Updated: Dec 10, 2019
We’ve all been there – wanting to enjoy a nice calm walk with our dog trotting along beside us, loose leash in our hand and taking in the beautiful day.
For many people, however, this is not how their walks go!
Their experience is generally much less enjoyable, potentially dangerous and is sending a clear message to their dog that pulling is okay!
But, despite the pulling and lack of enjoyment, we continue to take our dogs out for walks daily – only for them to continue to learn that pulling is okay . . . in their mind. After all, we are allowing it to occur.
So, what is the answer?
Well, first, understanding that dogs learn through behaviors – what we allow, reward, ignore, don’t allow provides information to our dogs. If we want our dogs to walk nicely next to us, we need to show them that picture, help them learn being next to us is a good thing and very rewardable.
We also want to let them know that pulling does not get rewarded. But you ask, how are you rewarding pulling? Here are some ways that dog owners, without even realizing it, are rewarding pulling on a leash:
When a dog is at the end of the leash in front of you, even slightly pulling, and forward movement continues;
When a dog sees a person she really likes and wants to go see them while on leash and pulls to get to them – and reaches the person’
When a dog pulls to go sniff a tree he wants to see if this is the best potty spot and is successful in his quest;
When a dog pulls on the leash, the owner pulls back to get the dog closer and the dog pulls to the end of the leash (continue repeating throughout the walk);
When a dog pulls to get out the door to begin the pulling adventure . . .I mean the walk.
Every time a dog is successful in achieving what they want when pulling, they are being rewarded for this behavior. Dogs aren’t born knowing obedience. They don’t automatically know that pulling is wrong. It is up to us to teach them the behaviors we want in a way they can understand, through clear communication AND repetition!
You may be saying to yourself that this is great information about why a dog pulls but, how do we teach them not to pull. The short answer is – you don’t.
Let me explain.
I like to teach dogs behaviors I DO want them to do, not teach them NOT to do something. Teaching behaviors you do want as opposed to correcting behaviors you don’t want helps dogs learn the desired behavior much faster and is a fairer way of training. After all, we are the ones that taught them (even unintentionally) that pulling was okay. Now we want to tell them it’s not okay without teaching them what is okay? Seems a little unfair, right?
Below I’m going to give you some very easy and initial steps to do that will help build the desired behavior you want from your dog. Remember, breaking down behaviors into small steps ensures the ability for your dog to understand what you’re teaching.
Start inside your home with no distractions and on a non-slip floor/rug;
Be sure to have a hungry dog – even if you think your dog is always hungry – train at mealtimes when they are really hungry;
Put your dog in a sit and with food in your hand (preferably small, high value, soft food), move to the side of your dog. Your dog should be sitting on whichever side you want your dog on when you walk;
While your dog is sitting by your side (heel position), hold food in the hand closest to your dog (if your dog in on your left, food should be in your left hand);
Every time your dog looks to you while sitting by your side, say yes (or click with a clicker) and then reward. Your dog may look at you the whole time. Great! Mark and reward fast and often! You’re building an expectation that sitting by your side is a good place to be!
Do this for about 20-40 seconds and the give a “release” word (Release, Free, Done, Break) and step away from your dog and then repeat steps 1-5 three to four times.
Do this every day 3-4 times a day! Each training session will only take about 5 minutes!
After 3-5 days of the “Initial Phase” (longer if your dog needs it), the next step is:
Start with your dog in the “heel position”, mark and reward a few times and then with your food hand close to your dog’s nose and keeping your hand near your hip/leg, take a step forward and tell your dog to sit. Repeat this for 3-4 steps (1 step at a time, sitting after each step) and then give a “release” word and start again. Repeat this 3-4 times and train this exercise 2-3 times a day. Again, each training session will last 5-7 minutes.
After a few days of success with this, now add wide circles. Turn into your dog and as you are walking in a circle, mark and reward your dog staying by your side. Extra bonus rewards if they are looking at you a lot! Continue to walk in a circle for a few rotations and then give a “release” word and start again. Repeat this 3-4 times and train this exercise 2-4 times a day. If your dog moves away from you, that’s okay, just start again. He is learning just like you are!
After a few days, move the training into your yard – and now on leash. Spend time just rewarding your dog for sitting beside you, then take 1 step and have your dog sit. Repeat this 3-5 times and then go into your circles. Remember you will turn into your dog to begin your circles. For example, if your dog is sitting on your left side, you will do left wide circles. If your dog is sitting on your right side, you will do right wide circles.
Following these steps will build the desired behavior you want from your dog. You’re building an expectation in your dog that if he/she stays by your side, really good things happen! The more your dog experiences this, the more the behavior will stick.
Many people ask how they will walk their dogs during this training. My recommendation is that, unless you have to, don’t. We want to build muscle memory of the desired behavior and allowing them to practice the undesired behavior sets you back in your training. It will only take about a week for most dogs to begin to understand the initial phases and then we can begin to incorporate them in short walks which then turn into longer walks.
If you have to walk your dog, the best thing you can do is stop if your dog begins to pull or get to the end of the lead. Wait for him/her to release tension on the leash and then walk the opposite direction. As soon as your dog is coming into the side position, mark and reward, and then again after 1-2 steps in the desired position. Keep these walks short as we don’t want to send mixed messages to your dog!
Remember, your dog has had a lot of practice pulling on the leash and every time he/she gets an opportunity to pull, they are being rewarded – in their mind – that pulling has value. We want them to learn that hanging by your side brings more value!
Stay tuned for additional training tips on loose leash walking coming soon!