For many dogs, walkies are the highlight of the day. They’re essential for their physical health and wellbeing, and help keep your dog’s behaviour and mental stimulation in check. It’s also a great way for them to socialise with other dogs and even helps them to bond with their owners. But to make your dog’s walks as great as they can be, they need to be trained on the leash.
Training your dog to walk on a leash is the best way to keep them safe outside, especially when you’re near roads or busy areas. You might decide to practise loose leash walking too, which is basically training them to walk by your side or near you, keeping you as their guide and main point of attention.
What you need to leash train your dog
Before you take your leash training outside, you’ll need to make sure you and your dog have some essential equipment. As well as a lead, you’ll need a collar and identification tag, and possibly a harness. While flat collars are the best option to keep your dog comfortable, some dog owners prefer to attach their leash to a harness when training, as it doesn’t pull at an untrained dog’s neck when they inevitably begin to stray. The right harness depends on the breed of dog you own, as there are different styles designed for different breed sizes and body types.
Retractable leads and slip leads are best for beginner training, while longer training leads are ideal for loose leash walking. And just in case your dog does break free, you’ll want to have them chipped or at least wearing a tag on their collar so they can be returned to you safely.
Choosing the right place
As well as the correct equipment, you’ll need to find the right place to train your dog. A dog park that’s filled with the distraction of new friends, for example, isn’t a good place to train your dog to walk on a leash. It requires their attention, and should be done in a place where they will usually need to be kept on a tight reign.
With puppies, it can be useful to train your dog indoors for a short while before taking them outside on a leash. This will get them used to the experience and can help them understand that they need to take your lead.
Next, finding an area where your dog safely can roam up to two metres away from you while on your leash will help to train them in exploring while still staying close. Eventually, you can lead up to busier roads and areas that are more filled with distractions from the task at hand.
Leash training your dog
Leash training doesn’t just help improve your dog’s behaviour, it’s also the best way to keep them safe when you’re out of the house. But as much as training them to stay close and not pull ahead, it’s also a learning experience for owners. The earlier you leash train your dog the better, but it’s never too late to give it a go with one of these proven methods.
Reward based training
Rewarding your dog, whether with praise, toys, or treats, when they perform a positive behaviour is one of the most effective ways to train your dog to do anything. Including walking on a leash. This method also helps improve the relationship you have with your dog as you create a bond whenever they do something well.
Reward-based training can also be used to train your dog not to eat or pick up rubbish or other potentially dangerous things on their walks. Part of walking on a longer leash does include exploring the outdoors, so they should know to drop or leave things at your command. Rewarding them whenever they obey will teach them not to explore trash or poisonous plants.
Dogs get excited when they’re out for a walk and they’re likely to pull on the lead if they spot a friend or something exciting. But to prevent your dog from constantly pulling ahead and dragging you forward, rather than walking at heel, you’ll need to teach them how to walk calmly.
Frustrating as it is, stopping every time your dog pulls forward is the best way to teach them that pulling does not achieve more forward movement. It takes patience, but it’s worth it for a dog who’s on their best behaviour all through their walkies.
Walking by your side
Rewarding your dog for staying by your side is an effective method of obedience training. It means that later, once they’re allowed off the leash more often, you know they can be trusted to stay with you and not stray at the first sign of distraction. It teaches them to keep their eye on you as their instructor, and will eventually develop into a shared trust that can be rewarded with praise rather than constant treats.
Responding to their name
Ideally, your dog should respond to their name before you begin leash training outdoors. It’s important that they know to come to you as soon as they’re called as this will keep them out of danger, especially by roads or in unknown areas. For this reason, it’s best to begin name training at home or in your garden. This training should be at least 80% reliable before you let your dog off the leash in public.
While training your dog, it’s likely that walks will take longer than usual – and might be more frustrating than fun. But as long as you stick with it and keep your training consistent, your dog will learn what’s expected of them in no time. Not only should you be consistent in keeping up the training you’re committed to, but you should even be consistent in the locations and equipment used in your training. This will help your dog understand what’s expected of them in specific situations.
If for whatever reason this isn’t possible – for example you don’t have time for a dedicated training walk one day but need to give your dog their exercise – make a point of letting your dog know that this is not the norm. A second harness or lead can be useful, so they know to associate their normal lead with the trained behaviours. Your dog will quickly learn the difference between them, but it may set your training process back slightly.
Rewarding your pet whenever they walk on the leash without pulling is fun for both of you. Training can be a frustrating and sometimes disheartening process, but keep the end goal in mind: a well trained pup will bring you far more joy. And their quality of life will be better, too.
Holding the leash loose and maintaining a relaxed demeanour will keep your dog calm, but it will also help you feel calm too. One of the main benefits of dog walking for owners is that it offers exercise and a chance to clear your mind – so take advantage of this time out with your furry friend.
Nipping problems in the bud
Consistency is the most important part of a good leash training programme, as every walk should reinforce what they have learned so far. If this doesn’t seem to be the case, and your dog continues to pull or misbehave, you may need to look beyond your own training sessions.
Make sure that everybody in the family, or anyone that spends time with your dog, is aware of your methods and continues to reinforce the training at all times. Keeping your dog calm before walks can also help their behaviour. Walkies are mentally stimulating as it is, so you don’t want to begin the training in a state of excitement. Telling your dog to sit calmly for their lead helps make them more receptive to their training. Also avoiding exciting words like “treats” “walkies” or “good boy/girl” can also prevent further distraction. And as a healthy training treat, try Front of the Pack’s pure, raw protein freeze-dried treats. They come in three tasty flavours that will make your dog’s obedience training even more enjoyable.
If you still are struggling to leash train your dog, call in the help of a professional who will be able to help both of you learn the ropes.