Why should you train your dog to walk on leash?
Every dog should learn how to walk on a leash. Training your dog to walk on leash not only allows your dog to be comfortable on walks, but it also protects your dog and you from potentially dangerous situations. Whether you live in the countryside or in the city, this is a crucial command that your dog must know.
What exactly is loose-leash training?
When it comes to defining leash training or loose leash walking, most people have different notions about this instruction. There are a few different definitions available:
Option 1: when the leash is loose, your dog walks ahead of you but does not pull you.
Option 2: your dog walks next to you in an unstructured manner but stays close by and does not walk ahead of you.
Whether you want to go with the first or second definition is entirely up to you. Some people are comfortable with their dogs walking ahead. This gives them an idea of what their dog is up to. On the other hand, some people prefer their dogs to either walk by their side or behind them. There are different schools of thought on this and you can go with any that is comfortable to you. As long as your dog is not pulling on the leash and dragging you with him, it is OK.
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How to train your dog to walk on leash?
As I mentioned before, training your dog to walk on leash will take a bit of time, lots of patience and a ton of treats. So be ready with that treat pouch before you even think of starting the training process. Here are seven easy steps in which you can train your dog to walk on leash in a comfortable manner without pulling you.
Teach your dog a marker.
When you train your dog, you teach your dog to follow your cues. These cues can either be hand signals or verbal commands When your dog follows your hand signals or commands, you use a marker and reward your dog’s behavior. Therefore, a marker can act as a bridging stimulus that indicates that your dog has some done something right and should now expect a treat, reward or praise. Many people tend to use the clicker as a marker. When the dog does something desirable, they will use the clicker and provide a treat.
I personally never owned a clicker and I don’t feel the need to. Instead of using a clicker, you can use verbal commands like yes or no. If your dog does something undesirable, use NO. If your dog is doing something desirable, to encourage the behavior, use YES. Instead of clicker, you can use YES as your marker. When your dog does something desirable, say yes and then offer a treat. This way your dog will start associating yes with positive reinforcement like treat, praise, or reward. However, you must remember to use your phrase or marker every time your dog does something you want him to, especially during the training stages.
Before you start to train your dog to walk on leash, be ready to reward your dog immediately once you use the clicker or say yes. If there is a delay between saying yes and rewarding your dog, that positive reinforcement association will not form in your dog’s brain. This will lead to inconsistency in following commands which is undesirable.
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Establish a positive relationship
If you have a new puppy or you have got a dog from the shelter who was not provided leash training beforehand, you need to conduct the training slowly. The first step in training your dog to walk on leash would be to get your dog comfortable with the walking equipment. The walking equipment could be the neck collar, body harness, head collar, or whatever you are going to use when you take your dog out on the walk. Allow your dog to play with the harness or leash for some time.
Alternatively, you can put the equipment on your dog and then quickly distract your dog. This can be done by playing fetch in the house or giving treats to your dog so that for a while your dog’s mind is focused on something else instead of the harness. This will help your dog adjust to the harness or collar quickly. Make sure that you are providing lots of praise and positive reinforcement to your dog so that your dog does not see the harness or lead as something that is negative.
Once your dog is okay with you putting the equipment on him, you can put the equipment and allow him to play in the house or go potty in the backyard. Every time your dog wears a harness and does not try to tear it apart or get it off, the behavior must be rewarded with treats and praises.
Continue to do these actions till your dog is completely comfortable wearing a harness and leash at any time of the day. Once you have achieved this step, you are now ready for the next step of training your dog to walk on leash.
Train your dog to pay attention to you
Many guardians would feel that once the dog is okay with wearing walking equipment, they should start taking the puppy on the walk. However, this will not help you with the leash training process. There are still some steps that need to be conducted before your pup is ready to leave the house. When on walks, your dog needs to be distraction-free, especially if you are calling him. This will only happen if you have trained your dog to pay attention to you when called.
Put on the leash and harness/collar on your dog and wait patiently for your dog to look at you. When your dog looks at you, reward the behavior and encourage your dog. Continue to repeat this process to your dog realizes that looking at you equals to him receiving rewards. You can also provide a queue for attention like ‘look at me’ or ‘look’. When your dog looks at you, he receives a reward.
