Updated: Jun 10, 2022
So many pet owners ask me this question “How do I get my dog to not pull on the leash?!” Many trainers resort to aversive methods like choke chains, prong collar, or even electronic collars to deal with this common struggle. It’s even been said that the equipment you use will cause your dog to pull! Harnesses, for instance, have consistently been blamed for leash pulling from your dog. What if I told you that none of that mattered? What if I told you the type of leash you use, collar, or harness doesn’t decide whether you are drug down the street or enjoy a Sunday stroll? What if the solution to this ever prevalent problem had nothing to do with equipment at all? Some trainers would scoff and say that they would never walk a dog on anything other than a pinch collar because it's the only thing that works. Others would say that of course equipment matters and that a harness will teach the dog to pull on the lead. The best trainers know the true secret to beautiful loose leash walking though... TRAINING!
The real secret to amazing leash walking is amazing training. The piece of equipment (while still having value) is not what determines a loose leash. So what is leash walking really? The skill of leash walking is teaching our dogs to walk beside us. They don’t know this when they are born they just know how to be a dog. It’s our responsibility to teach them the skills needed to navigate being a dog in a human world, and without a leash it's a dangerous world out there.
Now that I've hopefully convinced you your equipment choice isn't going to train your dog for you, let's go into equipment a bit. Equipment is import for a couple of reasons: Comfort of use, functionality, and preference. For leashes simpler is better. You don’t want to try to figure out the buttons on a retractable leash or how to hold a leash with countless handles. A simple 6ft nylon won’t lead you wrong, or my personal favorite halti’s leash with three length options and comfortable grip. Preference is all about style! My favorite is anything Minnie mouse for my pup 🐶 Now for comfort, it goes both ways, and for us a prong or electric collar is never an option. We strongly believe that teaching using pain, fear, or intimidation does not cultivate a functional learning environment. Science also says it is not the most effective way to teach either. Just like us, dogs want to feel safe, understood, and fulfilled. To be safe, they have to trust that they are not going to be pinched when moving forward or shocked for reacting the only way they know how. For these and many other reasons Morgan's Pawsitive Pup Training is, you guessed it, a pawsitive training only business. This goes for our fur baby parents as well. We want you to feel safe, understood, and fulfilled when working with us, and that is at the heart of what we do here.
Now back to leash walking! Just like learning most skills, you break it down into smaller simpler steps. That's what leash walking is after all, a skill your dog can learn! Whenever we teach our dogs something we should understand the components of the task. For example we know that a sit is when our dog places their bum on the ground. For leash walking, there are a lot more components. They are moving, staying in a specific location, matching our pace, watching the direction we are going, and keeping their focus more on us than the environment around them. That is a lot! It's not something that can be mastered overnight but, there are a couple of things, five to be exact, that will rocket you in the right direction!
Get your dog used to wearing equipment
Teach your dog what leash pressure means
1, 2,3 eyes on me!
The value of proximity
One step at a time
1. Get your dog used to wearing equipment
Now how do you do that? The easiest time to start is as a puppy. They are still learning so much about the world around them, it's easy to teach them that a collar and leash is just apart of life. During my time volunteering with my family for Guide Dogs for The Blind we started each puppy out with a drag line. It's so simple and yet so effective. Pretty much we would place a collar and leash on the puppy (a dollar store leash mind you) and when they were out in the home they would drag the leash behind them wherever they went. It was great for getting ahold of them when they started to get into trouble and teaching them that the leash is just an ordinary part of life. If you own an older dog, then pairing the equipment with enjoyable activities, such as meals can help your dog understand to be comfortable and maybe even enjoy wearing their collar or harness too. It’s never to late to train!
2. Teach your dog what leash pressure means
When your dog is born, they do no instinctually know that when they create pressure by pulling on a leash, it means they need to come back to us. We have to teach them this skill. While they are not born knowing what leash pressure is, they do have something that is called opposition reflex. We are all born with this! It’s the instinct to resist pressure rather then moving with it. An example would be if I pushed you. I’m placing pressure on you by pushing you backwards. Now 99% of you would try to right yourself by going against the pressure I placed on you, the other 1% idk 🤷🏻♀️ I guess you wanted to fall. Standing isn’t for everyone 😉. To bring it back now when your dog feels the pressure of the collar on their neck from pulling their first instinct is to pull harder away. How do we change that? Simple, start by holding your dog’s leash. Next move around a bit to encourage your dog to move. Watch them carefully so you can see when they are just about at the end of the leash. When you feel the pressure say your dog’s name. When they look at you mark “Yes!” and offer your dog a treat. Now don’t walk over to them to give the treat, hold it out and let them come to you. This will teach your dog that when they begin to feel pressure on the leash it is rewarding to look and move back towards you. GAME CHANGER!
3. 1, 2, 3, eyes on me!
This one is as simple as it sounds, we need to teach our dogs to watch us. When walking we need them to be paying attention to where we are going so we can continue to walk together as a team. To help build that team work we can teach our dogs to look at us with eye contact. Now dogs do not naturally give prolonged eye contact to each other. In dog language sustained eye contact at best is rude and at worst is a sign of aggression. So, teaching this correctly is important to keep your dog’s trust and understanding. Start by bringing a treat to your dog’s nose. Make sure it’s smelly and grabs your dog’s attention, now once they are following the treat with their eyes bring the treat up to your nose. Then as soon as their eyes look into yours mark “Yes!” and reward with the treat. The more you practice the more duration, distance, and distractions your dog can handle while continuing to give you eye contact. This is also very helpful when walking your dog when a distraction comes along. If you have practiced this enough (and with some tips on dealing with distractions) you can even have your dog give you eye contact as you walk on past these distractions.
4. The value of proximity
Proximity has everything to do with leash walking. To have a loose leash while walking, the dog must value and understand that they need to stay close to you. You need to be a team moving forward together. Without this you are just a dog and a person connected by some nylon. To teach your dog the value of proximity they need to find it rewarding to be close to you! There are countless ways to do this. The main one I’m going to focus on is with treats right now. To begin this fun game call your dog and toss them a treat! Let them go and get it then when they look back at you knowing you have more mark “Yes!” and drop three by your feet. Then toss out again and repeat! Your dog will have a blast running after the treat but what they will remember is that it was more rewarding to be back by you with the multiple treats.
5. One step at a time
For our last tip I wanted to bring it all together. For this one to be the most effective the other four should be taught first. Your dog will need to understand all these skills for this to maximize your leash walking! First have your dog on a leash and some treats. Start with practicing some eye contact to get your dog paying attention to you. Now take one intentional step forward and wait. If your dog follows then mark “Yes!” and treat your dog. Congratulations!! 🎊🎉🎈 You’ve just walked one stress free step with your dog! Now one step doesn’t feel like a lot at first but with some time and practice that one step becomes a walk around the block, a hiking trail, or even a trip the local outdoor mall. Whatever your goal is keep walking towards it and you’ll get there!
To help you and your dog walk like a pro schedule a free over the phone consultation with us! We are here to help you reach your dog training dreams.
Morgan Head Trainer at Morgan's Pawsitive Pup Training