Have you ever come home from a long work day, exhausted and stressed? Adding to your frustration, after being a star pupil every week in dog training class, your dog pulls on leash.
Training a dog to walk politely on a leash takes time, patience and tons of focus for both human and dog. For some dogs, pulling on leash is simply a means to get to their favorite park, beach or buddy’s house as fast as possible. But, for many dogs, especially in crowded, noisy, urban environments; straining and tugging on lead should be handled with much more compassion and understanding than a basic obedience approach allows. Let us take a look at a few types of dogs and how we can alter the “stop every time the pup pulls” technique to help your dog improve faster and make your walks much more relaxing.
Fearful pooches If your dog clings to the sidewalk and looks left to right with eyes as big as saucers whenever a fire engine, garbage truck, skateboard, airplane or other scary monster goes by; your dog is not pulling to annoy you. He or she is afraid, and is trying desperately to get away from the perceived threat. The best way to help a pup who thinks the outside world is out to get him or her is loosen YOUR perfect-heel expectations.
Loose leash walking does indeed relax the dog’s body, helping with overall confidence. But, it also requires your dog to concentrate, an impossible skill when completely terrified. If your dog is relaxed enough to waltz next to you for two blocks, consider that a benchmark and generously reward your sweet sidekick for that time. At the end of the two blocks, and BEFORE your dog starts to yank forward in terror, give a cue that tells him or her work is done for now like “free” or “mush”. We HIGHLY recommend a harness to keep everyone safe while you work on leash skills. If everything goes smashingly well for a couple weeks, try for three blocks, then four. However, if your dog is completely panicked or struggles with a small distance, you need to shorten your walks so your pooch can boost his or her courage in more manageable doses.
Young puppies To a wee little puppy, EVERYTHING is new. And, everything can be scary. You are new, the screen door is new, the leash is new and feels weird attached to that strappy harness you shoved over your puppy’s head after he or she ran away the third time. We do a HUGE disservice to young puppies when we do not acknowledge how unnerving the flood of sounds, sights and smells can be; ESPECIALLY in the city. So, rather than tugging on that tiny neck because your cousin told you that you have to train your dog now or he or she will never learn to respect you, reward for your puppy for not bolting with wild abandon every time you hear a siren, see a scooter or say hello to a REALLY tall person racing to catch the bus; even if the leash is not absolutely perfect. We bet once you do that, the leash loosens up. And, you better be ready to give a reward worthy of your pup’s gold medal Olympic performance.
Aggressive dogs Polite leash walking is imperative when aggression is involved. But, the leash is not always going to be perfectly loose when you encounter whatever trigger normally causes an outburst during the beginning stages of training: dog, runner, child, men in hats, the list goes on. Space is your best friend, give your dog lots of it. And, rather than getting super focused on the best leash walk of your reactive dog’s life, set your gaze on the trigger further away than you think the dog sees and reward for calm behavior. Your dog may be a little ahead of you and very well might not be looking in your eyes. But, he or she is not getting better at barking, lunging, growling and snarling. Once your dog is not looking over his or her shoulder at the bicyclist or staring down the man in a wheelchair and you have trigger-free stretch in front of you; loose leash training becomes the priority again. One big caveat, if you are going to focus on “yes” for the absence of bad behavior, do not give your “let’s go” cue. If you give the “let’s go” cue THEN reward for calm, you will be rewarding your dog for ignoring the first cue.
We have to remember that our dogs take in so much stimulus during every step of a walk. Alter your approach with leash walking and focus first on the best behavior your dog is capable of given all that is surrounding him or her. Leash training will be easier to tackle when your dog is not in an unbelievably heightened state of mind.