I know you have the picture in your head, enjoyable walks at the park, or out walking your dog on a trail. If a reality check reveals the dog pulling at the end of the leash, barking at everything that moves, walking the dog sounds a bit more like a chore. However, when you plan your walks and strategically practice with your dog providing appropriate feedback to good and bad behavior, you will have the dog walking comfortably by your side. The pleasure of enjoyable walks with your furry companion is worth the time and calculated effort.
Be reasonable and consistent in the behaviors you expect and help your dog achieve these goals. Begin in your kitchen walking next to the cabinets, or down a long hallway. Stand still on your back porch or front driveway with your dog on a leash and feed breakfast from a waist pouch when your pup or dog is on a slack lead. Do not take a single step forward when your dog pulls. Stand your ground or turn and walk the other way. When your dog stops pulling, praise, then invite her to resume walking and mark the loose leash walking with "yes" or click, then follow with a couple of kibbles of breakfast. Cheerios also make great dog treats. If the environment is overstimulating or your dog has a sensitive stomach, you can mix their regular food with a few pieces of cooked chicken breast or ground beef to create candy-coated kibble rather than using a bunch of varied treats.
Keep in mind 3 Commands for walking. Be consistent in communicating to your dog the specific behaviors you will allow and expect. Do not let unwanted behaviors work for the dog. If the dog pulls and then gets to a person, another dog, or a sniff of the bushes or a garbage can, the dog has just been rewarded for pulling.
Let's Go / With Me
Walk with me.
Remain on the path.
Use for leisure walking and to announce change of direction.
Walking directly at my side while I'm walking.
Sit-Stay or Stand-Stay directly at my side while I'm standing still.
Use this for passing people/dogs, crossing streets, on stairs/hills, etc.
Permission to wander ahead or off the path to eliminate.
Permission to follow their nose and enjoy being a dog within reason.
You may follow your dog on a loose leash until your next Let's Go or Heel.
Can also have Go Say Hi as a permission command to greet people.
Praise profusely and serve up breakfast or dinner (several kibbles at a time) for responding to Let's Go or Heel in the beginning. Later continuing the walk or permission to Go Sniff will be the reward for walking on a loose leash. Be unpredictable on your walks by changing directions frequently using quick 90, 180, and 360 degree turns. In the beginning, show your pup/dog how to make these turns by following a food lure, then quickly advance your dog to targeting an empty hand (be sure to mark and reward). Eventually mark and reward the dog for targeting your body changes in speed and direction. Provide the empty hand target as a helper when needed. Praise your dog to increase the duration of successful walking between times of reward. Eventually, reserve your food treats or dog toy rewards for successfully walking past particularly high distractions (squirrels, wild children, barking dogs).
If you step in the direction the dog is pulling, you are reinforcing the pulling behavior. For young pups out and about after their vaccinations, sometimes you have to just squat down and hold them back at the shoulders and chest while introducing them to the world to reduce the pressure at the collar. Or get a quick sit and then give them permission to Go Sniff or Go Say Hi in order to socialize them and provide positive experiences. You can't train everything at once; however, teaching them loose leash skills early in your kitchen and backyard and front driveway prepares them for much less pulling when walks advance to outdoors, shopping centers and eventually parks and trails. Teaching them to settle in their crate and x-pen during the day when you are home also prepares them for walks. When they see something they want (you) they can't always get it. This prepares them for seeing people and dogs in public that may not result in a close greeting. This is especially important during times of Covid-19; however, even without that, most dogs are expected to ignore and pass politely the majority of people and dogs that come across their path.
Practice getting the behaviors you want for a lifetime. Learn how to help your dog get it right and then learn how to reduce the help so your dog can offer the appropriate behaviors independently. Teach your dog to wait for permission for super rewards such as off leash at the dog park or greetings. If your dog wants to sniff something, ask him to walk in the opposite direction with Let's Go or Heel and when he does so on a loose leash, communicate that good behavior with "yes" or click and then give him permission to Go Sniff.
For questions, contact: Keri Jane Lyall KeriJaneK9@gmail.com