We’ve all been there – dog pulling us helter-skelter down the street, or stopping to sniff at every tree and bush. Either way, uncomfortable and frustrating – for you and your dog! Teaching polite leash walking skills is one of my favorite things to do, which is why we have a four-week class devoted to everything leash walking! But even if you don’t have time to take a class, there are a few key things you could be doing at home to start creating a more peaceful walk for you and your dog!
1. Check your equipment.
Sometimes a slight change of equipment can give you the extra energy you need to keep your dog checking in with you instead of charging through the environment. For many dogs, we recommend a front-clip harness like the Freedom Harness by 2 Hounds Design (our favorite, and the only one we carry at our training facility), Easy Walk, Sense-Ation, and a few others. For very determined pullers, a head halter (brands like PetSAFE’s Gentle Leader, Holt, etc.) is a great way to get started. These tools serve to “take the edge off” of your dog’s pulling in a pain-free way so that you have enough energy to focus on rewarding them for the good leash walking behavior you want! As for leashes, we recommend a 6 foot or shorter leash for the best walking experience. Did you know that flexi-leads actually encourage pulling?
2. Charge up foundation behaviors inside first!
Before heading out on your walk, spend 2 minutes charging your dog’s focus behaviors on the inside of the door. Say their name and reward with a treat when they turn their attention to you. Repeat until your dog is defaulting to looking up to you after every reward! Now take it outside. In the front yard, again cue your dog’s name and wait for their correct response. Reward (and put some extra excitement into it as well if your dog is prone to being very distracted!) and repeat. Now that your dog’s name cue is charged up and ready to go, proceed on your walk, cueing their name and rewarding for good attention every so often. Don’t forget to take your dog’s favorite treat with you on your walk to reward for extra great responses!
3. Use your environment as the reward!
Do you have a dog that loves to sniff the grass, or chase squirrels up trees? You can use these things as very powerful reinforcement for good focus behavior on walks. Find the distraction you want to reward with (maybe your dog lets you know, “Hey, I would really, really like to go check out that mailbox over there!!!”), cue your dog to give a good behavior (like their name cue, or another self-control cue that they know REALLY well. This isn’t the time to be teaching a new behavior.), then release your dog with a clear release word (“OK!”) and take them over to the distraction they were so eager to reach. The chance to do their favorite activity just reinforced their good self-control behavior!
We hope that you and your dog are able to put some of these tips into practice to increase your enjoyment of your walks together! If you want to learn more tools for changing your walk from chaotic to peaceful, we have a class just for that! Loose Leash Walking & Distraction Proofing starts up monthly or bi-monthly depending on interest. The next one starts Thursday, October 27th at 7:00pm. Details and registration info can be found here.