While I am an advocate for off lead walking there are times when you will need, or want to put your dog on a lead. Walking with your dog on lead should be an enjoyable time spent with your dog. Allow your dog to stop and smell things, walking for your dog is as much about physical exercise, as it is about mental stimulation. Your dog will be more tired and relaxed at home if you can allow them to use their brains, and an easy way of doing this is to let them sniff.
In the past, dogs were mainly kept as ‘working dogs’, often these dogs spent their days hunting with their owners. The idea was that you kept your gun in your right hand and your dog on your left. Typically, these dogs performed a job and spent considerable time with their owners, getting lots of exercises while working. Working dogs would often walk by their owner’s side, but then be released to run or scent for their quarry.
Nowadays we mostly keep dogs as pets, it seems crazy to me to expect a pet dog to walk on your left side during the entire walk. Your dog has probably been waiting for you to come home all day, and when they finally get out for a walk they have to ignore all the lovely smells and sights and walk by their owner’s side like a robot the whole way. You don’t need to walk your pet dog on your left side for the whole walk. It’s boring, boring for you, and boring for them.
Allow your dog the space to be able to switch sides, walk behind, or in front of you. If you keep the lead too tight your dog is going to pull the whole way, they have no choice. Hold the lead in one hand only and relax and enjoy your walk. Yes, there should be rules and boundaries, you need to work these out for your particular situation. What works for me, may not be ideal for you- you are the one who lives with your dog and knows them best.
When I walk a dog on lead I expect that they will not pull excessively (this is subjective, and needs to be determined by you). I also expect that when I ask my dog to ‘heel’ he will walk at heel. These rules mean that my dog gets the freedom he needs, but when I want him close, he will be, until I release him.
All too often, we try and control our dogs to the point of our voices becoming white noise in the background, and they ignore everything we say. When people want their dogs to walk on their left usually they constantly ask their dogs to ‘heel’, or use the lead to stop their dogs moving away, sometimes even a combination of both! This does not teach your dog anything about loose lead walking and it’s no fun for your dog or for you.
If your dog pulls on the lead it’s probably because they are really excited to get out! Spend time training loose lead walking by stopping each time your dog pulls on the lead. Don’t pull back, but stand your ground, and when they release the tension on the lead (by sitting or coming back to you) you can move forward. This way they will be reinforced for walking on a loose lead. Yes, it takes time and patience and if it is important to you, you will practice it.
To make loose lead walking easier to train, practice it at the off lead park, after your dog has had a run off lead, and with minimal distractions. It will work if you are consistent, after all, you have trained your dog to pull by continuing to walk with them while they are pulling, reinforcing the pulling. You might also like to ‘work’ your dog in the yard with some tricks or obedience before you take them out. Make sure they are relaxed before you step out the door for your walk.
When I see a dog walking on a loose lead with their owner it looks relaxing and enjoyable. I do not see a control or dominance issue. You don’t need your dog at your side all the time, but when you ask for it, they should comply, and you can set them up to comply willingly.