Training Your Dog to Walk on Leash

Liz Palika

Leash Training

One of the joys of sharing your life with a dog is going for a walk with him. Walking along the beach, hiking in a forest, or enjoying the stimulation of walking in a city; watching your dog’s joys in sharing this time with you is wonderful.

Unfortunately, when a dog pulls hard on the leash that joy is diminished. In addition, a pulling dog is going to hurt himself. No matter what collar or harness you use, sore shoulders and wrenched necks are not uncommon. You can be hurt too. Thankfully, you can teach your dog to walk nicely, without pulling, although it does take some practice.

Refuse to Go Forward

The first technique to change your dog’s mind about how to walk on a leash is to simply refuse to walk forward with him as he’s pulling. Dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them, so make pulling nonrewarding.

When your dog pulls, become a tree. Put down roots. When your dog looks back at you, curious as to why you aren’t walking behind him, praise him. When he moves toward you, praise him and step forward. When he dashes ahead and pulls again, stop. As you practice this, remember pulling needs to be nonrewarding.

Turn Around

If pulling is so ingrained that the first technique is not producing the results you’d like, then begin turning the other direction when your dog pulls.

When he pulls, instead of becoming a tree, turn around and walk the other direction. When your dog catches up to you, praise him. When he dashes ahead, turn around again. When he decides to walk closer to you, paying attention to you, tell him how awesome he is!

When you turn around, don’t make it aggressive. Don’t jerk him, and don’t make him do flips. Instead, simply turn around and use the leash to have him go with you.

Teaching "Watch Me"

The exercise “watch me” teaches your dog to look at you when you ask him to do so. This is handy when he’s distracted and paying attention to everything but you.

Begin by asking your dog to sit in front of you. With a treat in hand, let him sniff it. Then move the treat from his nose to your chin as you tell him, “Watch me.” When his eyes move to your face, watching the movement of the treat, praise him, “Yes! Good boy!” and then give him the treat.

Repeat this four or five times and then take a break. Don’t repeat it so many times that he’s full of treats or bored.

When he can do it well sitting in front of you, begin backing up and walking in zig zags or circles while asking him to watch you. Make it fun!

Teaching "Heel"

While simply teaching your dog not to pull is a worthwhile goal, teaching your dog to heel is wonderful. Not pulling works great when walking in a quiet area with few distractions, but heel is perfect when things are busier.

Begin your training session by repeating some exercises your dog knows, such as sit, lie down, shake, spin in a circle, or other tricks. Praise and reward him.

Once he’s in a cooperative frame of mind and working with you, then ask him to sit by your side. The left side is traditional but the right side is fine too. It’s your choice.

With a treat, tell him, “Watch me,” then step forward, “Sweetie, heel. Good!” Walk forward ten steps, stop, ask him to sit, and praise and reward him. When moving forward, use the treat to help him remain by your side. If he’s unsure, pretend his nose and the treat each have a magnet, place that treat in front of his nose (like a carrot in front of a reluctant donkey) and use that as a lure to show him where you want him to walk.

Practice, Patience, and Praise

Walking on a leash nicely, heel, and the other related skills are tough because they are exactly the opposite of dashing, pulling, chasing rabbits, and other exciting things. That means you, your treats, and your praise must be more appealing and exciting than those distractions. You can teach your dog to walk nicely though; just be patient, practice often, and make the training fun.

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