Whether you adopted a dog at eight weeks or eight years old, start leash training right away! Get the dog accustomed to the feeling of the collar/harness and leash on their body by having them wear it when not on a walk. Only go on short walks first, and don’t force them to do too much before they’re comfortable. If you have an adult rescue dog who already has poor leash manners established and has to un-learn them, it may be necessary to hire a trainer to overcome some hurdles. Keep your first expectations low by reminding yourself that though we humans consider harnesses, collars, and leashes “normal” dog things, dogs don’t!
Choose Appropriate Walking Gear
Though they are popular, some items people use to walk their dogs, such as back-clip harnesses and retractable leashes, encourage poor leash manners. Back-clip harnesses literally “harness” all the dog’s strength and gives them a great deal of power when walking, and retractables teach the dog that pulling gets them where they want to go and that they don’t have to walk close to their person. The best leash option is a four- or six-foot nylon or leather leash, and options such as martingale collars, flat collars, front clip, or front-and-back clip harnesses. For dogs who already struggle with poor leash manners, you may need training tools such as prong collars or head halters—though it’s strongly recommended you consult a professional when using these as if they are misused, they may cause more problems for you and your dog.
Don’t Greet Other Dogs on Leash
This will be a tough one for lots of dog owners! Unfortunately, teaching your dog that it’s ok to say hello to other dogs on a leash will make them think it’s ok to greet EVERY other dog they see. Many dogs are not dog-friendly, and you don’t want your dog to find out who isn’t the hard way. Additionally, if your dog becomes too focused on other dogs on walks, they may start to pull toward them and get frustrated, becoming “reactive.” Reactivity is when a dog barks and sometimes lunges or growls at triggering stimuli, such as other dogs, people, cars, bikes, etc. Ensure your dog understands that interactions with other dogs happen at specific times, such as playdates and dog parks, not whenever they see one walking down the street.
Practice “Heel” AND “Loose Leash” Walking Methods
Many confuse the “heel” command and “loose-leash walking.” Using a “heel” command means you want the dog walking beside you in an aggressive style, typically looking up at you. “Loose-leash walking” means the dog is walking with you, not pulling. Most pet owners only need to teach their dogs loose-leash walking, and there are many methods such as the “Silk leash” method and Turid Rugaas method. These can be learned and practiced with books, YouTube videos, or training classes. Many training classes or private trainers (and YouTube!) can also teach a “heel” command that can be helpful when you want your dog to walk close to you, such as when you’re crossing the street or on a crowded sidewalk.
Seek Help if You’re Struggling
It can be tough to admit when we need help, but working with dogs (especially rescue dogs or those who may be inherently fearful) can be challenging even for the experienced dog owner. If your dog continues to pull, refuses to walk, or is reactive, please make sure to seek a professional. Many trainers in the area have classes and individual lessons for all walking issues.
Walking your dog is something you (and your dog walker!) will do daily for many years. If you work at it from the start, you will make it a lifelong pleasure for you and the dog.
– By Tracie Koehnlein
Peaks Pet Nanny