Carolyn Menteith explains why it makes sense to teach your dog loose-lead walking...
Marching around a village hall with your dog clipped to your side is very much the image that comes to mind when people think about dog training — but, thankfully, we have come a long way since those days.
It is, however, important that your dog is well behaved on a lead. A dog who pulls — especially if he is big and strong — can be a misery to walk, and even highly dangerous, as you risk being injured, pulled over, or dragged into hazards such as traffic.
Instead of ‘heelwork’, (unless you plan to take part in competitive obedience), the focus is now far more on loose-lead walking: teaching your dog to walk beside you without pulling, so your walks together are enjoyable and safe.
The first thing to think about is equipment. Collars should be plain and flat; no check chains, prong collars, slip leads, or anything that can tighten around the dog’s neck, or cause pain or discomfort. Leads should be soft, comfortable, easy to hold, simple to take on and off the collar, and long enough that you can hold them easily with two hands if you need to. A clip on both ends is helpful too if you need to use a harness on your dog, or if you want to secure him to something (your chair in the pub garden, perhaps!)
This is the ideal and we would all love our dogs to be able to walk everywhere like this — but sometimes you may need back-up (if you are just starting to train your dog, if he pulls already and you are retraining him, or just because he is strong and you want to make sure he is safe). In addition, research indicates that dogs who pull long term on a collar can cause lasting injuries to themselves.
In these cases, there are some great anti-pulling harnesses on the market (such as the Mekuti, which can be used in different ways but really does prevent dogs pulling, and can help you while you are retraining loose-lead walking or when you are in a challenging environment).
Benefits of loose-lead walking with your dog
- Walking on a loose lead past people and not bouncing on them.
- Enjoying relaxed walks in the countryside.
- Walking past horses or other livestock.
- Walking through town with traffic, people, and distractions (although here you may want the back-up of a harness).
- Enjoying walks with friends — without getting pulled around!
Training loose-lead walking
- Use a treat your dog likes, hold it in your hand by his nose, and walk forward a few steps. Reward him for walking close beside you. Start by training loose-lead walking in a quiet, secure area with no distractions, and be equipped with either some great treats or your dog’s favourite toy (or a combination of both).
- As soon as he has got the hang of it, move the treat further away from his nose so you are not luring him so much, but are just letting him know there is a treat on offer. Practise this without and also with the lead.
- For some dogs, using a toy works better — or try it just for variety — and then reward with a game.
- Practise this until you can do longer and longer distances with a loose lead and without having to lure — remember to reward at the end.
- Practise everywhere — in the garden, in the park, with distractions (although you may need to make your toy and treat a little more obvious!). Make the commitment that every time you go anywhere, it will be on a loose lead.
Top tips for loose-lead walking with your dog
- If the lead goes tight, stop, use a treat or the toy to lure your dog back to the right place (close to you with a loose lead), and then carry on walking and reward after a few good steps.
- Often it is easier to start teaching your dog to walk beside you without the lead on — as neither of you have anything to pull on, and you have to work harder to keep your dog interested enough to stay beside you!