Updated: Feb 26
Walking is beneficial for your dog for many reasons. It is great mental stimulation, great bonding between you and your pup and-of course- an awesome way to exercise your dog. But when your dog doesn't know how to walk calmly on a leash, things can go from fun to frustrating fast. In this post, we'll talk about how to teach your dog to walk on a leash without pulling.
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While many people shy away from using too many treats in their training, studies have shown that positive reinforcement and treat based training results in your dog learning faster. As a dog trainer, I love having treats on hand to help get my dogs excited to learn new things! When walking out in public I always recommend having a treat that is smellier and more distracting than your environment, to keep your dogs attention on you. Three of my personal favorites are:
Zuke's Dog Treats - Less than 3 calories per treat and dogs go crazy for them
True Chews - they're always grain-free, there are multiple chicken-free options, and most are easy to break into pea-sized pieces. They're perfect for training!
Blue-Stix, by Blue Buffalo - these ones are also very smelly, soft, easy to break into training appropriate pieces, and come in a variety of flavors for any picky dogs out there.
If you prefer something more natural just boil or cook some chicken breast and carry it with you in a ziplock bag. If you make a large amount make sure to freeze it and defrost it as needed to avoid giving your dog food poisoning from it sitting in the refrigerator for too long.
Clicker And Reward For Staying By Your Side
When your dog does what you want them to do, you absolutely must tell them that they have done what you wanted them to do, so that they can learn to do it again and again. Animal training experts typically use a clicker to mark the behavior that they are asking for because it's short, simple, and loud enough. When your dog falls into the area that you want them to stay in, you click your clicker and then reinforce that with a treat. Your dog isn't going to know right away that the clicking sound is a positive sound, so you must immediately give treats and praise after clicking your clicker to associate that noise with good things.
Stop Or Turn Around When Your Dog Pulls
The biggest mistake that I see a lot of frustrated dog parents make, is pulling back on the leash when the dog pulls. First of all, that looks exhausting-does your arm get sore after all of that wrestling with your dog? More importantly, all you're doing is teaching your dog that going on walks with you is no fun- and you aren't having fun walking with your dog either! When your dog pulls ahead of you can use two different methods to teach them that walking calmly gets them more walking time. Many people will completely stop walking to keep their dog from pulling. This method teaches dogs that they do not get what they want (more walking time) when they do not practice proper leash manners. Personally, I prefer to just turn around and walk in the opposite direction. When I turn around to keep my dog from pulling, we're still moving and as soon as my dog catches up to me I get to click and treat because they accidentally fell into the area that I want them to stay in. This teaches them faster to fall into that area because it gives them more opportunities to accidentally do so.
Use Safe, Redirecting, No Pull Tools
Even with all of the treats, all of the clicking, and all of the stopping and turning around, dogs will still pull while they are learning. Some dogs are just too big or too strong for us to wait for them to learn to walk with a loose leash. Sometimes we need an extra tool to keep our dogs from pulling while they learn- and that is okay. My two favorite no-pull tools are the Good Boy Padded Head Halter and the Pet Safe Easy Walk Harness. Both tools are set up in a way so that, when your dog tries to pull, they are redirected to one side-similar to reins on a horse. If you don't want to use the no-pull harness or the Gentle Leader, I would recommend having 2 separate collars. One being the collar that has your personal contact information and an additional collar that you attach to your leash because not all collars are made the same and with the right amount of pull, they can easily snap or slip off. If you do decide to use a choke chain or pinch collar please educate yourself on how to use them safely with your dog. If you don't use those tools correctly you can damage and puncher your dog's trachea. I prefer Martingales since they are typically made out of soft material and only tighten to a certain degree un-like your traditional choke chains. My personal favorite is made by Mighty Paw. Martingales are known as greyhound, whippet, or humane choke collars.
Some of the tools we recommend require an adjustment period and a bit of training. Luckily if you do choose to purchase those tools they typically come with instructions in regards to getting your dog accustom to wearing them during their walks. If they don't we recommend letting them wear their no-pull tool and allow them to roam the house for a while. This allows them to grow accustomed to the feeling of having these tools attached to them before actually using them on a walk. You'll want to reward them with a treat when you put the equipment on them as they are getting used to it to establish a positive association. Always use a happy voice, your pet will be easier to train in a positive atmosphere.
Last Bit Of Advice
When teaching your dog to walk on a leash, it is important to be patient and keep looking for opportunities to reward your dog. Have a safe and fun walk!
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