Loose Leash Walking
The number one training issue of most pet owners is that their dog pulls on the leash and what they want is a dog that will walk politely beside them. There are two main reasons why dogs pull: the humans follow and the human is predictable.
So, the method described below will result in your dog being more responsive to you, remain at your side, not pulling and aware of your presence. You will need to follow two rules for this to happen. Rule #1: You are building a relationship based on trust, respect and operant conditioning. Be patient! Rule #2: Behaviors that do not get rewarded disappear. Do not reward any pulling on the leash by following the dog or moving in the direction that he pulls. For the next week or so, the goal is to always maintain a loose leash, with neither you pulling the dog, nor the dog pulling you. The goal IS NOT to get from Point A to Point B.
WORKING ON “THE HUMANS FOLLOW” PART:
The traditional position for the dog to walk is at your left side. So, instructions are given that way. If you are not going to do competitions, it doesn’t really matter which side your dog is on. However, most dogs and humans do best if it is consistently the same side. Using a 4-6 ft leash held in your right hand (the taller the dog, the shorter the leash), hold a high-value treat in your left hand. Choose a stimulus that you want to associate with this type of controlled walking. Some people use a sound, like a smacking or kissing sound. Others prefer a word like “close” or “here.” Say your sound and let your dog smell the treat, but keep it in your fist and don’t let him have it just yet. Take some steps, luring the dog beside you with the treat, and keeping the leash loosely in front of you while the dog walks at your side. Do this several times until you consistently have the dog “willingly and comfortably” at your side.
The next step is to do the lure and while your dog is in position, use your reward marker (“yes”), and then let the dog have the treat. (Some dogs can eat while they walk, others can’t!) Reload another treat in your left hand and resume walking, again saying your sound and luring the dog in position, repeating your reward marker and giving the dog the treat. If the dog pulls, slow down or stop. Allow no progress (success) in the direction of the pull. Just stop. When the dog looks at you or eases on the leash tension (this is where the patience comes in), turn and walk in the opposite direction from the one in which he was pulling—again saying your sound and offering the lure at your left side, using your reward marker when the dog is in position. You might not make it out of the driveway, as you may find yourself turning frequently. That’s OK. The point here is to get the dog to realize that good things happen when he walks nicely beside you and pulling on the leash doesn’t get him where he wants to go!
Keep these lessons pretty short. If you need to walk your dog for toileting or for exercise, keep the “no pull” rule in effect, but the dog doesn’t have to be at your side. You can also use a longer leash, but be aware that the amount of torque when a dog runs to the end of a longer leash is lots greater, so only use a longer one if you can control your dog. Also don’t use a lure for exercise or toileting. Again, if pulling happens, allow tension on the leash, but don’t pull the dog back and don’t let the dog be successful in pulling you where he is trying to go.
After a week or so of practicing the above, you should see a marked difference in your dog’s attention to you, much less pulling on the leash and remaining at your side as you walk. Try using the lure less and just your sound, to get your dog at your side, and the word you are using as a reward marker. Give a food reward after the reward marker pretty frequently at first when your dog stays in position. All dogs and humans are different. Some dogs take as long as a month to accept the no-pulling, “remain at my side” position. With consistent practice, all dogs will learn to walk politely at your side. Review the tip on use of Lures and Reinforcers, if these terms seem confusing.
WORKING ON THE BEING “LESS PREDICTABLE” AND MORE FUN PART
Now that you have worked on the problem of following the dog when it pulls, you are ready to work on being less predictable and having walking beside you be more fun. Many times, humans repeat the same walk every day. After a short time, the dog has learned the pattern and is more likely to pull. You can make any walk more fun and interesting in lots of ways. Here are some suggestions:
Of course there are times when you need to go to a specific location. Say from your car into the Vet’s office. (Going from Point A to Point B.) In those cases, and keeping your destination in mind, still allow no pulling. If your dog is trying to go in a different direction, you turn and face the direction you want to go. When there is slack in the leash, take a step in the direction you want to go. Remember to still use your sound and reward markers. If you need to do so, return to the lure.
Written by Darlene Colmar, Asheville, NC