One of the most insidious problems, and one of the hardest behaviors to resolve, is pulling on leash. There are some very effective tools out there to alleviate the problem, walking equipment such as the Easy Walk® harness and the Gentle Leader® headcollar. Still, these are only management tools and will not teach your dog to loose-leash walk.
Regard loose-leash walking to be like holding hands with a loved one; neither partner is tugging or pulling on the other. Further, consider that a dog walking on a loose leash must be constantly attentive to the whereabouts of his human, often checking in with the flick of his ears or a glance. A dog at the end of a taut leash needn’t expend any peripheral attention on his human partner, as he can feel his human quite palpably at the end of the leash.
Clearly, there is more relationship, attention and respect between the partners accompanying each other with a loose leash. Training this behavior is definitely worth the effort!
While heel is an exercise of strict attention and position, “with me!” simply means that your dog should remain close at your side, with a casual attitude. Start by giving your dog the command “with me!” and slapping your left leg with your hand (assuming you’re keeping him on your left side). Keep up a dialogue with your pooch, telling him how good he is when in the right position and giving him treats. If he should lag, slap your leg and offer encouragement in a high, happy voice. Give him a treat when he reaches your side. If he gets out in front of you, say “this way!,” turn around and walk in the opposite direction, leaving him behind you so you can again slap your thigh and encourage him to catch up to your side.
With practice, “with me” makes walking by your side a sweet spot for your dog.
Now just a few details:
- While you should warehouse your treats in your right hand, use your left hand for treat delivery; using your right hand will lure him to cross in front of you.
- Use your hand for thigh slapping and encouragement, not for luring your dog into position. Otherwise he will need to see the treat in order to keep his position.
- Always treat on the move. Stopping to deliver the treat is not reinforcing moving in position but, rather, stopping.
- Remember not to use your leash to guide position. Instead, use your voice, use your hand slaps, and increase delivery of treats if your pooch is consistently leaving position. To insure that you’re not using the leash as a crutch, start practicing inside or in a fenced-in yard, where the leash is unnecessary, and see how successfully you can keep him at your side. When first practicing out on the sidewalk, have a partner hold the leash and follow behind you as you work on motivating your dog to walk by your side.
- Keep your practice sessions of this exercise short and positive. Too long and your pup will get distracted and drift around more, and he’ll require more frequent reinforcement to stay focused.
Laura Garber, CPDT-KA
Behavior Manager, Pennsylvania SPCA
Laura believes strongly in strengthening the bond between human and companion animal. For this reason, she regards training as an exercise in building relationship rather than obedience. Such an approach promises greater understanding and symbiosis within our family packs.