Loose leash walking and good leash manners = adopted dogs.
It is not the most fun or glamorous training exercise but it has one of the single biggest impacts on a dog’s adoption chances. The more consistent we are, the more successful we’ll be and success means nicer walking shifts and more dogs heading home.
So how do we do it?
Using the right equipment sets both you and the dog up for success. Equipment used at the shelter includes martingale collars; Easy Walk and Freedom harnesses; Gentle Leaders; carabiner clips; and double ended leashes.
Handling the Leash
When handling the leash, we want to communicate to the dog that we are working together while allowing them to make choices. Holding the leash too short does not allow the dog to make any decisions or learn desired behavior but rather relies on physical strength to control the dog. Giving the dog the full length of the leash, however, puts the dog too far away from the handler for effective communication and safe use of space.
Too often we rely solely on the leash to control the dog, forgetting that we should be keeping the dogs interested and connected with the handler, even as they explore the environment. Use your body language, voice, and even training games to remind the dog that you are working together. Make sure you are rewarding eye contact any time a dog checks in with you. If you are no longer able to get the dog’s attention, it is time to re-engage.
This is the theory that a high probability behavior will reinforce a low probability behavior. If a dog wants to do an activity, he’ll be more likely to do something less desirable to get to do it. For example, a dog really wants to sniff a tree and their response is to drag you towards it. Using Premack, you will stop, wait for the dog to check-in and put slack in the leash, and reward them by walking over to sniff the tree together.
Loose Leash Walking Techniques
Be a tree
This means exactly what it says. If the dog starts pulling, the walk stops. When the dog puts slack in the leash, the walk resumes. Timing and consistency are key. If you allow the dog to pull for a while, the dog learns that sometimes pulling works. As soon as the dog puts slack in the leash, immediately resume the walk to teach the dog that’s what you want.
This technique allows the handler to scaffold the dog by putting the slack in the leash for them. Rather than stopping when the dog pulls, turn and walk in the other direction. This puts the dog behind you and gives you the opportunity to move forward while rewarding them (maybe verbally, maybe with treats) for walking on a loose leash. If the dog starts pulling again, repeat.
This technique is used to keep the dog on his/her toes and more engaged with the handler. Vary your pace and direction so the dog has to anticipate your movement and work harder to stay with you. Plus, the walk becomes more interesting.
Creating patterns in walk
This technique is derived from Leslie McDevitt’s simple pattern game, “1,2,3 Treat!” By establishing a specific walking pattern that ends in a repetitive reward, you simplify the often difficult task of loose leash walking for the dog.
Leash Skills for Humans
It takes two to pull, and sometimes just a little finesse from the human can go a long way. Practice these techniques to take your training up a notch:
Instead of simply allowing your dog to hit the end of the leash, creating an inadvertent jerk on the leash, you can allow the leash to slide through your hands to create a nice slow stop for them: https://boogiebt.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/slowstop2.gif.
Stroking the Leash, or “Mime Pulling”
This is a TTouch technique where you again slide the leash through your fingers, but you’re putting a little more friction on the line so you create a clear signal that the dog should follow you in a certain direction: https://boogiebt.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/mimepulling.gif. Keep in mind that you are not just mindlessly stroking the lead. Only stroke the leash when you need to signal to the dog, and as soon as the dog takes a step in the direction you wanted, leash the tension in the line.
This is a nice video of Grisha Stewart putting all this together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaA8n_6fBsc. When handling a shelter dog you just met, beware of sticking your arm through the leash handle. If you needed to let go quickly, you would not be able to do so and you risk injury. Instead, stick only your thumb through the handle, and lock the leash in your hand. It’s still just secure, but a lot safer for you.