How to Leash Train a Dog: Tips To Stop the Pulling & Enjoy Your Walks Again
Do you remember the very first time you put a leash on that cute, chubby little fur ball of a puppy you just adopted? You immediately click the leash on his collar (Oh look! The snap is almost as big as he is), you then begin to tug on the leash with the expectation that your new pup is going to automatically know what this thing is yanking on his neck. You laugh at him and maybe even praise him for flopping down on the floor and biting the leash. You drag him a bit, and then he takes a couple steps and then rolls over scratching and biting and flails around trying to escape the collar. Then the whole scenario repeats itself, all the while you are telling little rover he is a genius, a champ, the best pup in the world as he gnaws on the leash and flops all over the floor like a fish. Sound familiar?
Or maybe, you have an older dog that walks you instead of you walking him. He pulls you all over the place, chases the neighborhood cat into the thorn bush up the street that you are now well acquainted with, and it seems like any time you pull back on the leash, Fido increases his speed! You decide he’s getting too big or too strong for you and before you know it, you are in traction at the chiropractor and your beloved pup is getting fat on the couch!
Leash walking shouldn’t be so hard, should it? Actually, training your puppy to walk appropriately on its leash can be one of the most frustrating, yet necessary aspects of good dog ownership. No one wants to be pushed, pulled or yanked towards other dogs or into traffic (both of these actually happened to me once before I became a dog trainer)!
By simply teaching your dog good leash walking manners you will keep your puppy and yourself safe while you are out walking! Most people try to leash train their dogs on their own, and usually end up making the problem worse leaving both pup and owner frustrated and confused. Sometimes, the problem is that dog owners are relying on aversive training tools like Choke Chains and Prong Collars. Although these barbaric tools may work in short term, owners find out they have absolutely NO control without those collars!
Punishment and pain can also lead to an escalation of bad behavior and in some cases even aggression toward the owner. I believe all dogs should be trained well enough to be walked on a buckle collar or harness alone. No aversive dog training collar to over-use or rely on!
Let’s take a look at some of the tools that have been designed to help teach dog and puppy owners how to leash train a dog.
The No-Pull Harness
The No-Pull Harness is designed with one goal; to stop your dog from pulling and make leash walking a pleasant experience.
How the no-pull harness is used can depend on its design and overall function. The most popular no-pull harnesses on the market right now are the Easy Walk Harness, Freedom Harness/Balance Harness, and Sensation Harness.
Each of these are designed to attach the leash to the front of your dog’s chest to allow you more control when he is pulling. The theory is that if you can control the dog’s forward motion, you can turn that motion around and eliminate the success of pulling.
The first thing that should to be considered when choosing one of these tools is why it is needed.
Another point of consideration is how complicated the harness is to put on. If not put on right, you defeat the purpose of the harness and can cause rubbing and injury. It is important that none of these harnesses cause irritation when your dog moves. Here’s a video to help:
The final consideration is whether the tool assists in training proper leash walking or is simply restraining the dog. If not allowed to walk on his leash naturally, he will not learn to walk without the harness.
While no-pull harnesses are a wonderful alternative to more traditional aversive leash walking tools on the market today, they can still have an aversive effect on the dog. It is important to look at the training and determine if:
- Your dog is no longer pulling because you have reinforced proper loose leash walking;
- Your dog is no longer pulling only because he is being restrained; or
- Your dog is no longer pulling because the tool is creating an aversive or painful experience.
The Head Halter
Not to be mistaken for a muzzle, these halters are a leash walking device that gives you more control over your dog than a collar or harness.
The basic premise of a head halter is: where the head goes, the body will follow. When the halter is used in combination with teaching your pup a loose-leash walk, it can be a great transitional training tool that is used temporarily to teach a particular behavior.
When the head halter is used properly, it can be a safe and effective tool. Proper fitting should be associated with a reward such as his favorite treats and should only be done over a period of time as your pup remains relaxed. If you take the time to ensure the fitting is done right, your pup will better tolerate wearing the head halter, because it’s associated with a reward.
Positive Reinforcement Training
Speaking of reward, positive reinforcement refers to operant conditioning, and I won’t bore you with the details right now, but suffice it to say B.F. Skinner, one of the leading researchers on reinforcement, found that positive reinforcement (to reward good behavior) is far more superior to punishment in altering undesirable behavior because positive reinforcement results in lasting behavioral modification, and punishment changes behavior only temporarily; and presents many detrimental side effects. If the problem behavior changes temporarily, it will reappear later, and it comes with even more problem behavior! Good Behavior = Reward and Bad Behavior = Punishment, does that sound familiar? Positive reinforcement training is what exotic animal trainers have used for years to teach dolphins, whales and large cats among other animals. You cannot force a dolphin to do what it does not want to do!
This type of training is more effective because it builds a bond of trust and cooperation between animals and humans, the animals (and the humans) actually look forward to training! No one looks forward to punishment, or even the probability of punishment! We all want to be told when we do something right, not belittled, hit or corrected when we do something wrong!
What about the Retractable Leash?
Here is an excerpt from Dr. Karen Becker’s article 10 Reasons Not to Use a Retractable Leash; highlighting the reasons you shouldn’t be leash walking with a retractable leash:
“First of all, “leash” is probably not a good word to describe the thin cord used in many retractable leash devices. Secondly, the real purpose of using a leash to walk a dog is to keep the animal safe and under the owner’s control. Retractable leashes often do the opposite.
