Leash Manners, Gotta Have ’em!
Teaching leash manners can be challenging & frustrating to deal with! Because dogs move faster than us, and have strong instinctive interests in the great outdoors – asking them to choose walking beside us instead of investigating their other options, can be difficult!
Leash manners can be a challenge for some dogs, as it restricts a dog’s natural behaviors and movements, which can also cause them frustration. Some dogs are determined to run around as fast as they possibly can. Other dogs want to stop, sniff and urinate on anything and everything in their paths.
Good news though, there are a few key tips that will help you find success.
From our perspective, expecting a dog to walk in a heel position for long periods of time is not always fair or going to set you up for training success. Start expecting short periods of the “heel” position, after your dog is calm from having already been exercised, and teach them that standing and walking in position near your knee = positive things are offered to them (food, praise or play is offered as a reward for the behaviour you like). Once they have been successfully heeling for a few steps, allow them a break to be a dog, and tell them to “go sniff”. Teaching your dog both a “heel” and “go sniff” cue gives you the flexibility to tell them when they are allowed to investigate and gently walk ahead of you versus when they are expected to walk beside you.
Above all else, you must be consistent in what the consequence of each behaviour is (see below), consistent in the word you use to communicate to them that they have done something you like versus something you do not (reward marker/clicker), and consistent in offering them a reward at the right time!
Leash training exercises should start in low distraction environments and work your way up slowly to practicing in more and more distracting environments.
Use reinforcement that YOUR dog works for! We want high motivation for whatever you are using as the reward for walking in the right place. For some dogs, this is their daily ration of kibble (fantastic!), for other dogs, we have to use higher value food rewards to motivate them in distracting environments.
If dogs learn by consequence, we have to teach them that the consequence of pulling is that we stop walking or even walk in the opposite direction (taking them away from what they were pulling towards). We also want to teach them that the consequence of walking beside us is REALLY fun or delicious rewards – making it more likely for them to choose the positive consequence! The rewards used for teaching “heel” have to outweigh the distractions, hence us starting in very easy environments such as your living room!
Ready, set, train!
Here’s a cheat sheet to help summarize the above:
1. “Heel” = training time (loose leash is expected)
2. “Go sniff” = go be a dog (mild pulling acceptable)
3. Heavy pulling = “ah-ah” & stop moving or u-turn ten feet back and try again
4. Say “yes” or click & reward as soon as you say “heel” to PREVENT the dog from beginning to pull (continue to click as often or seldom as you need to in order to keep your dog’s leash loose)
5. Follow through – if you said “heel” DO NOT LET YOUR DOG PULL! Consistent pulling during training sessions often means you need to use a different type of food motivation OR you need to go back to a less distracting environment!
See below for further tips on leash manners…
You can use various methods to teach dogs to walk without pulling on leash. No single method works for all dogs. Here are some overall guidelines.
- Let the dog go the bathroom, sniff and explore for the first 5-7 minutes of the walk. Continue to use the cue “go sniff”, giving them the cue to be a dog and lightly apply pressure to the leash.
- Teaching a dog to walk without pulling requires plenty of rewards. Use highly desirable treats that the dog doesn’t get at other times. Soft treats are best so the dog can eat them quickly and continue training. Most dogs love meat or freeze-dried organs. Chop all treats into small peanut-sized cubes.
- Once you decide it is time to train, get them standing or sitting beside you by luring or asking them to “sit” beside you, say “heel” and begin to walk. As soon as they move with you, “yes”/click and reward (as long as there is no tension on the leash). Continue to “yes”/click and reward frequently in order to keep the dogs attention. Reward them any time there is no tension on the leash.
- Walk at a quick pace. If the dog trots or runs, she’ll have fewer opportunities to catch a whiff of something enticing, and she’ll be less inclined to stop and eliminate every few steps. Additionally, you are far more interesting to the dog when you move quickly.
- If the dog is pulling on the leash. Stop moving your feet. Stand still, wait for the dog to look back at you or come back into your space. Once the dog is back at your side (you can cue them to come back to you or wait for them to make that choice), say “heel” and begin rewarding AFTER A FEW SECONDS with a loose leash again. Do not feed right away, or you are rewarding the pulling that proceededyou continuing to walk! If the dog is pulling right away, you need to go back to practicing in a less distracting environment and turn directions. Tension on leash = we stop moving or u -turn. Loose leash = treats and movement.
- Move unpredictably. You are boring if you walk in a straight line and do not engage with the dog. Talk to them, give them praise and feedback, change directions, weave in and out of trees or posts, get them to jump up onto objects to keep things fun – never be predictable.
Some tricks to the trade:
- Dog and pocket of treats should be on the same side of your body for quick rewards
- Keep moving, be exciting and use your voice to encourage your dog to join you!
- Keep training sessions short and high energy
- Let your dog be a normal dog by using “go sniff” cue often
- Reward eye contact each and every time your dog offers it when on walks
- Plant your feet if your dog is pulling you and do not let your dog learn that when they pull – they sniff/investigate what they want
- Join a Basic Obedience class for extra practice with a Positive Reinforcement trainer to coach you!
- Do not correct or jerk your dog for pulling, this will not address the root of the problem or give the dog a good reason to walk with you!
- Avoid using aversive equipment that causes your dog pain when pulling, we want walking with you to be fun and a choice your dog makes because they WANT to walk with you, not because it hurts to walk ahead of you!
- Anti pull front clipping (well fitted) harnesses can be most helpful in training. Ask a trainer to help you fit your dog!