Many people dream of having a dog who always keeps slack in the leash when out on a neighborhood walk. For some dogs this skill comes naturally, but for many others, a peaceful walk can turn into feeling like you’re being dragged by a freight train! Training a dog to walk on a loose leash is one of our most common skills clients ask us to work on with their dog, and can require quite a bit of practice to master reliably. When you are working with your dog on their loose leash walking skills, make sure you aren’t making any of these common mistakes that can cause a lack of progress:
Mistake #1: Not Meeting Your Dog’s Needs Outside Of Training
When we start working on our dog’s loose leash walking skills, neighborhood walks can look quite different for quite some time as we build up their fluency in this behavior in all kinds of contexts. If your dog’s daily walks are a large or significant portion of their day-to-day exercise and mental stimulation, you will need to make sure that you are making up for this deficit in other ways so that you have a dog who is in the right mentality for learning. An amped up, understimulated dog will likely not make the best choices in a training session as opposed to a dog who has had a chance to move their body and work their mind before starting with training. Loose leash walking requires a lot of thinking and self control on our dog’s part, so we need to make sure they are satisfied and ready to work when we plan training sessions with them. This is a common reason why we recommend long-line walks to exercise your dog while going through leash training. The long line reduces their likelihood of rehearsing pulling, while still allowing them to move their bodies more freely and sniff to their heart’s content. A great time to have a training session would be right after finishing a nice long-line walk with your dog first!
Curious about using a long line with your dog? Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWxWvl1a6OA
Mistake #2: Starting Your Training At High Difficulties For Low “Pay”
Have you ever tried to ask your dog to walk on a loose leash while at the park or visiting a pet store, and your dog won’t even give you the time of day? That’s because you’re starting at way too high of a difficulty for your dog to be successful. The more distractions or stimuli in the environment drawing your dog’s attention away, the harder it’s going to be for them to focus on walking nicely on leash. We always start training a new concept in the lowest-distraction environment possible to make sure that we’re setting our dogs up for success. The less smells, sights, and sounds present, the better your dog will be able to focus on solely paying attention to the task at hand. Once you have mastered a skill in a low-distraction environment, you can start to incrementally ask for the skill in increasingly distracting situations.
Others sometimes struggle with keeping their dog’s attention on training because the “currency” they’re using with their dog isn’t valuable enough for the level of difficulty we are asking them to perform at. Dry biscuits and kibble may cut it for your dog’s attention at home, but in the neighborhood or at a new location, you will likely need to increase the value of your treats to make sure your dog has motivation to stay engaged with you. Depending on the dog, this could look like moist, chewy commercially made training treats, or something even more valuable like chicken, cheese, or hot dog cut into pea-sized bites. Some dogs also really enjoy lick-able foods like peanut butter, cream cheese, or canned dog food fed incrementally through a squeeze tube. If you have an environment-focused dog, make sure your treats are worth their while to work for and disengage from distractions.
Mistake #3: Skipping The Warm Ups
There are a few different warm up exercises you can work on with your dog first to set them up for success with loose leash walking training and help you progress more easily. Most people jump right into trying to teach their dogs how they want them to walk without making sure the dog has a small repertoire of foundational engagement beforehand! Here are a couple of tricks to get your dog more engaged in training:
One of the most important skills for getting your dog to walk nicely on leash, is to make sure they are capable of giving you attention in varying contexts and environments. A great way to start teaching your dog attention on your cue is by teaching your dog the name game. This exercise teaches your dog to pay attention and look to you on cue, something that can be difficult for dogs more focused on their environment and wanting to pull you to the next distraction. Check out a tutorial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlRNxiK2ifw
Another helpful foundational skill has to do with teaching your dog that when they’re attached to you on the leash, you can be a whole lot of fun! This is especially helpful with puppies, adolescents, and easily distractible dogs. When we train our dogs, sometimes we accidentally walk unusually slow, behave really flatly, and generally just act really boring from our dog’s perspective. Many dogs are already inclined to find leash training to be slow and repetitive, so to see more success, you need to be worth your dog’s while to pay attention to! Before getting started with your training, try a few repetitions of getting your dog to run and chase you while on leash, changing directions, running back and forth and getting them really excited to guess your next move. If you get your dog engaged with you with some high energy chase games and play before starting your walk, they will be way more enthusiastic about paying attention to you instead of dragging you to the next distraction.
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