Teaching Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

Like anything, loose-leash walking is much easier to teach if it’s started at a young age. Train it in as a good habit early, rather than trying to fix a bad habit late.

Danger's ready for a loose-leash walk.     Photo: Grayson Schaffer

Every dog must learn to walk on a leash. Here’s how the ADW trainers do it with their service dogs.

THE IDEAL SCENARIO
ADW teaches loose-lead walking (and heeling, once you unsnap the lead) with a clicker and treats. It’s incredibly simple. Say your walk cue—"let’s go" or "heel"—and set off. As long as the dog is in the heeling zone next to your knee, click and treat frequently. Then gradually lengthen the amount of time and distance required for a treat. Most dogs are pretty quick to figure out that their place in relation to the handler is what draws the treat. I also like to look for frequent eye contact. You can promote this by clicking when you’re getting a good heel position and the dog looks up at you. Eye contact means the dog’s focus is on you and not what’s going on in the world. The nice thing about this method is that it doesn’t require any force, a must for service dogs who will be handled by people with disabilities.

THE PROBLEM OF THE OUTGOING DOG
With my dog Danger, I’ve found that as soon as I give him his treat he suddenly speeds up and is out ahead foraging and looking for people and other dogs to greet. Like most training issues, the tasks are easy; the self-control is hard.

1. Start with a preemptive "leave it" when obvious distractions are coming down the path toward you. Most problems of pulling can be fixed with a well-conditioned "leave it."

2. Some of the books I’ve been reading lately explain the dog’s urge to go ahead as an attempt to become a pack leader. Others explain it simply: Because it works. Whether it’s the former or the latter doesn’t matter; you can’t give in. When he goes ahead, stop, get him to come back whatever way works best. Then make him wait. Then set off again. Don’t let him pull you even a little. Just a few inches of give can reinforce the behavior.

3. Like anything, loose-leash walking is much easier to teach if it’s started at a young age. Train it in as a good habit early, rather than trying to fix a bad habit late.

4. If all else fails, use punishment. We’ll go over punishment in another installment.

A GOOD EXERCISE
Walk toward a goal: In this one, Sue set out a bowl of food at the end of a hallway. Danger and I set off toward it and as long as he was walking at my knee, we could keep going. As soon as he moved ahead we had to go back to the starting line. This is a great one to teach a dog self control because calmness and patience are the only way to get that big reward. And you don’t need to use food, either. We repeated the exercise with another dog that Danger really wanted to meet as the reward on the other side of the room. As long as he walked at heel he’d get to greet the other dog.

This article originally appeared on Outside K9, the former dog blog of Outside magazine, on May 7, 2009.

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