Leash Manners: The Final Step
Leash manners are imperative to good dog training.
Nothing disturbs me more (well almost nothing) than seeing a dog pulling his owner down the street! Even if it is a small dog, the damage done to the sensitive organ the trachea or windpipe can be irreversible!
Once as a vet tech, I sat with a dying dog that had a collapsed trachea, and it was one of those moments I will never forget. His owners were having trouble determining if they wanted to invest thousands of dollars in emergency surgery that might not even work on an older dog, and I was left to comfort the dog who couldn’t get enough oxygen into his lungs. As I sat with an oxygen mask to his nose, it hit home that a lifetime of leash pulling can have devastating consequences. It is one of my most painful memories.
Do not allow yourself to get into this habit! Even if you don’t see the horrors of leash pulling now, you might later have to deal with them later.
And, let me say that pulling on a “harness” is also not the answer!
The point is to teach your dog to have manners and to watch you and to follow you, WITHOUT pulling.
In my previous articles; The Premise of the Magical Dog Leash, The Magical Dog Leash Part 2: Finding Heel, and Teaching Your Dog Drive, Focus and Heel for More Leash Skills, we talked about how to teach our dogs about the leash, heel position and how to use their prey drive to teach them drive and focus (or eye contact). And, now it is time to teach your dog specifically about “Leash Manners” when you are out and about walking together.
This is the final step, at least to this series of articles, but the good news (if you are coming in late) is that you can teach these skills in any order. However, because we can become so lazy with our dogs on a leash, I usually prefer that people get the first steps conquered at home in their houses without a leash!
Now it is time to teach your dog that these new expectations are involved also when he is outside and on his leash!
First we must teach him about his leash, specifically.
Do NOT use a flexi-leash or extendable leash. Flexi Leashes are great for when you are on vacation and need your dog to have enough space to go potty. But these leashes are HORRIBLE for training purposes.
Your dog needs to KNOW how long his leash is all of the time. If it is sometimes 2 feet and other times 15 feet you are setting your dog up for failure and for the ability to pull you off of your feet!
Imagine from your dog’s perspective one minute he can run out to 10 feet and the next he is locked in at 2 feet. Don’t you figure he would assume he still had 10 feet of freedom and he would hit the end of that leash like a bullet?
Dogs are not only capable but NEED to know how long their training leash is! This means you need to use the same leash all of the time, at least in the beginning until he knows and has good leash manners!
I start off with a 6 foot leash. 6 feet gives me enough space to train and give him some leeway but not enough for him to get a “running” start at the squirrel!
You can even do this step initially in your house. You are simply going to clip the leash on and teach him how long it is.
What You Will Need:
- Your Dog
- Yummy Treats and/or His Favorite Toy
- A six foot leash
- A Clicker
If I know that my dog is going to be over excited or won’t listen to me outside, I will start this inside. However if I have a chance at keeping some of his attention I will go outside to a concrete area like the drive way or an abandoned parking lot.
Concrete doesn’t smell like raccoons, opossums, other little critters and dogs, so it is easier to keep your dog’s focus on a hard surface instead of grass at first.
Now make sure that your dog has his whole leash available; don't gather it up to be shorter.
Put the loop of the handle of the leash over your thumb and grasp it in your right hand. Do NOT wrap the leash around and up your wrist. The human wrist is not a strong body part and if yanked it can be broken. However your hand and gripping with it is strong and if you feel like you need to you can release your grasp and let the leash go instead of getting pulled into traffic or suffer from a broken wrist or arm!
Keep your left hand OFF of the leash unless you are getting ready to stop then you can slide it down the leash to stop his forward motion; otherwise you have a tendency to keep the leash tight and it could strangle your dog and he will pull no matter what! Right hand leash walking only!
If he chooses to stay in or around “heel” position you will click and reward him with his treats or with his toy. This teaches him that this is the IDEAL position. Even though it is not a requirement, right now, this is where we want our dogs until we ask them to be there on command.
If he is not paying attention to you, turn around and go the other direction.
I play a game of keep away with my dogs. As soon as your “general” focus is not on me and it is on something else, I turn around and head the other way. I don’t allow them to pull me, I give them a quick pull when they hit the end of the leash.
The intention is not to pop the leash or deliver a “leash correction” the idea is to remove yourself from your dog when his focus is not on you.
He quickly learns, even though he has 6 feet of leash to wander on that he should pay some bit of attention to you and where you are at all times.
Dogs can multitask to some small degree and he is capable of knowing where you are even when he is just ambling along and sniffing on his leash.
My rules are that my dogs are NEVER allowed to pull me. When they are on a leash, they can be dogs and sniff the ground sometimes (when I release them) but they can’t PULL me over to something. They must always respect me and my body while we walk.
Putting it all together:
Your dog has now learned how to “Find Heel Position”
How to stare up at you and give you “Eye Contact and Focus”
And now you are teaching him “Leash Manners” and not to pull you.
Now when you go out and you are enjoying a walk with your best friend and you see a distraction (another dog, a skate boarder, bicycle, car, or person coming) you can command your dog to “Heel” position and “Watch Me” to get that coveted eye contact.
As the person passes your dog should be in heel position and staring up at you paying no attention to anything else in his world. Remember to click and treat and praise him for a job well done! And, after the distraction has passed you can release your dog back to having the “run” or length of his leash. Just remember that he is never allowed to pull you!!
If he is not paying attention go the other direction or call him into heel position and have him give you some focus!
Practice, practice, practice! The time to teach your dog these skills is when there are no distractions around! If you practice and have fun together your dog will have no problem ignoring the other things in his environment and giving you his full focus!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.