Leash-walking basics for you and your dog

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training your dog to walk on a leash

Is your dog an unruly leash-walker? Does he pull you off your feet every time something distracts him? These tips will help transform him into a polite walking partner.

Walking your dog is excellent exercise for both of you. But if he doesn’t know how to walk well on a leash, and is constantly pulling or lunging, your outings can be anything but enjoyable. Here are some tried and true techniques for training your dog to be a good walking partner.

The right equipment

Before you can teach your dog how to walk well on a leash, it’s essential you have the right equipment.

1. I prefer harnesses over collars for walking a dog. Choke chains in particular are an absolute no-no. By using a proper harness, you prevent any pressure or injury to your dog’s neck or spine. Be sure to buy a high quality product and measure your dog carefully to get the ideal fit.

2. Next, you need a good quality dog leash. Avoid extendable leashes – they not only teach a dog to pull, but can also be dangerous. A standard six-foot leash is my preferred choice. Six feet gives your dog enough leash length to do his business during walks, yet keeps him close by and under your control.

“Avoid extendable leashes – they not only teach a dog to pull, but can also be dangerous.”

3. Bring along some super-special treats. They need to be valued highly enough that your dog will be more interested in them than in the squirrel that just ran by. What does he really go gaga over? Once you discover the treats he loves most, reserve them for walks only, and keep the second-best goodies for other uses. This will help keep him keenly motivated when you’re on walks.

Train inside first

Start with a little foundation training inside the house, where there are few, if any, distractions. This will give you a chance to get comfortable with your training techniques (such as how you are going to hold the leash). You’re going to get your dog’s attention, walk him around the house, feed him a treat, and repeat. This allows your dog to quickly learn that this is an enjoyable game with lots of rewards.

The goal is to teach your dog that it’s fun to hang with you and walk wherever you go. Attach his leash to his harness, smile, and say “let’s go” as you take a few steps forward, encouraging him to walk with you. As he does so, tell him how good he is and give him a treat when you stop. Tell him once again how good he is. Repeat the smile, “let’s go”, walk and treat. At this point, you are only taking a few steps at a time before stopping and treating.

“The goal is to teach your dog that it’s fun to hang with you and walk wherever you go.”

Practice this indoor walking technique in short bursts, as often as you and your dog are up for it. Keep the sessions short and enjoyable for your dog.

Trainer tip: If your dog pulls during the training session, stop walking. Try to get his attention again and reward him when he once more focuses on you. Your next session should be shorter before stopping and treating. Your goal is to have your dog win, yet never have a tight leash.

Outdoor training

Once your dog has mastered his training indoors, you can move outside. Because there will be more distractions outdoors, however, start out by taking fewer steps before rewarding and stopping. When a situation is more challenging, as when distractions are present, training needs to become easier. Remember, you want to reward your dog for being successful.

Don’t get into the mindset of thinking you have to walk on a straight boring sidewalk in a straight boring line. You can do this training in your yard, or at a park. After all, you didn’t have a sidewalk inside your house, so you don’t have to walk on one when you’re outside. By keeping your dog engaged and wondering what’s next, you’ll be more likely to keep his attention instead of ending up with a tight leash as his focus is drawn elsewhere.

If you do end up with a tight leash, just stop and plant your feet. Remember: a tight leash means no going forward. Make a playful smooching sound with your mouth to engage your dog, and once he turns around to look at you, have a little party with him. Rub him, get silly, give him some treats, run with him, whatever. What you’re doing is making the point that you are more fun and exciting than what he was distracted by.

3 rules for loose-leash walking

  1. Once your dog’s leash is attached to his harness, you must start practicing good walking and leash manner skills. There is no “off-time”. It’s all or nothing. If you want your dog to understand that he is not to pull when his leash is on, you must practice each and every time he’s wearing it.
  2. If the leash gets tight, your dog isn’t allowed go forward. This is the foundation of what you will be teaching him. Tight leash = no go. Loose leash = go.
  3. Have a set time for outdoor training sessions. When you first start teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash, telling yourself that you are going to go around the block right off the bat may not be the best goal. Instead, set up a specific training goal, such as 15 minutes or “x” amount of treats. When you are halfway through your time or treats, turn back to come home.

A good mood = a good walk

You need to be in a good frame of mind when you take your dog for a walk, especially if you’re still working on his leash skills. Getting grouchy with your dog is not going to yield the best experience for either of you. If you’re feeling down or irritable, do something else until you feel lighter. It’s very important to smile and have fun when walking or working with your dog.

Training your dog to become a good walking partner doesn’t happen overnight. It takes lots of patience and practice – but it’s so worth the effort.