One of the first things you will want to do when you bring your dog home is take them for a walk. Many people assume that their new dog will come to them already knowing how to walk on a lead. This is not necessarily true, your new dog will need to learn how to walk on the lead without pulling, lunging out, or constantly putting the breaks on and refusing to walk.
Your dog will need to be on lead in many public places. It is unrealistic to expect any dog to walk with you off lead on a footpath, and not run on to the road. I know many people do this with their dog, but it is a risk. The thing is, nobody is perfect, and all it takes is a lapse in your dog’s concentration, just once, and the consequences could result in death. It’s best to be on the safe side, keep your dog on a lead, and use your time training a less risky skill.
Puppies are notorious for putting the breaks on when they are first put on the lead. This is normal puppy behaviour. You will find that as soon as you apply pressure with the lead they will freeze. Not only are you attaching something new to your pup, you are also walking them where there are many new experiences. Often it is too much all at once for the puppy to absorb.
Your first on lead outing with your puppy should be done a few days after bringing them home. The lead should be at least 6ft in length. If the lead is too short your puppy will have no choice but to pull. Carry your pup to the front of your house or nearest quiet street corner, put your puppy on the ground and just sit with them on the ground with the lead attached. You will find that they will probably want to sit cuddled up to you and watch the world go by before they decide to move. When your puppy decides to move, just move with them, allow them to explore safely on a loose lead.
This is great socialisation, bonding time and confidence building. And don’t worry, after a few weeks of doing this, your puppy will walk willingly with you, just be patient. In the beginning, walking your puppy on lead is not about direction or distance covered, but about experiences had.
Another problem people often have with their dog while on lead is lunging out at people, dogs, cars, scooters etc. This is often a learned behaviour that has been reinforcing for the dog, it has been working (at some level) for them to bark and lunge out at passing objects, so they keep doing it. If you can teach your dog to heel past distractions it will eliminate the problem of lunging out. A sit in front, and focus-on-you exercise, would also work in this situation.
In order for these skills to be effective, you will need to start your practice in a low distracting environment and work up to the desired distraction. Alternatively, you could begin at a safe distance from the distraction and move progressively closer. A safe distance is measured by your dog’s response, if your dog does not react in any way to the distraction at 100 meters, that’s your safe distance. A safe distance will be different for every dog.
A safe distance is otherwise known as your dog’s threshold point. The idea is to remain sub-threshold when working with distractions. By doing this you will be teaching your dog an alternative behaviour in the presence of the distraction, and over time your dog’s threshold point will decrease.
Another common on lead problem is pulling. Dogs will pull for a variety of reasons- to get closer to something, to move away from something, or because it is a learned behaviour in that they have always done it, and been reinforced for it by their owner continuing to move forward with the pulling.
If pulling is a problem for you, you have a few options available to help stop this behaviour. For even more effectiveness I would employ all of these techniques to stop pulling.
It is important that your dog is not reinforced for pulling anymore. That means, each time your dog pulls on the lead, you should stop, hold still, and only move forward once your dog loosens the lead. This way your dog only gets to move forward if the lead is loose. However, this approach takes time, consistency and patience.
You may be in a situation where stopping all the time is not going to work for you. For example, your dog pulls when the children run ahead, you have limited strength or an injury, or you walk multiple dogs. In this case, a no-pull harness is the best way to go. These harnesses are designed with the lead attachment on the front of your dog’s chest. When your dog pulls they are turned backwards, facing you. They simply cannot continue walking this way. Dogs also accept these harnesses extremely well.
If you are going to use a harness you should only do so with the intention of being able to walk your dog without it at some stage. Practice your loose lead walking on a normal collar when you have time, and your dog has had sufficient exercise. You could even use the harness to walk your dog to the park, then walk them home on their normal flat collar.
Try to set up situations where each time you walk your dog in their flat collar you know they will walk nicely with you. Over time, you will be able to eliminate the use of the harness because your dog will simply have forgotten that they ever pulled. If your dog does not have the opportunity to practice unwanted behaviour it will be eliminated from their repertoire.
I have not written about walking multiple dogs on lead in this post intentionally, as I think this issue needs a whole new post of its own. Stay tuned, next week I will address the art of the on-lead-multiple-dog- shuffle.