Some Top Tips for Leash Training Your Dog
For many, leash training is the most difficult aspect of doggy obedience. Teaching a pup to sit, roll-over, fetch - even play dead – is a relatively simple matter of classical condition. If your dog does what they’re supposed to, then you give them a treat. If they fail to do what they’re meant to, then you don’t.
But leash training is a lot harder. The challenge is getting your dog to understand precisely what it is they’re meant to be doing in the first place, learning to clearly communicate your intentions, and being prepared for unexpected situations (squirrel!). This actually has a fancy technical term: random, variable reinforcement!
This is often the final challenge at obedience classes, and it’s often where many owners flunk out. Here are some tips so you can ensure your pooch is top of the class.
The first tip is to make sure you get a body harness for your dog, rather than leashing them around the neck. Collars used in this way can actually be harmful to dogs and may cause neck problems (just another reason to get them to calm down).
That said, try to get something that is light and tight. Loose harnesses actually hurt more as they allow enough slack for your dog to pull against them. At the same time, lighter harnesses are less upsetting to dogs that aren’t yet used to strolling.
How to Leash Train
From here, you need to think about how you are going to get your dog to understand what they need to do.
The most important rule is to not let your dog dictate the direction (even by coincidence) by tugging on the leash. If the dog is tugging, then you don’t move in that direction. Once they stop, then you can go and inspect in that direction. This way, they learn that pulling against the lead doesn’t result in their desired outcome. You’d be surprised how easy it is to overlook this basic principle! You can even reward them with a snack once they calm down. Another good reward is a dog clicker which can be a great investment for rewarding good behavior.
If your dog does try pulling against you, then you can use verbal punishment by telling them ‘no’. Over time, you want to create an association between tugging and the word ‘no’.
Something else that can help is to start out in the garden or somewhere where they can cause minimal damage. Try the technique knowns as ‘penalty yards’. Here, you set up a reward or an object of interest (a toy or a snack) and then attempt to lead your dog toward it. Of course, they will pull, and this gives you the perfect opportunity to tell them that they’re doing it wrong, and take a step back. Again, only as they calm down and walk politely, do you allow them to make progress toward the treat.
Remember: slow and steady wins the race! This might be a frustrating exercise to begin with, but ultimately it will result in a happier and safer pet!