Once you know the best way to hold the lead and you understand your dog’s motivation for pulling, teaching your dog to walk nicely is so much easier (see Walking the Dog and Walking the Dog part 2!)
You really do need to read Walking the Dog 1 and 2 before moving onto this next article on lead walking.
Once you have understood your dog’s motivation for pulling on the lead and you know how to hold the lead for the best results we can move on to part 3. For all reasons except reason 6,7,8,9,11 and 12 discussed in part 1, you should be able to train your dog using this method. For these reasons listed above, you are better off arranging to meet with a qualified dog trainer/behaviourist for help. For these you need to get to the root cause of these behaviours before you will be able to successfully teach relaxed lead walking.
What is the dog walk all about?
This is a good question. When I look around, it often seems to be an opportunity for the dog’s owner to catch up on texts or phone calls. If the dog stops to sniff he gets pulled along. Walking the dog is about the DOG, not his owner. Sniffing is like catching up on Facebook for your dog and is a very important element of the walk. So, please look at walking the dog as an activity for your DOG, not you. You are responsible for your dog, to ensure he gets the opportunity to empty, to sniff and to meet other people and dogs if this is appropriate. You need to teach him to walk nicely so that you can both enjoy the walks.
Default eye contact
I always find teaching default eye contact is useful. By this I mean, training the dog to give eye contact in a way that you don’t have to keep asking for it; the dog does this because he wants to. If your dog regularly looks at you, this gives you the chance to communicate what you would like him to do. Often, just talking to your dog keeps him to your side rather than charging on ahead because you are more interesting. Teaching this is so very easy. Any time your dog looks at you and makes eye contact you should reward the eye contact with attention, treats, a game, or anything else your dog loves. If your dog learns each time he makes eye contact with you lovely things happen, he will be doing this much more frequently. Your dog should always find eye contact with you very pleasant and wonderful, this way he will always want to look at you and will be more attentive to what you are asking him to do.
All good things come when your dog is close to you.
This is a great game and you can play it anywhere. If you have about you some treats or a toy (or both), any time your dog comes close to a heel position start to play, or toss some treats down by the side of your foot in the position you would like him to be walking in. This tells your dog being by your foot is a great place to be as this is where you play with him or where he may get some treats. This can be done both off and on lead.
Reward the smiley/ loopy lead.
You can use any reward your dog likes, for example:
1. Access to sniffing
2. A tug on a tugger toy
4. Access to greeting people
5. Access to greeting dogs
6. Verbal praise
8. Being let off lead
9. Getting closer to the park
If your dog is not focusing and continues to pull on the lead then he should not be allowed to progress on the walk. This way, you are not rewarding the pulling behaviour. As long as you keep reinforcing your dog for pulling he will continue to think this is the right way to behave.
Obstacles to nice lead walking
Your dog is not paying attention to you
If your dog is not paying you attention, it is unlikely he will listen to you or respond to you. So, if he is not paying attention you need to find out why (see previous 2 articles, Walking the Dog and Walking the Dog Part 2). This could be due to stress/fear (paying more attention to something that your dog feels may be a threat). If this happens then you need to work with a professional behaviourist to help you to help your dog overcome his fears.
It could be that your dog is distracted (over shadowed) by something else; for example, a dog playing ball. He might be excited at the prospect of joining in the game so finds it difficult to pay you attention. In these cases, I usually suggest getting further away from this dog so that your own dog can find it easier to concentrate on you. Then, once your dog has re-engaged with you, you can use access to this dog as a reward for nice walking. Each time your dog pulls forward towards this dog on a tight lead, just gently but purposefully move backwards away from the dog. If he moves forward on a slack lead reward him and encourage him to remain walking nicely by talking to him and showing him you have a toy/treat so that you can use access to the dog as the big reward at the end. Eventually he will learn that walking on a slack lead will get him there quicker.
Not recognising when your dog is being rewarded for pulling
This can be as simple as being allowed to pee whilst pulling on the lead. Or your dog learns that pulling on the lead is the only way he gets to sniff.
By recognising what is important to your DOG, you should be able to ensure that he gets the rewards he needs for the right reasons. Pay attention to this because if you do not, your dog will be compelled to try to take these rewards any way he can. Most likely he will have to pull you to get to a sniffing post. Make sure you allow him access to sniffing when he is walking on a smiley/loopy lead. Remember, sniffing and social contact (if appropriate, i.e. he likes other dogs and people, and the dog /person he wants to greet are happy to greet) are important things to your dog. Do not restrict access to these things but make sure you use them as rewards for walking nicely.
How to punish pulling on the lead
Seriously, the best way to punish is to stand still away from anything your dog finds interesting. This way you do not reward the dog for pulling. Remain calm until your dog has re focused on you and start again. If you go very quiet rather than keep nagging your dog, he will suddenly want to know why you are quiet and pay you attention again.
Help you and your dog to succeed
Some suggestions for creating opportunities for success are:
1. Try to burn off some steam in the garden about half an hour before you take your dog for a walk. This way he will be less excited but will also have had time to calm down again.
2. Start from the beginning. You must make sure that your dog is calm at each step, from putting on the lead to going out of the door. Only move on to the next step when your dog is calm. Stop the preparation if your dog becomes too excited and sit down until he has calmed down again.
3. Take him out to quiet places until he understands that he should walk on a slack lead. Only start to take him to more exciting places once he has learned the basics. If you are not near such a place, drive him to a quiet place so that you can work for success.
4. Have a special toy you ONLY use to reward nice walking. Or use his favourite treats ONLY for lead walking. Make sure your dog has not eaten too soon before going out for a walk, This helps reduce the risk of bloat but also helps to ensure your dog may be more motivated to work for food rewards during the walk.
If you get this right, you will have a dog that is happy to walk on a slack lead that also LOOKS happy. Take a look at this video of Lily Lead Walking Note, she is happy, she is focused on me and her tail is wagging in a relaxed, wide sweeping manner all the time. She doesn’t always walk like this. I stop for her regularly so that she can have a good sniff of the area and check out her doggy Facebook (or should that be Snoutbook?).
If you want your dog to walk along looking this happy, train your dog the kind way!