Ah, spring. That time when a dog lover’s fancy turns to long walks with his best friend and dog trainers phones start ringing off the hook. A long winter can wreak havoc on a dog’s leash manners, so now is a good time to do a little refresher training to ensure that both you and your dog enjoy walking together. Here are a few simple tips for brushing up on your dog’s manners.
Don’t let your dog become magnetized to people or other dogs:
Dogs get into all kinds of trouble when they expect to greet every persons and dog that they meet. Dogs who see a walk down the street as a social affair also tend to be dogs that pull on leash, dogs that jump on people, and dogs that ignore their owners. In extreme cases, dogs who are magnetized to strange people can become so frustrated by their inability to get to those people or dogs that they develop leash aggression. We teach a specialty class for leash aggressive dogs at Training Tracks and it’s never busier than in the first few warm days of spring.
One simple technique can prevent your dog from becoming magnetized, decrease pulling, and stop jumping on strangers. With the “park-it” command we teach our dogs to sit at our side, look at us, and wait for permission to say hello to people and dogs we meet. The best part is that it takes very little focus or effort from you. As you approach someone, simply tell your dog “park it,” and step on your leash to take away the option to run up to people and jump all over them. Next, have your dog sit and treat him while he holds the sit. Once he calms down, you can tell him to “say hi” if and when you wish.
You can see one of our board and train dogs learning this technique in this video:
Train your dog to stop pulling and walk on a loose leash
Walking your dog should be a cooperative endeavor, not an endurance event where your dog pulls you down the street and you do your best to hold on. Your dog should keep the leash loose instead of pulling and check in with you regularly as you enjoy your walk together. The biggest barrier to a nice relaxing walks is a dog’s opposition reflex. Dogs are hard-wired so that when we pull them one way, they fight it and pull the other. When your dog drags down you down the street with a taut leash, this reflex gets stronger and stronger. Polite leash walking start with reprogramming that reflex.
The early exercises for teaching loose leash walking are boring and repetitive, but they work. Find a place with few distractions (like your driveway), mark out a straight line about 30 – 50 feet long, and walk back and forth in a straight line. Whenever your dog hits the end of the leash, use a cue like “uh-oh” and do a 180 degree turn and resume walking in the opposite direction. This teaches that dog that when he hits the end of the leash that pulling isn’t an option. Instead, he should check in to see what you are doing and adjust his pace to yours. It doesn’t take long for most dogs to figure out that paying attention to you makes walks more fun.
You can see one of our board and train dogs, Indy, get his very first lesson to stop pulling on leash here. Indy pulled Lindsay down the street like a maniac on his way to this first session, but you can see that he starts paying attention pretty quickly. Note that we are in the middle of the blacktop driveway far away from distractions to make it easy.
Once your dog learns not to pull on leash in a boring environment, you can take him to a busier area with more distractions. In this video, another board and train dog, Jedi, showing off what the process looks like after 4 or 5 sessions:
It takes a couple of weeks of this repetitive back and forth training to train your dog not to pull at all, but it’s worth it. Walking with a dog who doesn’t pull on leash and pays attention to you is safer and a lot more fun.
Don’t let your dog meet strange dogs on leash, but if you must, do it this way:
Ask any dog trainer, and they’ll tell you not to introduce your dog to strange dogs on leash. Meeting on leash causes all kinds of problems. For starters, when a leashed dog feels threatened or afraid, he doesn’t have the option to run away from another dog. Fight or flight no longer applies. If the dog feels that he must protect himself, aggression is his only option. Another big problem with on leash meeting is that dogs who haven’t been taught to “park it” and have become magnetized to strange dogs are often frustrated and behave rudely when they finally approach another dog. Finally, if you don’t know someone, you can’t trust their word that their dog isn’t aggressive. Some people are in denial, some dogs are just developing aggressive behavior (this is particularly common in the spring with dogs who haven’t been for walks in a couple of months), and some people will lie. I’m going to repeat my advice. Don’t let your dog meet strange dogs on leash.
After 20 years of dog trainer, I have unfortunately learned that this advice very often goes ignored. People introduce strange dogs on leash all the time in spite of trainers’ warnings. If you insist on doing this, take some precautions. Teach your dog to “park it” and have him do so for a a bit before saying hi. When you do let the dogs interact, make sure not to let their leashes become tangled.
For the purposes of this blog post, we let the stars of the videos above meet for the first time on leash. We normally would never introduce dog like this, but we wanted to demonstrate a very important safety principle. When introducing dogs on leash, be very careful not let their leashes become tangled. If a fight breaks out when the leashes are entwined, things can get very ugly. Make sure to circle your dogs as they interact so that there is always a straight line of you, your dog, the other dog, the other handler and leashes stay apart as demonstrated in this video