Welcome back to the multi-part series on loose leash walking with your dog. When it comes to training your dog, walking politely on leash is one of the most difficult things to train. Your dog has had lots of practice up to this point of pulling and getting to where he or she wants to go, and so the behavior of pulling has been well-rehearsed and solidified over a period of time.
Don’t despair! There is hope! It will take time and patience, but it is possible to convince even the heaviest of pullers that being right by your side during walks is a better option. Of course, there are several different methods you might use to accomplish this. If you haven’t read the previous entries on loose leash walking, you may want to read them here first: Part 1 and Part 2.
Alternative Method 1 – Capturing Method
In animal training, there are a few different methods to obtaining behavior. One such method is called “capturing,” where we allow the dog to act naturally until they offer the behavior we are seeking and we have the opportunity to reward them for it.
A good example of capturing behavior might be demonstrated by the “Down” cue. Some dogs are resistant to being lured with even the most delicious treat into a down position. In this case, we could wait for the dog to lay down on his own and then mark the down (with a “Yes!” and a treat). At that point, we have the dog’s attention and they must figure out what behavior is going to earn them additional reinforcement.
If your dog is on leash with you and just pulls and pulls, stand firmly and don’t allow your dog to go anywhere. At the very moment your dog stops pulling and there is some slack in the leash, say “Yes!” and treat. Repeat, repeat and repeat this process until your dog understands that being near you (with a loose leash) is the behavior that pays off.
At first, you will practice capturing loose leash behavior by just standing stationary. Once your dog is staying consistently by you with a loose leash, then it’s time to challenge your dog by taking one or two steps in any direction. If your dog walks nicely with you, mark the behavior and treat.
You must recognize (say “Yes!”) and reward your dog frequently at this point in your training for it to be effective. If you wait too long in between reinforcement, your dog will likely become distracted by something else and begin pulling again. Once you can take a couple steps with your dog walking by you, then challenge him further by taking 3-4 steps in between your mark and treat. Continue to increase the distance you can walk with your dog on a loose leash gradually and in increasingly distracting environments.
Alternative Method 2 – The “U-Turn” Method
Another option for positively training loose leash walking is what I refer to as the U-Turn method. If you begin walking with your dog and he begins to pull you down the street, stop immediately and turn 180º in the opposite direction.
The logic behind this method is that we never want the dog to feel like pulling gets him what he wants. Therefore, if the dog pulls because he wants to move forward, then we remove the desired “reward” by turning around and walking in the opposite direction. The dog then learns that the only way to move forward is by walking politely on the leash.
Frankly, at first this training will entail a lot of walking in circles. Hey, nobody said that a walk had to be in a straight line! The most important part of this training (okay all training) is to stay consistent. If we allow our dog to pull us forward even once, then he’s learned that sometimes it’s okay to pull, which is not what we are trying to teach! Your dog will quickly understand that walking in circles is quite tedious and boring, and the only way to get around the neighborhood is by walking with you instead of pulling.
Alternative Method 3 – Functional Reward Method
What do you think is the most exciting part of a walk for your dog? Is it the opportunity to move quickly after being cooped up in the house for 8-9 hours a day? Is it the joy of sniffing the neighborhood trees? Is it the “crunch” of the fall leaves under their paws? Whatever it is that your dog enjoys most about the walk, we can it to our training advantage.
This method is very much like the “Capturing Method” at the beginning of this post. However, instead of capturing the loose leash walking and then treating our dogs with tidbits of food, we actually use the walking environment as the reward.
For example, if your dog can walk out the front door and down the steps politely, mark the polite behavior with a “Yes!” but then allow your dog to sniff the nearest tree as his reward. If the dog is then able to walk for a few steps politely down the sidewalk, mark it and then take off with your dog in a short sprint, for example. (Running is quite possibly the most fun functional reward for dogs.)
In other words, find things on the walk that your dog enjoys the most and utilize your dog’s access to them as the training reward. Your dog must “earn” access to his favorite outdoor things, like sniffing the fire hydrant, peeing on the tree, running or greeting the neighbor dogs.
I hope that this series on loose leash walking was helpful. There are many different positive ways to train loose leash walking. There is no “right way” as long as the method is effective, humane and does not create additional behavior issues.
If you have any questions on loose leash walking or any other dog behaviors, please feel free to e-mail The Persuaded Pooch – St. Louis Dog Training at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our website www.persuadedpooch.com.