My dog of 15 years passed away two years ago but I can never forget that sweet bastard. It’s not just because he was always so happy to see me. No, mostly it’s because every time we would walk out the door together he would pull me with all his strength to the park, peeing while walking and embarrassing me every single time.
So, yes, it’s safe to say that I was never that graceful dog walker. I was never one to roam around the streets effortlessly while my dog poops and pees discreetly in a corner. I still envy those skillful dog owners who just float about their day, having their dog join them everywhere they go. Bastards.
It’s not just for the sake of looking graceful that we should teach our dog to stop pulling the leash. “From a relationship perspective,” Sarah Fraser, a certified professional dog trainer and co-founder of Instinct Behavior & Training in New York City, explains, “if your dog is walking nicely on a leash, it likely means that your dog is paying more attention to you, making it easier for you to provide direction and guidance as needed along your walk.”
Accordingly, it’s important to get your dog accustomed to the leash. Walks should be relaxing and not a game of tug-of-war. “Teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash allows you to take her more places and for longer walks, because it’s more comfortable and enjoyable for the both of you,” Fraser explains.
Thankfully, there are ways to get your dog leash trained. First things first, ask yourself, “What would I like him or her to do instead? Instead of teaching our dog to stop pulling, think of it as teaching your dog how to walk nicely beside you.”
Another thing to remember is that dogs work on rewards. One of “the most effective ways” to get your dog to walk better with a leash is through rewards. You reward the dog for listening to you and “for being in the desired position (next to you or close to you) when out for a walk.”
This a learning process that your dog will grasp through rewards. “As the dog learns that walking next to you is a pleasant, rewarding experience, she’ll spend less time pulling and more time walking nicely beside you,” Fraser explains. Use your dog’s favorite treats, especially in the beginning, to make the reward feel more special.
The process also involves the “follow me” game. This is when you hold the leash and “take several backward steps away from your dog. The backward movement is inviting, so your dog is likely to turn and follow you. Say 'Yes!' as your dog approaches you, then immediately reward him or her with a treat.”
What’s also important is that you practice this stride regularly. You do this by taking your dog for a walk often. When you see that your dog is walking next to you, reward him. “Frequent rewards will help your dog figure out more quickly what behavior you’re looking for and make the learning process easier for her,” says Fraser.
“The trick to making this work is using very special treats at first, and keeping your rate of reinforcement high, which just means that you are marking and rewarding often — maybe every 4-5 steps at first — for any and all ‘good’ leash behavior.” Once your dog understands what he is expected to do, you can downsize the number of rewards. This, however, should happen over time.
Fraser also recommends looking for assistance to help teach your dog how to walk properly on a leash. “If your dog is already a practiced puller, consider purchasing a quality front clip harness to provide extra control on walks,” she advises. If your dog is an expert leash-puller even on a front clip harness, then a dog trainer would be best to help you train your dog to walk better.
What’s important to remember is that this process takes time. You cannot expect your dog to adopt this way of walking in no time. You need patience, practice, and a bag of rewards to see the change you’re looking for.