Written by: Kassie Dickson, CPDT-KA, K9 Koach
Having a pup that walks like a dream is every dog owner's fantasy. Strolling down the street with your pup at your side keeping pace and enjoying the day. Unfortunately, the reality is that most people will be dragged from tree to tree, having to avoid other dogs and ultimately wanting to do anything but take long walks! Loose leash walking can be one of the most difficult behaviors to teach your dog.
Here are some tips to get your pup walking with you!
Food is your friend when teaching how to walk nicely, give your new pup a “high rate of reinforcement” to create solid behaviors; To start, try putting the leash on your dog inside, stand still and wait, the moment there is no tension on the leash, mark, and reward! Teach your pup that not pulling is rewarding!
Next try the same standing still, as long as your dog isn’t pulling, wait for them to offer eye contact before marking and rewarding.
Take this on the move and use food rewards when your pup isn’t pulling. If they do pull, plant your feet, play the games above, then keep moving. If your pooch pulls it’s very rewarding for them, so we need to make walking nicely more rewarding than pulling!
Always reward your dog where you want them to be! If you want your pup close to your side that’s where you should reward them, not out away from you, in front of you or behind you. So pay attention to the placement of your reward.
Don’t remove rewards too fast. You want to wait until your dog's behavior is reliable before making rewards intermittent, or removing them entirely.
When teaching loose leash walking, all you need a regular flat collar or a well-fitted harness for your pup and a 6-foot flat leash. You want to teach your dog to walk well on a leash in the equipment you plan to use.
Make sure you do not use punishment to teach these behaviors. Prong (pinch), shock and choke collars can do far more behavioral harm than good!
You can also try the games below!
Choose to heel
- Grab some treats with your furry friend off-leash (in a low distraction environment). Begin to walk around; if your pooch chooses you and begins to walk at your side, mark, and reward – it’s that simple!
- You can make this game harder by picking up your pace or quickly changing direction. This builds your dog’s desire to be with you, and it also increases the likelihood he will choose to be with you in a new and exciting environment. Working a heel off-leash also makes it much easier to transition to on leash!
- Play this game for 5 minutes every day and you’ll be loving the results.
- After your dog gets an idea of the game, add the leash, marking and rewarding whenever he is walking nicely beside you.
Mark and step
- In a quiet environment, with your dog on a leash at your side, take a step or two, and mark and reward while moving.
- Stop, then mark and reward him for being at your side.
- Immediately, step forward again, mark and reward while walking.
- Then stop, mark, and reward for being at your side frequently, this creates a positive incentive for your dog to remain at your side while walking!
- When your dog is reliably stepping and stopping in synch with you, add a cue of “let’s go” or another verbal cue.
- You can now move to a slightly more distracting environment and repeat the protocol.
Your pup may pull you in different directions, may chase squirrels, pigeons, leaves or literally just pancake whenever they see another dog and refuse to budge. This is a learning curve for the both of you. Remeber to be patient, carry a lot of high value treats, celebrate wins and take it one step at a time *pun intended.* - Alize Bhatia