Leash Training

Training your BC to the leash will probably be one of the hardest things you will do. However, in the end, it is very rewarding and can serve to strengthen the trust and bond between you and your dog. A leash, or lead, is simply the rope that tethers you to your companion. Though a strong, good quality and adjustable leash is key, a feature of greater significance is the collar, or harness. There is a variety of collars to choose from, and it is up to you to do some research to determine which one is best fit for your dog. Head collars and front attachment harnesses are a couple of choices. Make sure it is a good fit and that your dog is comfortable wearing it.

For the sake of your dog’s self-esteem, please select one that is stylish and in current fashion. Remember, you don’t want the other dogs to stare or tease. 

Keep in mind some general guidelines suggested when choosing a collar. If you are small and your dog is large, or if your dog tends to be aggressive or powerful, you will need to exert the greatest control, so the sensible choice should be a head collar. Front attachment collars are an excellent choice for any dog or activity. Head and frontal attached collars should be used with leashes with a length of six feet (1.82 meters), or less. The reason for maintaining a shorter leash is that a longer lead length could allow your dog, if he bolts, to gain enough speed to injure himself when the lead runs out and becomes suddenly taut.

The main goal here is to get your dog to walk beside you without pulling against the leash. An effective method during training is simply to stop moving forward when your dog pulls on the lead, turn and walk the opposite direction. Then, when he obediently walks beside you, reward with treats, praise and affection to reinforce the wanted behavior. The following steps will help you train your dog to have excellent leash manners. Remember, loose leash walking is the goal!

Before moving forward to the next instructional step, please make sure that your dog consistently performs the target action of the training step that you are teaching. His consistent compliance is necessary for the success of this training, so do not be inclined to hurry or rush this training.

Walking With You Is A Treat (The beginning)

Start by donning your dog with a standard harness fastened with a non-retractable leash that is about ten to twenty feet (3-6 meters) in length. Before starting the training session, remember to load up your pouch or pockets with top-notch treats and head out to the back yard or another familiar, quiet, low distraction outdoor spot. It is best if there are no other animals or people present during this initial phase.

First, decide whether you want your dog to walk along on your left or right side. It is at this side that you will treat your dog, and when you do, treat at your thigh level. Eventually, your dog will automatically come to that side because that is where the goodies can be found. Later, you can train your dog to walk on either side of you, but for now, stick with one side. In the future, training for both sides allows you the flexibility to maneuver your dog anywhere, whether out of harm’s way, or for a more practical application, like easily walking on either side of the street.

– Place a harness or collar on your dog and attach the leash. Begin the training by randomly walking about the yard. When your dog decides to walk along with you, click and treat on the chosen side, at the level of your thigh. To “walk along with you” specifically refers to an action where your dog willingly joins you when you move along, in full compliance, and in a manner without applying any resistance to the lead. If he continues to walk on the correct side, and calmly with you, give him a click and treat with every step, or two, that you take together, thus reinforcing the desired behavior. Keep practicing this until your dog remains by your side, more often than not.

At this time, do not worry about over-treating your trainee; you will eventually reduce the frequency of delivery, eventually phasing out treats completely upon his successful mastering of this skill. If you are concerned with your companion’s waistline, or girlish figure, you can deduct the training treats from the next meal.

– Repeat ambling around the yard with your pal in-tow, but this time walk at a faster pace than your prior session together. As before, when your dog decides to walk with you, give him a click and treat at thigh level of the chosen side. Keep practicing this until your dog consistently remains by your side, at this new pace. This leash training should occur over multiple sessions and days.

There is no need to rush any aspects of training. Remember to be patient with all training exercises, and proceed at a pace dictated by your dog’s energy level, and his willingness to participate.

Eyes on the THIGHS (Second act)

Keeping your dog focused on the training at hand. Teaching him that you are in control of the leash is crucial.

This time, start walking around the yard and wait for a moment when your dog lags behind, or gets distracted by something else. At this time say, “let’s go” to him, followed by a non-violent slap to your thigh to get his attention. Make sure you use a cheerful voice when issuing this command, and refrain from any harsh tactics that will intimidate your pooch, which can certainly undermine any training. When he pays attention to you, simply walk away. By doing this, it isolates the cue connected to this specific behavior, thus moving closer to your dog’s grasp of the command.

