Loose Leash Walking is child’s play when you use force free methods
Leash issues are a huge problem for the dog-owning public and a leading culprit for why so many otherwise healthy dogs are doomed to life (or usually more accurately, an early death) in animal shelters. Whether it’s simple leash-pulling or more significant leash reactivity and leash aggression, the primary thing to keep in mind is that these issues are almost always preventable and manageable when using positive training methods.
Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not pull on the leash while being walked because they want to be pack leader, top dog, alpha or dominant over their human. There is a much simpler explanation that does not give credence to the myth that dogs are on a quest for world domination!
Dogs love to be outside, and the walk is a stimulating and exciting part of their day, so the desire to push ahead is very strong. Humans do not make ideal walking partners since a dog’s natural and comfortable walking pace is much faster than ours. Having to walk calmly by a person’s side when the only thing a dog really wants to do is run and investigate his environment requires a degree of impulse control that can be very difficult for some dogs to utilize.
That being said, all dogs need to be taught how to walk on a leash in a positive way without pain or discomfort so that a walk becomes enjoyable for everyone.
Leash lunging /reactivity and/or leash aggression are all behaviours that are caused by a dog feeling restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable in a social situation. In normal circumstances, an unleashed dog would be able to put sufficient distance between him and a fear source. But if the same dog is leashed and unable to increase that distance, he will react or behave defensively in the hope that the fear source will go away
If you are overpowered by your dog’s pulling and cannot start the teaching process for fear of being pulled over, then there are humane equipment solutions to help modify the pulling while you teach your dog to walk appropriately.
A chest-led harness is a perfect training aid, as it takes pressure off a dog’s sensitive neck by distributing the pressure more evenly around the body. When the leash is attached to a ring located on the chest strap and your dog pulls, the harness will turn his body around rather than allowing him to go forward. I recommend this kind of harness for anyone who needs extra help, as safety has to come first.
Leash pulling is often successful for the dog because the person inadvertently reinforces the pulling by allowing their dog to get to where he wants to go when he pulls. But you can change this picture by changing the consequence for your dog.
When he pulls, immediately stop and stand completely still until the leash relaxes, either by your dog taking a step back or turning around to give you focus. When the leash is nicely relaxed, proceed on your walk. Repeat this as necessary.
If you find this technique too slow you can try the reverse direction method. When your dog pulls, issue a ‘Let’s Go’ cue, turn away from him and walk off in the other direction, without jerking on the leash.
You can avoid yanking by motivating your dog to follow you with an excited voice to get his attention. When he is following you and the leash is relaxed, turn back and continue on your way. It might take a few turns but your vocal cues and body language will make it clear that pulling will not be reinforced with forward movement, but walking calmly by your side or even slightly in front of you on a loose leash will allow your dog to get to where he wants to go.
You can also reinforce your dog’s decision to walk close to you by giving him a motivating reward when he is by your side.
Once your dog is listening to you more, you can vary the picture even more by becoming unpredictable yourself. This means your dog has to listen to you at all times because he never knows when you are going to turn or where you are going to go next. Instead of turning away from him when you give the let’s go cue, reverse direction by turning towards him. You can turn in a circle or do a figure of eight. Any of these variations will get your dog’s attention. Do not forget to praise him for complying, because the better you make him feel walking close to you, the more he will chose to do so