Likely the most common behavior pet owners want help with is leash pulling. Pulling on the leash can be damaging for both the handler and the dog, with neck injuries common for dogs. Playing tug of war during a walk is no fun! Your dog may be straining at the end of the leash and crossing directly in your path, you may feel unsafe being pulled forward, and both of you may feel frustrated by the end of the walk. Try these hot tips to improve yours and your dog’s leash skills!
Start leash training in your home. Always start with as few distractions as possible when teaching your dog something. By starting outside, your dog will likely be overwhelmed by distractions and unable to focus. By starting in your home, you are also able to start without a leash, creating a connection between you and your dog that doesn’t use the leash as a steering wheel. Reward your dog for walking with you through your home, then you can add the leash.
Carry lots of treats on your walks…and use them! Don’t be caught up on trying to fade rewards too quickly. You have plenty of time to worry about fading rewards, but spend lots of time building a reinforcement history (the number of times your dog is rewarded for doing something correctly) so you can be sure your dog really understands how to walk nicely on a leash. Ideal treats are bite-size and chewy. When teaching your dog how to walk nicely on a leash, you’ll need lots of treats, so pack more than you think you need.
Don’t start your walk until your dog is able to focus. If your dog is more focused on sniffing around and watching the things around you, don’t start walking yet. Focus does not mean your dog needs to stare at you, but your dog should be willing to give you eye contact. You may need to stand in place and wait for your dog to focus before you can begin. If your dog needs a few minutes to acclimate to the environment before he’s ready to focus, give him that few minutes and wait to start your walk.
Use the right equipment. This can be tricky with so many products on the market that say they are ideal for walks or for dogs that pull. Based on a study conducted in 20201, none of the 7 collars nor the slip lead they tested were determined to be safe for a dog that pulls. The safest equipment determined to walk a dog with is a harness that does not apply pressure to the dog’s neck. The Blue-9 Balance harness and the Pet Safe 3 in 1 harness do not apply pressure to the dog’s neck and do not inhibit shoulder movement. Leashes should be 4ft or 6ft in length and NOT retractable.
Know when to seek professional help. If your dog is fearful on walks, lunging at dogs or people, or your efforts don’t seem to be making any progress, you need to seek the guidance of a qualified professional. A qualified professional will likely hold credentials or be a member of an organization that requires members receive continuing education, they will gladly answer any questions you have about their credentials and memberships, they will openly discuss their methods and how their methods work, and they will never use pain, force, or fear to teach your dog.
Looking for professional guidance with leash training? My self-paced leash walking class breaks down each step into bite-size pieces and gives you the opportunity to to send videos of the exercises for feedback. If you prefer a more personalized approach, you can contact me and schedule virtual training lessons! You can see my credentials and memberships on my “about” page and I’m always happy to answer questions.
1 Carter, Anne, et al. “Canine Collars: An Investigation of Collar Type and the Forces Applied to a Simulated Neck Model.” Veterinary Record, vol. 187, no. 7, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.105681.