Does your dog pull on their lead? Do they lunge at people or dogs as they pass? Does your dog want to stop every few minutes to have a sniff? Barking on the lead?
Teaching your dog to walk nicely on the lead is not always as simple as teaching the ‘heel’ cue. There are a few different areas of training you can work on to help make walks more enjoyable. Here are my top tips:
1. Work on teaching a loose lead rather than focusing too heavily on perfect heelwork.
It is best to practice when you don’t have any place to be. If you are interrupting lead pulling behaviour by changing direction, but you are trying to get somewhere, it can get quite frustrating and commonly leads to giving up. This means teaching and learning does not take place. You can also play games to encourage walking close by and following, rather than pulling ahead. Teach your dog that walking close is good fun and rewarding. Then build in a 'heel' or 'close' cue so that you can ask your dog to be close by, and reward with something your dog views as high value.
2. Be prepared, have the right dog walking equipment.
Avoid aversive methods such as choke, prong or e-collars. Instead try a harness which has two points of contact (back and chest) with a double ended training lead. You can also use a head collar, again with a double ended lead for two points of contact (head collar and collar). Training is required prior to use, it is important to build a positive association for your dog with the head collar, usually using yummy treats! This takes time but if your dog is happy to wear the collar before you start using it for walks, you are less likely to be uncomfortable, paw at it or try to pull out of it. It’s important to remember that these types of equipment are designed to give you extra control when walking your dog, but they are not quick fixes. They are ‘training tools’ to be used alongside other reward based training methods.
While it is important that your puppy is exposed to a number of different experiences in a positive way, it is also important that they learn they are not going to be allowed to say hello to every dog and every person. If your puppy is encouraged to say hello to everyone, they will expect to be able to do the same as adults. If they are allowed to be excited and jump up at people, or play rough as a puppy, again they will expect to be able to do the same as adults. When you find that you have an excitable fully grown dog at the end of the lead it’s not so cute! These unwanted behaviours can lead to you avoiding saying hello, which can then lead to your dog getting frustrated, and result in them lunging and barking on the lead when passing other people and dogs. As a general guide stick to saying hello to one in five people/dogs and teach them that they are only allowed to say hello If they are calm.
4. Focus and impulse control
Teaching your dog to ‘wait’ for things, e.g. their dinner, at doors, before jumping out of car, etc. will help them gain self-control. Much like teaching a child that they cannot always do what they want, when they want. This can also be done by playing games that involve ‘wait’, therfore teaching all good things come to those who wait! For example:
'Wait & Fetch' – getting to fetch the ball after waiting is the reward.
'Ready, Steady, Wait' – encouraging your dog in a game of follow me and then before they get too excited, ask for a ‘wait’ then your dog is thrown a treat to reward them. Teaching your dog a ‘watch’ cue can help gain their focus. For example, walking along and you see a potential distraction, ask for a ‘watch’ and you’ve got your dogs’ attention, this can help you pass in a calm manner.
5. Enrichment games
Providing your dog with a positive outlet for behaviours such as sniffing can help teach your dog when it is ok to sniff, and when it is not, avoiding having to stop sniff every few minutes. This can be done with:
Sniff Walks - walks where they get to choose the direction to go, the speed they go, what they can sniff, when they can sniff and for how long. Walks with no goal other than to let your dog have a good sniiiiifffff!
Scent games - Here are a couple of ideas - ask your dog to sit and wait while you hide a tennis ball, pretend to hide it in a few places before finally hiding it, then let them sniff it out. Or throw a treat onto the ground in an obvious place and say 'find it'. As they get the hang of the game, make it more difficult by throwing it into short grass, then long grass and so on.
As you can see, training does not have to be boring or regimented. Games can teach your dog what sort of behaviours you want from them, and have them repeat them because they find it enjoyable. Games also build bonds, which encourages your dog to do as you ask because they want to please you... and receive rewards!
Get in touch if you would like help with loose lead walking.
The Rewarding Dog Trainer
Helping achy dog walker arms everywhere!