Leash walking is one of my favorite things to teach because it allows dogs to get out and enjoy some much needed exercise and if trained properly, can be very relaxing for all involved. For those of you who have never had a dog walk on a LOOSE leash, it is a pretty phenomenal feeling. The below is a general guide that should only be used in conjunction with physical training sessions. Humans need to see and work these techniques for them to be the most effective.
Getting started on leash walking. First, start basic leash walking in the house. I hear you grumbling but the skill of walking on a leash is complex for you and for your dog so if you figure out what the heck you are doing, your dog will be less confused. Once you get the movement down, start having your dog “wait” at the door. This is not an attempt to “dominate” your dog but if your dog has to be relaxed and look to you before going outside where you will be competing with billions of distractions, don’t you think he will be more motivated to listen if he does not barrel past you to get outside?
Once outside, stop and get yourself situated. If you hold your leash at your core and KEEP IT THERE, it sets a consistent length for your dog. If your arm is flopping about in front of you, not only do you reward pulling (your arm moves forward, your dog gets further) but you confuse your dog. Avoid the treachery of dog pulls, gets more leash, human yanks back. I see this so frequently driving around the city, poor dogs don’t know what to do.
Before you move forward, are you holding your leash right? Is your dog paying attention? If those two things are not happening, they will NOT happen once you move so say your dog’s name, “yes” and reward. When she responds, say “let’s go” and walk. If she is walking nicely, say “yes”, treat her sometimes. Make sure she knows that walking is what you want! Stop when she pulls, wait for attention. You can use your hand to guide her back to your side but if you reward WHILE walking, you will stop less. This takes a little practice and we will always help you with this! Some dogs do well with turns, I like “this way” but give the cue BEFORE you dog is yanking so you do not accidentally give a harsh correction. If she gets it, “yes” and keep walking. Do give a reward on occasion but guess what the other grand reward is? You got it, continued walking!
Consistency can take patience but if you say “yes” and occasionally treat your dog for walking nicely, you will stop less and it will make more sense to your dog. If you sometimes reward pulling because you are tired, your dog will think it is ok to do then will be ridiculously confused when it is not ok to pull. Consistency is kind.
This is your #1 priority outside. UNTIL…you see the thing that scares or agitates your dog most. Then you switch gears to rewarding for calm, happy behavior around your dog’s nemesis (dogs, people, skateboards, etc.) If your dog has an outburst, simply move her to a distance she can handle and a simple “yes” when she stops but no treats. It is most helpful if you can continue moving while using this technique but that does take time and practice. Too often, if we pull off to the side and try to get our dog into a “sit”, the “sit” can predict the scary thing is coming and it keeps coming at them. We’ll keep working on this with you!
Reward for Calm Whenever you see a scary dog or human across or down the street and your dog is calm, say “person” “dog” (use whichever word is appropriate to your dog, if your dog is not afraid of humans, focus only on “dog”), “yes” and reward with a super high powered reward. Keep her moving, she needs to movement to keep her emotions in check. Remember to reward even if dogs are at a distance so she develops positive associations with them. Rewards go away for a second when the dog is gone so she associates the dog brings good things and it goes away when they are gone. Only treat if she’s calm, when you move on, treats go away and walk quickly. NEVER USE FOOD TREATS NEAR ANOTHER DOG (FIVE FEET IS A GOOD RULE). FOOD IS A RESOURCE AND IF THE OTHER DOG HAS FOOD AGGRESSION COULD CAUSE YOU TO GET BITTEN.
You are giving her permission to check it out but make sure you reward her (verbal and sometimes treats) for any and all voluntary eye contact. If she’s looking at you outside, she’s not worrying about things coming to get her. It is absolutely imperative to do this the instant you see the pesky dog, human or skateboard EVEN THREE BLOCKS AWAY! The further the awful thing is, the easier it is for your dog to stay calm. The more practice your dog gets with these triggers at an easy distance, the better he or she will become.
Body Language LEVEL 1: Watch body language BEFORE your dog gets aroused. Most dogs demonstrate one to two calming behaviors before they pass the point of no return. Things to watch for are: shaking, paw lifting, tongue flicking, huffing, ear scratching and yawning. Watch for these and redirect with a “sit”. It’s important he get feedback (even if it’s just verbal) when he’s made the right choice.
LEVEL 2: These are clear signs of tension and VERY close to a more serious situation: tense, tight mouth; wrinkled forehead; pulsating tail and whale eye (lots of the white is showing his eye). More on body language.
****If you have stumbled upon this through the magic of the internet, please schedule a session for this to be most effective for you and your dog.