Walking nicely on a leash is among the most basic requests we make of our dogs. And, yet, it’s also one of the most common scenarios that lead to dogs wearing collars that choke them, collars that pinch them with prongs, or collars that shock them with actual electricity. (Keep reading. Details on this week’s prizes below.)
Defining Loose Leash Walking
Unless your dog competes in conformation, obedience, or rally obedience venues, he probably doesn’t need a perfect “heel,” where the dog stays at your side with his shoulder right at your shin.
- Walking nicely in our general vicinity
- Not getting themselves, us, or passersby tangled up
- Not pulling wildly toward anything or willy-nilly
- Not lunging/barking/growling at people, dogs, or other things like (kids on skateboards)*
*We’ll talk more about these behaviors Oct 6, so for now, let’s assume you have a “normal” dog who pulls like crazy on leash.
Point of Power: The Neck
Dogs naturally do this thing, where they pull in response to pressure. You pull. They pull. Hence the drama that unfolds in so many families, where yanking, tugging … and even choking, pinching, and shocking … come into play. (Some call traditional dog training “crank & yank.”)
That’s why head collars or harnesses change the focus from the neck to the head or body. They use what we know about dog physiology and dog behavior in our favor, rather than working against us.
Loose Leash Training
One of the main reasons dogs pull on leash is because it gets them something they want — closer to that other dog, closer to the park, the chance to steal that snack from a toddler’s hand. It’s a very rewarding process. They pull. We get frustrated and give in. They get what they want. Pattern established.
It’s really a matter of the dog having not as much self-control as is required in modern life. A good dog trainer can teach you to teach your dog patience and self-control. Exercises like wait, doggie zen, leave it, and stay go a long away. Even a good sit can save you a lot of grief.
For now, however, let’s just say, in very basic terms, the key to loose leash walking is to teach dogs that Those Who Pull, Go Nowhere.
See in positive reinforcement dog training, we reward what we like and we (mostly) ignore what we don’t. When dogs learn that they get our attention by doing things “right,” ignoring them becomes a powerful way to say, “Nope, not that.” in an unemotional and non-confrontational way.
Trust me. This takes patience, but if you stop moving every time your dog pulls, he will soon learn that pulling = no fun.
Once he stops pulling, you can continue walking, but as soon as he pulls again (which might be right away, at first), then you stop again.
The other trick in teaching a dog not only NOT to pull, but to pay attention to you is to change directions when he pulls. So, if he starts to move ahead to the right and isn’t paying attention to you, you turn around immediately and go left until he catches up. Praise/reward him when he does. Then, you can try to resume your desired course.
Do not wait until the dog is at a full sprint the other way, then jerk or step on the leash to stop him. This delivers quite a “correction” and can do real bodily harm.
Praise & Reward
And, for goodness sake, when your dog gets it right, praise the holy heck out of him and hand over some tasty treat (small piece of chicken or cheese works well).
Soon dogs learn that walking nicely = food/praise/attention. Pulling = no fun.
The Silent Treatment
When your dog needs a little lesson in focus or not pulling, try NOT to say anything because your voice will surely convey your frustration and displeasure. Things like “No!” “Don’t pull!” don’t work.
Don’t say a word. Don’t “pop” the leash. Just stop and wait him out, or change direction.
Dog Training Takes Time
Do not expect that your dog will learn to walk nicely in one day or one week or even one month. It takes a lot of practice in many different locations for dogs to understand that walking nicely means walking nicely no matter where you are or what’s going on.
Prize Drawing #1
This week, we’ll be collecting entries for the first of FIVE prizes we’ll be giving away during the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. All you have to do is post a comment to this blog entry before midnight (MDT), Sunday, Sept 19, 2010, to be entered into the random prize drawing.
Because we hope to reach out to first-time dog owners and new dog adopters, people who self identify as such in their comment below will get a couple of bonus entries. (We’re working on the honor system here, folks.)
You can read all the official rules to learn more, but for logistical reasons, we must limit entries to those in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll notify the winner next week via email, so be sure you enter your email address correctly. Once we know via private email conversations, where the winner lives and what size is needed, we can arrange for prize delivery and for the dog training contact.
This week’s prize package includes:
- A new Halti head collar or harness from The Company of Animals (Thanks to our coalition connections through Best Friends General Store)
- A one-hour private lesson with a dog trainer in your area (paid for by sponsor K9Cuisine.com) and contacts gained via the No Shock Collar Coalition and Truly Dog Friendly)
- A $25 electronic gift certificate from K9Cuisine.com
- A toy supplied by Calling All Dogs
- An original monotype of a dog in Mexico City from artist Amber Jean
How Your Donations Help!
Do you want to help spread the word about pain-free dog training? Then, we need your donations today!
As our service project, we’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge. (More details on how our efforts dovetail on our About Page and on the No-Choke Challenge page.)
Just click the donation button on this handy-dandy donation widget to get started!
If for some reason you cannot see or use the donation widget below, please visit the Never Shock a Puppy Donation Site instead.
Never Shock a Puppy coalition members (and others, we hope) are blogging from their own sites on this and related topics. Each of us explain our opposition to shock collars (and other punitive methods in our own ways), so we hope you find at least one blogger who “speaks your language” so that you can follow our campaign in a way that feels most comfortable to you. Check out this blog hop to learn more.