The Three-Step Method for Leash Walking Puppies
By LISA RADOSTA, DVM, DACVB
Polite leash walking doesn't have to be a struggle. Puppies (and dogs, for that matter) pull on the leash because they're excited to be on a walk, or because they want to get to something like a squirrel or a dog friend. The behavior persists because owners either physically aren’t strong enough to stop their dog or they are inconsistent, sometimes correcting the dog and sometimes not.
Think of it this way, each time that your puppy pulls and is allowed to get to that special smell on the grass or chase a squirrel, you are rewarding him for pulling. That's right; you are telling him that it is okay to pull. That experience will be well remembered by your dog and the next time he wants to see something he's going to pull to get there. So, what's the best way to make it stop?
Teaching your puppy to walk on a leash is like teaching any other behavior. Follow these three steps: define the behavior (i.e., what you want your dog to do), gain control, and recognize and reward appropriate behavior.
1. Define the Behavior
If you don’t know what you are trying to teach, your puppy won’t know either. Before you can ask him to do something you should have a definition of that behavior. Do you want your dog to walk next to you? A foot in front of you? Does he need to walk on the left side or the right? All of this must first be determined. Then once you know what you expect of your dog, you can start to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash.
2. Gain Control
Because many training techniques such as pulling or popping on a leash attached to a choke or pinch collar depend on the proper owner timing, they invariably fail. Do you always have good timing? Probably not. That means if you only sometimes pop the leash when your puppy pulls or if you pop the leash just at the moment when he is not pulling, your puppy will become confused about what you want because he is being corrected when he is not pulling. Eventually he will learn to ignore the correction. A better method would be to use a tool that acts as "power steering," requiring very little of your input. There are a wealth of tools currently on the market to help owners like you walk their dogs; some of the best include head collars and no-pull harnesses. When the dog pulls, the collar or harness automatically slows the dog. Even better -- you don't have to do any work at all.
3. Recognize and Reward
By now, you should have defined the behavior; for example: walking on your left side no more than one foot in front of you. You should also have started using a head collar or no pull harness that does the work for you so when the leash is tight, your puppy slows down. Now, you just need to recognize when your puppy is doing the "right thing" and reward him with a small treat. Each time your puppy is on your left hand side, call his name and hand him a treat. Soon, he will be walking right next to you. Once he can consistently walk next to you, you may choose to reward less frequently. Bear in mind if you stop rewarding him completely, the learned behavior will disappear. Try to see it from the dog's perspective. How long would you work if you didn’t get a paycheck? A little treat is a small price to pay for great behavior.
4. Be Consistent (The 'Bonus' Step)
To keep your dog walking on a loose leash the rest of his life you have to be consistent. This means that your dog can never be allowed to pull towards something. As soon as he pulls toward a squirrel and you let him pull you, he will understand that pulling earns him a reward. The good news is that if you follow through on steps 1-3, step 4 is easy.
Image: Donovan Henneberg-Verity / via Flickr