– If your dog catches up with you before there is tension on the leash, click and treat him from the level of your thigh on the chosen side. Click and treat him again after he takes a couple of steps with you, and then continue to reinforce this with a C/T for the next few steps while he continues walking beside you. Remember, the outcome of this training is loose leash walking.

If your dog catches up after the leash has become taut, do not treat him. Begin again by saying, “let’s go,” then treat him after he takes a couple of steps with you. Only reinforce with C/T when he is compliant.

– If he does not come when you say, “let’s go,” continue moving until there is tension on the lead. At this point, stop walking and apply firm, but gentle pressure to the leash. When he begins to come toward you, praise him as he proceeds. When he gets to you, do not treat him, instead say, “let’s go,” and begin walking again. Click and treat your dog if he stays with you, and continue to C/T your dog for every step or two that he stays with you.

Keep practicing this step until he remains at your side while you both walk around the yard. If he moves away from you, redirect him with pressure to the lead and command cue of “let’s go,” followed up with a C/T when he returns to the appropriate position of walking obediently in tandem with you.

Do not proceed forward to subsequent steps of the training until your dog is consistently walking beside you with a loose leash, and is appropriately responding to the “let’s go” command. It can sometimes take many days and sessions for your dog to develop this skill, so it is important for you to remain patient and diligent during this time. The outcome of this training is well worth your time and effort.

Oh! The things to smell and pee on (Third act)

Just like you, your dog is going to want to sniff things and go potty. During these times, you should be in control. While your dog is on the leash, and when he is in anticipation of his regular treating, or at about each five minute interval, say something like, “go sniff,” “go play,” “free time,” or some other verbal cue that you feel comfortable saying, followed by some self-directed free time on the leash.

Keep in mind that this is a form of reward, but if he pulls on the leash, you will need to redirect with a “let’s go” cue, followed by your walking in the opposite direction, quickly ending his free time. If your dog remains compliant, and does not pull on the leash before the allotted free time has elapsed, you are still the one that needs to direct the conclusion of free leash time, by saying, “let’s go,” coupled with you walking in the opposite direction.

Where’s is my human? (Fourth act)

Using steps one through three, continue practicing leash walking in the yard. During the course of the training session, gradually shorten the lead until 6-foot (1.8meter) length remains. Now, change the direction and speed of your movements, being sure to click and treat your dog every time he is able to stay coordinated with the changes you have implemented.

As loose leashed walking becomes routine and second nature for your companion, you can start phasing out the click and treats. Reserve the C/T for situations involving new or difficult training points, such as keeping up with direction changes, or ignoring potential distractions.

Out in the Streets (Fifth act)

Now, it is time to take your dog out of the yard and onto the sidewalk for his daily walk. You will use the same techniques you used in your yard, only now you have to deal with more distractions.

Distractions can come in all forms, including other dogs, friendly strangers, traffic, alarming noises, sausage vendors, feral chickens, taunting cats and a host of other potential interruptions and disturbances. It is during these times that you might want to consider alternate gear, such as a front attachment harness, or a halter collar, which fits over the head offering ultimate control over your companion. Arm yourself with your dog’s favorite treats, apply the utmost patience, and go about your walk together in a deliberate and calm manner. Remember to utilize the “let’s go,” command cue when he pulls against his leash, or forgets that you exist. In this new setting, be sure to treat him when he walks beside you and then supersize the portions if your dog is obedient and does not pull on the lead during a stressful moment, or in an excitable situation. Lastly, do not forget to reward with periodic breaks for sniffing and exploring.

Stop and Go exercise (Sixth act)

Attach a 6-foot lead to the collar. With a firm hold on the leash, toss a treat or toy at about twenty feet (6 meters) ahead of you and your dog, then start walking toward it. If your dog pulls the leash and tries to get at the treat, use the “let’s go” command and walk in the opposite direction of the treat. If he stays beside you without struggle while you walk toward the treat, allow him have it as a reward.

Practice this several times until your dog no longer pulls toward the treat and stays at your side, waiting for you to make the first move. The other underlying goal is that your dog should always look to you for direction and follow your lead before taking an action such as running after the toy while he is still leashed.

