Last week in my review for the Illusion Collar I mentioned an upcoming post on loose leash walking methods. Well, ladies and gentlemen I would like to present my compilation of training tips on loose leash walking. I call it a compilation of tips because I did not sit down one day and come up with these training tips all on my own. Rather, the tips I will present, explain, and discuss throughout this series of posts are ones that I’ve gathered from training books I’ve read, training classes I’ve attended with Simon and Rosee, and from trainers I’ve talked to. I want to be clear that I am not a dog trainer in any way, shape or form, and my knowledge of dog training comes from the aforementioned sources while training my own dogs. I can assure you however, that all these tips have been tried and tested by everyone here at Play Hard, Bark Often.
Part one of my compilation of tips on loose leash walking pretty much covers what I feel is important when you first begin to teach your dog to walk loosely on a leash beside you. It’s the beginning stages to loose leash walking if you will.
Tip #1: Start as early as possible. If you get your dog as a puppy then you should start getting your dog used to walking on a leash as soon as you can. It is much easier to deal with a small dog pulling on its leash, than it is when they grow to be over 50 lbs. Even if all you do is walk with your puppy around on a leash in your living room or backyard, just do it. Now, if you adopt an older dog (like we did with Rosee who was 9 months when we got her) you should still start walking them as soon as you can. In fact, the first thing me and my sister did when we brought Rosee home was take her on a walk with Simon. The point is, is that teaching your dog to walk loosely on a leash is an important skill to impart to them, at least in my opinion, because taking your dog on a walk can solve so many other behavioral issues. Does your dog destroy things around the house, or continually try to get into things? It could be due to the fact that they have too much excess energy, and no way to get rid of it.
Tip #2: Choose the right collar/lead for your dog. Make sure when you take your dog on a walk that you’re using the proper collar and/or lead for them. Most trainers and training books will recommend using a Gentle Leader, also known as a head halter/harness, or a chest harness that connects to the leash in the front while your dog learns not to pull and walk beside you. Both of these are good options. Unfortunately, for Simon and Rosee a Gentle Leader only helped to a point. As I explained in my review on the Illusion Collar, I felt that this option helped me and Monica control Simon and Rosee better, but they weren’t necessarily learning to walk beside us. In the case of a chest harness, we did try one when Simon was younger (way before Rosee), but he just wouldn’t stop chewing on the material that went across his chest. Then before we knew it, two brand new harnesses were ruined. Other options include a martingale collar, chain collar, prong collar and even a traditional type harness which connect to the leash on your dog’s back. Personally, I found that chain collars are too hard on Simon and Rosee’s necks, and have trouble staying where they’re most effective on their necks. As for prong collars, I have to admit that I just don’t like anything about them. In my opinion, prong collars look, scary, painful, and I feel like I’m telling the word that my dogs are bad dogs when they certainly are not. Martingale collars seem to be a good choice if your dog doesn’t pull too much, and what I really like about them is that they are truly inescapable, unlike head halters. Last but not least there is the traditional harness, which I have to say is my least favorite collar/lead and personally I would never use one. I know for small dogs these harnesses are often the preferred collars/leads to use, and they are most likely better than other collars/leads that can be too rough. For medium and large dogs however, especially dogs that are considered to be a “powerful breed” such as Mastiffs, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and (of course) Pit Bulls I would not recommend using a traditional harness. The problem with using a traditional harness on a bigger dog is that your dog can use his/her weight against you when they pull. Since the leash attaches on the dog’s back, they can pretty much throw their whole body forward to get where they want to go. Also, if, you try to pull them back to you they will rear up on their back feet instead, which only gives them more leverage to continue pulling. Overall, I am not advocating for one collar/ lead over another here. The most important thing to do is to find out what works best for your dog. My experiences with these various options could be different from others. For instance, I know some people who swear by the effectiveness of prong collars. Like I said, you just have to find what works best for your dog.
Tip #3: Employ the use of treats. I am a big believer in positive reinforcement when it comes to dog training. Of course, I am not saying that you need to ply your dog with treats in order to get them to listen and behave accordingly, but I am saying that it is important to praise your dog for what she/he does correctly. It’s usually so much easier to tell your dog “no” when they’re doing something wrong, however how often do you tell your dog “good boy/girl” when they do something right? I get it. I really do. For a long time I was so focused on what Simon and Rosee weren’t doing right, that when I realized how many times I was telling either of them “no” in one day I knew something had to change. Therefore, when you’re training your dog to walk loosely on a leash I recommend using some type of treat. Now, a treat in this case can be anything that lets your dog know they did what you wanted them to do. Most dogs respond well to food treats, but treats can be a favorite toy, or some heartfelt praise. No matter what type of treat you use, treats can be very helpful because your dog should soon recognize that when they do what you ask of them they’ll earn a reward. Namely, it’s just positive association. You do have to be careful though, as there is a fine line between rewarding your dog and bribing your dog to do something. In the case of learning to walk loosely on a leash, treats should be given whenever your dog is walking next to you on your walk. Anytime your dog is next to you walking nicely give him/her a treat. Over time as your dog gets better at staying next to you, you can start to slowly phase out the tangible treats by using more praise in their place, and sooner or later loose leash walking should be as instinctive as “sit.”
Stay tuned for Compilation of Tips: Loose Leash Walking (Part 2) coming soon. In the next part I will explain and discuss more specific methods to use when actually walking including the turn-around method.