move forward.
This is not easy training, but it works, and it works permanently. 5-10 minute training sessions are all it takes to have a dog that walks beautifully on leash and will work for you happily.
How do I "distraction-proof" my dog on a walk?
So your dog walks well on a leash now, but if an exciting distraction appears, all bets are off. What now?
I want you to think about the criteria you're asking for. Are you going from 0 to 100 very quickly, expecting the same results from your dog?
You've got to start with the distraction at an intensity from which your dog can focus on you instead. That might mean it's farther away, it's quieter – this depends on the distraction you're working with.
With practice, the appearance of that distraction can ultimately cue your dog to begin focusing on you and working with you. Then, and only then, can you begin to increase the intensity of the distraction.
So what does this look like in practice?
Click here for a quick how-to video I made showing these tips in practice. The dog is wearing a Freedom Harness
And click here for a video of one of my client dogs that has gone through this training, and works beautifully amid distractions without any food rewards present. And he's only 5 months old!