Start the training process by backing up.
Most would find this method of training your dog to walk on leash paradoxical but going backward is an excellent method to train your dog to walk on leash without pulling. Take a few steps backwards holding the leash of your dog. When your dog follows you, mark the behavior and reinforce it with a treat and praise. Start by taking a few steps ahead and then a few steps backwards. Whenever your dog seems distracted, ask him or her to look at you and repeat the command. Continue to repeat till your dog starts to follow you every time.
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One part of training your dog to walk on leash is to teach your dog to come when called. This is an excellent way to avoid future problems like forging ahead or pulling. This is also a wonderful approach to educate your dog to come to you when he is called without bolting. The best way to do this is to throw a treat a few steps from your dog while your dog is wearing the leash and harness. Allow your dog to consume the treat. After that, ask your dog to come to you. The moment your dog comes to you, immediately reward the behavior with another treat. Repeat this process till your dog starts to expect you to call him once he has consumed the treat that you have thrown a few steps away.
Practice leash training in the backyard
Before you take your dog out with the leash, you must first practice the command in the backyard. By now, your dog should have mastered the leash training basics. Ensure that you select a place that offers minimal distractions. The best region would be your backyard or garage. Walk a few steps ahead, stop. Walk a few steps back, stop. Every time you notice that your dog’s attention is completely focused on you, he is following your footsteps and not bolting ahead, mark the behavior and reward.
Gradually increase the distance
Once your dog is following all the commands of leash training in your garage or backyard, it is time to take your dog out on the road. However, do not try to cover one mile in the first session itself. For the first few weeks, take your dog out and walk with him for very short distances like one or two houses. As and when you notice that your dog is gaining confidence and following all your commands even when on the road, you can increase the distance.
One crucial factor that you must remember when training your dog to walk on leash is that puppies have a very short attention span despite their high amounts of energy. You should not expect your puppy to walk long distances with you. It will take time for your puppy to get there. Once your pup has developed into a full-grown dog, he can come with you. But until then, you should keep the walks short. Give your dog the time to sniff around, pee on the bushes and trees and explore being outside. Walks are not always about covering a specific distance and getting back home. The walk is also the time when your puppy explores the outside world.
Another thing you must remember is that you should not take your puppy out on walks unless your pup has had the first set of vaccinations. The immunity is not very developed in the case of puppies and they are at high risk of acquiring dangerous infections like parvovirus, canine distemper virus, etc. if they are taken out before being vaccinated. Therefore, do not allow your puppy to socialize with other dogs or no one walks unless the first set of vaccinations has been conducted.
Train your dog to walk on leash: troubleshooting problems
Your puppy is pulling. If you stop, the pulls become harder.
It is advised to stop if your puppy is pulling you. However, even after stopping if your puppy continues to pull, do not stop. When your dog starts pulling you, instead of stopping, walking in the other direction. Do not yank your pup, do not talk to him or engage your puppy. It is the responsibility of your puppy to pay attention to you and follow your command, not the other way around. Thus, when your puppy pulls, walk the other way. Eventually, your puppy will catch up to you. When your dog catches up, reward the behavior and mark it. This way, you are thanking your puppy for paying attention to you.
Your dog is a devoted puller who does not respond to any of the training methods
In case your dog is devoted to pulling you every time, no matter how hard you try to curb the behavior, you should try out a new collar, like a headcollar which would provide you more control. Instead of using one leash connected to the harness, use two leashes, one which is connected to the harness and the other to the head collar.
There is also a chance that you are encouraging this behavior by rushing alongside your dog. A lot of times, when dogs start to pull, guardians also start to run alongside them. This trains your dog that pulling will get him what he wants. Thus, the behavior changes. If you are finding it difficult to correct the behavior on your own, you should go for obedience classes or private lessons from a trainer. However, make sure that the trainer does not use any negative reinforcement methods to train your dog and does not advise you to use any kind of shock collar.
