Loose leash walking

November 30, 2014

Walking your dogs seems like an easy task. Just put them on a leash and go outside, right? You’ll get some fresh air, the dog will hop happily next to you, sniffing some bushes and proudly carrying an oversized branch. Everybody’s happy.

Tanya's 101 - How to teach your dog loose leash walking. A force free method.

Except this is not the way it goes. When we got our first puppy, we found out the brutal reality. The puppy decides she wants to go everywhere you don’t want to go, pulls on the leash like she’s a workhorse pulling a plow and pays attention to everything around her but you. Not being pulled forward is a total fitness workout. And stopping every second, because you don’t want to let your dog reinforce her own behavior by pulling, gets really annoying. Teaching your dog how to behave properly during a walk is hard work. And we were actually really getting somewhere with our dog, the walks almost became a pleasant thing to do. But then we got a second dog…

We tried to walk them together. Because that’s what you do with a pack of dogs, right? Boy, what a big mistake this was. Both were at puberty, both needed a lot of guidance, both still needed to learn how to walk on a leash properly. Our first dog, Rikku, started pulling again and she taught Milo how to do this as well. There was only one way to teach them how to walk on a loose leash. We had to walk them separately.

Tanya's 101 - How to teach your dog loose leash walking. A force free method.

But as I told you in ‘My story’, I am chronically fatigued. Walking them at all is a difficult task for me, let alone walk them separately. I am a little bit ashamed to admit, but I even let them do their nr. 1’s and 2’s in the backyard very frequently, to spare my energy. I felt really guilty towards my puppies for doing that. They deserved their walks, they can’t help it that I’m low on energy. So I wanted to walk them again. Every day. But of course I wanted to enjoy these walks as well. So I decided to properly train them to walk on a loose leash.

My Loose Leash Walking Method

A lot of different methods are being described on the internet, so it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by it. The method I choose I learned at my dog school ‘Hondenschool de Laar‘ in Bemmel, The Netherlands, from my teacher Jolein van Weperen. The method is simple and most important of all, completely force free. These are the steps:

  1. Walk in a regular pace. Hold your hand with the leash against your belly, to give your dog the same maximum distance from you at all times. This also helps staying firm if your dog starts pulling.
  2. If your dog starts pulling forwards, immediately stop walking. If you feel the tension slip from the leash a tiny bit, start walking immediately again. The reward for your dog not pulling is that you keep on walking. Note: if your dog chooses to sit down, don’t walk on. Because then you’ll be rewarding him for sitting and he will do that more often. Just wait until he is standing again without tension on the leash.
  3. If your dog is pulling sideways, just keep walking. Your dog isn’t getting where he’d like by walking on, so you will still be in control. Don’t correct him by saying ‘no’ or ‘bad dog’. It will not help you teach him loose leash walking any faster. The behavior of pulling side ways will fade on its own once your dog notices there’s no reward in it for him.
  4. If your dog pulls backwards, look around if there might be something he’s afraid of. If there is, don’t walk on, but make contact with your dog, by mentioning his name. If he reacts, praise and reward him with a treat and walk on in a different direction, away from the thing he fears. If your dog was not afraid of anything, you can just keep walking forward.
  5. If your dog chooses to make eye contact with you during the walk without you asking for it, always praise him and reward hi with a treat. Give this treat as close as your leg as possible. That way, he’ll learn that this is the best spot to be in during walks.

Note that your dog doesn’t decide where he wants to sniff or pee. You do! If you start this method right away when your dog is a little puppy, and if you are very consequent in stopping when he pulls and rewarding him when he makes eye contact, you’ll never have a dog that pulls on the leash. Unfortunately, I wasn’t blessed with this wisdom yet when we got our dogs, so for me it was a little bit harder work.

Tanya's 101 - How to teach your dog loose leash walking. A force free method.

It was the very first goal of my list that I started and I’m proud to say it’s also the first goal I accomplished! Yesterday, the first month of my project had past. And in this month, I walked my dogs every day and I walked them separately. I trained loose leash walking every time. The dogs haven’t stopped pulling completely, but I’m really getting somewhere! Both of my dogs even learned the command ‘heel’ now! Their execution of this command isn’t perfect yet, but we’re really getting somewhere!

It doesn’t stop with my own dogs however. For a couple of weeks now, the dog of my sister is staying over at our place. We offered to take care of him, because he currently can’t live with her. And of course, he deserves his walks too! So I also walked him separately and even trained him to walk on a loose leash. I’m on a roll!

Tanya's 101 - How to teach your dog loose leash walking. A force free method.

To sum it up, I’m proud. Proud of my dogs, for learning so well, but also proud of myself, for persevering. So I fed my little piggy his first €5,- today. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop with the separate walks though. I’ll keep doing that until they are really ready to walk together. I just needed this boost to get me started.

Tanya's 101 - First goal accomplished!

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