There are some who think that walking dogs on leashes constrains dogs and suppresses their natural behaviors. Just imagine, however, a world where everyone just let their dogs loose and free to roam; free-range dogs if you will. As you’re walking, reward your dog frequently for staying next to you or slightly ahead and for looking up at you. If you do this consistently, he’ll learn that 1) if he stays near you or looks at you, he gets treats and gets to keep moving, and 2) if he pulls on the leash, the fun stops because he doesn’t get to keep walking and he has to come back to you and sit.
Consistency is the key to teaching your dog to heel, thus not to pull. Think about it, is consistency not the key to teaching children how to and how not to behave? In upper dog circles like show dogs and such, the focus is on extensive precision heel training. Basically this means, getting your dog’s front paws to match your stride, match your movement and pivot as you turn.
Another very important thing to keep in mind is that until your dog is precision heel trained, all walks must be seen as learning experiences and used as teachable moments. You can’t just train inside and on agility courses and then let your pooch go wild when you walk. This is not consistent. Tire you furry friend out before the walk so that you can focus on the task at hand which is precision heeling, and not on the smells and sights around you and your dog. Walk at a swift pace to prevent the lingering dog to smell everything in sight thus creating a jerky, less fluid experience. Make yourself more interesting than the surroundings. Bring small, bite-size treats to aid in this process. Your walks should be frequent, short and fun! Always reward your little friend frequently for staying next to or slightly ahead of you, and for looking up.
So, why do they pull? A common myth is that dogs pull because they are trying to be “dominant” and leader of the pack. There is another myth that a dog should always walk behind his owner and that if he chances to forge ahead because he does not respect the handler or is somehow challenging their authority. But, no, they do it because it works, they are faster and they are untrained.
As mentioned above, dogs gravitate toward things that are interesting. You are advised to find ways to become very interesting to your dog. This may involve the use of yummy treats, favorite toys, and other rewards like the opportunity to sniff, chase, and/or roll in the grass. A consistently strong reinforcement history makes owners very interesting to dogs. Once you’ve established a strong reinforcement history then practice your loose leash walking skills.
In the lured walking exercise, start with your dog standing at your left side. Having several treats enclosed in your left hand, hold your left hand within 1 inch of your dog’s nose. Command, “Let’s walk,” and walk in your intended direction while every few seconds popping a small treat into your dog’s mouth, and praising her for walking along at your pace. Lured walking is a gradual increase in the number of steps taken between highly desirable treats given, starting with one treat per step.
Red light, green light is an exercise in which your dog needs to have the sit and come commands already mastered. Basically, if your dog pulls then you stop, wait until there is slack on the leash then call your dog back. If they maintain eye contact and stay near you, give them a treat.
In closing, patience, time and lots of yummy treats are what it takes to conquer this task of peaceably walking with your pet.
Remember when you learned to walk the level of care and patience that your parents showed you. This is what you need to do to make sure that you are able to give your pets the same level of care and love that you would want to give to a child. This will ensure that you are able to keep your pet happy and healthy for the long term. After all who are our pets if they are not members of our family? Whether you realize it or not, you will spend more time with your pet than you will in many ways with any one else, be patient and kind.