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.
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.
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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:
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.