Improve Leash Walking with a Structured Approach

Enjoying the natural world is one of the greatest joys we share with our canine companions. For many of us, that time is largely spent with our dogs walking on a leash. Pulling and reactive behaviors erode the fun and can make walks outright unpleasant. Effective equipment and a different training approach can result in improved attention and reliable leash walking. This is a life skill for all dogs.

OUTFIT YOUR DOG WITH APPROPRIATE EQUIPMENT

The preferred way to teach your dog that walking beside you “works” best is to use equipment that inhibits pulling and affords many opportunities to reward your dog while walking in the correct position. The Easy Walk ™ harness has a chest clip D-ring where the leash attaches. It is designed for a snug fit with no gap across the front of your dog’s chest. This harness is widely available in retail outlets. The Easy Walk ™sizing runs according to the measurement of your dog’s girth.
The Freedom No Pull ™ harness has a chest clip D-ring AND a back clip control loop. It’s a hefty harness that is a good choice for dogs with formidable physical strength. It’s also a good fit for small and medium dogs of a certain body type, such as French Bulldogs and Shih Tzu’s.
Retractable leashes should be saved for stay and recall exercises, but not leash walking. A 5-6 foot nylon or leather leash will achieve a better result.

TRAIN A “WATCH” CUE

All obedience cues become reliable when trained and reinforced amidst various levels of distractions. Asking your dog to “watch” (look at your face) in your kitchen is not that challenging. Generalizing the cue and building fluency outside while leash walking can be quite challenging!
Don’t ignore your dog when he stops his outdoor action to check in by looking at you. He has many stimuli vying for his attention. “Watch”ing you is a reward-worthy moment.

“THE WALK” IS A TEAM ACTIVITY

Snapping on the leash and heading outdoors is a human/dog activity. This sounds obvious, but many dog owners’ techniques send a different message to the dog. Dogs who walk at the end of a retractable leash, who constantly pull and scan the horizon for and react to dogs and people, and who zig and zig their way along are oblivious to their human at the other end of the leash.
Placing a structure around the leash walking activity changes the dog’s mindset and results in a more pleasant activity for all. Keep the leash short to limit options. When your dog is walking beside you and checking in by looking at you, REWARD HER WITH A BITE OF FOOD. In the great outdoors, verbal praise is insufficient as a behavior reinforcement for most dogs. High level distractions require high value rewards.
You can give your dog opportunities to eliminate and sniff AT YOUR DIRECTION. When it’s time to move along, gather up the leash and carry on with the walk. A pre-walk visit to your dog’s “potty place” can reduce urine marking and keep your walk at a brisk pace.
Reactive dogs require additional strategies. Using a program of threshold distances and reinforcement schedules can change unruly leash walking into calm behavior.

ADDRESS FEAR ISSUES FIRST

Fearful and under-socialized dogs require gradual and positive exposure to triggers they encounter in everyday life. This process usually takes months before significant changes evolve. It is a project well worth the time and effort! When the dog’s conditioned emotional responses are changed (or behaviors managed), and she has habituated to “life around here”, then the leash walking skills can be addressed within broader contexts.
© Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2015 All rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC