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Leash Training
updated: Nov 10, 2012, 1:00 PM

Dear Poncho -

Our Beagle is fabulous with tricks: sit, stay, and high five. But even after several classes he's horrible with leash-walking. Last week he pulled me down on a walk and I broke my foot. What's the trick to getting him to calm down and enjoy his walk--without pulling so hard?

Thanks for any help!

Bartlet's Mom


Dear Bartlet's Mom,

Coming from a canine's point of view, I'd say Bartlet IS enjoying his walks. It sounds more like you might not be having the best time, especially if it's resulted in a trip to the ER with a new pair of crutches as the consolation prize. Fortunately, I'm pretty up-to-date on the how-tos of making walkies enjoyable for all and I'm happy to pass them along. Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model:

Know Your Animal!

Inquisitive canines didn't invent leashes, humans did. But we pooches don't naturally grasp the concept of walking next to the person holding the other end of the leash. That's something we have to be taught how to do. If we haven't learned it, our lack of impulse control, plus our strength, sets the stage for the perfect drag-you-down-the-street situation. This goes double for those breeds that have had the art of pulling intentionally bred into them! We're also driven to go after what we want when we want it -- especially in the great outdoors. If we have to drag you along, well, fine!

Whaddya Want?

If having Barlet walk on a loose leash while being right next to you is what you want, then that's what you'll want to teach him to do. One useful behavior to keep in your tool box is eye contact. Bartlet will be less inclined to forge ahead, pulling you along, if he's accustomed to looking up at you for approval. You can also try keeping him distracted by dropping the occasional treat on the ground. If he's looking down for goodies, he's not pulling. Pretty convenient for you both.

Reward. Reward. Reward.

Reward what you want while keeping it simple--for both of you. Begin practicing in environments with few or no distractions, then slowly add in one distraction at a time. For instance, start inside your home, then move out to the yard and to your front walkway, then to the sidewalk.

Use higher value rewards for those times when the behavior is more difficult for him. Kibble is fine when practicing inside your home, but use little pieces of chicken or steak when outside or in situations that may be highly distracting.

Practice! Us dogs weren't born knowing how to walk on leash, and you humans weren't born knowing how to use them. Practice is key when learning any new skill, especially one that can be very difficult for us dogs, and one you humans so often want us to learn.

The Right Tools for the Job

Collars: Ideally, they should be used for licenses, ID tags, rabies tags, to attach a leash, and to match your outfit. I highly recommend avoiding collars that are more correction-based, such as ones that choke and poke. These pieces only focus on behaviors you humans don't want. Plus, they can be a real pain in the neck!

Walking harness: I find the harnesses that allow the leash to attach in the front by the chest (instead of up on our back).They tend to decrease our inclination to pull and they're more comfortable, too.

Leashes: Think short and sweet. A leash that's 4 to 6 feet long is ideal when you want your dog in close proximity to you. The ones that are retractable tend to send us pooches mixed messages. Letting us pull away on the leash tells us it's okay to do whatever we want, and then you yell at us to stop, or yank us back to your side. It's confusing. I do think it's funny to watch people using the retractable leashes, though. It reminds me of fishing.

Paws and Reflect

Focusing in on and rewarding what you want, practicing loose-leash walking while using fun techniques to distract or reward Bartlet, and being consistent in what you are teaching him will surely help keep you out of the ER, and bring about many good walking times together. Or, you can continue with the suburban Iditarod. _____________________________________________________________

Poncho Mayer is a 10-pound inquisitive canine who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. He and his mom work together running the family business, providing dog-training services to other inquisitive canines and their humans. For additional training and behavior tips, subscribe to their blog.

Let's connect!




Got a question about behavior, training or daily pup life? Email Poncho directly at advice@theinquisitivecanine.com

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 341384P agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-10 01:32 PM

Poocherino. You forgot to mention the tried and true "U-Turn" method. Victoria Stillwell, on Animal Planet's "It's Me or The Dog," showed, repeatedly, how effective this method can be.

To the dog owners who are trying to teach your dog to "Heel:"
Don't allow the dog to get even a tiny step ahead of you, while on-leash. Every time the dog starts to "forge ahead," you complete a quick U-turn. The dog soon gets the message that if s/he wants to continue on your walk, the best thing to do is to remain close to you, at your side, and not lunging ahead. Give the "Heel" command in a sweet, soft voice. Your dog is not hard of hearing. S/he will soon get the message.

This tactic works extremely well in training fear-aggressive and otherwise dog-aggressive dogs. On walks, before your dog even begins to lunge at another walking dog (even if that other dog is across the street), you and your dog both complete that U-turn and then keep back-tracking where you came from, for a short way.

Then, after many steps back, turn again. As soon as your dog acts like it wants to "go at" the other approaching dog, you make another U-turn. (You could tell other dog walker "We're in training.") Your dog will soon stop pulling ahead.

It sounds time consuming and tedious, but it really isn't. Training your dog to pay attention to you and teaching the dog that you are the one making the decisions will make you both more relaxed and happier . . . in the long run.


 COMMENT 341386 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-10 01:39 PM

Great! I'm so looking forward to the next installment, hopefully it's about how to bark train your left-alone-outside pooch for the benefit of Fido as well as the neighbors. Thanks!


 COMMENT 341398 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-10 02:16 PM

Thanks 386! Click-treat for you - I enjoy sharing my pooch's perspective with the Edhat family.

And thanks to 384P too - Yes, Miss Vicky knows her stuff, for sure. My mom actually teaches the "U turn" too, along with the Turn and Go, back-up recall, and "find it" (my personal fave) to her clients...all good stuff! Gotta be careful though because sometimes you can inadvertently train your inquisitive canine all sorts of chained behaviors - and, sometimes inquisitive canines end up training their humans to do all sorts of fun tricks like turning around and going different directions - teeheehee....

Happy training everyone! Love the comments...what a great community we have here!


 COMMENT 341492 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-10 05:50 PM

The best way to train your dog to be on a leash is to not be on the leash. Teach him to walk by your side and then calmy slip the leash on, he/she wont even notice. Also not every dog is going to be able to be leashed train, after all, like humans they too have a brain and not every brain would accept someone directing them with a rope around their neck. I for one with all the training in the world would never allow it, I dont expect the dog too either.


 COMMENT 341541P agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-10 07:49 PM

492: I'll bet you'd do it for chocolate.


 COMMENT 341743 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-11 06:00 PM

384p are you saying you have chocolate..ok you win.


 COMMENT 342001 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-12 03:08 PM

Instead of a collar use a harness.


 COMMENT 342270 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-11-13 12:36 PM

492 I haven't met a dog yet that cannot be leash trained and you do need to use a leash in order to leash train a dog. The right tools for each dog are necessary because like you said dogs are individuals. Our beagle had a tendency to pull and would not come at all until we found the right tools. Treats are great but not for training. After a training session sure give some treats but bribing your dog to listen to you is just asking for trouble. Your dog should listen to you because they respect you. Harnesses work well for some dogs but it was completely ineffective for our hard-headed beagle. We now use a pich collar specially designed for her size. It took a total of two snaps to get the idea across to her. Now when she wants to go outside she sits and patiently waits for her pinch collar to be put on and never pulls. This is far better than risking a neck or shoulder injury from her jerking on a regular collar or harness.


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