I’m not feeling well today. Kids, gotta love ’em! Dude brought home some sort of virus and passed it on to me. Nice that it’s spring break time and I can sleep in…
We’ve all witnessed dogs who pull on leashes and drag their owners. Maybe you even have one who does this. All dogs should know how to walk nicely on a loose leash, even little ones. Constant pulling on a collar can cause trachea damage in dogs of all sizes, and even a 30lb dog can take his owner for a ride if he pulls. (You think I joke? The huskies that run the Iditarod only weigh between 25-45 lbs and are about knee high. They’re little!) We want to keep our pets from being hurt and have them be good citizens. So, walking nicely on a loose leash becomes very important for the health and well-being of both dog and owner.
For this exercise, we will be using a flat buckle collar, a head collar like a Gentle Leader or a harness that clips in the front and a 6′ leash. Please take your choke collars and prong collars and THROW THEM AWAY! (Let’s do the same with those flexi-leads while we’re at it. Even had one break and snap back on you? Not to mention that they are the antithesis of what we’re trying to accomplish. They actually teach a dog that it’s ok to pull!) We’re going to train our dogs using a kinder, gentler method.
This takes time, practice and patience. Lots of those three for some dogs. Walking nicely on a leash is an important building block for heeling. Not every person wants their dog to heel perfectly and some owners like to give their dogs a bit of leash freedom as a reward for heeling well. Also, many families don’t want to go to the work of heeling and are content with a nice, loose leash walk. (I’m one of them, though Freya knows how to heel.)
For the ease of explaining, I’m going to work through this as though everyone is using a flat-buckle collar.
Let’s talk about a safe way to hold the leash. Many owners wrap the loop handle of the leash around their wrists. Unfortunately, this could lead to the owner being injured if your dog decided to suddenly lunge and drag you. Rather, lets use our thumb inside the handle loop and close our hand around the outside. Like so:
The reasoning is that the leash can rotate around the thumb, lessening chance for injury and can be easily released in an emergency. For all you horse people, it’s all the same reasoning why we never wrap the lead rope around our hand. Safety first!
Also, let’s keep our hands down near our waist as that is our center of gravity. We are strongest there. It’s much harder to be pulled over from that point than elsewhere higher or lower on the body.
Clip your leash on to your dog’s collar and let’s go for a walk! Be prepared, we won’t really go far or make much distance today or maybe for several days.
Ok! Let’s go! Has Fido already run out in front of you and started pulling?
Stop. Stop dead. Right here, right now! Anchor your hands (use two hands if necessary) at your belly button point and plant your feet. Don’t say anything. Give Fido time to figure it out on his own. When Fido quits pulling and gives slack to the leash, take a few more steps forward. The second Fido starts pulling again, plant your feet and anchor that leash at your waist. Fido’s reward for walking with a loose leash is getting to walk. He’ll learn that tension in the leash immediately ends any movement in any direction.
If Fido is really insistent about pulling on the leash, try quickly reversing direction and striding off so that Fido has to catch back up to you. Don’t use Fido’s name, just a quick cluck or smooch or sound to get his attention. When Fido hits the end of the leash in front of you, quickly change direction, cluck and stride off again. By doing this, Fido will have to pay attention to you to figure out what direction you two are going, which means he can’t be out front straining on the end of the leash.
Hopefully, over the next few days Fido will get loose leash walking figured out!
With some dogs and in some cases, I advocate using a front clip harness or a head collar. Usually, I’d use these in cases where the dog is very strong and the owner just doesn’t have the strength to avoid being drug, such as with the elderly or a tiny person and a huge dog or where after a couple weeks of work and plenty of short training sessions, the dog still just doesn’t get it. Also, there’s more training involved with the head collar as it’s important to desensitize your dog to it. And in some cases, the head collar will lead to the dog appearing to be “depressed”. In that case, another aid would be more appropriate.
The front clip harness (such as a Gentle Leader Easy Walk harness) have a “D” ring in the front where you clip the leash. It works by turning the dog towards you when Fido attempts to pull, which is in the opposite direction where he wants to go. Fido doesn’t get anywhere, therefor he learns to not pull.
Now that you have the tools to be successful, let’s go practice!