Lead training tips:

 

I should make it clear at the beginning of this post that I’m not a qualified dog trainer and if you’re really having problems training your dog then I would definitely recommend joing a class or recruiting a professional trainer. I do walk a lot of dogs though so I have hopefully picked up a few useful walking tips along the way!

 

A few years ago I was being dragged around my local park by my newly arrived foster dog; with beads of sweat appearing on my forehead and an arm barely clinging on to its socket I was being systematically pulled from tree to lamppost to anything else that needed peeing on.

 

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a fellow dog owner enjoying what looked like a very relaxing and enjoyable stroll around the park with her well-behaved dog trotting nicely alongside her. Needless to say my dog had also spotted them and in a fit of excitement promptly dragged me in that direction; I managed to regain control - albeit in a very inelegant manner and with the aid of some pulling of my own. At this moment I realised that I had two choices.

 

  1. Undertake a mission to swap well-behaved dog with foster dog and hope no-one noticed.

  2. Get some advice on lead training.

 

Prior to this, lead training hadn’t been much of an issue but this particular dog was a challenging mutt who was a stray of around 5 years old and was completely used to doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. So I set about my mission (number 2 obviously) and sought the advice of qualified dog trainers and behaviourists as well as scouring the internet for tips.

It took quite a bit of effort and a lot of patience but it was totally worth it in the end as walks should be enjoyable and it’s no fun for anyone with a dog that pulls. Here are some of the tips I learned while lead training, which can be applied to puppies right through to older, untrained foster dogs:

Tips:

  • Choose the correct lead and collar. This article is based on training with a ‘normal’ collar and clip on lead. There are other lead options available for owners who are finding they are unable to train with a normal lead; such as slip leads, head collars and harnesses but I would recommend discussing the options with a professional in this case.  So, for the purposes of this article it’s a case of picking a collar/lead that is the right weight and length. For example, a puppy would only need a very lightweight collar and lead. Length wise, it should be long enough that the dog can walk comfortably next to you on a loose lead but not so long that you end up getting tangled up in excess lead!

  • Training using a ‘reward’ method is most effective. Negative training using punishment is confusing for the dog and they are likely to become nervous of both the owner and the lead. Aim for gentle correction rather than punishment. Commonly reward training uses treats, keep the treats small as you will be giving a lot to begin with.

  • Pick your words! Choose which words you are going to use and stick to them. You will need a cue word, such as ‘heel’, ‘here’, ‘wait’, etc. You will also need a reward word such as ‘good’ or ‘good boy’. Choose words that come naturally to you but try not to use the dog’s name.

  • Practice at home – get your dog used to walking nicely on the lead around the house and in the garden before venturing out where there is added distractions and excitement. Initially the training sessions should be short (approx. 10 minutes) as it’s surprising how much mental stimulation they get from training and it’s tiring!

  • Resist the urge to pull back! From the beginning don’t use the lead to pull the dog around, what you’re aiming for is that the lead is there for safety but there is very little tension on the lead, so neither party is pulling.

  • Be confident! Your dog needs to think of you as the pack leader. No self-respecting dog is going to look to you for direction if you don’t look like you know where you’re going!

 

Suggested technique:

  1. Attach lead/treat.

  2. Step forward while saying your preferred cue word (heel, here, etc)

  3. As soon as the dog moves ahead of you stop and stand still. At this point don’t use the lead to pull the dog into position, use the cue word and treat to lure him back.

  4. When the dog moves back in line with you use your reward word and treat immediately.

  5. Step forward again and as soon as the dog moves ahead stop again and follow the lure and treat procedure. You may find you’re only moving one step at a time but that’s ok as at this stage the dog doesn’t completely understand what you want from him.

  6. Continue repeating this procedure and your dog should soon realise that it’s much better to walk by your side as he gets further and gets rewarded. Be prepared to only walk a few steps at a time for a while, depending on how quickly your dog picks it up.

  7. When your dog has mastered walking several steps at your heel on a relaxed lead he should be focused on you and looking to you for cues. As you’re walking him around the house/garden be sure to change direction regularly without pulling on the lead so that he gets used to following your lead.

  8. When you’re able to walk the dog around your property without any pulling, the next stage is to leave the house. Unfortunately this stage can sometimes feel like starting again as the distractions in the real world can quickly take the dogs focus from you.

  9. Proceed in exactly the same way as you began inside the house – one step at a time. Still keep the training session short, even if you only get to the end of your road before it’s over.

  10. When you are walking several steps and the dog is focused on you continue to change direction, cross the street, etc. in order to remind the dog that he is following you.

  11. When your dog is walking sensibly lead the dog to a post/tree/area and allow him to sniff and pee on it, this helps reinforce that you are the leader.

 

Further notes:

  • After several training sessions your dog should be able to walk nicely next to you and focus on you rather than all of the exciting things going on around. Be sure to continue rewarding at random intervals to let him know that he’s doing well and still allow him to sniff around and investigate without letting him dictate it too much.

  • If there are specific instances when your dog completely loses focus and pulls you towards something - such as a passing dog; stand still and use your cue word/treat to try and lure him back. If this doesn’t work use your body to regain his attention; for instance move yourself so that you’re blocking his view of the other dog, show him the treat and if his attention is back on you continue to walk and then treat when you are past the other dog. If he refuses to walk past without pulling then ask him to sit and wait, then treat when the other dog has gone past.

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