Ah, the ever-elusive loose leash walking dog. As dog owners, we dream of experiencing this. Our wonderful dogs, walking at a regular pace at our side, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds together in perfect harmony. And yet, unbridled pulling on walks remains one of the most common "problems" dog owners experience. The bigger the dog, the bigger the problem, particularly in terms of sore elbow joints and shoulders.
So how do we teach our dogs, big and small, to walk on a loose leash at our sides? In this blog, I'm going to cover three common methods to achieve this. Please note that the younger your dog is when you begin this work, the easier it is to train and to maintain going forward.
Protocol #1. Start/Stop Method
This one is pretty straightforward. Each and every time your dog pulls ahead and your leash becomes taut as a result, come to a complete stop. Your dog will immediately wonder what on earth is going on. How come we're not walking? He will probably sniff about, turn around to look at you, and may even give you a nice sit. Once you feel the leash go slack and you see your dog relax, begin to walk again. This allows your dog to explore his walking environment, and begins the process of communicating the relationship between a tight leash and a dead stop. Now, you may think that's as far as it goes. Not quite...
After 10-15 repetitions of the Start/Stop method mentioned above, you can trust that your dog is going to sort out what's happening. In fact, your dog is going to allow his shoulders and body to relax the moment he feels the leash go tight - and it is going to happen so fast that you won't have a chance to come to a full stop. At this moment it is critical that you reward your dog with praise and treats in an over-the-top manner. Be liberal with your recognition! The dog now believes that he is responsible for all of this wondrous praise - what a good boy!
If, however, you do not acknowledge your dog for this incredible cognitive accomplishment the split second it happens, the connection will be lost. Your dog will assume that he has confused his instructions and is likely to revert to the same old pulling behavior. The cue your dog is giving you here is subtle, and occurs before you visually see what's happening. It's an important distinction - for this method to work, you must rely on your sense of touch - your ability to feel the tightness of the leash go slack, as opposed being able to see it with your eyes.
Not an easy task, I promise you, but it can be done! With practice, a loose leash walking dog will be yours in no time at all.
Join me next week for part two of my loose leash walking series, and thanks for reading!
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Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.