Who’s walking who? Your dog, regardless of size, age, and lifestyle, should be taught basic leash skills. Whether you take your pup for a spin around the block or to the vet’s office, he should have leash manners.
Even a pint-sized pooch can ruin a good walk if he pulls, spins, and jerks on the leash. Additionally, proper leash skills are important for the safety of both you and your canine. Like all other aspects of good training, teaching your pet to walk next to you takes patience and persistence, but the payoff is a dog that is a pleasure to walk.
Before You Start
Before you even begin the training process, start by ensuring that you have the right equipment. Your pet must have an appropriate collar or harness that properly fits him, as well as a good, strong leash. Initially, you should have treats or some other reward for your dog, as well as use verbal cues to let him know he’s doing a good job.
If you own a puppy or an adult dog that has never been leash trained, start with short, positive sessions. For many sports, the dog is taught to walk on the owner’s left side, but this is entirely up to you. It’s a smart idea to teach your dog to walk by your side so that he doesn’t trip you with the leash if he runs back and forth.
Walking Without Pulling
When you start out teaching your dog to walk beside you, you do not want him to pull. Begin by capturing his attention when he’s behaving correctly on the leash. The instant he stops pulling and the leash goes slack, mark and reward.
If your pooch walks nicely without dancing or pulling, give him a reward every so often to give him a reference point. If he forgets his manners down the road, mark and reward him when he resumes walking politely.
If your dog is constantly straining at the leash, you need to convince him that tugging will not quicken his arrival and that walking nicely will make you happy enough to reward him.
Relieving Himself While on the Leash
Your dog should get some time to smell (or pee on) the roses while he’s on his walks. It will help him to learn better leash manners if you decide when that will be. As you’re practicing walking with him on a leash routinely, about every five minutes, say something like “go sniff” or “go potty” and let him sniff around or relieve himself while he is on the leash. This is a privilege, so if he pulls, say “let’s go” and walk in the opposite direction, thereby ending the free time.
Walking By Your Side
Your dog should always be walking by your side for safety purposes. Traditionally, your dog will walk on the left side of you. If he weaves constantly or runs back and forth or in circles, you could trip on the leash and get injured.
In order to ensure that your dog is learning to walk beside you, keep his leash short enough that he cannot leave your side, easily showing him the position that you want him to be in. But don’t keep it so short that you are dragging him.
While doing this, simultaneously lure him into the right position by your side with his favorite treats. You can mark the behavior using verbal praise or a clicker. When he starts to get the idea, stop luring him, but do reward him for sticking by your side.
Give him a treat after a few steps, and then gradually increase the distance you walk between treats until he formulates a habit of walking by your side without treats. You can also slacken your grip on the leash if he is not weaving or circling.
Teaching your dog great leash manners is the first step to get him to walk by your side. Remember that patience is key when mastering this habit, for both you and your dog.