Samantha Bennett is the co-owner of the pet care business Mille Pattes. This monthly column is a space for simple, useful directions, tips and information designed to keep animals safe and happy.
Training tips for you and your dog
Before we begin, let’s take a moment to remember that leashes and collars are not a dog’s natural state. Each dog has its own innate way of being, and the range is wagon wheel wide. You have your sprinters, your dogs who saunter, the pups who would rather be picked up and cuddled as you do the actual walking. Some of our canine friends like to deeply inhale and ruminate over each tree and bush like a sommelier breathing in a heady burgundy bouquet, while others feel the need to dispense carefully meted drops of pee on to every available surface. Dogs can run faster than we can, and do not understand why this is being denied them, or why their freedom is being regimented and curtailed.
We cannot explain to them that this is how we keep them safe.
As we move into some leash training tips let’s keep all of the above in mind and go forward with patience and compassion. It is the best and easiest way to get results, and this applies to all of us animals!
When you leave home with your leashed dog she is of course eager and excited to sniff and run and play. These are not ideal circumstances in which to train, and often frustrating for you both. It will be so much easier to have your leash training sessions after your dog has had a good, long walk. The sessions need to be short, no longer than about 10 minutes, as long training sessions result in the dog feeling anxious, confused and frustrated
Have plenty of treats with you when you embark on your training walks. Keep them small, as you will be using them frequently. Make sure they are treats your dog loves, and ideally not ones he is used to getting at home. Most pet stores sell training treats, which are the right size, tasty and soft.
The ASPCA has clearly described two simple leash training methods. I have included them below and in my many years of dog walking, have found them to be effective and gentle.
Option One: Red Light, Green Light
(This method requires that your dog already have a reliable Sit and Come in distracting places.) Walk in your intended direction. The instant your dog reaches the end of his leash and pulls, red light!—stop dead in your tracks and wait. When he stops pulling and puts slack in the leash (maybe he turns to see what you’re doing and this makes the leash a little slack), call him back to you. When he comes to you, ask him to sit. When he does, say “Yes,” give him a treat and resume walking (green light). If your dog looks up at you in anticipation of more tasty treats, quickly say “Yes,” and give him one while you keep walking. If he pulls again, repeat the red-light step above. As you’re walking, reward your dog frequently for staying next to you or slightly ahead and for looking up at you. If you do this consistently, he’ll learn that 1) if he stays near you or looks at you, he gets treats and gets to keep moving, and 2) if he pulls on the leash, the fun stops because he doesn’t get to keep walking and he has to come back to you and sit. If your dog pulls toward an object to sniff or eliminate, carry out the red light, but when he comes back and sits by you, don’t reward him with a treat. Instead, make the object he wanted to sniff the reward. Say “Yes,” and release him to go to the object. (Make sure you go with him toward the object so that he doesn’t have to pull again to reach it.) After a few days or weeks, you’ll find yourself stopping less frequently. Make sure you continue to reward your dog for walking with slack in the leash or he’ll start pulling again.
Option Two: Lure and Reward
Start with your dog standing at your left side. With several treats enclosed in your left hand, hold your left hand right in front of your dog’s nose (within 1 inch of it). Say “Let’s walk,” and walk in your intended direction. Every few seconds, pop a small treat into your dog’s mouth and praise her for walking along at your pace. You’ll need to frequently reload your hand with treats from your left pocket or from a treat pouch attached to your waist. If she pulls ahead or to the side, immediately stop. Get your dog’s attention by calling her name again. Ask her to sit, and praise her when she does. Then put the treat-loaded hand back in front of her nose and start walking again. Go a little bit farther every day that you practice. After at least a week of daily practice with lured walking, stop luring her along with your treat-loaded hand, and instead just carry your empty left hand in a natural position at your waist with elbow bent. Say “Let’s walk,” and reward her, about every other step you take, with a treat that you get from your left pocket or waist treat pouch. When she can walk along without pulling for several minutes, begin gradually increasing—over many daily training sessions—the number of steps you go in between treats so that your dog is walking longer distances between rewards. Reward her every other step at first, then every 5 steps, then every 10, and so on. Eventually, you should be able to walk with your hand comfortably at your side, periodically (every minute or so) reaching into your pocket to grab a treat to reward your dog.
These methods require patience and consistency and it will not happen overnight. Every day I see people jerking the neck of their dogs while they are on the leash. The pet parents seem to have no idea that this is painful for their dogs, so let me be clear right here. It is. Like ours, dogs’ throats are tender and house crucial tubing close to the surface such as the trachea, through which all mammals breathe. Dogs have a high threshold of pain which does not mean it takes them longer to feel pain but rather that they will endure pain for much longer. Just because the dog is not crying out does not mean he is not hurting. We need to stop this practice so now that you are educated, talk to your friends and family who have dogs and share what you are learning here. Spread the word. Be a champion for the voice-less! Unconditional love deserves no less.
Samantha Bennett is a writer and the co-owner of the pet care business Mille Pattes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org