Walk Nicely on Leash
All dogs, regardless of size, age, or lifestyle, should be taught basic leash skills. You should be able to take your dog for a walk around the block or into a crowded veterinary office without having your legs wrapped up or your shoulder dislocated. Even a pint-sized pooch can take the fun out of a walk if he pulls, spins, and jerks you around, and good leash skills are also important for safety, both your dog's and your own. When he is properly leash trained, your dog will walk steadily on one side of you with the leash slack. Like many other aspects of good training, teaching him to do this will require some time and effort, but the payoff is a dog who is a pleasure to walk.
Before You Start
Begin by checking your equipment. Your dog needs an appropriate collar that fits him properly, as well as a suitable leash. In the beginning you should have treats or some other reward for your dog, as well as your clicker if you use one to mark good behavior. (An emphatic "yes"! works in the same way to mark the correct behavior).
If you have a puppy or an adult who has never been leash trained, begin with short, positive sessions. For most sports, dogs are taught to walk on the handler's left side, but if you don't plan to compete and prefer to have your dog on your right, that's your choice. It is a good idea, though, to teach your dog to stay on one side so that he doesn't trip you as he runs back and forth.
Teaching Walk Nicely on Leash Step by Step
Walking Without Pulling
Life with a dog is easier if your puppy likes his crate. This may seem counterintuitive to first-time crate users, but it can happen. In fact, will most probably happen with just a little help from you:
Begin by capturing your dog's correct behavior on leash. Even if he's a whirling dervish or major-league puller, there will be times when he stops the craziness enough to let the leash go slack. He may even turn to look at you (probably to find out why you're plodding along).
The instant the leash goes slack, mark and reward.
If your dog walks pretty nicely without pulling or dancing, mark and reward him every so often to give him a "reference point". If he understands that you like him to walk calmly without pulling, and he gets excited and forgets his manners somewhere down the road, be sure to mark and reward him when he resumes polite walking.
If your dog has already formed the habit of pulling on his leash, you must convince him of two things: Pulling will not hasten his arrival at his goal, and walking politely will make you happy enough to reward him. If you are training a puppy, or if your adult dog is responsive and submissive to you, try the "no forward progress" approach to pulling. In other words, teach your dog that if he tries to pull you toward something, you will stop in your tracks. If your dog is determined to get where he wants to go, he may not notice right away that you are playing statue, but sooner or later he will either stop pulling or turn and look at you. The instant the leash goes slack, mark and reward, and then resume walking. If your dog pulls again, stop again. You may have to spend a few days going for short, slow walks, but many dogs figure out very quickly that pulling slows progress rather than speeds it up.
Walking by Your Side
Your dog also needs to learn to stay on one side of you. (The left side is traditional.) If he constantly weaves back and forth or runs around you in circles, your walk won't be much fun and you could trip and injure yourself or your dog. If your dog tends to wander back and forth or circle you, show him what you want by following these steps:
Keep your dog's leash short enough that he cannot easily leave your side, thereby modeling the position you want him to be in. Don't keep it so short that you're dragging him, though.
Simultaneously lure him into the correct area by your side with tiny treats. You can mark the behavior with a word or clicker if you like.
When he starts to get the idea, stop luring but do reward him for staying by your side. Give a treat every few steps at first, increasing the distance you walk between treats until he forms the habit of walking at your side without treats. You can also give him a bit more leash as long as he doesn't weave or circle.
Problem: Fido is such a determined puller that stopping just makes him pull and dance more.
Solution: Move him away from his goal. In other words, when he pulls, rather than simply stopping, turn around and walk the other way. Don't yank your dog, don't talk to him, and don't wait for him. It's his job to pay attention to where you are and to stick with you. Simply hold your leash firmly, turn around, and walk at a normal speed in the other direction. Your dog will have to follow. When he catches up to you, be very happy to see him, and mark and reward him for being with you. Most dogs quickly learn to pay attention and not to pull.
Problem: Fido is a dedicated puller who won't respond to any of your training tactics.
Solution: He may need a different collar or a head halter for a while to give you better control. Of course, it may also be that you are inadvertently encouraging him to pull by hurrying along with him. In either case, your best option is to take an obedience class or even a few private lessons from a qualified instructor who can help you get your dog under control.
Problem: Fido weaves back and forth or runs circles around you.
Solution: Lure him into position beside you with a treat. When he takes a few steps in the right place, mark that behavior with your voice or clicker, and reward him. Repeat until he stays beside you, slowly increasing the time between treats until he no longer needs to be lured and rewarded. If his weaving or circling is wild enough to pose a risk, shorten your leash so that he has to stay on one side of you, and reward him when he does.
Excerpts adapted from:
The Dog Training Handbook T.F.H. Publications, Inc.
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