Switching Sides (Seventh Act)

After your dog is completely trained to the specific side chosen, and with a few months of successful loose leash walking practice under your belt, then you can begin the training again, targeting the opposing side that the two of you have previously trained towards. There is no need rush, so proceed with the training of the opposite side when you know the time is right, and you are both comfortable with changing it up a bit. As previously mentioned, a dog that is able to walk loose leashed, on either side of you is the desired, target outcome of this training. This skill is essential for navigating your dog, with ease and safety, in the outside world.

TROUBLE SHOOTING

– If your dog happens to cross in front of you during your time together, he may be distracted, so it is important to make your presence known to him with a gentle leash tug, or an appropriate command.

– If your dog is lagging behind you, he might be frightened or not feeling well, instead of pulling your dog along, give him a lot of support and encouragement. If the lagging is due to normal behavioral distractions, such as scent sniffing or frequent territorial marking, keep walking along. In this case, it is appropriate to pull gently on the leash to encourage his attention to the task at hand.

– The reinforcement of wanted behaviors necessitates you delivering numerous rewards when your dog walks beside you, or properly executes what it is you are training at that time. During your time together, pay close attention to your dog’s moods, patterns and behaviors. You want to pay close attention to these things so that you can anticipate his responses, modify your training sessions, or simply adapt whatever it is you are doing to assure that his needs are being met, and you are both on the same page. Being conscious of your dog’s needs will assist in maintaining a healthy, respectful bond between the two of you. Make an effort to use playful tones in your voice, with a frequent “good dog,” followed by some vigorous petting, or some spirited play. Try to be aware of when your dog is beginning to tire, and attempt always to end a training session on a high note, with plenty of treats, play, and praise.

Heel

You will find this command indispensable when you are out and about, or perhaps when you encounter a potentially dangerous situation. There will be times where you will need to issue a firm command in order to maintain control of your dog in order to keep the both of you out of harms-way. Heel is that command.

During your time together exploring the outside world, things such as another aggressive dog, the busy traffic, a construction site, a teasing cat, or that irresistible squirrel may warrant keeping your dog close to you. If trained to the heel command, your dog will be an indispensable asset in helping to avert possible hazardous circumstances. The heel command is a clear instruction, trained to assure that your dog remains close beside you, until you say otherwise.

– Begin this training inside of your back yard, or in another low distraction area. First, place a treat in your fist on the side you’ve decided to train. Let him sniff your fist, then say “heel,” followed by a few steps forward, leading him along with the fisted treat at thigh level. Click and treat him as he follows your fist with his nose. The fist is to keep your dog close to you. Practice for a few sessions.

– Next, begin the training as before, but now with an empty fist. With your fist held out in front of you, give the “heel” command, and then encourage your dog follow by your side. When he follows your fist for a couple of steps, click and treat him. For each subsequent session, repeat this practice a half dozen times, or more.

– Continue to practice heel while you are moving around, but now begin to increase the length of time before you treat your dog. Introduce a new direction in your walking pattern, or perhaps use a serpentine-like maneuver, snaking your way around the yard. You will want to continuously, but progressively challenge him in order to advance his skills, and to bolster his adaptability in various situations.

During all future outings together, this closed-empty-fist will now serve as your non-verbal, physical hand cue instructing your dog to remain in the heel position. From here on out, remember to display your closed-empty-fist at your side when you issue your heel command.

– Now, move the training sessions outside of the security of your yard. The next level of teaching should augment his learning by exposing him to various locations with increasingly more distractions. The implementation of this new variation in training is done to challenge, as well as to enhance your walking companion’s adaptability to a variety of situations and stimulus.

Continue to repeat the heel command each time you take your dog out on the leash. Keeping his skills fresh with routine practice will ease your mind when out exploring new terrain together. Knowing that your dog will be obedient, and will comply with all of your commands, instructions and cues will be satisfying; in addition, it will keep you both safe and sane.

Out in the crazy, nutty world of ours there are plenty of instances when you will use this command to avoid unnecessary confrontations or circumstances with potentially dangerous outcomes. If by chance you choose to use a different verbal cue other than the commonly used heel command, pick a word that is unique, and easy to say, and does not have a common use in everyday language. This way you avoid the possibility for confusion and misunderstanding.

~ Paws On – Paws Off ~