Dogs that learn to exercise self control and keep the leash loose get more walks, are welcome in more places and have better quality of life. LLW is not hard to teach, but humans are notoriously inconsistent. Sometimes humans are focused and do a good job maintaining the criteria. Sometimes humans get distracted or forget what they are doing and then the dog gets rewarded for pulling on the leash by getting to go where he wants. Sometimes he gets rewarded and sometimes he doesn't, so pulling is on a variable schedule of reinforcement. Behaviors on a variable schedule are the strongest behaviors of all (i.e. the hardest behaviors to change).
If your dog is pulling on the leash - its not his fault. If its not his fault - then it must be yours. When you change what you are doing and are consistent about it, then your dog will learn to walk with a loose leash. So from right this minute, you must commit to the:
NUMBER ONE RULE
Dogs that pull on the leash never get to go in the
direction they are pulling. Never, never, not ever.
There is one other problem that deserves mention. Dogs often get used to the sensation of a tight leash, even though its uncomfortable. Likewise, humans get used to the feel of a tight leash, even though they don't want to live with a leash-pulling dog. Chances are, if you and the dog are standing still and the leash is tight - its you keeping it tight. So, its important for you to be very aware of whether YOU are the one keeping the leash tight, part of the time or all of the time. If you are, stop that right away.
Now six simple rules to remember about teaching loose leash walking:
- There is no verbal cue for LLW. The fact that the leash is attached to the collar is the only cue your dog needs. Its his job to keep it loose. You can teach a verbal cue, but its really not necessary since the presence of the leash attached to the collar is the only cue the dog needs.
- Dogs that keep the leash loose get to go forward - which dogs instinctively like to do and find rewarding. You don't have to give your dog food rewards to teach LLW, because being allowed to get going is a natural reward to the dog. However, having said that, you can certainly give treats for especially good efforts, such as walking politely by a big distraction. Sometimes treats given randomly for polite walking can make teaching your dog go faster.
- Dogs that pull in ANY direction, are immediately and firmly moved by the leash in the opposite direction.
- Dogs on leash are allowed to sniff and investigate stuff as long as they ask for and receive permission first. The owner decides which things are safe and okay to investigate.
- Dogs that are sniffing, must move with the owner when the owner cues them that sniffing time is up. I use my dog's name to let her know its time to move along.
- Dogs that don't respond by leaving the thing they are sniffing will be immediately and firmly moved away by the leash.
Its good training to pick a place for your first training sessions where the dog won't be overwhelmed with distractions. I started in my living room, using the hallway and other rooms as places to go as I was moving around. After a couple sessions, I moved outside into my back yard. The front yard has more distracting things to see, so I saved that for later sessions.
Remember, if you must walk in a place that is too distracting for your dog's level of understanding - use a management tool so your dog isn't learning things you don't want and practicing pulling.
If your dog has never moved around on leash before, you should be doing Walking With a Goal - not what I'm describing here.
If your dog is unfit and can't keep up with you, you will need to walk slower and keep your sessions shorter until he builds stamina and can keep up. You don't think its fun to have your dog dragging you down the sidewalk; your dog won't think walking is any fun if YOU are dragging HIM down the sidewalk. So work into this gradually.
Make sure you are using the leash you prepared with the knot in the right place. Before putting the leash on the dog, take a moment to practice how you will hold the leash. Hold the handle of the leash with your right hand. With your left arm hanging comfortably at your side, slip the leash between your middle and ring fingers and gently curl your fingers around the knot.
Remind yourself of the definition of a loose leash. That is, a leash with the snap dangling and pointed toward the floor and the leash having a curve to it. With your left hand gently curled around the knot, if the leash is loose, your left arm hangs comfortably at your side. If the leash is tight, your left arm/hand will be pulled away from your body.
Attach the leash to the dog's collar and wait a moment for the dog to check in (look at you).
When the dog checks in, simply begin walking slowly across your training space. As long as the dog is keeping a loose leash, you can keep moving. From time to time, pause in place and wait for the dog to check in. When she does, walk again. Because you are in a boring place, chances are your dog will mostly move along with you.
If the leash gets tight (your hand is moved away from your side), then you will move in the opposite direction. This is called "opposite walking". Any time the leash is tightened - it should be like a switch turning on your opposite walking motor:
- If your dog pulls forward, you start walking backward.
- If your dog pulls left, you side-step to the right.
- If the dog crosses in front of you and moves to the right, you side-step to the left.
- If your dog lags behind, you continue forward, picking up the pace a little.
If you are walking in a place where you can't keep going in the direction that opposite walking calls for you to go - you can modify the technique, by taking one step in the opposite direction, then turning a quarter turn and continuing to move until the dog gets back in position.
For example, you are walking down the sidewalk next to a busy street and your dog pulls to the right. Opposite walking would mean you'd need to side step left, which would put you moving into the street and into traffic. So, to stay safe, take one side step left, turn a quarter turn to the left and now continue side stepping to the left until your dog can get back into position. Then you would make a quarter turn to the right and resume walking down the sidewalk.
When the dog gets back into a loose leash position (make sure you aren't the one keeping the leash tight), then you can resume moving in the direction you were going before you started opposite walking. If your dog had pulled to the right, you might have to guide the dog back into the right position by your left leg, until he learns to find it on his own.
Repeat step 4 as much as you need to through out the training session. When your dog realizes he can only move when he's close to you and keeping the leash loose, he will do just that. Gradually make it more difficult by training in more normal environments where there are distractions. Don't make the change too difficult, the key is gradual.
Now that your dog understands the basics, its time to teach him how to tell you he wants to go smell or investigate something. You will wait until he pulls toward something that is safe and okay to snoop. The moment he pulls, you start opposite walking. When your dog gets back into position, start walking more or less toward the interesting thing that first distracted him from his job (or at least walk so you will pass it). You'll want to stop far enough away so he can be successful and because he's used to checking in (looking up at you) whenever you stop, he will probably look up at you. The moment he does, move directly to the spot he wanted to sniff and let him have at it. Let him have some time to investigate it and then say his name and move on.
Watch for opportunities to include sniffing moments in your walk. If you consistently maintain the rules here, your dog will put two and two together and start offering you check-ins when he wants to sniff something. He'll probably look at the interesting thing, then back at you and then at it and then back to you. Dogs can be quite funny in how "obvious" they make asking permission, so watch for it. As long as he's not pulling toward it and its safe to investigate, reward his asking permission by letting him check it out.
Over time you'll develop your own walking style with your dog. You can use cues that tell your dog this won't be one of the things he gets to sniff. I say, "not now" followed by my dog's name. Because I am not a dictator and let my dog snoop when we have time and its safe to do so, she has learned to accept the times I have to say, "not now".