Nov 11, 2023
Ask The Dog Trainer: Teaching polite leash skills
By Kendall and Chandler Brown Tuesday, August 8, 2023 It has always been a dream of mine to have a dog who doesn’t pull on the leash, and recently my family had the opportunity to adopt a
By Kendall and Chandler Brown
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
It has always been a dream of mine to have a dog who doesn’t pull on the leash, and recently my family had the opportunity to adopt a four-month-old puppy, Miles. The DNA results came back; Labrador, Mastiff, Saint Bernard, Rodhesian Ridgeback and Pointer. So we know he’s going to be a large dog. What training do you suggest we do so that he has polite leash skills?
It is always a goal of mine to get my dog to the point where we can wander slowly through a crowded street and I can carry a beverage in one hand without spilling it, no matter how many people and other dogs we encounter. Leash skills are life-changing for both the canine and the human. Once your walks become a team building exercise instead of a tug-of-war, adventures and socialization with your puppy become more frequent and enjoyable.
Like all skills, I suggest beginning by building the foundation of walking on leash at your home. First, I start off-leash. Grab a handful of kibble and entice Miles to your side. Bend down so that your food is held at your side at his nose-level. Begin to walk and after a couple of steps give him the food. Replace the kibble, walk a few more steps and repeat.
As he gets better and better at following you, you can increase the amount of time between treats and begin to straighten up, still rewarding him at whichever side he is at-not in front of you. If you give him the reward in front of your body by your bellybutton he will learn to cut across you while walking. If Miles passes you or wanders off, simply turn on your heel changing direction and call to him, show him your kibble and reward when he walks besides you for a few steps.
Once Miles is confidently following you off leash, no matter which direction and speed you go, then it’s time to introduce the leash. If you prefer to work Miles on a harness, make sure that the leash is hooked to the front of the harness, not the back, that way he can’t put his weight behind and pull you. If you are using a flat collar, make sure the collar is snug and secure. Clip the leash on him, offer your piece of kibble and begin to walk. Your leash should be redundant at this point, slack at your side and “smiling” between you and Miles.
As soon as Miles pulls ahead, turn on your heel and give a little tug of the leash. He should swing around to follow the food, familiar with this due to all of the earlier practice, and your leash pop provided additional feedback, telling him that walking alongside you was rewarding, and pulling you was undesired. You will need to pop your leash briskly. If you pull slowly and tightly on the leash then Miles will learn to lean into the pressure and learn to pull you.
Once Miles is walking politely besides you at home, begin to venture outside into your yard. Explore your driveway, neighborhood and surrounding area. This next step of learning is very important, so remember; quality over quantity. If Miles begins to pull you and no amount of changing direction or leash popping deters him, then stop walking, wait until your leash “smiles” again and Miles can refocus on you, and then resume. If you have a route you normally walk then I suggest you practice heeling for a certain amount of time rather than a set distance. So, instead of going twice around the block on a 20-minute walk, I advise you practice for 10 minutes away from your house, then turn around and practice for 10 minutes back. If those 10 minutes took you fifty feet or a mile, it is a better training session then going twice around the block being drug. Again, quality over quantity.
When Miles can walk politely beside you for the entire duration of your walk, then it’s time to introduce distractions. Start slowly. Find calm dogs behind sturdy fences that merely observe you walking past. Reward Miles for not pulling you and encourage him to give you eye contact rather than focusing on the other dogs. Seek out small gatherings at pet friendly restaurants. Comma Coffee and the Fox in downtown Carson offer pet friendly seating and have a wonderfully friendly staff.
Once Miles is calmly navigating the world even when he encounters other dogs and people, then it’s time to really hone his skills. Practice changing your speed, heeling down stairs and up ramps, over bridges and through larger crowds. Challenge him to keep his focus on you even when dogs are barking at him. Anytime he struggles, increase the distance between you and the distraction, slow down and work on your basics. Gradually you will wean off food entirely and Miles will happily walk alongside you no matter the surrounding environment.
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to customk9servicedogs.com or email [email protected].
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