Not only is it a pain in the backside when you’re walking a dog that is pulling on the lead, it is also a matter of safety. Imagine having an arm full of bags and the other holding your dog. You reach the top of the stairs when he decides to pull hard on the leash. The results are inevitable.
With that said rarely will your dog be thinking, “Yeah, I’ve been in the house all day and I’m finally out on my walk, but I think I will stick close to my owners side, walk in a straight line, and not bother to check the pee-mail from my buddies, notice the pesky squirrel next door, or the Golden Retriever two streets over, because we are out for exercise not socialising!”
A dog’s phenomenal sense of smell makes it very hard to ignore the flood of information wafting up from trees, grass, pavements/ sidewalks, wind, benches, sticks, rocks, fences, food wrappers and lampposts to name a few. Asking your dog to ignore the literal essence of their being is almost impossible.
So your dog walk needs to provide for the needs of both you and your dog, and you can set yourself up for greater success if you keep some important points in mind:
1. Read your dog and be very aware of your surroundings. The more you see and read the situation, the easier you’ll find it to redirect your dog’s attention should they see that preclude squirrel. Understanding your dog’s body language and triggers is a huge help in this situation.
2. Give your dog a chance to exercise their need to explore and smell. Have a dog park or a large area of grass that you’re able to (and legally allowed to) let your dog run around and explore a little before taking them on the walk. If you cannot let them off lead, you can use a long line to give the freedom your dog requires.
3. Understand that your dog is not a robot and will have good, bad, and better days at this. Do your best, end on a positive note, and try again another day. Never get angry at your dog. It doesn’t help either of you and will often make any situation a lot worse.
4. Have a clear idea of what you want from your dog and what it looks like when your dog is successfully loose lead walking. Then and only then you will be prepared to strategically reinforce that particular behaviour (ie: only reinforce/reward when your dog gives you the desired behaviour).
5. Reward sustained loose lead walking, not when your dog first re-engages. That is, if your dog veers off to sniff a flower and you call them back to you, walk a few steps with him at your side before you give him a treat. We want to reward for staying with you, not just for quickly re-engaging with you.
6. Use Jackpot Rewards very deliberately to reinforce a particularly good session. For instance, imagine you are walking along a busy street and three noisy dogs come by. Your dog, instead of rushing over to join the fun, looks at you and continues walking. When you are at a reasonable distance from the distraction (your dog is far enough so that the canine distraction is not tempting), stop and reward with a jackpot for a job well done, or a diversion well avoided. Jackpots can come in a couple of different forms. One is a fistful of treats given all at once from your hands or dropped in a heap between your dogs front paws. Or, if you want to extend the experience, try giving him the fistful of treats rapid fire, one at a time while praising him for being the best dog ever. You can also use other things he loves. For some dogs, toys are the winner. I will sometimes give Porthos a new, never-been-dogified tennis ball for him to chase and pounce upon after doing something I see as a desirable behaviour.
Loose lead walking is a challenge for many dog owners, but patience, a sense of humour, and a clear vision of what and how to reward good walking skills will get you where you want to go.