If you have ever been anywhere around dogs – you will be familiar with the good ol’ leash pull.
For our furry friends, there is nothing normal about walking at a human’s pace and for some dogs mastering this social etiquette can be quite challenging.
Zeus is a prime example of a pooch that has struggled.
No1. As always you want your dog to WANT to listen to you !
No2. You should be able to understand your dogs body language & what is going on in your surroundings so that you are able to predict his behaviour before even he does. When the bad behaviour is already happening – you are too late. Your timing is everything and you want to prevent bad behaviour before it happens. Reward EVERY good behaviour. Be conscious of your surroundings and be attentive. Walking your dog is one of the most important bonding experiences – so give him all your attention as this is what you expect of him in return.
As most of you know, my dog training methods are a combination of predominantly Victoria Stilwell’s All Positive Reinforcement training methods sprinkled with a bit of Cesar Milan’s Alpha Dominance theory.
I am not an advocate of full dominance training – and I absolutely do not believe in ever creating situations of fear, or physical reprimands. However, from personal experience I also know that training a large, bullheaded Rottweiler is very different from training a cockapoo. Clear rules and boundaries need to be set inside and outside the house, and an element of mental dominance has a place in the training.
My next blog post will discuss my stance on the wolf pack theory in dog training and how many dominance training methods I believe are outdated and counterproductive.
The main reason that I do believe, to an extent, in the importance of dominance displays in dog training – is because of my very beloved Zeus the almighty.
Zeus is on the extreme end of dominant male dogs. How do I know this? For a few reason, but primarily because I believe, as Cesar Milan does, that the two most important displays of control are on-lead walking time and feeding time. Whoever is in charge of walking and feeding – is the boss.
These moments have always been the most rebellious times for Zeus, and these are the moments in which he will test his walker/feeder. When Zeus hit puberty and all of his testosterone kicked in, there was about a year and half during which no-one apart from me was able to walk him. It was a constant power struggle to determine who was in control of the walk.
Unless you knew all the rules, stayed in control and calm at all times, and successfully ‘dominated’ Zeus on the walk – he would take over, and you would be in for the walk from hell. To this day, there are not many individuals that I would trust to walk Zeus – mainly because of the hound himself. Although he has far improved & calmed down, if he senses your insecurity his natural instinct is to take control.
As I mentioned Zeus is on the more extreme side of dominant dogs, and most dogs will be far easier to tame on the lead.
Having said this, there is no excuse for any breed to pulling on the lead – whether big or small. I strongly believe that the first steps to successfully training your dog to walk politely on the lead – starts at home.
I will now discuss all the on-lead training methods & tips that I have used with Zeus for loose lead walking.
Please also remember that this can be one of your most ‘daunting’ training tasks with your dog. It is important to keep in mind that it can take anywhere from months to years of consistency before your dog learns to walk calmly and politely on the leash every time.
- Control of the walk starts before you leave the house. Your dog should never walk through doorways in-front of you. Zeus has to sit calmly and wait while I put his collar and leash on – do not attach the leash to an overexcited dog who is jumping around. Your dog should be in a calm state of mind (trust me, I know how hard this can be) before you leave the house.
- Master “look at me”. This is the most important skill that you can teach your dog. Teaching your dog that good things happen when he checks in with you or looks at you – is key.
- Try to exert some of your dogs energy before you leave the house. This can be incredibly effective – especially for younger dogs with high energy levels. As mentioned, you want your dog calm before you leave the house. If you have a garden, go throw the ball for 5-10 minutes, or a play an active game in the house before you put the leash on.
- Never allow your dog to get away with pulling on the lead. It is also important to remember that it is totally unproductive to pull backwards. If you are pulling back while your dog is pulling forward – this will only create a tug of war situation. A dog’s natural instinct is to pull harder when pulled backwards.
For dominant or reactive dogs, pulling backwards on a normal collar and lead can instigate prey drive or even aggression. It amps them up further, and their reaction will only increase in its intensity.
- When your dog pulls – stop moving. Never allow your dog to reach what he is pulling towards or is excited about. If you allow your dog to go sniff when he pulls on the lead – you are rewarding the pulling behaviour. Instead of yanking on the lead – simply stop moving. When he is calm and the lead is loose – allow him to go sniff. This can take a very long time to do – so please stay patient.
- When your dog pulls – turn in the other direction. For some dogs, the simple ‘stop when pulling’ method can take a very long time. Instead you can try changing directions as soon as your dog starts pulling. This is a method that worked great for Zeus and it is still something that we practice on many occasions. Keep your dog on his toes – change directions A LOT. This forces your dog to pay attention to you as the direction of the walk could change in a moments notice.
- REWARDS. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, you want to reward your dog EVERY time he is doing something that you like. As walking politely can be such a challenging task for your dog to learn – make sure that the treats that you bring with you are of the HIGHEST quality. What treat/food does your dog love the most? Bring this with you.
- Redirection. Bring a toy of high value with you. If you have a reactive dog that likes to lunge or has a difficult time focusing on you, bring a toy of high value with you on the walk. If your dog gets excited/reactive by another dog/ person, change direction and distract your dogs attention with the toy. When your dog is calm again and focused, reward him for it by giving a treat.
- Focus on You. It is so important to not teach your dog to associate their trigger situations with a a negative result. For example, if your dog gets excited/reactive every time he sees another dog – do not yank on the lead, shout NO, or not to mention physically reprimand him. This will teach your dog that seeing another dog is a BAD THING and this can quickly escalate to aggression, or simply worse behaviour. The ‘Look at Me’ command can be so helpful when teaching your dog to walk politely on the lead. You want your dog to WANT to look at you and focus on you because this means good things. Every time Zeus sees another dog he has been conditioned through extensive repetition (you want this to become second nature to your dog) to “Look at me”. If his trigger is too enticing, I will call his attention with a high value treat or toy so that the focus reverts back to me. This creates the association for Zeus, that seeing another dog on the lead is 1. his cue to look at me 2. a positive situation which will end up in a reward!
Loose lead walking for many dog owners can be their biggest heartbreak. It can take a long time to master, and there are many stubborn dogs out there that will make the process slow and exhausting. Patience, as always, is what you will predominantly need. However, you CAN do it.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you do not want to reward your dog for bad behaviour, and you do want to reward your dog for good behaviour.
The most classic mistake that dog owners will do, is to inadvertently reward their dog for pulling. Their reward is getting to whatever it is that they want to be sniffing, greeting, or exploring. Only ever allow your dog to go sniff when he is not pulling on the lead.
Ps. Another little tip that worked quite well for Z & I was changing the speed of which I was walking – also a way to keep him on his toes. Sometimes I would walks slowly, sometimes I would jog, sometimes I would fall into a full sprint. The idea, as alway, is to have your pooches attention on YOU at all times.
If you have any questions or queries – please do not hesitate to get in touch 🙂
Best of Luck!
Love Always, Z & A 💜