© 2004 Ian Dunbar
PULLING ON LEASH
By and large, leash-pulling masks the real problem: without a leash
you would probably be without a dog. It is indeed a sobering thought
to think that most dogs prefer to forge ahead to sniff the grass
or other dogs' rear ends than to walk by their owner's side. There
are of course some dogs who simply don't want to walk beside people
who keeping yanking the leash. However, regardless of why your dog
pulls, all dogs need to be trained to walk nicely on leash. If not,
they are unlikely to be walked at all.
Trying to teach a dog to heel using leash prompts and corrections
requires a lot of skill and time. And even then, all you have is
a well-behaved dog on-leash. Let him off-leash and he's history;
you cannot safely take him for off-leash rambles, and you still
cannot control him around the house, where he is off-leash all the
Luckily, there are more effective and enjoyable ways to get the
job done. First, teach your dog to follow off-leash. Second. incorporate
many sits and stays for control and attention. Third, teach your
dog to heel off-leash and on-leash. After following these steps,
you will find it is easier to teach your dog to walk calmly on-leash.
But also, do yourself, your dog, and your arms, enroll your Iditarod
puppydog in a SIRIUS® Adolescent Dog Training Class right away.
If you do not teach your dog to walk calmly on-leash, he will quickly
get worse and worse and eventully, he won't be walked at all. Not
fair. If you do not live in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact
the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (1–800 PET DOGS or www.apdt.com)
to locate adult dog training classes in your area.
Teach Your Dog to Follow Off-Leash
Your dog's desire to follow and remain close is the necessary foundation
for walking politely on-leash. You must become the center of your
dog's universe. You need to stimulate and strengthen your dog's
gravitational attraction towards you by moving away enticingly and
heartily praising your dog all the time he follows. Click your fingers,
slap your thigh, or waggle a food treat or a toy in your hand to
lure the dog to follow. Proceed with a happy heart and a sunny disposition:
talk to your dog, tell him stories, whistle, walk with a jaunty
step, or even skip and sing.
Do not accommodate your dog's improvisations; you are the leader,
not the dog. Whenever your dog attempts to lead, accentuate his
"mistake" by doing the opposite. Stretch the psychic bungee
cord: if your dog forges ahead, slow down or smartly turn about;
if your dog lags behind, speed up; if your dog goes right, turn
left; and if your dog goes left, turn right. Practice in large areas,
such as in your backyard, friends' yards, tennis courts, dog parks,
and safe off-leash areas. Feed your dog his dinner kibble, piece
by piece as you walk. Once your dog is following closer, time yourself
while practicing following courses at home, going around furniture,
from room to room, and from the house to yard.
Sits, Downs, and Stays
Enticing your dog to follow off-leash takes a lot of concentration
and it is easy to let your dog drift. Consequently, instruct your
dog to sit or lie down and then stay every ten yards or so. Frequent
sits, downs, and stays teach your dog to calm down and focus. They
also give you the opportunity to catch your breath, relax your brain,
and to objectively assess your dog's level of attention. Sitting
is absolute: either your dog is sitting or not. Only have the dog
sit or lie down for a couple of seconds (just to check that he is
paying attention) and then walk on again. Occasionally ask your
dog to lie down for a minute or so to watch the world go by. You
will find that the more down stays that you integrate into the walk,
the calmer and more controlled your dog will be when walking.
Teach Your Dog to Heel Off-Leash
Instruct your dog to sit, and then lure him to sit using a food
or toy lure in your right hand. Transfer the lure to your left hand,
say "Heel," waggle the lure in front of your dog's nose,
and quickly walk forwards for a few steps. Then say "Sit,"
transfer the lure to your right hand to lure your dog to sit, and
maybe offer the kibble as a reward if your dog sits quickly and
stylishly. Repeat this sequence over and over. Practice indoors
and in your yard, where there are fewer distractions, before practicing
in the dog park and off-leash walking areas. Then just attach the
dog's leash and you will find he heels nicely on-leash.
Teach your dog not to pull while you are both standing still. Hold
the leash firmly with both hands and refuse to budge until your
dog slackens the leash. Not a single step! It doesn't matter how
long it takes. Just hold on tight and ignore every leash-lunge.
Eventually your dog will stop pulling and sit. As soon as he sits,
say "Good dog," offer a food treat, and then take just
one large step forward and stand still again. Hold on tight; your
dog will likely explode to the end of the leash, thereby illustrating
the reinforcing nature of allowing your dog to pull for just a single
step. Wait for your dog to stop pulling again (it will not take
as long this time). Repeat this sequence until your dog walks calmly
forward (because he knows you are only going one step) and sits
quickly when you stop and stand still. Your dog quickly learns he
has the power to make you stop and to make you go. If he tightens
the leash, you stop. But if he slackens the leash and sits, you
take a step. After a series of single steps and standstills without
pulling, try taking two steps at a time. Then go for three steps,
then five, eight, twelve, and so on. Now you will find your dog
will walk attentively on a loose leash and sit automatically whenever
you stop. And the only words you have said are "Good dog."
Alternate heeling and walking on-leash. For most of the walk, let
your dog range and sniff on a loose leash, but every 25 yards or
so, have your dog sit, heel, and sit, and then walk on again. Always
sit-heel-sit your dog when crossing a street: sit before crossing,
heeling across, and then sitting on the other side of the street.
To learn more, read Doctor Dunbar's Good Little Dog Book and watch
the Training The Companion Dog Video III: Walking on Leash &
Preventing Jumping-Up .