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Proper Leash Training

By Jason Trainer  •  November 8, 2021  •  

Teach Your Dog to Walk on Leash

Walking on leash is a basic skill every dog should harness (pun intended). You should start training your dog to walk on leash as early as possible. The earlier the better because it gives less opportunity to build poor habits. That said, not every dog that needs to be trained is a puppy so below you will find some general guidance on proper leash training.

To set yourself up right, you will want to make sure you have a proper collar / harness and leash.

Proper Dog Walking Tools

Every dog is different and so are the tools you will need. For instance, one dog may be much more relaxed and enjoy a calm walking pace while another may be high energy and insist on pulling you along for the ride. There are many tools to purchase so your best bet would be to talk to a professional to find out which is the best suited for your pet. Your training goal should always be to not have to rely on tools to have your dog do what you would like. Your commands and the structure of routine should be enough if you are committed to training your dog to walk with obedience.

Some tools can cause injury if not utilized properly – discuss your options with a professional.

Leash

For training purposes, you should not work with a retractable leash. A standard 4 to 6 foot long leash will be best to allow for maximum control and simplistic operation. It goes without saying but, make sure it is a sturdy leash that won’t break under the force of your dog pulling.

Collar

If your dog is one of relaxed nature and breed who doesn’t distract easily, a standard collar should work just fine. However, a thicker collar will help ensure that there is no damage done to your dog’s neck area if there is excessive pulling. A Thicker collar is also suggested for a bigger dog. If your dog is a bit more of a puller, the below options (in order of pulling aid) may be helpful for you.

Martingale Collar:

this collar type provides a bit more support when dealing with a dog who likes to pull. It is identified by two of its ends being linked with a fabric or chain loop which attaches to the leash secure point. When the dog pulls, the collar tightens around the dog’s neck. It also offsets some of the pull force from your dog.

Choke Chain:

A choke chain is often a chain that passes through one end of itself and the leash secure point being the other end. These chains can be dangerous, if used improperly, as there is no limit to how much they can tighten around your dog’s neck.

Prong Collar:

The telling characteristics of this type of collar are the prongs sticking out along the collar’s length. As a dog pulls these prongs will dig into your dog’s neck and pinch their skin.

Head Halter

This apparatus fits over the dog’s head and snout. It provides the most control over the dog as you can direct the dog’s head and re-direct its pull force extremely well. If your dog is a strong puller, this would be your best option. It may look like a muzzle however it should not be used as one.

Poor Dog Walking Tools

Harness

Harnesses are meant to be comfortable for our dog companions and as such do not bode well for leash training. Beyond that, they can cause issues with muscles and joints when fitted poorly and used improperly. In short, it can cause the gait of the dog to change as it sits and pulls on important muscles and joints. We would suggest a harness only be used after your dog is properly trained to walk with you and is obedient in demeanor.

Back Clip Harness:

a harness will usually fit over the dog’s head and under its belly to provide support around the whole body. The leash attachment point is located above the dog’s back. This is the safest and most secure option for a new un-trained dog owner. Unfortunately, it does not provide much help to the handler if a dog is a puller.

Front Clip Harness:

same as the above back clip harness except the leash attachment point is in front over the chest of the dog. The leash secure point is attached to the harness and is meant to deter pulling by re-directing its pull force. Some front clip harnesses will have a martingale loop at the front as well to further prevent pulling. Caution should be noted here as the pulling force at the front tends to cause the harness to rub above the front legs and cause damage to the soft tissue of the dog.

Training Your Dog to Walk on Leash

Each dog is different and will probably require a different approach. Below are the basics of how to introduce and teach your dog to walk on leash.

Introduction:

Now that you have all the tools you will need to train your dog to walk on leash, you need to introduce him/her to them. To do this, have them wear the collar/harness and leash around the house. If they seem to not like them, include praise, play and/or treats while they are getting used to the tools. They should associate the items with positive outcomes.

Consistency:

Don’t break from training. You must set out some rules, not only for your dog but for yourself. Don’t allow your dog to falter from how you would like them to behave. If you do so, you are sending mixed messages to your dog and they will not be the obedient dog you are hoping for and it will be your fault. Further, now is a good time to choose a preferred side you would like your dog to walk on – the left side being a common choice. This should be where you allow your dog to “live” when on walks unless released from your side.

Attention on You:

Treats, treats, praise, more treats. The key to training a dog to walk on leash is having their attention on you and being excited to do so. The more attention on you, the less they will get distracted and pull on the leash. As you begin to walk, stop every few steps and give your dog a treat. Deliver the treat against your leg on the side that you chose in the step above. Continue to do so while extending the period between treats. Eventually your dog should be expecting a treat and alternate between watching where it is going and looking at you.

Pressure/Release:

As your dog pulls on the leash, utilize negative reinforcement by putting opposing pressure on the leash and releasing when they stop resisting (timing is very important). Make sure when you add pressure the leash is parallel with the dog’s spine, it will help them understand directional pressure better. When their attention is back on you, and they are by your left side a treat is given to show the dog where you want him to be. Essentially, you want your dog to want to be by your side. Your dog will understand that release of pressure (negative reinforcement) and a treat is given (positive reinforcement) every time he is by your side. The pressure is applied when they leave your side making it less likely that they pull in the future. The amount of pressure you apply with vary depending on your dog. The timing of when you release the leash pressure is crucial.

Corrections:

Your dog will fall out of line – this is ok and expected. Corrections can be used to help your dog understand that the action they took is not what you are looking for after you have shown them what you want and where they can be. They should have a very good understanding of the collar pressure and position before corrections are offered. If your dog pulls ahead, you can stop and not move until they come by your side – give them a treat when they do so. Some dogs may be stubborn and require you to perform a quick tug on the leash to pull their attention back on you – give them a treat when they are back by your side. Stronger corrections and ongoing disobedience are probably signs you need a professional trainer.

You’re Walking!

As your dog’s behaviour falls in line with what you are expecting, you will want to phase out treats. You can do so by replacing a treat with praise every other time and continue to phase out the treats all together in this manner. It’s not a bad idea to keep treats on hand to reinforce the good behaviour even after your dog is consistently walking well on leash.

Behavioural Issues Which Cause Poor On-Leash Behaviour

Your dog may have underlying behavioural issues which are causing poor on-leash behaviour. A common one being leash reactivity and arousal. Further your dog may have anxiety which is causing them to pull on leash or making them stop and not want to move. These should be addressed separately from leash training and will probably require a trained handler.

Some common issues you may run into when trying to teach your dog to walk on leash may be:

  • Pulling
  • Chewing on leash
  • Not heeling
  • Moves side to side
  • Gets caught up in your feet
  • Lagging behind
  • Constant stopping
  • Dog freaks out / is aggressive

The ITK9 Way

We work with dogs everyday and have programs that are tailored to each specific dog. All of our programs address on-leash walking through different environments with a multitude of distractions to help ensure your dog performs properly no matter where you are. If you are unsure how to get your dog to walk properly on leash, please reach out to one of our trained professionals today.

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