How do you get your dog to walk nicely on lead, without pulling?
Honest answer: It takes practise; like any skill. And, lead walking can be a particularly tricky behaviour to perfect for 4 main reasons…
It’s Not Natural!
- Walking on a lead is not natural for dogs; there’s no equivalent in the wild! It requires Rover to learn a completely new way of moving. Imagine you suddenly had to learn to write with your other hand?
- Your dog’s natural pace is different to yours. Remember how difficult the 3-legged race was at school?! Adjusting to someone else is not easy and rarely comfortable. Same for your dog.
- Dogs don’t naturally walk in straight lines! Watch your dog off lead. He zig zags from side to side, taking in smells and sights, and switching between walk, trot and run.
- Humans like pathways, dogs prefer ‘off the beaten track’… in the bushes where there’s more interesting things to sniff!
Lead walking is really about persuading your dog that walking in a straight line … on a boring pathway … at an awkward pace … wearing a ‘noose’ or ill-fitting ‘bra’ (aka collar or harness!) – is worthwhile!
- Define What does loose-lead walking mean to you? Does your dog need to be at your side or is it ok for him to be slightly ahead or behind? How ‘loose’ is the lead? Decide what you want and then be consistent – otherwise your dog will be confused.
- Lead Get a long lead – at least 48inches; or better still get a Recall Training Line: Clix do 5m Training Lines and even offer a ‘Lightweight’ or ‘Puppy’ line (with a small d-clip) for smaller dogs.
- Harness – Get a harness that fits your dog properly – its not as easy as it sounds! Most harnesses are like poorly designed bras – they chafe, impede movement and feel uncomfortable. Perfect Fit do good harnesses and so do T-Touch.
- DONT use choke chains, prong collars, shock collars or any other device that uses pain to train. These tools may give the illusion of a quick fix but what your dog learns is that walking next to you is painful and unpleasant. Plus they often cause serious behaviour side affects eg lead aggression.
Timing, Placement, Patience
- I start lead training on a 5m long line – with most of it trailing – so there’s no pressure at all on the dog’s body.
- Then, I drop a yummy treat (or two!) on the ground, at my right hand side.
- When Rover has eaten his treat and looks at me, I say ‘good job’ and immediately drop another treat on the ground by my right side.
- I repeat this a few times until I’ve made it clear for Rover that eating and looking back to me is what makes me drop the next treat. Then – and only then – do I start to add movement…
- Now, I drop the treat, wait for Rover to look up at me, say ‘good job’ then I take 2 small, slow steps. If Rover takes a step or two with me, I give him (or drop) another treat.
- Then I wait for Rover to look up at me, say ‘good job’, then we take a couple more slow steps together, in a slightly different direction and then drop the next treat. Repeat … lots!
- Gradually – and I mean gradually – 2 steps between treats becomes 3, 4, 5 …10 steps between treats – you get the picture!
Have A Smiling Lead!
- Relax your grip. Give your dog length on the lead so that he or she is choosing to walk with you on a slack – SMILING – lead. Rather than forcing your dog to walk next to you by having the lead so short he cant do anything else.
- Dont be stingey! Use yummy, moist treats, reward frequently. Don’t expect too much too soon. New habits take time to learn. (Imagine you are learning a new dance with intricate steps – you’ll need a teacher who gives clear, consistent messages – your dog needs the same!) The most common issue with dogs that pull is that the dog isn’t rewarded often/appropriately enough for getting it right.
- If your dog pulls – STOP. Be patient and wait for your dog to ‘reconnect’ with you. Then start over; be aware there may be something in the environment making it hard for Rover to focus on you – even if you cant see or smell it!
- Short and sweet. At first keep your lead walking sessions short. 2-5 minutes of good quality lead walking is far better than 30 minutes of mistakes and pulling. Little and often is good – it reduces stress levels for both of you!
- Next ‘step’ – pun intended – is to start gradually adding in different types of distractions! Sadly we dont have space here to cover distraction training (its nuanced); but be aware that when the distraction level increases, you’ll need to increase Rover’s ‘rate of reinforcement’ ie give rewards more frequently.
If it’s worth doing…
… It’s worth doing well. So, take the stress out of lead training and get a professional Dog Trainer or Behaviourist to guide and support you. A couple of hours with a Professional is money well spent – you’ll avoid all the pitfalls and see MUCH better results, MUCH faster.
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