It gets tiring holding onto a leash when you walk your dog. I know some parks have strict leash rules, but there are some places to walk your dog without a leash if you have control over your dog, and trust me it is a great feeling.
When I first started walking my dog, she pulled on her leash non-stop. I got frustrated and tired of it, and therefore it ruined the whole experience of a nice walk together. If I took off her leash she would jet. I would never know if she would come back and the farther she ran away, the less she listened.
Everything changed when I taught her to understand the phrase “leave it!”. It is not a command that is based on punishment. It is one that says, “I am where you should be focusing-now me.”.
This is a good word when referring to a dog’s attention habits. Dogs love to focus on something. They are always in the here and now, which is something I wish I could do more of myself. If you can teach your dog to focus on you and desire your affection, affirmation, and praise, you have achieved dog training. You should be their here and now. Once your dog has reached that point, they will learn pretty much anything you want them to. Now, it is all about word loading.
If you let your dog constantly pull on the leash, he or she is getting rewarded for it because it’s a point of stimulation and she is being allowed to go somewhere different and be in control, which is not something you want. If they pull, refuse to move forward until they recognize your authority. I know this is no fun, but it will get better and better if you are consistent, and it is worth it in the long run. Tug on their leash periodically to remind them of your authority. Do it quickly and briefly. Use a command that they know like “leave it.” The point is to get your dog’s attention so that they focus on you. There should be slack in your leash constantly, never taut.
A great way to get your dog to focus on you is to stop often and do something that they enjoy or something that will result in a reward. Tug on their leash and get out a treat, tell them to sit, and give them the treat. The more you do this the more they will look back at you to see where you are and what you want. If they don’t stop or are focused elsewhere, step close in front of them, interrupting their path, and get them to sit and look at you.
Snap your fingers
I don’t like yelling at my dog all the time to get her attention. So if you cannot snap your fingers, find a clicker or some type of sound that triggers their attention to focus on your commands. It will make it so much easier than saying “leave it” if you can just snap your fingers when they begin to pull or lose focus. Try to snap your fingers every time you use a command word and tug on their leash so they hear the command association.
Drop the Leash
Once your dog has developed a habit of keeping focused on your movement and wants, have your dog sit next to you and drop the leash but keep it under your foot. They may try to take off if they see you drop it, so keeping it under your feet is a way of letting them know you don’t have to hold the leash to stop them or maintain control.
If they don’t try to run off and are waiting for you, start walking. Every once in a while step on the leash and do the same actions as before. Say sit, give them a treat, snap, and say a word that they know. Continue this for as long as they do not try running away.
The benefit of dropping the leash is that they will step on their own leash quite often, reinforcing an attitude of alertness and good behavior while on a walk.
Leave the leash in your pocket
When I decide not to use a leash, I don’t take it off while on the walk as this may trigger them to run free as they please. I begin the walk without the leash and start with a series of commands that lets them know that this is the same walk as usual, along with occasional snapping, and sitting. If your dog struggles to listen to your commands, go back a step and keep trying, they will eventually understand and look forward to future walks with you.
Let them explore a little
Now that you have taught your dog to respond and focus on your commands, let them stop and sniff something every once in a while, but make sure that they obey when you decide they are done.
Let them run
Once your dog has mastered the commands and responds to your actions, speed up the pace a little and let them stretch their legs, but don’t let them get out of control. Slow down every once in a while to remind them that you are still in control. I do this while they are on the leash as well as off, so they adjust easily to no-leash training.
Every dog needs time to run on their own and explore as they please, but they need a safe place in which to practice like a backyard, gated dog park, or any fenced-in area where they can explore without getting lost, or hit by a car. But to be honest, if you have done your training right they won’t want to travel too far from you, because you are all they really desire in life.
Keep in mind, however, that this is not an overnight process. It will require a lot of patience on your end as well as daily consistency. If you’d like to read more about my approach to training our own family dog, you can read about that here.