There are many reasons to avoid or reconsider use of a retractable leash, starting with the fact that on this type of leash, your dog can get far enough away from you to either get into trouble or into harm’s way.
Retractable leashes are also responsible for many injuries to both dogs and dog walkers – from superficial burns and cuts to horrific amputations.
In most cases, these devices are also wholly counterproductive to training a dog to walk politely on lead. The very nature of the retractable leash trains dogs to pull on the leash to extend the lead. Needless to say, this pulling behavior will be repeated whenever the dog is on a standard leash.”
I mean, have you ever seen anyone successfully loose leash walk their dog using a retractable leash? I observed a man yesterday at our local pet food center trying to control his medium sized dog while another customer was walking their very petite pups. Guess what he was using? A retractable leash, that malfunctioned, the dog was able to get far enough away from the owner that he lost control and the dog went right after those little puppies. Luckily, the dog just wanted to say hello, and those two little pooches knew exactly how to take care of themselves! This scenario could have turned out pretty bad.
The clicker is a very effective training tool, that when conditioned with a reward like food, a treat or a toy signals to your puppy that he has done something right. The clicking sound becomes synonymous with the reward/treat once training has begun. However, your puppy has to be taught that the clicker means something and clicking alone is not reinforcing anything.
You must teach your dog what the clicker means, and timing is essential with clicker training. You must click at the exact moment the correct behavior is beginning to be performed! This communicates to your puppy what you like and what you want to continue to see!
Here’s a video that shows you why this method is so powerful, and how to learn it:
Leash Training Steps
Leash training, like most dog obedience training, is less problematic if we can break it down into straight forward, manageable steps.
First you will click and reward simply for introducing the leash/harness, and collar. Give your puppy ample time to become accustomed to these tools before putting them on your puppy. Soon, he will get excited once he sees them!
Now, you may begin allowing your pooch to wear them around the house, increasing the wear time. Keep your pup inside with you, during the beginning of training to help him be successful (training outside can be distracting), and click and reward every time he chooses to be near you while he wears the collar and leash, and remember, consistency is key here. Also click and reward if he looks up at you, this is the foundation to getting his focus-You want his attention to be on you!
Leash walking outside may be more frustrating because there are numerous distractions for you to compete with for your puppy’s attention. Understand, from his point of view, how much more difficult this task has now become, and whatever you do, don’t lose your patience; don’t drag him or allow him to drag you! Walk slowly and click and treat if he stays at your side. If he begins to pull, stop or change your direction, then click and treat when he reaches your side again!
How can I stop my puppy from pulling me when we go for a walk?
Consider why puppies pull when they are walking; there are many things that tempt your dog when you’re out for a walk, like children playing in the yard across the street, you neighbor grilling some hot dogs and that squirrel in the tree at the park. Your pup will try to get where he wants to go, even if that means pulling you along with him! If he pulls on the leash and you allow him to, you’ve reinforced that pulling gets him what he wants. Once you’ve allowed him to do this, he’ll do it again and again:
- he wants to investigate his surroundings;
- he wants to move forward.
Our job is to alter that natural instinct and teach them to walk nicely on the leash. It takes time, but patience and practice will reward you with an awesome walking buddy for years to come.
Remember, the best approach to leash training your dog is:
- Walk slowly and click and treat if he stays at your side, if he begins to pull, stop or change your direction then click and treat when he reaches your side again!
- As soon as puppy looks at you, click and reward him with a treat, then take a few steps back and engage puppy to follow you (through calling his name, taking small bouncy steps and keeping your shoulders relaxed) not by pulling the leash;
- As soon as puppy comes towards you, click and reward with a treat and a “good boy!” and immediately continue walking.
Puppy will soon realize that tension on the leash stops forward movement and as soon as he approaches his handler, the tension is released and he gets to move forward again.
Don’t Lose Your Cool!
Please remember to remain calm at all times, and utilize jackpots (more treats or better treats) when your dog accomplishes something that was difficult for him; i.e. not pulling you toward the neighbor dog! Jackpot for any eye contact or focus on you! Keep leash training sessions short and FUN! You can train several times a day, but you don’t want to push you or your dog past the point of fun! Puppies, especially, have short attention spans and if you insist on puppy training past the point of fun, usually around 5 to 15 minutes, your pup may start to dislike, and even dread training!
Scheduling multiple training sessions throughout the day will help your dog learn more quickly because dogs like schedules and he will depend on, and look forward with happy anticipation until you can go out again! I like training right before breakfast, lunch and dinner because my pups are hungry and pay more attention to me, and I can even use their kibble (food) for reward!
BUT Before You Even Start Leash Training…
I recommend that you begin teaching your dog how to sit and stay prior to beginning any leash training! Having a reliable sit and stay will enable you to ask for this command if your pup starts pulling on the leash. This will help you refocus his attention and help him get back to your side! It is also safer to have a dog that has a reliable sit and stay, so that you are not pulled out into traffic while walking together! Leash training, like all dog training, requires immense amounts of patience on both your parts! But, the payoff will be a well-trained dog that all of your friends envy, and builds a relationship of love and trust! So, grab your clicker and a pocket full of treats and get out there! Have some fun together while learning valuable skills! When your dog has mastered leash walking check out loose leash training!
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