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Walking on Lead

Loose Leash Walking its easier than you think!

People and dogs have been walking companions for literally thousands of years. Today however dogs are not free to roam as you go but are required to be restrained on lead. For many dogs and owners, this requirement has resulted in walks that resemble a moving game of tug-of-war more than a pleasant amble together.

When the pulling and dragging become unpleasant enough the dog gets left home alone. The benefits of regular walks with your dog are so great for you, your dog and the community that it is worth taking the time to teach your pooch polite lead etiquette.

Many puppy books will advise you to attach a lead to your puppy and allow him to drag it all around the garden. The puppy learns that the lead will follow wherever he goes. When you start to hold the end of the lead, your puppy learns to pull just a little harder and the lead will still follow wherever he goes!

Alternately, when you first attach a lead to your puppy you are so keen to go for a walk that you are the first to pull to make your puppy move. Dogs have a natural opposition reflex so if you pull one way your pup will pull the other. It is easy to see how quickly pulling becomes established.

Learning to accept restraint.

To turn this around, your dog must learn that once the lead is attached he is restricted to an area close to you. To be fair, make sure you give your dog as much lead as possible and do not be tempted to shorten, pull or wrap it around your hand. Hold the end of the lead only and try not to be the first to pull. You are now a six-legged team who has to move together.

Start by attaching your dog on lead to a post and stand close by. If your dog struggles take no notice, if he relaxes instantly reward with praise or treats. Next, hold the lead yourself and start to move around the back garden. This should be an easy place to start as your dog has probably thoroughly investigated your back garden already and wont be too excited.

If the lead tightens stop immediately and act like the post, don't move at all and dont shorten the lead - just wait. When the lead slackens, immediately reward with praise and move forward. Your dog should be learning that pressure on the collar means stop while no pressure on the collar means go. Sadly this is the opposite of what most dogs learn.

If all goes well, repeat in the front garden and then on the footpath just outside your home. Take your time and be consistent even if you do not get to walk very far that day. Do NOT be tempted to move forward when there is any tightness in the lead as this will only teach your dog that if he is persistent pulling will pay.

The Target Game

One of the reasons dogs persist in pulling is that they are convinced that it is the fastest way to get to what they want. The Target Game is a fun way to teach your dog that this is NOT the case!

Start with your dog's bowl and some really tasty treats and/or a person your dog loves standing at one end of the garden. Show your dog the treats/person and get him really excited - this is your target. Now move back with your dog on lead to a starting line some distance away. Start moving toward your target .I f the lead tightens immediately turn around and move back quickly to behind your start line. Talk to your dog and praise him whenever the lead is loose, even if at first this is only when you are moving back toward the starting line.

Repeat until you can walk all the way to your target without the lead tightening at all - then release your dog to the treats and praise. Your dog is learning the valuable lesson that the fastest way to get to what he wants is by maintaining a pressure-free lead connection.

He Who Was First Shall Now Be Last

The dog who pulls out in front of you assumes that he knows where you are going. Turn this around by immediately changing direction.At first your dog will probably charge past you and assume the leader's position again. Say 'steady' and assertively change direction until he who was first has become last again.

Repeat until your dog realizes that you're the only one with the map! This is a great exercise for teaching your dog that you ARE relevant, not just a go-between from house to park. Adding the word 'steady' before each turn will teach your dog there is no point in charging ahead as you are about to change direction and eventually can be used as a general cue to slow down should he forget his manners and start to pull ahead in the future.

Teach a Sweet Spot

There are times when you need your dog to be by your side, for example when crossing a road or in a crowd. To teach your dog to be close or heel have your dog sit and move next to him. Say 'close' and feed him a treat. At this stage you are simply making an association between the position close and the word.

From now on you are going to dispense treats through your left hip, knee or ankle, depending on the size of your dog. (The left side is traditionally the correct side, however you may choose whichever side you prefer as long as you are consistent.) The idea is to create a sweet spot by your side where good things happen to dogs. The name for this sweet spot is close or heel.

Spend a couple of minutes a day just walking in a circle and treating your dog whenever he stays by your left leg. Even if you want to reward your dog for a loose lead out in front of you, show him the treat and bring him all the way back to your left leg to get his treat. We want the dog to know there are good things at your end of the lead not just up in front where the good smells are.

Ready, Steady Walkies

Most dogs become very excited at the earliest indication that a walk may be forthcoming. In part, this arousal is an involuntary reaction to the appearance of your walking shoes or the sound of the lead being picked up - automatically triggering the production of adrenalin in your dog's brain.

Obviously, to reduce pulling behaviour it is preferable to start with as calm a dog as possible. How you prepare for your walk can contribute to, or reduce,this level of arousal even before you step out the door.

