Tips for teaching dogs loose leash walking
By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
While taking advantage of the nice weather last weekend, I was inspired for this week’s article. Out walking with my dogs, I was thankful for the training I did for good leash manners every time I came upon a shady spot with ice. All dogs need activity, and going for walks is good for everyone involved — humans included. However, I know several people who dread walks because it is more like going for a drag. There are several techniques for teaching leash manners, and only a few are listed here.
As with most training, dogs learn and remember better if they figure things out for themselves. One way to decrease pulling is to stop walking each time the leash gets tight and wait. Eventually your dogs should look at you like, “Hey, why aren’t we moving?” When your dog looks at you, praise it and give it a treat. Now continue on your way. Stop each time the leash gets tight. Each time it will not take as long for your dog to look at you, and, hopefully, your dog will come back to you for a treat.
You will not get very far the first few times you go for a walk, but your dog is learning that it gets rewarded for being close to you. If your dog leaves its leash loose, it gets to walk forward. It is boring just standing still. Walking is fun.
A similar technique is calling your dog and turning and walking the opposite direction when the leash gets tight. The leash loosens until your dog catches up. Praise and treat your dog when it catches up but before the leash gets tight again. The hope is that your dog will figure out it does not get very far walking out at the end of the leash and that it is better to be close to you.
These two techniques will help your dog walk close by but not in perfect “heel” position. Treats are a wonderful motivation and can be used to keep your dog’s nose in the perfect spot, but this is beyond the scope of this article. A formal obedience class is better suited for working on perfecting heel position.
Another thing to consider while walking your dog is where you are going. Start in a familiar area with few distractions. Other dogs, squirrels, and rabbits will make it hard for your dog to focus and remember what it should be doing when the leash gets tight. If you have multiple dogs, working each one individually will make it easier on all of you.
I was inspired for this article because of ice, so watch that your dog’s feet do not get too cold. Walking in areas with salt can cause irritation or intestinal problems if the dog licks the salt.
While some people walk for exercise, do not forget to stop and smell the roses — or a mailbox or light post in your dog’s world.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.