Leash Manners and Getting Your Dog Not to be a Jerk Part 1
Leash manners, loose leash walking, not being dragged down the street, whatever you want to call it, it takes time and effort. The earlier you start practicing the better, however, I do not believe in the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." As long as you have the right equipment and the right attitude, your pal will pick this behavior up, and you won't be embarrassed to take him out in public.
"But I have a big enough fenced in back yard, can't I just exercise him back there?"
Having a fenced in back yard is great, and a safe way to exercise your dog and let him attend to his business, but it's not the end all solution. It's still a form of confinement, just like the inside of your house. After exploring every inch of that yard, he'll become bored. Bored dogs dig holes, plan escapes, bark, and chew things they are not supposed to. Oh, you want to water that flower bed? Too bad. Buddy chewed a hole in the hose, not that you'd want to water a flower bed that has been all dug up. Where's Buddy now? He snuck out between the gap in the gate and is now humping the old neighbor lady.
The equipment I was talking about is a 6ft leather or nylon lead, flat buckle collar or (regular) harness, and motivating treats. For bigger breeds, a flat buckle collar is fine to try. If you have a smaller breed, like a Yorkie, it's important to be careful of their trachea, it is very fragile, especially during puppyhood and a regular collar might lead to injury. So if you are concerned about tracheas, or if you have a dog that might try and back out of his collar, than the harness is the way to go. It's not fool proof, but it provides a little more piece of mind. Special harnesses that clip in front or around a dog's muzzle can be helpful for hard to train dogs or forceful pullers, but should only be used as a last resort and even then shouldn't be considered the long term solution. The treats I mentioned must have a high motivating factor; so small, squishy and stinky. Milk bones won't cut it here. Milk bones say, "Hey, friend, I like you." Small stinky treats say, "Holy crap! That was awesome! Do that always!!!" Bill-Jac, Train Me, and Wellness all make good training treats. You can also use leftover lean meat from dinner, or cheese. Make the treat as small as possible. Your dog won't think you're stingy, he's just thinking about the flavor in his mouth. Treats should only make up 10% of your dog's diet, even during training.
"I bought a 25ft retractable leash, that works right?"
No. If you read the packaging the retractable leash came in, in small teenie tiny writing on the very bottom it'll warn you that this product should only be used by experienced owners with fully leash trained dogs, as it may cause damage to the product, pain and injury for you and your dog, and could even lead to death. Retractables can easily slip out of your hand, and when they automatically retract, the heavy plastic part hits your dog's bum, and launches him into danger. He will continue to try and run away from the plastic thing attached to him and can easily get lost. Also the thin nylon lead of the retractable can get wrapped around your dogs legs and head causing serious injury. Lastly, an excited dog can wrap their lead around your legs causing scratches and leg burns, and can trip you and make you look like an idiot. The key to loose leash walking is control, and even in the locked position the retractable offers you less control than that of a regular lead. Sorry you just spent $25 on that thing, don't try to train on it. I'm not a Retractable-Hater (yes I am) but it's only for well behaved dogs in wide open spaces.
"You mentioned also having the right attitude"
Yeah I did. All too often I see pet parents with all the right intentions and equipment, but they still can't get it. I'll ask those people to walk with their dog for me and immediately I can see the problem. They're too tense. I take the leash and tell them I'm going to give them a little life coaching free of charge. You often have to fix the person before you can teach the dog. So relax already! Dogs, not unlike human babies, are nonverbal beings (not to say they don't make enough noise) and look to you to take their cues. If you are breathing heavily, your pupils dilated, shoulders hunched, and you've got that deer-in-headlights look, your dog will sense danger and be oppositional to anything you want him to do. He's thinking, "Hell no I don't want to do that, you don't even want to do that!" Remember to breathe, in and out, in a steady controlled manner. Have faith that you and your dog are competent beings.
Here are your steps. Practice inside first. Leaving to go outside, or already being outside is far too distracting for your friend. Practice in a boring room, or a hallway.