  1. Move slowly and speak quietly. Sit somewhere away from the exit door and wait for your dog to come to you and sit before putting his lead on. If he gets up before his lead is attached, stop, look away and wait again. Like in the Target Game your dog will learn that the fastest way to get his lead put on and get out the door is to sit at your feet and wait.
  2. Wait for a sit at the exit door. Move your hand to the door handle if your dog gets up remove your hand. At all times act cool and calm as though you have all day to go for a walk. It is unnecessary to speak or command your dog to sit but you may quietly praise correct behaviour if you wish.
  3. Step out through the door before your dog if he tries to rush ahead of you prevent him by quickly shutting the door first. When he steps back praise quietly then lead the way through the open door.
  4. Sit on the other side of the door you dont want to undo all the good work as soon as you leave the house or associate calm behaviour with inside only.
  5. Sit once more as soon as you reach the footpath. Wait until the leash is loose and your dog is looking at you to see what is going to happen next praise and start walking remembering to use one of the strategies outlined above if the lead should start to tighten.
  6. Allow your dog to sniff to his hearts content for the first five minutes or so. Most dogs will toilet in this time also. Smell is your dogs primary sense and to deprive him of sniffing altogether would be like taking a human for a walk blindfolded. However if you prefer to walk briskly non-stop pick up the pace after the first sniff -fest most dogs will be happy to oblige only stopping to read really special olfactory notices.
  7. Most dogs prefer to walk briskly so walk as quickly as your comfort allows. Dont look hesitant and turn your shoulders back toward your dog your posture dictates to your dog where you are going and walking with a purpose tells him you are on a mission together.
  8. If you should meet other dogs a simple sniff hello should suffice - dont encourage your dog to play on-lead for two main reasons. Firstly it is too easy for leads to become tangled and two perfectly nice dogs land up in a fight because of the restriction caused by the lead. Playing with other dogs is best done off lead. Secondly if you allow your dog to play on lead, every time he sees another dog he will try to drag you over for some play time. On lead, your dog is accompanying YOU and other dogs should be of only passing interest. Do not go to the other extreme and punish your dog for approaching another, it is great to have a social, friendly dog simply encourage a polite but short greeting instead.
  9. Off leash areas are great for dogs to socialize with other dogs and burn off excess energy however it is equally important for your dog to associate good times directly with YOU. Some of the worst cases of pulling result from dogs who are lucky enough to be walked to an off leash area everyday. Their owners are dragged to doggy paradise and then ignored until pooch is so worn out he can be caught. While the dog may be content, the owner has merely acted as a vehicle to get to the off leash park. In such cases I recommend driving to the off leash park a few days a week (so there is no rehearsal of pulling all the way) and on the other days, walking your dog on lead with you around the neighbourhood streets. Now you are part of the exercise picture and thus of greater significance to your dog.
  10. Before you let your dog off lead for a free run be sure he asks your permission first. Get your dog to look at you and sit before undoing the lead. This way you are using socializing with other dogs or free running as a reward for giving you attention. Your dogs first reaction on arrival at the off-leash area wont be to pull on the lead but to sit in front of you and beg Please can I go play now? This is a win-win situation for you both.
  11. Improving general obedience skills will also improve the likelihood of your dog learning not to pull on lead. Teach your dog basic commands such as come, sit and wait to improve general control over your dog.
  12. Teach restraint in different situations. If you have taught your dog right from a puppy that there will be times when you must restrain him for baths, grooming, vet examinations etc. he will be more likely to accept restraint on lead as well. Practice gentle, handling and restraint in as many and as varied situations as possible.

Using treats as rewards will generally help your dog to learn faster. However many dogs are too excited to care about treats when out walking. In this case, use the reward your dog wants most - permission to continue the walk.

Equipment

Leads

  • For a well socialized, friendly dog I like to use a 2-3metre cotton webbing lead. This slightly longer lead will allow your dog to reach more smells without pulling you off the footpath but can be easily shortened to allow people to pass or for crossing roads.
  • To achieve the same amount of freedom, a small dog will need a longer lead then a big dog as much of the length will be taken up simply reaching down to the collar.
  • Allowing this extra length will often resolve minor pulling problems immediately.

Retractable Extenda-leads

  • Are a great way to efficiently exercise most small dogs.
  • If you don't have a fenced yard or are an apartment dweller an extenda lead is also a great way to take a small dog out for regular toileting breaks.
  • If your dog is generally well behaved and trained an extenda lead can also be good for jogging, power walking or bush walking - as it allows your dog to stop briefly without disturbing your pace.

Harnesses

Are becoming more popular and may be good for:

  • Small dogs
  • Dogs with sensitive necks or spinal problems
  • Elderly dogs
  • Preventing longer leads from catching under the dogs legs when walking
  • Long walks, jogging, attaching longer leads.

Head halters

Are a good choice if:

  • you haven't got time to methodically implement a no-pull /no-go training programme
  • you own a very strong dog
  • you own a dog with a long history of pulling
  • your own strength is limited in some way e.g. a bad back
  • you would like children to easily walk the dog
  • behavioural problems make a head halter an important safety issue.

The door to another world.

A dog that walks nicely on a lead is a dog that is a pleasure to be with. By taking the time to teach this basic skill, you provide your dog with the passport to accompany you in the big wide, human world outside your door, continuing a tradition that began eons ago when man and dog first walked away from their cave and into the unknown together.

Benefits of on-lead walking:

  • exercise for you and your dog
  • socialization
  • mental stimulation
  • less likely to engage in nuisance behaviours such as barking
  • enhances dog/owner relationship
  • very safe, controlled form of exercise
  • suitable for elderly dogs or dogs recovering from injuries

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This article, by Karin Larsen Bridge of Get S.M.A.R.T. Dogs in Sydney, first appeared in Dogs Life magazine March/April 2004 and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.