Tiny, kibble-sized, super-tasty treats are the best training tools around. Commit to keeping the leash loose yourself. Practice your own leash skills so you’re confident about how to manage the leash and give treats. Then get your dog involved in the leash-walking game! Give your dog a treat for each correct bit of behavior he gives you. Being at your side, loose leash, looking at you – each behavior gets him a treat. Taking a step with you, stopping when you stop also get him a treat. You and your dog will learn together how to be partners in leash-walking.

What if my dog won’t take the treats?

Dogs must eat to live, so all dogs are “food-motivated.” Consider your dog’s stress level when setting up training sessions. Choose situations he can manage. If he won’t take treats when you’re out on a walk, he might not be ready to go for a walk yet. Remember, if a dog won’t take a treat, it’s most likely because he’s a too stressed in that situation to do so. Change something, make the task a little easier, reduce the distraction level, and he may take the treat.

Practice leash skills in small doses inside your home, where the dog will take treats. When he understands the routine, try practicing in a more challenging area. In the next room or just outside your front or back door are good choices for next steps. When he can work with you there, up the ante a little more but keep the situation at a level he can manage.

Don’t take your new dog for an actual leash walk until he has some skills.

A new dog can only benefit from short walks if you can get through them with a loose leash. If a dog is pulling on the leash, he’s increasing stress and arousal levels. If he’s pulling on the leash, he’s also learning how to do that better! Help your dog experience walking on a loose leash so he learns to do that better. Manage your leash and give lots of treats, one every step at the beginning, to help your dog learn.

Find other ways to help him exercise while you practice your leash skills together indoors, where he can succeed. Play chase games or let him run around in a fenced area. Playing with toys or other dogs are also good exercise options. Practice your leash skills together indoors until he can walk on a loose leash.

Reinforce your dog’s choice to be at your side.

Your dog should be earning lots of treats, one at a time. Don’t ask for too much – just the building blocks of leash walking. “Being” at your side on a loose leash is enough behavior to start with. Have him sit at your side as you give treats for making the choice to remain there. Work up to having him sit next to you for 30 seconds. Then take a single step with your canine partner, giving a treat as you do so. You’ll see your dog choose to be at your side more and more often in your daily life with him. Notice and pay up with a treat when he does! This is what leash training looks like. You’ll be going for walks together in no time.

You can use your dog’s meal for training treats!

Remember, you can use the food the dog gets for his meal as training treats. This is helpful for dogs who are overweight or on a special diet. Use some of his food for training and give him the rest in his bowl at mealtime. You can even use all the food for training. There’s no rule that a dog has to eat out of a bowl! Your dog will learn to take treats and be thrilled to perform behaviors to get them. He will learn important lessons from getting “paid” with food for doing a tiny, simple bit of behavior. The impact of this learning will spread to other areas of his life, not just leash training.

Training Tip: Mix a small amount of kibble-sized meat pieces with dry dog food in a plastic bag. Let it sit for an hour or so in the fridge. The meat will flavor the kibble!

Reinforcers = Rewards: They make behavior better.

Your reinforcers (treats) have to help the behavior you’re training get better. Pay close attention to the behavior that you’re trying to make better in each training session. It should be a little better after several repetitions – not with every repetition, but at the end of a training session. If it’s not getting better, revise when or how you’re giving the treats. Your reinforcement skills, including timing and where you place the food to deliver it to your dog, dictate just which behavior you’re building.

You can teach your dog just how close your want him by giving the treat in the same place every time. Giving the treat right next to your leg, at the seam of your pants is a good technique for teaching your dog to keep his head at your leg, not out in front. Be aware of just what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it, to use your treats as training tools in the best ways.

Practice placement of the treat, without a dog: notice the trainer’s hand is touching the side of his leg, right at the seam of his pants.

Leash training is simple – but you’ll find it’s not easy for you to do it the same way every time.

Leash training is really that simple: do it the same way every time and your dog can’t help but learn your habits and follow along. Once he “gets it,” you’ll find your dog “reminding” you of how the two of you always walk together. He will routinely go to the side you’ve trained him to when he’s ready to practice. The hard part is disciplining yourself to do what it takes to achieve your goal. Remember the vision of what you want as you reinforce the small pieces of your dog’s behavior that lead to it.

“Begin with the end in mind.” -Stephen Covey

Practice placement of treat with the dog, to make sure you give the treat while the dog is actually where you want him to be. Build the behaviors you want to train!

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


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