Let's face it, when your dog is thrusting himself forward and yanking at the end of the leash during your neighborhood walks, it sucks. And depending on your mood, it can be downright frustrating and truly test your patience. Your shoulder and back may also be crying out in pain, adding to all of the joy.
If this is you, may be you, or has been you, here is a quick mini guide on how to best survive these moments without losing all your marbles.
Before we dive into that, I want to start by saying, working on leash skills is an investment and a commitment, especially if your dog is an avid puller. This goes for any goal you set in life, and dog training is no different. This type of training is one to think of in terms of weeks and months, not minutes and days. I also want to add that if you are truly having trouble and feel you need extra help, hiring the appropriate professional dog trainer to help you build a specific training plan for your needs is worth every penny.
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS & PATIENCE
We have all heard this one before, but I believe this is often greatly overlooked. Yes we know we need to be patient and yes we know our expectations should be "realistic" but are we truly sitting down to analyze our own behavior and setting small, attainable goals for everyone involved? If the answer is no, this is where we need to start before we worry about any hands on training with the dog.
Examples of NOT having realistic expectations and patience:
- Taking your dog who has been sitting home bored for hours for a walk and expecting her to walk like a champion and be super calm.
- Going out on a walk with your dog unprepared and empty-handed. "I forgot my treat pouch" will most likely result in a shitty walk for you. Being prepared before we even head out the door is on you, not on your dog. Bring a favorite toy, a high value bag of treats, or whatever your dog finds valuable.
- Using your dog's one walk that day (or week...) as their only training opportunity for leash skills. I'm a fan of incorporating training into your everyday routine, but if you have a higher-energy dog and this is their one chance outside to stretch their legs, the likelihood of them walking next to you for three miles when you aren't really rewarding them, is extremely low.
- Starting training exercises in contexts that are too difficult for the dog (and you too). If your dog is an avid puller on leash or if you haven't done any of this training before, ensure to break down your goals into really small steps. Seriously, when you think you have broken it down to the smallest piece...go smaller. I encourage you to practice inside. Can you get your dog's attention with the leash on inside the house? If the answer is no, then don't bother putting shoes on to even go outside. Can your dog take a few steps calmly when you have them on leash out in your yard or on your property? Can they walk nicely up and down your driveway? Consider dog training like teaching a young child math. It's best to start in a quiet area and start with the basics (1+1=2) before we get into trying to teach them calculus while at the county fair.
- Doing some training once or twice while on a walk and deeming it "doesn't work". Remember, your dog will be as consistent as you are! Plus, learning takes time, especially when inter-species communication is involved.
Some Things to Keep in Mind and Work On:
- Work on leash skills while inside the house. Master inside with no distractions, then inside with some distractions, then outside with minimal distractions, then outside with lots of distractions, and so on.
- Find 2-3 small, high value treats your dog loves to use for this training. Put them in a treat pouch and wear it during your training sessions inside and on any outside adventures you go on. This will help make the food rewards more accessible.
- Consider what equipment you are using. I recommend a properly fitted Y-shaped harness and a little bit of a longer leash (anything over 6 feet). Relying on choke chains, prong collars, or shock devices to get your dog to walk better is not necessary and it comes with an array of potential negative side effects - psychical, emotional, and psychological. It also relies on punishment, pain, and discomfort to "teach" your dog as opposed to sticking to positive methods which will have a true long-lasting impact on behavior change, along with strengthening your relationship, and without the worry of negative side effects.
- Don't be afraid of rewards! If your dog takes a step or two without pulling, reward them! If they stop when you stop and you like that, reward them! If they look up at you while walking, reward them! If they are standing still and not pulling on the leash, reward them! When in doubt, give it out.
- Start these training sessions with little expectations from your dog and instead focus on small, achievable goals to help encourage both of you.
- Keep training sessions on the shorter side. Strive for short bursts of success. If you find your dog does well the first half of the session and then starts to deteriorate, this may be a sign that your training session(s) are going a bit too long. Short, sweet, and hopefully successful is the way to go.
- Practice in your living room, the hallway, your back yard, your front yard, your driveway, your street, drive to a field and try it there. Master no distractions, then minor distractions, then moderate distractions, then major distractions!
- Let your dog sniff. I know it can get annoying. I know sometimes you're trying to move along. I know your dog can take foreverrrrr to smell the bush. But this walk is for them, so let them have some autonomy over it. Sniffing is not only natural for dogs, but it also helps them decompress and is a form of enrichment for them.
- Find other outlets for your dog's energy and exercise. Try a flirt pole, hide and seek, game toy games, tug of war, puzzle toys, food toys, enrichment activities, long lasting chews, etc.
There are many, many exercises you can do to train on loose leash walking, but HERE is one of my favorites you can try out at home.
Things To Do When You Are Frustrated:
- Take a deep breath. I know it sounds cliche, but seriously give it a try. Whenever you catch yourself getting frustrated, stop, take a nice deep breath in once or twice and then continue on. This has helped me not only with my dogs, but in life.
- Verbally express how annoyed you are, but in a happy, "dog-friendly" tone. This allows you to release some of your tension without your dog knowing what's going on. Also, calling your dog a demon spawn in a happy tone can be funny.
- Stop your training session, walk, playtime, yard time, etc. and take a break. Return to it again when you're in the mental space to take it on again. Have this kindness with your dog as well. If they seem overly frustrated, allow for them to take a break and reset.
- Call a loved one to vent. (Life tip: Ask them if they have the time and energy to hold space for your venting session first. They may have their own frustration going on that day.)
- Schedule in self-care! Go on a walk without your dog, take a long shower, watch an episode of your comfort show (mine's Gilmore Girls!), read a chapter of a book, sit on the couch and scroll TikTok, whatever strikes your fancy.
Don't forget to be kind to yourself, and your dog. You're both doing the best you can with the situation at hand. Sometimes this shit takes time. I promise you that if you consistently put in some effort and keep at it, you will likely see improvement! Remember, deep breaths. You got this and I got you!
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Take care and talk soon,