Loose Lead Walking Your Dog

Keeping your dog's attention during walks
Loose lead walking with Cecilia

Let’s face it…dogs simply love being outdoors! Whether they are at the beach, the park, or in their own backyard! Unfortunately, for many dog owners, taking your canine for a leashed walk isn’t always such a pleasurable experience. In addition to a dog’s enthusiasm for being outside in the fresh air, their acute sense of smell also entices them to sniff just about anything and everything in their path; and often, off the beaten path! This ‘sensory overload’ can induce an uncontrollable excitement in most untrained pups. That is why it is essential for every dog owner to teach their pup to respect both you and the leash! Training your dog ‘lead walking’ can be a challenge; primarily because dogs move faster than their owners and because of all the stimulation in the environment. Many dogs can become extremely difficult to manage during their outings in the ‘great outdoors’ (translation- taking their owners for a walk!) – yet, it can be done! Here are some terrific training tips and techniques for teaching your dog ‘loose lead walking’- before you venture out. As with any positive behaviour you want to reinforce, you will need to encourage, reward, and be patient with your pooch while teaching him or her to leash walk, as you communicate to your dog …who the boss really is!

Before you begin:

Always consider the proper equipment- using a four to six foot leash will give your dog plenty of leeway during your training sessions. Extendable leashes and ones longer than six feet are great for exercising your dog, but always opt for the shorter leash when you are training. Your dog’s collar should fit him or her properly; and ideally should be a buckle or snap collar-even a no-pull partial body (head/shoulder) harness will work well for training. Pinch, prong, and choke chain collars are not recommended for training because your purpose is to teach your dog by positive reinforcement, not by causing them discomfort. Speaking of positive reinforcement, make certain you have plenty of treats on hand – you are going to want to reward your dog every time he or she exhibits desirable behaviour and proper movement during training.

Training your dog- ‘loose lead’ walking

Training your dog to walk calmly beside you is accomplished best by starting in a small area with little or no distraction. It can be an indoor area of your house or in your backyard. This will enable your dog to focus and move with you while are teaching him during this phase of training. Maintaining eye contact and inviting them back to you with a reward when they begin to lead will be instrumental in guiding your dog to stay by your side while walking. Repetition will be key at this stage of training. Dogs are intelligent creatures that learn best in a structured environment repeating behaviours under their owner’s control.

* Begin practicing by walking with your dog, changing directions frequently. Guiding them to stay close to you and offering rewards for following your lead. If they become distracted and begin to stray, gently apply a bit of pressure on the leash and invite them back using both your words & body language, again rewarding them with a treat on the return. When they have mastered this phase you can move on to another setting such as a sidewalk or park.

* Begin this phase by taking a walk with your dog in a straight line while the leash is loose. If your dog starts to get ahead of you there will be tension on the leash- when this happens, stop immediately and change direction. As soon as the dog catches up, stop again and reward them with a treat. This will teach your dog that the walk will stop and be redirected in another direction as soon as tension is felt on the leash. It will also teach them they will be rewarded for returning to your side. Accomplishing this may seem arduous and you may feel like you are not getting anywhere in regard to your ‘walk,’ but again, patience is key for the owner as the dog will learn the ‘right’ behaviour from the continuous repetition of your movements, as well as the tension felt on the leash.

After your dog has achieved these two steps it’s time to head out. An important fact to remember is that dogs generally equate going outside with being excited. They are easily aroused with all the sights and smells they are going to encounter. You can diminish their excitement in two ways-

* Practice putting on and taking off the leash at random times. You can even put on their leash and take them outside the front door a couple of feet, only to turn around and return. Over time, this will break the connection between having a leash on and becoming overly excited at the prospect of heading out for a walk.

* While out for a walk remember to take breaks. Allowing your dog to sit or lie down, even while playing with a chew toy, also diminishes being overly excited outdoors. We want our dogs to be able to sniff and explore; but as dog owners, we need to provide structure, so it’s up to us to decide when and where we want them to sniff and explore …not the other way around!

It is important to realise that not all dogs learn new and desirable behaviours in the same way, at the same pace- even with the same equipment. Some owners prefer to use the ‘clicker method’ for this type of training which is simply making a clicking sound when you are redirecting your dog’s movement. It is up to you, as the dog’s owner, to figure out what works best for you and your pup. If you remember to be patient, consistent, and use an ample amount of treats to reinforce positive behaviour, any dog can learn how to calmly walk ‘off lead – so every time you venture out, it will be an enjoyable experience for both you and your dog!

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