Walking dogs is one of the great pleasures in life. It’s such a joy to spend time with them doing things they enjoy — walking, running, interacting with their environment, and taking in all those smells!
But since walking a dog who pulls on leash can take some of the fun out of things, here are a handful of tips to help create an enjoyable, pull-free walk experience for you and the dogs both.
Reinforce for not pulling
Dogs do what works, so make not pulling work for the dogs you walk. Depending on the dog, reinforcement may simply be continuing forward motion, or being allowed to sniff and explore along the walk, or a tasty food treat for keeping slack in the lead. Whatever reward you use, make sure the dog you’re training finds it reinforcing, and be very generous with your rewards at the outset.
Don’t reinforce a tight leash
As soon as a leash becomes taut, immediately do one of the following to avoid reinforcing pulling:
- Stop and stand still until the dog moves towards you before continuing forward again.
- Stop, then step back a few steps so the dog follows you, then continue forward again.
- Change direction, wait for the dog to catch up, then pivot to continue in your original direction.
Employ humane anti-pull equipment
If you’re walking a strong or dedicated puller, using equipment such as a front-attach harness or a head collar will make your job easier and provide more opportunities to reinforce loose leash walking. There are so many varieties on the market these days that you’re sure to find an option to suit.
Use training games
Teach your dog that walking with you is a great choice. Here are a couple of my favorite training games for this:
Food bowl walking – Carry the dog’s food bowl with her meal in it while you walk around the house or yard with the dog off leash and free to roam. Whenever the dog walks next to you, feed her a bite from the bowl. Gradually increase the number of steps the dog has to walk with you before winning a tasty morsel. Once she’s got a hang of the game, clip on her lead and practice on leash.
Catch up heeling – start this exercise in a low-distraction area with the dog off leash or on a long line, depending on where you’re working and the dog’s recall reliability.
Place a couple treats on the ground in front of the dog, then walk away in a straight line.
As soon as the dog catches up to your side, immediately mark the moment with a clicker or a marker word such as “yes!” and place another treat or two on the ground next to your own heel. Walk away again.
Continue to repeat, only gradually increasing the number of steps the dog must remain next to you before you stop to place a new treat.
This exercise is designed to entice the dog to run to keep up with you, and create enthusiasm for walking at your side. If a dog does not choose to catch up to you once you’ve set down a treat and walked away, you may need to switch to higher value, yummier treats. Resist the temptation to call the dog or lure her with a treat in your hand. You want her to make a choice to walk with you, so be sure doing so is highly rewarding.
Which side are you on?
In a traditional heel the dog is asked to walk on your left side. A left-side heel is required for competition obedience. In most cases you’ll probably prefer dogs walk on your right side. Only rewarding on your right side keeps your own body between the dogs you walk and any people or other dogs you pass by, helping to minimize unwanted interaction or contact.
With a little extra time and effort — and a dedication to not inadvertently reinforcing pulling by allowing yourself to be dragged about — you’ll be walking pull-free in no time.
The owner and lead trainer of Scholars in Collars in Adelaide, Alexis Davison, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, is committed to the education and support of fellow dog professionals. She is a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member and the dog*tec Dog Walking Academy instructor for all of Australia, occasionally offering the program to dog walkers in England and New Zealand as well. Alexis is a nationally accredited Dog Behavioral Trainer with a Certificate IV in Dog Behavioral Training in Australia, and was named 2014 Dog Trainer of the Year by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia. Alexis’ professional memberships also include the American Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the Pet Professional Guild Australia.