Sunday, October 2, 2011

How to Teach Puppy to Walk on a Leash

Now that Indy has his harness ready, he'd better take Miss Cindy's advice on leash-walking.

Walk with me: how to teach your puppy or dog to be a great walking companion

By Cindy Ludwig

Dogs aren’t born knowing how to walk on a leash.  In fact, leash walking is a foreign experience to them, but it is something required of our four-footed friends to live in our world with us.  Most dogs, if taught properly, learn to look forward to a walk and thoroughly enjoy accompanying their two-footed friends on a stroll.

For dogs, the stroll is about seeing new sights and hearing new sounds, but mostly about checking what I call “pee mail.”  For us, the stroll is about getting some fresh air, a little exercise and just being with our four-footed friends.

For two and four-footed friends alike a comfortable stroll down the sidewalk or road requires a little cooperative learning. We humans need to learn how to handle the leash and steer the dog, and our dogs need to learn what we expect from them in order to get what they want out of the walk – usually just to go forward.  This takes a little practice – and patience!

Recently, when working with a new client and her daughter my client remarked that their puppy does not “respect” her daughter. This simple statement gave me a lot of insight into what might be causing the leash walking problem between little Bosco and my client’s daughter, Renee.  I stopped the lesson to explain to my client and Renee that the problem was not about “respect,” but about relationship.  I was quick to add, being sensitive to the fact that Renee is a teenager and could easily have her feelings hurt that this doesn’t mean Bosco doesn’t like her.  They were just not communicating effectively, and I assured her we would get to the root of the problem.

You see, apparently little Bosco, an adorable 10 week-old bulldog pulls on the leash and stops and sits, refusing to go any further.  Renee said she is getting “frustrated” as she looked at me with an unmistakable frown.  I knew right then I needed to shuffle my priorities and we had to talk about loose leash walking at our very next lesson in order to preserve the bond between Renee and the family’s new puppy.

I told Renee and her mother they would need to get a regular 6 foot leash prior to our next lesson since the retractable leash they were using would only teach Bosco to pull by keeping constant tension in the leash.  I explained how  retractable leashes are not only difficult to handle when teaching loose leash walking, but they do not easily permit the handler to maintain a constant leash length necessary for the dog to learn just how far away he can walk and keep the leash loose. 

It’s a good thing my clients have a fenced in yard.  Next week what I will do is have Renee run around the yard with Bosco chasing after her.  I will take my special clicker so I can click (similar to saying “Yes!”) whenever Renee is smiling!  I’ll think of some reward to give her for her earned clicks.  Then I will work with Bosco and teach him that walking at my left side is the most rewarding place in the world for him to be when on a walk with a human.  I’ll simply click when he is in place and follow with a treat! 

We’ll start with one step at a time and Bosco will think earning clicks and treats is not only easy, but a fun game.  Then we’ll go to two steps and more before I click to tell him that ‘Yep, that’s right where I want ‘ya,’ and reinforce his proximity with a treat. 

Then back to Renee and a little fun training on how to hold the leash so that she maintains a constant leash length between herself and Bosco.  We want to prevent what I call the yo-yo effect of a constantly changing leash length.  This results from inconsistent handling of the leash.  An outstretched arm adds length to the leash while a flexed arm decreases the length.  This makes it difficult for Bosco to learn just how far away from Renee he can walk before the leash becomes tight and Renee stops walking.  We want Bosco to learn that a tight leash causes forward movement to cease and a loose leash results in continuation of the walk.

I’ll let Renee practice on me.  That should get her to smile!  I will pull ahead, at which time I want her to simply stop and make happy, high pitched vocalizations and “kissy noises” while running backwards to get me to come back into position at her left side.  Once I’m back in position, I want her to start walking forward again.  I’ll stop to sniff at which point I want her to allow me to sniff for a few moments and raise my leg if I feel the urge to mark, and then say, “Let’s go!” in a happy voice as she resumes walking forward.  I want her to praise me when I’m in position, and talk to me in a happy voice as we walk.

I will sit down and when I do, I want her to allow me to sit for a moment while she assesses whether I am tired or hot or not happy about something.  She can entice me to get back up, not by pulling on the leash but by squeaking a toy, getting me to chase a toy attached to a stick or rope or luring me with some tasty food treats. 

After Renee has had a chance to practice with me, I will attach the leash to Bosco and give Renee several options for attaching the other end of the leash to herself – either via a carabineer clipped to a belt around her hips or held in her hands with her hands planted securely at her waist. 

I told Renee this week that she will gain control when she relinquishes control.  I hope to make those words come to life for her next week.  And hopefully my silliness will leave a lasting impression on this teenager’s brain, not only of the steps involved in teaching a puppy or dog to walk on a leash, but that training can, and should be fun and rewarding, and that the best way to get a dog to do what you want is not through dominance and force, but through positive motivation and cooperation!

 Posted by Blog Admin, Sheila

Cindy Ludwig is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training
Partner and owner of Canine Connection LLC in Dubuque, Iowa
She is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the International
Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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