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These essential tips will have both you and your dog enjoying walks in no time.
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One of the biggest challenges pet parents face is teaching their dogs to walk nicely on leash. Dogs don’t come to us knowing that we don’t like to run on our daily walks, nor do we like to be pulled around the neighborhood. It’s up to us to teach them how to walk politely. It’s well worth the investment of time to do this properly. Here are three tips to get you started on training loose-leash walking.
If we had just met and you wanted to take a walk with me, how comfortable would we be together at first? We most likely would be a bit guarded with one another until we knew each other better. The same is true for a relationship between a dog and their human.
Your rescue dog has likely gone through many environmental changes before coming to live with you, including a foster home, a shelter, or even a previous home. It is crucial to spend time with your new best friend inside your quiet home before you tackle the outside world together on walks.
Get to know your dog and let him get to know you, too. Work on reinforcing eye contact every time you say his name – which is most likely a brand new name for your dog. Say the name or make a noise to get his attention, and when he looks at you, say YES! and toss him a good treat. Eye contact and acknowledgement that you are seeking his attention is the first step of all training, so you really can’t do too much of this.
Please avoid anything that puts pressure on the vulnerable neck area. I see collars only as a great place to hang a pet ID tag. I highly encourage the use of harnesses and not collars.
Your dog may never have worn a collar, so as with all things new, please go slowly. I let the dog sniff the harness, maybe even leave it on the floor for a day or two as long as she doesn’t chew on it. When I go to put the harness on the first few times, I have a strong jerky-type treat in my hand that won’t be eaten quickly. I allow the dog to chew away on the treat that I hold in one hand as I get her used to the harness being put on and taken off.
It’s important that the harness fits properly and comfortably. It’s also vital to have training treats that YOUR dogs really loves. Dogs are individuals and as such, have individual tastes.
I always start working with dogs in my training room. Always! I can control the environment in that room, as we give up some control in “the real world” in terms of what we may encounter on our walk.
Teach your dog that checking in with you (looking up at your face and into your eyes) results in YUMO meat or cheese reinforcers. The old saying in dog training is true: You get what you reinforce. Therefore, reinforce the heck out of your dog walking alongside you and checking in with you.
Begin training in an enclosed room off leash. Then slowly work up to attaching the leash to the harness and continue walking around the room, holding the leash and telling your dog often what a good boy he is. Mark every eye check with a YES! and treat. I treat a TON in the beginning stages of teaching a new behavior. I later back off the treats and switch to an intermittent rate of reinforcers.
To recap, the first and most important step of training any dog is to have a strong relationship with the animal that is based on connection and trust. Harsh training methods destroy that bond, so please don’t ever be tempted to punish your dog into a good walk. It isn’t worth the misery it causes either species.
Next, don’t allow any harm to come to your dog’s sensitive neck region; use a good harness instead and always have great training treats on hand.
And, finally, catch your dog doing the right things – being close to you on a walk – and reinforce it like crazy! Later you can use “environmental” rewards such as a fire hydrant the dog REALLY wants to visit – first you ask for a “check in,” then you can mark it with YES! and gleefully take the dog over to the thing he wanted to sniff in the first place.
I have many more dog training tips in my recently released book, The Midnight Dog Walkers.: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living with Aggressive and Reactive Dogs.
Annie Phenix is a Colorado-based professional writer and dog trainer. She is the Trainer in Residence for Dogster.com and she writes a column for Dogster Magazine and other publications. She is the author of a Spring 2016 book, titled The Midnight Dog Walkers (I-5 Publishing).
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