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3 Skills Your Dog Needs to Master Leash Manners

dog pulling on leash, how to teach them not to pull

A question we almost always get around week 2 of our Manners or Puppy classes is “Are we going to work on pulling on the leash in this class?” I’ll often get a skeptical or somewhat confused look when I give my usual response of, “Of course! We’ve already started!” Now I always understand that look of mild disbelief because when week two finishes, we haven’t discussed pulling on leash or done any exercises that feel like they will stop a dog’s pulling. The truth is though, as soon as you walk into my class or start working with me privately on your dog’s leash manners, we begin our leash manners journey.

I know what you are thinking, “What is this guy talking about?” Well, the truth is, learning not to pull on leash starts way before your walk. You see, leash manners are a lot more complicated than you may think. Foundations need to be built before we build houses right? Without good foundations, buildings will crumble when faced with challenging weather. It’s the same with leash manners. Without our foundations, the most minor distraction will stop your work before it starts. If you can’t get your dog’s attention when they are distracted, how do you expect them to walk without pulling when they catch a good scent? The foundations aren’t just for your dog. If you struggle holding a leash and delivering treats without getting tangled, how do you think you’ll be able to control and teach them when you are passing another dog? We aren’t joking when we say we will be challenging your coordination as much as we are challenging your dog, after all!

So you might be asking, “Well what are the foundations of leash manners?” What are the steps? Not to worry! Here are three important foundation behaviors for you and your dog to practice before heading out on your walk.

Getting your dog's attention around distractions, dog checking on on a walk

Attention around distractions.

The most important foundation for any training goal is getting your dog’s attention around distractions. It’s a simple yet effective exercise. Say your dog’s name, when they look at you, mark and reward. Practice on a leash if walking politely is a big goal for you. Slowly build the distractions around your dog, starting with controlled distractions, toys, treats, food, etc. Then increase the difficulty using environmental distractions. Smells, people, other dogs, cars, bikes, anything out in the world. If your dog doesn’t respond, make sure to avoid saying their name again, instead whistle, make a kissing sound, clap your hands, whatever it takes. If nothing works, the distraction is too great. Take a step back in your training and keep practicing, building in a way that helps your dog be successful.

Establish your take-out window.

Dog training is so much about coordination. For you, and your dog. Teaching your dog where to expect their treat to come will prevent that crisscross problem so many dogs have. They won’t stop and trip you when they are looking for treats and you can avoid getting tangled up in their leash. It will also help them learn to stick towards one side, helping to keep them safe while walking. Plus, when it becomes a habit, which it will with practice, it will be one less thing to have to think about while you are juggling all the things you need to train your dog well. Simply, choose the side you are going to use (we usually recommend the left side) and begin rewarding them on that side of you whenever you are training your dog while they are leashed. 

Getting default sits or automatic attention when on a leash walk with your dog

Default Sit

A great way to get and keep your dog’s attention out on your walks. The idea is to give your dog a behavior to offer when you stop without you even having to ask. I would recommend practicing this on leash. Start by taking 3 steps, stop, and ask your dog to sit. Once they do, mark and reward. Repeat this 3 times, then on the 4th, take your three steps, stop and do nothing. Give your dog 10 to 15 seconds to sit on their own. If they do, throw a party! If not, simply ask for the sit, reward, and repeat until they understand what we want them to do. Do this in increasingly distracting places over time and you will have an easy and natural way to help your dog settle and focus through distractions and excitement. 

Once you and your dog master these activities you’ll be ready to start to tackle the wonderful world of leash manners. This just scratches the surface though! There are so many things that you and your dog can learn to make your walks so much more enjoyable. If you want to build on these behaviors the sign your dog up for The Distracted Dog Reset. All dogs can benefit from a good reset! After this mini course you'll have even more tools to redirect your dog and get their attention around distractions.

Hopefully, we will see you there!

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