Leash training your dog for Walking the Dog Day
February 22nd is National Walking The Dog Day! There’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying a pleasant stroll with your beloved pooch: walking down the sidewalk, soaking up some sun, watching the birds and squirrels frolic in the grass…that is, until just “watching” those squirrels turns into being dragged across your neighbor’s lawn to get to them! For many people with dogs, leash training can be a real challenge. Though especially true for owners who have large or powerful breeds (that are just as capable of taking YOU for a walk!), having your arm constantly tugged on can be frustrating for owners of any size dog. The following are just a few tips to help make walks with your feisty Fido a bit less stressful!
Bad habits like pulling on the leash have often been inadvertently reinforced for a long time (how many of us never bother to stop our adorable little puppies when they are running back and forth and acting silly on the leash?), so breaking them can take some persistence. But being patient, gentle, and consistent is the key to successful leash training with most dogs! When your dog starts to pull you, simply stop, stand still, and wait for him to ease up on the lead. As soon as he stops pulling and allows for some slack in the leash, move forward again! It’s easy to want to throw in the towel at first – your dog has been pulling you for the whole walk, and it feels like you’ve been stopping and starting forever…but don’t give up! Both you and your dog have the same goal: to enjoy a nice trip outdoors! He just needs time to figure out that the only way to achieve that goal is to “loosen up” a bit! In the end, leash training will really benefit both of you!
There’s a big wide world out there, and as much as many of us hate to admit it, there are many sights, scents, and sounds that are just more interesting to our dogs than we are. To combat this, sometimes you have to bust out the “big guns” to tip the odds in your favor: a tennis ball, your dog’s favorite squeaky toy, some super tasty treats, whatever it is that your dog finds super rewarding!
Take time during your walk to have a short play or treat season with your pooch, and of course whenever he is behaving and is paying attention to you, take a moment to stop, praise, and reward some more! Do this whether he is currently distracted by something/pulling or not- and remember, we only get the behaviors that we reinforce, so never pass up an opportunity to praise something good while leash training!
Use your environment to your advantage!
Walking on a leash is a pretty foreign concept to a dog, so what better way to reinforce behaviors than with things that come naturally to him? If carrying a ball or a bag of treats with you on a walk is juggling too much, the great news is you don’t always need those things to offer a reward. Many dogs pull because they want to interact with something in their environment, and you can use this to your advantage. If your dog really wants to run up to and sniff that irresistible bush, let him! But have him walk calmly by your side first, and when he is waiting patiently and not pulling you, praise him and let him sniff! This way you both win – you get a dog who is behaving nicely, and your dog gets to explore and enjoy his environment!
When all else fails, there are still options!
For those particularly difficult pullers who just don’t want to walk nicely, there are several great leash training products on the market that can help you regain control of your rambunctious pooch.
For serious pullers, the Freedom No-Pull Harness
is a special kind of harness that clips not only to the back, but also the front (chest) of your dog. When your leash is attached on the front ring, any forward motion will be gently redirected in the direction that the leash is being held! You can think of it almost like a horse bridal- wherever you move the leash, the dog’s body will follow! This is especially helpful for large, exuberant dogs who can be difficult to regain control of.
If your dog doesn’t pull quite so hard, but you’d still like to give your tired arms a bit of a rest, there are also products like the Wacky Walk’r
, which offer a durable, stretchable rubber lead that absorbs some of the tension from mild pullers, and even offers a bit of resistance to help discourage pulling!