By Wil Bruner
Illustrations Sean Hoy
Someone once said, “A well behaved dog is welcomed anywhere.”
It’s our responsibility to help our dogs learn how to live safely in a human world. This includes socializing them as well as teaching them what behavior is expected when out in society. As most cities have leash laws, the goal should be that your dog walks nicely on its leash. As a dog trainer, one of the most common complaints I hear from dog owners is that their dog pulls. The truth is that no dog comes into this world knowing how leashes work.
Leash etiquette means being aware of your dog and considerate of other dogs and people. It’s wonderful that many businesses are becoming more pet friendly, but it’s important to make sure our dogs are good guests. With consistency and some simple training, you can make your dog into a model citizen.
Here are a few tips to start leash training with your dog. I recommend using a leash that is six feet or shorter – you should be communicating to your dog regularly through verbal and nonverbal commands, and that gets harder if he is too far away.
A walk starts before you leave the house.
An overly excited dog is more likely to pull, especially at the beginning. Teach your dog that being calm will get the same result. We’ll let you in on a secret – you don’t have to ask if your dog wants to go on a walk, the answer is always “YES!” If your dog goes nuts when you grab the leash, wait until he calms down, then praise and put the leash on. When you walk to the door, wait for him to calm down again before opening the door. Reward with a treat. Then calmly start your walk. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
Teach your dog the “Follow Me” game.
Practice this in your yard or driveway. Grab some treats and a 6-foot leash. Hold your leash in one hand and begin to walk around. If your dog goes in one direction, call his name and go in a different direction. When the dog changes it’s direction to follow you, praise and reward with a treat. Repeat until your dog is following any way you go. This teaches your dog to watch you and where you’re going.
Adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy for pulling.
Every time your dog pulls, stop walking. Wait for your dog to look at you or sit down, then reward with a treat and start walking. If he pulls, stop again. This can be time consuming and tedious, but it’s re-teaching your dog what the leash is about. Don’t let your dog pull you toward things. This includes smells, other dogs or people. Dogs who learn to drag you to anything will often drag you to everything.
Most importantly, don’t let your dog rush up to people and other dogs. This is rude behavior in the dog world and can often cause a negative response. You wouldn’t like a stranger in your face and neither do most dogs. Always allow plenty of room between you and the other dog as a gesture of respect.
If your dog has spent months or years learning to pull, it won’t change overnight. By applying these simple techniques, your dog can learn to experience the world with you at his side!
About the Author:
Will Bruner is an animal trainer and behavior specialist with 20 years of experience working with animals of all types birds, marine mammals, big cats, bears, hoofstock and reptiles. At the same time, he began specializing in canine behavior problems and what he calls “dog training for the real world.” He also does behavior consultations for cats, birds and exotic pets. He is a professional member of the Animal Behavior Management Alliance and has received awards for his work in bettering the lives of animals. He can be reached at (720) 984- 4172.
A version of this article originally appeared in our July/August 2018 issue.