Nothing can ruin a pleasant day like going for a walk with your dog dragging you behind him as he pulls you and tugs your arm out of socket. If this sounds all too familiar, it might just be time to try a few positive reward system training techniques to help both your dog and you have a nice time on walks.
1. Before training, get some energy out
Play fetch in the yard or have open free-play before you attempt to wrangle in all of your dog’s energy and teach him proper etiquette. This will help him to focus better and make the training more success-oriented, which is good for both of you.
2. Start with leash training in your own home or yard
Before you venture out into the great unknown of your neighborhood, start with baby steps. You will find that when you start in familiar territory, your dog is less distracted than if you were to start training right outside the neighbor’s house with the barking dog in the window and the kids playing in the yard.
3. Grab a handful of small treats or kibble for rewards
Small, healthy snacks, or kibble, are a great way to get and keep your dog’s attention. Start by making sure that your dog is aware of the snacks and have him start in a seated position next to your side. Then reward. See, it’s already fun! When you observe your dog paying attention to you, reward! Reward at random intervals and try to keep your dog’s attention at all times.
4. When you walk, make sure your dog walks alongside of you
And, when you stop, your dog stops too. The real reward of walking nicely on the leash is actually forward motion. If your dog starts to pull, stop walking, get your dog’s attention and start over. If your dog is walking nicely at your side, give frequent rewards while in motion, so it registers in his brain that he’s exhibiting good behavior. Your dog should be walking at your side, not 4 feet in front of you with you holding your arm outstretched to keep from falling over.
5. Stay the course
The stop, start, stop, start method of rewarding can be a frustrating process for humans. You may only get 3 feet successfully on your first training session, but it’s important to stay patient and keep practicing. Start with 10-20 minutes of leash training at a time to keep your nerves from unraveling. I promise, the feelings of frustration walking with a dog that pulls is much greater than the frustration that you might feel during the training process.
Learning good leash behavior is a skill that is mutually beneficial for you and your dog. It will allow you to bond and get exercise together, and will protect your rotator cuff in the process. If your dog just doesn’t seem to be picking up what you’re laying down, consider enrolling in a basic obedience class. There’s help around the corner!