When I had my first dog Koby…
Back when I worked too many hours in biotech, with a long commute that stole hours from me every day…
And back when I was all rainbows and butterflies and I believed that love was all I needed to raise a dog right…
Walking my dog was a nightmare.
We lived in a condo, so he had to be walked regularly not only for exercise, but to take care of business.
And the truth was, he was stronger than me.
(Or at least, because I didn’t understand proper leash handling, I BELIEVED he was stronger than me. More on that later.)
Not to mention, walking him was downright embarrassing.
He pulled, he gasped against his collar, and when he saw a dog or person, holding on for dear life was the only way I survived.
Because back then, I bought into the idea that walking your dog meant spending 30 minutes to an hour strolling through the neighborhood.
I felt that obligatory dog walk, (that lasted an eternity, and was more of an exercise in frustration than a way for me to bond with my dog) was necessary for me to be a GOOD dog owner.
Since becoming a professional dog trainer however…
I do things much differently.
Take Duncan for example…
This is Duncan’s SECOND training session learning Loose Leash Walking. And while we still have a lot of work to do and he’s certainly not perfect, I’m so impressed with how quickly he’s picking up his training.
You see, Duncan is hanging with us for help overcoming some behavioral issues.
He gets overstimulated very easily.
If he sees something he wants (which is pretty much everything), he’ll pull hard into the leash and bark like crazy.
But now that he’s here, he’s absolutely crushing his loose leash training.
Because leash walking…
It doesn’t have to be hard.
And it doesn’t require anti pull harnesses or other devices to get right.
But it does require you to ditch the notion of your daily dog walk.
Here’s how we do it…
- We practice in an easy area – Listen, Duncan doesn’t know me all that well. And he doesn’t have a lot of experience with this kind of training. That means it would be really challenging to teach him in an environment where there were all sorts of distractions that were competing with me for his attention. For that reason we drove to a quiet church parking lot to practice his training, where there weren’t many distractions.
- We keep our session short – This wasn’t a one hour walk for exercise. This was a 10 minute training session which allowed me to keep the fun going without either of us burning out.
- We don’t move in a straight line – In order to keep him paying attention, I changed directions often (it’s one of the reasons the video is edited – most of the time I was out of frame of the camera). I won’t do it forever, but in the beginning, it’s a great way to keep him with me and paying attention.
- We move AWAY from the dog – Every time Duncan forgot I existed or started to pull, I’d skirt away from him. I wouldn’t wait until he was pulling hard into the leash and completely checked out – instead, I’d ditch him as soon as it became clear he wasn’t engaged. If he looked left, I darted right. If he pulled out ahead, I went the opposite direction. This left him racing after me to catch up, and it encouraged him to stay where he could see me, and to follow rather than pull, so he’d not run the risk of losing me again.
- We stay away from grass – Listen, there are ALL sorts of good smells in the grass that are hard for our dogs to ignore. So I’ll teach all of the basics on the pavement first, until he’s got quite a bit of practice under his belt before moving on to more challenging environments…like grassy spaces.
Our dogs aren’t born knowing how to walk on a leash. In fact, they are born knowing how to do the opposite. Pulling is a reflex, and strolling along side of you at a mind numbingly slow pace – that’s not in their DNA.
For this reason, it’s important that we set the stage for success. We choose environments to support our training. And we sure as heck don’t go for an hour long walk in a straight line around all sorts of crazy distractions, before we give our dog the tools and skills to make it enjoyable for us both.
So I’ll encourage you…
If your dog pulls on walks, ditch the notion of the obligatory one hour walk around your neighborhood…
And instead, replace that walk with short training sessions.
The work you put in will pay off in spades, and the time spent will be far more enjoyable for you both.