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Your dog weaves in and out of your path or runs in circles around you
If this is the case with your pup, it is just a matter of focusing his attention on you. Use a treat to entice your puppy to walk with you. In some cases, guardians also use sticks with peanut butter on them. Keep the stick on the side so that the puppy’s attention is focused on the peanut butter and the puppy does not run around. If the pup seems to be very distracted, you can use this peanut butter stick method to keep his attention on you at all times. Eventually, when your puppy starts to pay attention to you, remove the peanut butter stick, replace it with treats and eventually fade off the treats as well. If it seems to you that the weaving or circling around you can become potentially dangerous, shorten the leash so that your dog does not have the option of running circles around you. When your dog is on your side, irrespective of whether you have shortened the leash or not, the behavior must be rewarded so that a positive association can be formed between staying by your side and being rewarded.
Learn to manage your expectations
As humans, we have a lot of expectations. Most of the time, our expectations exceed reality. When you are a dog guardian, your responsibility is to keep a check on your expectations. When you train your dog to walk on leash, your dog will take time to master this training. Some dogs may take 5 minutes, some dogs may take five months but this does not mean that the dog who takes five months is not intelligent or cannot be trained. In most cases, the dogs are simply distracted and guardians refused to take the distraction into account when training the pup.
Start the training at home
No matter what training you are giving your dog, it must start inside your home. You cannot train your dog when you are at a dog park or at the beach because the dog is already distracted. If you want an outdoor environment, you can use your backyard or lawn. However, when dogs are outside, they have so much to explore that their attention is already diverted. This is why it is advised to start training inside the house where the distractions are least.
Your dog is not being difficult purposefully
Many times, dog guardians label the leash pulling behavior as the dog being stubborn, bossy, or acting like the alpha of the pack. However, this cannot be further from the truth. It is not the intention of your dog to be difficult or stubborn. The outside environment provides a lot of stimulation to the dog’s senses like fascinating sights, noises, smells, etc. These overwhelm your dog’s sensory receptors. Thus, your dog may simply be having trouble focusing on you and your command with so much going on around him.
Thus, if your dog seems completely distracted when you are on a walk, allow him some time to explore the environment. Wait patiently. Your dog will most likely be done within a few minutes. Once your dog is done, he will either come to you or you can call your dog and ask him to look at you. Offer your dog some treats when he looks at you so that you can establish a positive association. Following this, you can walk your dog while keeping his attention on you with treats.
It’s OK if your dog is not always obedient on the leash
A stroll around the same block can provide your dog with a different stimulation every time. Therefore, it is OK for your dog to not be obedient when walking on the leash every time. However, this does not mean that your dog will not follow your command every time you go out for a walk. Sometimes it is okay for the dog to be distracted. However, if this behavior is recurring frequently, you need to retrain your dog. There are certain other factors as well that may cause your dog to pull excessively like:
Unfavorable weather (Delta hates rain, if it is raining, he will run towards the house).
A sudden car passing by at a high speed that spooks your dog
Presence of other dogs ahead of you on the street
Other possible distractions
Thus, to summarize the entire process of how to train your dog to walk on leash:
- Start by practicing in the house.
- Take the training do an open environment like lawn or garage.
- Take your dog outside but not for long walks. Only walk up to a few houses while your dog learns to manage the distractions and keep his attention on you.
- Take a regular walk around your neighborhood
- Once it seems that your dog has mastered all the skills, you can take your dog to a highly distracting environment like a dog park and continue to practice the training there.
Remember to start the training in the home environment and eventually take it outside. Reward every desirable behavior that your dog shows, no matter how small. Do not scold, punish or use negative reinforcement methods to train your dog to walk on leash. If it seems that your dog is forgotten a specific command, go back one step, train your dog for the specific command again, and then continue with the training process.
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How did you train your dog to walk on leash? What was your experience like? How long did it take for you to train your pup? Please mention your experiences in the comment section below so that other guardians who might be struggling or starting out with leash training know what to expect. If you have any queries about this blog post or any of the others, feel free to reach out to me on my social media channels or send me an email. I will be happy to help.
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