Make a plan to train

Stand in the living room with your treat bag on and a leash in your hand. Decide which side you want your dog to walk on, and make your commitment to sticking to the rules you’re creating for your leash walks.  Do this while your dog is occupied somewhere else, or at least lying down chewing a bone. Get your skills organized before you bring your dog into the picture. Experiment with ways to hold the leash and how you’ll give treats to your dog as you walk.  Decide on a home-base position for your hands when you’re not using them. This will help you be deliberate in giving your dog treats for reinforcement as you walk, without causing the treats to be a distraction for him.

A fun and eye-opening exercise is to get another human to hold the snap end of the leash and walk with you, holding a hand out to receive treats. Then trade places, walk as though you’re the dog, and see just how much you’re asking of your dog when you expect him to stay right with you as you walk!

You have so many options:  two hands to choose from for each job, and you can switch hands as needed. You really have to practice without a dog, because this is likely a new skill set and it will feel awkward at first.  Get yourself some good habits before you try to get your dog to fall into the routine. This is the point where you create your vision of a wonderful a walk with your dog. Then you’ll break it down into the individual behaviors your dog needs to learn.

Try it once! Then adjust what you’re doing.

Treats are the best training devices.  Put on a treat bag containing so many treats you won’t run out.  Set the leash aside for now.  Set a timer for 30 seconds and simply give your dog a treat every time he’s at your side as defined in your plan.  Feed him treats while standing still.  Take one step, encouraging him to come along, and feed him as he takes a step to remain at your side. This is the beginning.

Be quick!  Feed him immediately!  If you don’t, you’re likely to miss him “getting it right.”  Each treat he gets increases how often he’ll make the choice to be in that position, and you may need 100 “correct choices” for your dog to get the idea that this is a valuable behavior to practice. 

Start strong, give a treat for every correct choice, and you’re on the road to success.  One of the behaviors you’ll be building, whether you realize it or not, is your dog looking at you, which helps build the behavior of “checking in.”  If your dog “checks in” with you regularly, it will be easy to get his attention if you need it at some point along your walk. this will help you keep the two of you safe.

Be consistent

I know, you’re heard this phrase so many times! But your consistent behavior is essential for your dog to learn quickly and retain the skills you’re teaching. You really have to commit to your leash goals because your dog probably doesn’t care.  It’s likely he’s happy to pull like crazy.  Your dog won’t understand what’s expected of him unless you do it every single time the leash is on, and a lot of the time when the leash is off. 

Trust the process. Whenever you’re ready to start going for short walks, remember they are “training walks”!  In fact, every walk is a training walk. You just want to make sure you have a say in what your dog is learning.  Invest your time and effort in creating the leash behaviors you want and enjoy the results as they develop.  The training will get simpler as you progress, until the whole process is easy and smooth for you and your dog.

Build the behaviors you want

The process of training is different from your vision of the final behavior you want, but BOTH are important.  Picture how you want things to be. Use your training sessions to reinforce tiny bits of behavior that look like they lead into that vision. 

Begin with the end in mind.” – Stephen Covey

If a child draws a straight line, it’s the beginning of writing an “A” and it leads to the vision of writing, reading, and succeeding in life.  If a dog chooses to take a step at your side rather than walking away from you, it’s the beginning of many long walks in partnership.  Continually increase your standards as the dog learns to offer you the behaviors you like – the ones you give him treats for, the ones that make you move forward so he can see and smell more new things. 

Be creative in how you set up short training sessions, making sure the dog succeeds most of the time.  He’s not ready to learn from failure at this point.  Right now, he has to learn just how beneficial it is to do what you want.

Keep practicing, and in our next piece in our Leash Skills series, we’ll talk about the opportunities a loose leash gives you and your dog.

Watch for the next installment in our series on Leash Skills!


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