Let’s walk together, please!
by Johanna Teresi
It's a common sight-a dog dragging its owner along by the leash. Dogs that pull can tempt owners to exercise their dog only off leash, which, of course, can be dangerous. It also can restrict young or elderly family members from participating in dog walks.
Walking with your dog on a loose leash is much easier. This month we will discuss how to train leash walking on a normal flat collar.
Use a flat collar (a leather or cloth collar with a buckle or snap), not a choker or prong collar. You will also need a 4 to 6 foot cloth or leather leash. Do not use a flexi-leash. If your dog bites the leash, you may want to try a chain leash. A clicker (see January 2007 article) with a wrist band and a treat bag that attaches to your pants can be very helpful. Yummy treats such as Natural Balance dog food rolls, cheese, or turkey hot dogs are great choices. Avoid dry treats. The treats should be pea- to dime-sized. You'll want enough to fill a sandwich-size zip-lock bag.
Coordination is the hardest part. Sometimes it is helpful to practice these methods without your dog or in the house with low distractions.
Choose which side you would like your dog to walk on. If you choose your left side, hook your treat bag on your left hip and hold the clicker in your right hand. Place the end loop of the leash in your right hand, grabbing another section of the leash one to three feet below the loop. The remaining leash length should be just enough to allow your dog to walk one or two feet ahead of you. The leash should cross in front of you, so you can also hold it with your left hand for extra leverage, which may be necessary with strong pullers. Reverse this arrangement if you want your dog to walk on your right.
At the beginning of the training process, you can't expect your dog to walk nicely on the leash for a full 30- to 60-minute walk. Start with multiple five- to 15-minute walks throughout the day. Then gradually increase the length of your walks. Also, supplement your dog's exercise through play with other friendly dogs or games such as fetch.
Your goal is to reward proper leash walking without the dog pulling forward or outward on the leash. The leash should never be tense. Your dog does not have to heel, and it's okay if he stops to smell. When your dog is walking nicely on the leash, say "easy," and click and treat (C/T) with your left hand (if you're training the dog to walk on the left side). Hold the treat behind your knee so you don't encourage your dog's head to cross in front of your legs.
Keep the C/T frequency high until your dog readily walks politely on the leash. Praising your dog for proper leash walking will also encourage it.
If your dog pulls forward on the leash, say "easy" and immediately begin a gradual turn to walk in the opposite direction. Then promptly C/T your dog for being in the correct position. Do not pop the leash on your dog's neck.
Eventually, your dog should respond to "easy" without prompting. At first you will be changing directions frequently. As your dog's leash-walking behavior improves, switch from frequent to occasional treat rewards rather than terminating the treats.
Now take your dog for a walk and have a great time!
Johanna Teresi is a professional dog trainer and owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC. fourleggedscholars.com