Picture this: you’re strolling through the park with your companion walking politely at your side.
The leash is slack between you in a loose “J” shape. Your dog may indulge in the scents and scenery around you, but they quickly return their attention to you when asked.
If every walk feels like a battle, this might be hard to picture. But it really is achievable.
Even if your dog acts like a Tasmanian Devil on a leash, you can train them to walk in-sync with you with just a few simple changes.
The Right Walking Gear
When you’re walking with your dog, your main avenues of communication should be your body language and your voice.
People who depend on their walking gear to communicate with their dog always tug and tug at the leash to get their dog’s attention. With a prong collar, this means painful corrections throughout the walk. Even a regular leash and collar can become a crutch for people who have not learned to communicate with verbal and nonverbal cues.
You should think of the leash as insurance to keep your dog safe in case they try to dash off. It should stay slack most of the time, not constantly tightened and loosened.
If you have trouble keeping your dog under control, you may want to invest in no-pull walking gear, such as a front-clip harness or Gentle Leader. These tools do not cause your dog any pain; they simply make pulling less rewarding for your dog. When your dog tries to pull ahead they will be directed to face you, not the trigger.
A regular flat collar can be used for loose-leash walking, but you may want to use a comfortable harness instead to prevent choking and spinal injuries if your dog does pull. Small dogs can suffer from tracheal collapse from pulling on a flat collar.
Use a 6-foot nylon or leather leash. Retractable leashes can be difficult to lock when your dog suddenly pulls. They have also caused injuries to humans and dogs by wrapping around the extremities. Retractable leashes can actually teach your dog to pull because the spring-loaded reel is always taut while in use.
How To Start Training Loose-Leash Walking
Whether you’ve just gotten a new puppy or you have an adult dog with awful leash manners, you can use this simple daily routine to start training them to walk on a loose leash.
Allow your dog to exercise before your walk. It’s very difficult for dogs to walk nicely when they’re full of pent-up energy. You may have them chase after a ball inside your home or in a fenced-in yard. They don’t have to be absolutely exhausted before your walk. You just want to take the edge off. Depending on your dog’s energy levels, they will need an hour to three hours of physical stimulation each day.
Mental stimulation can also help your dog blow off steam so they’ll be happier and easier to train. Puzzle toys, a stuffed Kong and training games can all challenge your dog’s mind and sharpen their focus.
Short Loose-Leash Practice Sessions
Aim to spend five minutes each morning and afternoon practicing walking with your dog, on-leash, in a low-distraction area. You can start indoors if you have trouble getting your dog’s attention outside.
Teach your dog to follow a food lure at your side. A food lure can be a treat that you hold in your hand. If your dog is too short to reach your hand, you can smear peanut butter or canned food on a long spoon and use this as a lure target to guide them into the correct walking position.
There’s no need to use a cue like “heel!” You want your dog to walk by your side by default, not only when asked. You may decide to add cues like “left!” “right!” and “turn!” to your walks after you’ve made progress with the basics.
What To Do When Your Dog Reacts
It’s not unusual for dogs to get distracted while walking, but if they become uncontrollable whenever they see a squirrel or other dog, they might be reactive. Your dog might become so overstimulated that they will not be able to stop reacting to accept a treat.
You can train your dog to keep walking when they spot a trigger, but training becomes impossible once your dog is overstimulated or “over-threshold.” You will need to work on training them before that happens.
For example, your dog might just start to react when they see another dog 10 meters away. Instead of walking closer to the other dog, you would change directions before your dog goes over-threshold. Make a u-turn and give your dog a treat whenever they see a trigger. Soon, they’ll learn to associate the trigger with a reward, and will look to you for a treat instead of going nuts.
Exercises To Master The Loose-Leash Walk
If your dog pulls forward, whether they’re after an interesting trigger or just excited to move forward, you must stop moving. Only move forward when the leash is slack. Wait a few seconds for your dog to give in to the leash pressure and return to your side. You may need to encourage them by patting your hip.
Moving forward is a reward in itself, and may be even more rewarding than a treat, so you do not necessarily have to bring treats on every walk once your dog has learned the basics. You can even reward your dog by picking up the speed. Remember, dogs are naturally faster than us; that’s why they pull. If you can turn your walk into a brisk jog, they may find the outing more fulfilling.
Teach your dog to look back and check-in once in a while. Reward them when they do this without prompting. You can also teach the “watch me” cue by holding up a treat before your eyes.
Once you and your dog have gotten pretty good at loose-leash walking without distractions, you can up the challenge. Leave their favorite toy in your path, or have a friend hold up a treat or toy nearby. Again, only move forward if the leash is loose, and stop if the leash becomes taut.
Stop Struggling With Loose-Leash Training!
Loose-leash walking is tough to train on your own. It always helps to have an experienced trainer who can assist you with changing your body language and sharpening your timing to make sure your communication with your dog is crystal-clear.
Get help tailored to your dog’s needs with Healthy Houndz. Walking your dog should be fun and relaxing – we’ll help you get there with our one-on-one loose leash walking sessions. Contact us today to get started!