Take a Walk on the Mild Side: teaching pup to walk on a loose leash
Updated: May 18
Going for a walk with your dog should be an enjoyable experience for both of you! But when a dog pulls on leash, it's unpleasant and occasionally even unsafe for the person who is being dragged around, to say nothing of the impact on the dog's body from long-term pulling. (One example: click here to link to a small study on intraocular eye pressure.)
Most people don’t set out to purposely teach the dog to pull. So what’s going on? You may be surprised to hear that dogs are highly motivated to pull simply to maintain forward motion. By following them when the leash is tight, we strengthen that pulling habit at every step. By the time a pup reaches adolescence or adulthood, the habit of pulling has become entrenched.
Even worse, if pulling works to get the pup to things he desires – another person or dog to visit, a stinky lamppost to sniff, a yummy food wrapper in the weeds – that pulling behavior is being reinforced even more, and thus grows stronger with each success.
I love to introduce leash manners to a young pup with little or no pulling history. It's so much easier to teach the desired behavior from the get-go, rather than having to undo a leash-pulling habit that's been in place for months or years.
So, how do we teach loose leash walking to a pup? Here are some tips:
Exercise pup before the walk, so he can burn off excess energy, and thus be more likely to succeed in early training sessions.
Work with pup when he has a good appetite, and carry an ample supply of superlative treats.
Choose quiet, low-distraction areas for training at first, so pup thinks you’re the most interesting game in town. Gradually increase distractions when he's ready for the challenge.
Reinforce pup generously when he maintains a loose leash. This means dishing out tasty little treats when pup is walking nicely by your side. Treats are delivered frequently at first, but as pup catches on, you’ll gradually require longer bouts of polite walking between treats.
Give pup permission to access things he desires when he’s maintaining a loose leash. That’s powerfully reinforcing! And pup learns you’re very reasonable about giving him time to engage in the stuff he enjoys. All he needs to do is a bit of loose leash walking with you first.
What if the pup begins to pull on the leash anyway, despite you following all the tips above?
Here are two effective options:
Stop in our tracks and lock the leash at your waist the instant the leash gets tight. EVERY TIME, folks! If you’re very consistent about this, and pulling is never successful for accessing things the pup desires, he will abandon this pulling behavior.
If pup is wildly distracted by something in the environment and is pulling strenuously, it’s best to walk in the opposite direction. And as pup catches back up with you and is walking by your side, you can begin the treat delivery process again to reinforce polite walking. Remember to plan your training locations (less distractions) more carefully to help him succeed during the early stages of training.
Here’s a clip from The HOW of Bow Wow, showing some simple introductory steps.
If your pup is already pulling strongly on leash, I suggest you switch to walking him on a body harness with a front-clip option, instead of his buckle collar. Here are two good brands to check out: Freedom and Balance.
A final note to new puppy owners: begin training early and be consistent about the no-pulling rule, and you’ll be on your way to enjoyable walks in no time!
If you're interested in more info about the DVD featured above, please click here.
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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