I used to dread taking my 100lb.Weimaraner for a walk. Sore hands, tired arms and repetitive tugging was the norm during our outings. Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says dogs and their owners need to learn loose leash walking to make leash-bound excursions enjoyable.
“You want the dog to have the freedom to explore within the radius of the leash but not be pulling so much that it’s not comfortable for the walker,” Houpt explained on The Humane Society of Charlotte’s website.
How to Be Successful
Houpt says the key to successful walks include using the right tools, not rewarding undesirable behaviors by giving in to the dog’s curiosity, praising the pet for things it does correctly, be consistent with training sessions and take the time to train yourself–because it takes two to make the leash pull.
I decided to take the challenge and enroll in a 6-week dog obedience class at my local Petco. The dog trainer took an behavioral approach to training. There was no scolding, slapping on the dog’s nose or pinch collars in this class.
Teaching My Dog
I learned to make eye contact with Belle, who often resembled a runaway freight train. We started our practice walks with her at my side, not pulling ahead of me. As soon as I was ready to go, I looked at her and said, “Let’s go.”
As soon as Belle started to pull beyond the stretch of the 6 foot leather leash, I stopped, stood still, pivoted and started walking the other direction. The dog trainer explained that this movement shows the dog that I’m in control, and we’re going my way.
After walking up and down the aisle of the pet store pivoting every few feet, Belle started to understand. She began looking at me for instruction and by 20 minutes into the class she became a sponge, looking for guidance and commands for the next activity.
Each time Belle looked at me for instruction, I have her a small edible treat. During the next stage of our practice walks, she began to look back at me periodically, for which she received a treat. I began to notice the leash getting increasing loose. Although her motivation to walk nicely next to me was the meaty morsel in my pocket, she was walking on a loose leash!
After weeks of practice, I eventually substituted the treats for praise, back scratches and kisses.
Now, during our walking sessions I can easily control my 100lb. dog. Even when a squirrel or rabbit crosses our path, Belle hesitates before she lunges toward the animal. And with a change in direction–away from the animal– Belle easily moves on and we can proceed with our walk.
I did not train Belle how to walk with a loose leash. We learned how to walk with a leash together. I was consistent with my methods and she observed.
“You are allowing the dog to learn leash manners without punitive methods, ” Karen Peak, author of “Shut up and walk away: The art of loose leash walking” explains on the Dog Breed Info Center website.
“The dog learns that when he is near you, good things happen,” Peak said. “When he is away, you shut off. No punishing, he just gets nothing.”
Sources and Suggested Further Reading:
C.C. Holland, “Walking on a Loose Leash: Impossible?”, The Humane Society of Charlotte
Karen Peak, “Shut up and walk away: The art of loose leash walking”, Dog Breed Info Center
The Humane Society of the United States, “Dog Care Essentials”, The Humane Society of the United States