January 24, 2011
We need dog advice. Our beagle is fabulous with tricks, sit, stay and high-five, but even after several classes he’s horrible with leash-walking. Last week, he pulled me down during a walk and I broke my foot. What’s the trick to getting him to calm down and enjoy his walk — without pulling so hard?
Thanks for any help.
— Bartlet’s Mom
Dear Bartlet’s Mom:
Coming from an inquisitive canine point of view, I’d say Bartlet is enjoying his walks. It sounds more like you might not be having the best time, especially if you took a trip to the emergency room with a pair of crutches as the consolation prize.
My mom is a certified professional dog trainer and loving dog guardian, and she knows how important it is for both dogs and humans to master the art of loose-leash walking.
She has spent time teaching yours truly to walk politely on leash, which you can read about on her dog training tips blog. I’ve also written a thing or two about how enjoyable walks can be on my blog about dog training from a canine perspective. So I would be happy to pass along additional information for you and Bartlet to use the next time you venture out together.
First, I’d like to address walking equipment:
» Collars: They should be used for licenses, ID tags, rabies tags, to attach a leash and to match your outfit. That’s about it. It’s important to avoid collars that are more correction-based, such as choke chains and prong collars. Those focus only on behaviors humans don’t want, such as pulling. They never tell us what you want us to do instead. Plus, they’re uncomfortable.
» Walking harness: I find the harnesses that allow the leash to attach in the front by the chest (instead of up on our back) to be the most comfortable. They gently discourage pulling by directing our attention back toward you.
» Leashes: Mom thinks the plain 4- to 6-foot styles are the best. The ones that are retractable tend to send us pooches mixed messages and create inconsistency in teaching us what you want. By letting us pull away on the leash, you’re basically telling us to do whatever we want, and then you yell at us to stop when we’re at the end of the leash. I realize that this type of leash is appropriate for certain situations, but for teaching it’s best to stick with something that provides more consistency and that are easy to handle by human hands. However, I do think it’s funny to watch people using the retractable leashes. It reminds me of fishing.
Once Bartlet is on the proper, user-friendly equipment, you can break down the art of loose-leash walking into easy, simple steps that bring success while still having fun.
» Reward what you want, and make it easy. You’ll get more of it.
» Go from easy to more difficult. Begin practicing in environments with little or no distractions, then gradually make it more difficult. That is the best way for Bartlet (and you) to learn. He’s more likely to stay focused on figuring out which choices are the best ones for him to make while on leash. For instance, start inside your home, then move out to the yard and to your front walkway, then to the sidewalk.
» Use higher-value rewards for those times when the behavior is more difficult for him. Kibble is fine when practicing inside your home, but use little pieces of chicken or steak when outside in situations that may be highly distracting.
» Give Bartlet an alternate behavior during those times when he wants to go off and meet another person or dog. Mom will reward me for looking up at her. Or, we play “Find it!” — which is when she says “Find it!” and tosses a treat on the ground. This game keeps me occupied while having fun, plus makes the situation less frustrating for me. This is similar to human children playing video games on long car rides, which gives them something to do besides asking “Are we there yet?” or fighting with each other in the backseat.
» Practice! Dogs weren’t born knowing how to walk on leash, and humans weren’t born knowing how to use them. Practicing is key when learning any new skill, especially one that can be very difficult for dogs, and one humans so often want us to learn.
Focusing on and rewarding what you want, practicing loose-leash walking using fun techniques and being consistent in what you’re teaching Bartlet surely will help avoid injuries while creating good walking times together.