We know that dogs love coming to Happy Tails, so we’re delighted when we see dogs charging into our foyer. But, sometimes the enthusiastic pup is pulling a bedraggled owner behind them. It’s no fun being pulled by your dog. Your pup has to learn that, while it’s great that he’s excited to get to his friends, he doesn’t have the right to pull you like a 5 year old with a helium balloon.
There is a technique to teaching your dog to walk. We call it Loose Leash Walking. Here is what you will be doing:
1. Create a zone – We call this creating a batter’s box. In baseball, when a batter steps out of the batter’s box, the game stops. When you create a zone, you’re creating an area that your dog walks in. That zone can be as small or large as you’d like. However, when your dog steps outside of that zone, you stop. That’s it. Just stop. But stopping is hard.
Both humans and dogs have this thing called Oppositional Reflex. This is a reflex that makes you want to pull your head in the opposite direction when someone pulls your hair. This is the reflex that makes your dog want to pull more when you’re pulling on his leash. This ends up in a tug-of-war, which you’re probably going to lose.
So, we say “Don’t pull, just stop.” Because this is harder than you think we suggest something like putting your hand in your pocket, or tying the leash around your waist. You may not get far, but your dog will learn the dimensions of the zone (or leash) and learn that if he pulls, he won’t get anywhere….fast.
2. Praise your dog – When your dog is walking along side of you, praise them. We always tell our dogs what we DON’T want them to do, but we rarely tell them what we WANT them to do. It’s a lot more specific to tell a dog what you’d like them to do than to let them try and it out themselves. If you’re using a command, like With Me, then say “Good With Me, Fido!!”
3. Get your dog to pay attention to you – When you’re walking with your dog, it should be a partnership. If you’re boring, your dog will look for something more interesting to engage in. So, talk to your dog, use the Look command, walk fast, walk slow, turn directions, slalom telephone poles…do whatever you can to make the walk fun.
4. Share the walk – Your dog wants to smell who has been around lately. So, tell him “If you walk to the hydrant nicely, you can sniff there for a bit.” Also, remember that this walk is for both of you. If you need to get some exercise, that’s great. But if you take off at Mach 6 and you have a small dog, he’s not going to enjoy himself after a block or two. So, half the time you’re asking for him to walk appropriately, and half the time you’re letting him enjoy himself with sniffs, or rolls, or whatever.
Rules about walking
There are a couple of rules about walking your dog:
First, don’t wrap your leash around your wrist and arm. If your dog started to run, you might not be able to disengage. This is a dangerous way to hold a leash. Hold the leash with two hands, or use a shorter leash. Shorter leashes make it easier to train your dog to walk with you because they don’t much momentum to pull you off your feet. Using a 2 foot long leash or traffic lead will help your dog learn the zone quicker.
Second, relax. If you keep your arm at a weird angle, or you’re walking stilted, your dog is going to feel like you’re acting strange. Just be relaxed and trust your dog. Be aware of what’s going on around you, but try and enjoy yourself.
What you need
As we’ve said, we recommend short leashes when you’re starting to teach your dog. Once they start understanding the zone, you can switch to a longer leash. Choose a leash that is comfortable when you hold it folded up in one hand. Also, for those times that your dog sees a squirrel and takes off despite all of his training, a nylon leash can leave a nasty burn. Leather leashes, while a bit more expensive, are a lot less painful.
Harnesses seem like a good thing, especially when you have a dog that’s gagging and choking because he’s pulling. If your dog is making himself gag, you probably should use a harness. We recommend the Harness Lead because it doesn’t put any stress on a dog’s throat, sternum or back. Remember, dogs running the Iditarod wear harnesses so that they can get their entire weight behind their pull.
You love your dog. You just have to show him how to walk with you better. Remember, if you’re frustrated, your dog is, too. Be patient, it takes a while for dogs to get this command. Create a zone and get your dog to focus on you. If he goes out of the zone, stop and try not to pull. Remember to praise your dog when he’s doing the right thing. And, you want to have fun and make the walk interesting for both of you.
This is just a basic introduction to Loose Leash Walking. In our classes and workshops, we go into greater detail and help you practice this technique.