So how do we teach our dogs to walk nicely on lead without pulling our arm off? There are various ways, and what works for one dog won’t work for all of them. We’ll look at one effective technique here, but if you need more help, feel free to book a Training and Behaviour consultation! We would be more than happy to help you! In loose lead walking we are looking to teach dogs that a loose lead pays off and a tight one doesn’t. This means that it has to be more rewarding to be near you, rather than running off to smell a tree or greet another dog. You’re competing with things that are highly rewarding to them in the environment, so how do you make it worth their while? Before we go into details, remember to keep your training sessions short and fun; one or two minutes at most. You can practice a few times a day, but don't be a drill sergeant! It's boring for you and boring for your dog. Location, location, location Until your dog learns to walk on the lead nicely in the living room, don’t do it out in the street. This means you won’t be able to go for your regular walks, because you don’t want to reinforcing the pulling behaviour. You’ll need to find another way to exercise your dog while you complete their training, which could take weeks to months. Go for an off lead bush walk, go to a park and play ball, visit another doggie friend and let them run around the backyard. But make sure they get their exercise. A good trick is to tire them out and then do the loose-lead walking in the lounge room, after their energy has been released.
A little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down
Teaching your dog to walk without pulling requires plenty of rewards. Make sure you use whatever your dog loves. Some don’t fancy food much, but love a tug toy.
Treats that your dog wouldn’t normally get can work great. Soft treats are best, so your dog can eat them quickly and continue training. Most dogs love sausages, cheese, cooked chicken breast, ham, small pieces of cooked steak or freeze-dried liver. Chop all treats into small pieces, don't use boring treats and don't be stingy with the treats!
Step by Step
Here is the basic exercise:
Lure your dog over with their treat to you and make sure before you start you have your dog's attention. Don't use a lead to begin with, do this without.
Take one step. If the dog takes a step with you, reward them with the treat. If you have to, lure the dog to take one step and then reward them by giving them a treat.
Take another step, and reward again. When starting out you’ll need to reward them heavily. If they step away from you at any stage, lure them back and carry on.
Repeat for a few minutes, and make sure you end on a positive note.
And that’s the basic exercise! Repeat the process until you can take two steps, then three, then four. Eventually you’ll get to a point where your dog keeps close to you with steps and rewards being spread out. Once this happens, repeat it from step one again but this time using the lead.
The point is not to let your dog pull ahead of you, so keep the rewards coming thick and fast. Don’t ignore the correct behaviour – reward it.
Eventually your dog should be walking nicely on the lead around the house. Now it’s time to try in the backyard. Start again from step one, with one reward every step. Once you’ve started to stretch it out to three or four steps, if your dog wants to sniff then let them. That way you’ll avoid frustration in your dog.
Once you’re happy with progress in the backyard, it’s time to try in a very quiet park or oval. Pick a time when the park will be quiet, and once you’re happy with your progress you can try when it’s busier.
If you can, drive to the park and back. This way you’ll avoid rewarding pulling behaviours on the way. Once you’re happy with the progress try to get someone to drive you to the park, and then walk home. Dogs are much more likely to pull on lead on a walk to the oval/park than on the way back.
At this point your dog should be walking well on a loose lead, and you’re ready to try walking to and from the oval or park. This will probably involve a high level of distraction for your dog, so ensure you have enough time and patience. You might not even get to the park, so make sure you have given your dog plenty of exercise and mental stimulation beforehand. Repeat from step one again in every new environment.
Things to remember
Make sure there’s no routine to your walks. If you always walk in the same direction then your dog will guess where you’re going and try to pull ahead. Change directions and speeds, which will encourage them to watch you more.
Remember to let your dog sniff as this is good for mental stimulation and is self-rewarding for the dog. You will also avoid your dog getting frustrated as they will be able to get to what they want, as long as they are not pulling.
In some circumstances equipment may be necessary, such as specially designed front-end harnesses. These will help with overall control, but always consult a behaviourist or trainer on how to use them properly. We DO NOT recommend Halti's, slip leads, choker chains, prong collars or electric remote collars! They are all cruel, inhumane and if you wouldn't put it on your child or yourself, don't put it on your poor defenceless dog!
Never yank on your dog’s lead as this can do significant damage to their neck and airway. If you become frustrated on a walk then head home, play a game and try again when you have more time.
All dogs are individuals. They respond in different ways and at different speeds. Some people have instant improvements, for others it may take a lot longer. It’s important to be patient and consistent in your training.
Once you have trained your dog to walk on a lead without pulling, remember that every single walk you do with your dog is a training session. The number one reason why loose lead walking fails is because the human is not consistent!
Not all methods to stop lead pulling suit all dogs. It may be necessary to vary the way you train your dog, which is why it’s advisable to book a consultation with us so we can help you get to the bottom of what is going on!
Sometimes pulling may not be a training problem, and seeking the help of a veterinary behaviourist might be required. Dogaholics Dog Training and Behaviour Services (Dogaholics is a dog training and behaviour service located in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area of NSW.)