This short guide is to help you walk your dog on a relaxed lead, instead of having your arms pulled out of their sockets by your eager companion!
You are going to need a treat pouch with very tasty treats inside it. Ideally a well fitted harness to prevent neck injuries on your dog and a comfortable lead long enough to enable slack in the line without it dragging on the floor.
First, practise this in an enclosed garden and don’t bother attaching the lead at this stage.
To teach your dog to walk next to you, we need to make it worth it for your dog.
Face your dog, and get their attention with friendly noises (no need for intimidation or dominance). As soon as they pay attention to you, take a couple of lively steps backwards (please be aware of your surroundings first to avoid tripping over). Your dog should follow you. As soon as your dog catches up, tell your dog “yes” or “good” in an enthusiastic voice and drop at least three treats on the floor. This is marking the behaviour and can be done with a clicker if you have utilised clicker training already. If not, see my tips on this here.
It is very important that you are not holding the treats. These will stay in your treat pouch until you mark the behaviour. If you hold the treats all of the time, your dog will only learn by luring and you’ll have a harder time of gaining the behaviour without food in your hand in future.
Repeat five times, vary the amount of treats between 1 and 3.
Now, to change this to walking forwards unless you fancy backwards walks forever?
As your dog catches up with you, spin 180° to face away from your dog and drop one treat by your heel immediately. As your dog eats the treat from the floor, take a single step away from your dog and wait for them to catch you up. As soon as they make it to your heel, mark the behaviour (clicker/verbal) and reward. Repeat times 5.
Take a break and play with your dog for a few minutes. While they are likely to be enjoying this training, it is still mentally challenging for them.
Practice again without the walking backwards part (unless your dog is struggling, in which case start again but try to only walk backwards once) but have your dog in their harness. Start to drop treats every 2 steps instead of every step and then every 3. Don’t only increase the criteria, make it easier by randomly rewarding for 1 step again a couple of times before waiting for 5 steps, 10 steps etc. Change direction and mark and reward your dog for changing with you.
Attach the lead. You should find that your dog still performs well in the garden with you. If your dog is over excited by the lead, purchase a new completely different looking one for a chance that your dog doesn’t associate it with walks. It may keep the excitement at a manageable level!
If your dog is one that pulls immediately on opening the front door, make it easy on yourself by jumping in the car and practising in a quiet area not normally walked in.
Adding distractions of other dogs, other people, wildlife etc will make the behaviour more difficult for the dog to perform, so be sure to manage the environment when you plan on working on this. Note, the less time you put into this, the longer your dog will learn to get to where they want by pulling. So be patient, make sure you provide suitable levels of freedom if your dog needs a leg stretch (and it’s safe to do so – recall tips here) and set both of you up for success.
If you would like further help with this you can book a 1 2 1 session with us.