Imagine this: a sunny day in a forest, in a park or any other green place. And there’s you and your dog on a walk. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It surely does. However, there is one thing for that walk to be a truly enjoyable experience – the loose leash training. Walking on a loose leash is one of the most important skills your dog should have. During consultations with my clients I notice that often they confuse it with ‘heeling’. I’d just like to point out here that there’s a significant difference between those two skills. When a dog is walking on a loose leash, it can freely sniff around and explore its surroundings. One important rule: the leash clasp should hang loosely so that the leash isn’t tight and stays in a shape of a letter U. Heeling, on the other hand, requires the dog to walk next to the caregiver’s leg with a high level of focus. This skill can be very useful when we are passing by another dog or crossing the street. You must remember that your dog needs to stay relaxed. Walks that give it the freedom to sniff around and discover its environment are very important. So most of the time during a walk it should stay on a loose leash.
I prepared for you several points concerning this subject.
1. We usually focus on what we don’t want our dog to do (in this case –not to pull). We need to understand however, that instead of trying to eliminate the problem, we should rather concentrate on shaping the desired behaviour.
2. Pulling on the leash is often the result of the dog being hyped-up during walks and having poor control of its own emotions. Therefore, it’s key that it learns self control at we train it at the same time.
3. Dogs pull on the leash because we let them. The dog thinks that it needs to pull as hard as it can in order to get to where it wants to get. The outdoors are for our dogs a wonderful world of smells and, as we know, smells are extremely important for them.
4. We often forget that dogs communicate via body language. Hence the loose leash training is a valuable element of prevention for aggressive as well as anxious dogs.
5. The most important thing is, above all, our consistency as well as not creating a possibility for our dog to pull on the leash.
6. For the loose leash training the best option is to use a long leash. Avoid the flexi-type leashes. They promote pulling because, as they are designed to stay tight, our pup has to constantly push forward in order to go wherever its going.
7. Often, at the beginning of the training, our dog pulls so hard that we can barely keep hold of it so some well chosen training gear can be very useful. We can use the “Easy walk” front clip training harness. Now, some rules on how to use it properly:
First and foremost, you must know that the harness alone won’t teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash. The training is essential.
The front clip in the “Easy walk” harness makes the dog turn around and face its caregiver the moment it starts to tighten the leash making it impossible for the dog to pull on it.
Your pup isn’t able to pull like it does when wearing any other regular harness where the clip is on the back.
When your dog begins to pull and tightens the leash you must stop and make some kind of a neutral sound. When your dog turns toward you, praise it and then change the direction of your walk so the dog automatically follows you on a loose leash. Reward it again with a good word and a treat.
When using the “Easy walk” harness, the leash must be clipped on between the dog and the caregiver. It shouldn’t fold above the animal’s back.
In the beginning of the trainings it is important to often praise and reward your dog for calm walking on the leash.
It’s good to begin exercising in a quiet place where the dog doesn’t get easily distracted
Then, gradually, add some difficulties that distract the dog.
When your dog masters the loose leash walking, reward it less often but remember to still surprise it from time to time with an unexpected treat .You should always reward it verbally nevertheless.
“Easy walk” is a training harness so it shouldn’t be used forever. When your dog masters the skill of walking on a loose leash you may go back to your favourite collar or a standard harness. Just remember to regularly reward your dog and not allow pulling.
It’s important to let your dog to freely run and sniff around in some safe space. For that, you can use a several meters long training wire. Call your dog to you and reward it every time it comes. This way your dog will learn that returning to its caregiver means something positive. Unfortunately, calling a dog often equals the end of free running or clipping the leash back on and going home. It’s good to change that!
Remember: the relationship with your dog is very important so keep on growing it and taking care of it and some of the problems will solve themselves. Let your dog be a dog. Sounds obvious but it’s crucial. Let’s not forget about fulfilling our dog’s needs and respecting its natural curiosity about the surrounding world.
Here is one of my favourite loose leash walking exercises:
Big reward at the finish: put a bowl of something delicious at a set place and move several steps away. Set a starting point – caregivers and I usually choose a flower or a crack in a sidewalk but you can just put down your backpack. We start the exercise – we move towards the treats controlling the position of the leash the whole time. If the dog starts to pull, we go back to the starting point and start the exercise from the beginning. The first time your dog succeeds at finishing the walk on a loose leash, it gets to eat the big reward in a bowl. Remember, when you get to the reward say: “here you are, you can eat”, so the dog doesn’t learn to just eat food left in a grass.
Instead of food we can use some other things to reward our dog with. It could be:
your dog’s favourite toy such as a tug toy that you play with together at the finish line
another caregiver, who’s waiting for the dog to pet it or hand it a treat or play with it
Just make the reward something remarkable. Kind of like a year bonus ;)
You can also use a meadow in the park where you let your dog off the leash. The rule remains the same: as a reward for going calmly where you want it to go, the dog gets to run freely, sniff and goof around.
If your pup has a dog buddy you can use that in your training. As a reward for walking on a loose leash to a set place where the friend waits, they can then play together.
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