Image above: Are you being taken for a walk?
Guest blog by Jennifer Billot
Jennifer Billot, MSc CPDT-KA is a professional dog trainer and the founder and owner of Bone Ball Bark, a force-free dog training company based in Chiswick. Over a series of blogs she explores the most common problems she encounters when clients first get in touch.
Whether you have had your dog for many years, acquired a lockdown puppy within the last two, or just picked up a new bundle of fluff, complete with a set of sharp teeth, hopefully this series will provide some helpful tips.
How to stop your dog from dragging you down the street
A lot of people get a dog because they love to be outside, go on nice long walks, and enjoy exploring new places. For this to be an enjoyable and safe experience for both owner and dog, being able to walk calmly and loosely when on leash is a must. However, this can be a tricky and long process to teach. Consistency is key here, but here are some other things to think about when teaching loose leash walking.
1. Loose leash walking has nothing to do with the leash
It is a misconception that the leash is the tool you use to teach a dog to walk nicely at your side. In reality, the leash is there for safety and security only. Loose leash walking is all about their position in relation to you and your dog acknowledging that you exist! Hard to do when there are so many interesting things to sniff, look at and run for when outside.
- Much like in the recall blog post, reward every time your dog checks in with you. If he is looking at you, he can’t also be straining or forging ahead.
2. Minimise distractions when working on loose leash walking
Puppies and older rescue dogs have absolutely no idea what a leash is or why we have it. I come across a lot of people who are frustrated that their young puppy doesn’t walk by their side from the get go. Make being off-leash it a game inside your home and in the garden that finding and being by your side is a fun and rewardable thing to do. They are in the least distracting environment possible, which is where we teach all new behaviours first, so they can focus and engage with you.
- Take a few steps and encourage your dog to follow. The moment they catch up to your side, give your click or marker word, and give a treat while they are still in that position.
- Then turn in a different direction and encourage them to follow you. Repeat. Over time you can extend the duration of how many steps your puppy should be by your side walking with you before you give your mark and treat!
3. Burn off some energy before your walk
Getting rid of some initial energy before a walk can also help decrease the pulling.
- Use a snuffle mat for 10 minutes of sniffing.
- Play a game in the garden first before you go out on your walk.
4. Don’t be fooled into getting equipment that promotes “no pulling”
The dog merchandise industry is flooded with equipment and tools that are advertised as things to buy to stop a dog pulling on leash. “No pull” harnesses, head collars that restrict movement, choke chains and leashes that constrict your dog’s airway if they pull ahead; all the things that will NOT teach your dog where you want them to be when you are walking! Ditch them now.
- The main equipment you need is a proper fitting harness with a clip on the back, and a good length leash. I use Ruffwear and Perfect Fit harnesses. This is for safety only and nothing to do with teaching them to walk nicely. Clip the leash on to the back of the harness instead of the front. This saves any pressure on their neck from wearing just a collar, and by not clipping the leash to only the front or chest part of the harness, you are saving their shoulder joints from being unnecessarily pulled to the side if they forge ahead. The physiological safety of your dog is more important right now than them walking nicely.
- Change your pace and direction often, which will keep your dog more focused on you as he is unsure what is going to happen next. Reward often when he is focused on you and walking next to you.
- Contrary to what feels natural, the longer the leash you have, the easier it is to teach how to walk next to you. If you have an extremely short leash and keep it very tight, the dog will pull on the leash if he is only a step in front of you. He will automatically push against that pressure. By keeping a nice loose long leash, you can work on keeping him engaged by your side without him feeling that tight leash pressure and learning to strain against it. It also will help your frustration levels too! On that note, ditch the extendable leash. It promotes pulling as the length you have the lock at varies constantly. Your dog will forever be trying to figure out the boundary of it; sometimes this is a foot away from you, other times 15 feet away. This is not fair, nor helpful in teaching how to walk on a leash.
5. Think of yourself as a slot machine
Imagine that you are playing a slot machine, and you win. The coins will come out of a tiny opening on one side of the machine. Every single time you win, the coins will appear at this opening. They won’t randomly come out of the top of the machine, the side of it, or underneath it, so when you do win you will place your hand by the opening every time in anticipation of collecting the coins. Now think of yourself as the slot machine, and your dog as you. If your dog knows exactly where that treat is going to be given to him, he will want to hang out there. Be consistent in where you give your treats! If I hold the treat out in front of me or on my left side, in order to get it, he has to move out of that nice position by my side. The placement of the treat is almost as important as the reward itself.
- I like for my dog to walk on the right hand side of me as I am right handed! I hold the leash in my left hand across the front of my body, and this leaves my right hand free to deliver treats to him. Each time I deliver a treat, my hand is touching my right leg to ensure that my treat is being delivered in the exact position I like him walking in.
Jennifer Billot has a Masters Degree in Canine Sciences from Bergin University in California. She is a certified professional dog trainer, CPDT-KA qualified, and spent five years as an Assistance Dog trainer for an organization specializing in mobility assistance dogs in both Seattle and Hawaii. She offers in-person training sessions in London and virtual consultations worldwide.
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