1. Get your dog aquatinted with the leash. If your dog is already familiar with a leash, move onto Step 2. I'm assuming there is already a collar on your dog. (there should be a collar and tags on your dog even in the house, even if he wears a harness) Start by gently touching the collar, saying "yes", and offering a treat. Get him used to things touching him. After a few minutes of this, attach the leash, again, give him praise and treats for being ok with it. Don't pick up the lead yet, just let him walk around with it.
2. Get used to the proper grasp of the lead. First pick a side you want your dog to walk on. Make sure everyone who will be walking your dog is on the same page. To achieve the proper grasp, first think of the lead as an extension of your own arm. If you had big gorilla arms, you wouldn't even need a lead, you'd just walk around holding your dog's collar. But for humans, use the arm on the side you'll be walking your dog on, grasp the leash where your arm naturally falls. The other hand will hold the slack. Your walking arm should bend slightly at the elbow, but be locked in place. This rigidity will give you the control you need to keep your dog by your knees; neither in front of you or behind you. Dogs should always be walking next to you. Also, they should never cross your body. When you make turns, keep this walking arm locked ensuring that they revolve around you like a satellite.
3. In proper grasp wait until your dog is facing the same direction as you. Most dogs do this naturally, but you might need to take a few steps to either side to get his attention and so that he is following you. If that doesn't work try the "look" command. [look: place treat by dog's nose, lift treat up to just beside your own eye, say "look", when your dog makes eye contact with you, give him the treat and praise]. Once he's in place and you are in place, treat and praise, and...
4. Say "let's go!" I don't usually use two-word commands, but this one works beautifully. "Let's go" should always denote forward movement, which includes rounding a turn, but does not include backing up. So say the magic words and take a step or a few depending how small your own gait is. If your dog follows, treat and praise.
5. Walk around a bit, see how it feels. Take mental notes. Is your dog by your knees? Is he trying to lead you, or is he falling behind. Is he trying to switch sides. Are you tripping already? If none of those things are true, you are ready for outside. If you are having trouble keeping your dog at your knee, refer back to keeping a strong walking arm. If he is crossing in front of you it maybe because you are not used to doling out treats while holding a leash. Either keep a few treats in your walking hand and treat from there, or keep the treats in your slack hand and make sure YOU are crossing your body with that treat so that your dog does not, you might have to bend a little at the waist for that. If your dog is distracted, repeat the "let's go!" phrase, or click or smooch at him. You should be the focus of his attention. When you're satisfied...
6. Move it outside to a familiar or boring place away from distractions. Again start with "let's go!" and then go. Dogs walk best at a clipping pace, because they have twice as many legs. However, puppies or short legged dogs shouldn't be forced to run or jog along side you; but you shouldn't be moseying.
"My dog wants to stop and smell EVERYTHING."
That's because he is a dog, and exploring his environment is an important part of his day. It keeps him occupied and his mind sharp. But that doesn't mean he literally gets to smell everything. The mistake I see the most while observing a walk is the pet parent knowing that they're coming up on something that will pull their dog's attention, and when they come up on it, they hesitate or stall. You don't need to do this, just keep going. Upon coming up on the object of interest, speed up a bit, make some clicking or smooching noises, and remind him, "let's go!" You should not yank or jerk the leash, but you may use a controlled, sustained pull, as if taking the hand of a two year old child, to keep this forward motion going.
7. Start with short walks, and don't expect too much. Walking on a lead is a completely unnatural behavior for a dog. That means this behavior must be practiced and practiced. Baby steps. If you can only get as far as the end of your driveway before your dog loses his mind (or you do) then, that's as far as you get today, and hopefully you can get farther tomorrow. Do not push your dog too far out of his comfort level for the sake of progress. Pace yourself, but remember, this is an important skill for both of you to learn, so keep at it, don't give up, and stay consistent.
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