Nowadays, going “off-leash” in addition to being an increasing trend, it is a hotly debated topic in the dog-parent community.
Anti-leash supporters praise the benefits of letting your pouch roam free, while leash supporters accent the disadvantages of this “reckless” behavior.
Being a responsible dog parent means understanding all the pros and cons of using leashes before deciding to leash train your dog.
Pros of using a dog leash:
- Higher discipline level – dogs associate the leash with going out and proper behavior. Putting it on is an excellent way of reminding your dog that you are in charge.
- No unsupervised roams – driven by their instincts, dogs can easily wander off and get into trouble with other dogs, cats or even people. Not to mention the risk of car accidents and accidental poisoning with plants and garbage.
- Polite behavior – when on a leash, the dog’s interactions with other dogs and people are controlled. No matter how friendly your dog is, some people can be afraid and uncomfortable if approached by an unleashed dog.
- No need of additional specialized training – dogs that walk free need extensive training so they would learn to instantly obey their owners when commanded “come” or “heel”.
Pros of not-using a dog leash:
- More relaxed walks – having the ability to choose where to go, unleashed dogs are more comfortable during walks. Ditching the leash changes the power dynamic from master and dog to companion and companion.
- Extensive physical and mental stimulation – dogs allowed to roam free and investigate, experience a higher level of physical and mental stimulation and we all know that a tired dog is a good-behaved dog.
With that being said, in my opinion, the final verdict would be to use the dog leash because of safety issues.
Dogs should be off-leash only in fenced areas and parks where all unpredictable and potentially dangerous situations can be decreased to a minimum.
Once you have decided to use the leash for your dog, it is time to learn how to leash train your dog. Learning how to walk on a leash (and meanwhile correctly behave) is the most critical skill every dog parent needs to teach his dog.
It is essential to keep in mind that the key to successful leash training is patience, consistency, and tenacity.
What is more, teaching old dogs new tricks can be quite challenging. Therefore it is recommended to start leash training your dog while still a young puppy.
To make things easier and simpler, we have described the steps required for proper leash training.
Step 1. Purchasing the proper leash walking equipment
Do you want your walks to be calm and relaxed or tug-of-war contests? Well, it all depends on the type of leash walking equipment you use.
With so many kinds of walking equipment, making a perfect choice can be hard and sometimes requires experimenting.
Nevertheless, a flat and light collar and a light leash are great for small puppies that are just beginning to learn how to wear something around their necks.
It should be noted that no leash walking equipment is a substitute for adhering to proper training against pulling on the leash. However, using adequate equipment gives you a training aid that improves your technique.
Step 2. Acclimating your dog to collar and leash
Be patient and realistic
Perhaps the most crucial part of introducing and accommodating your puppy to a leash and collar for the first time is being patient. No puppy learned how to walk and behave on a leash in one day.
It is a popular misconception that dogs innately know how to walk on a leash politely. Proper training requires consistent practice and time. How much time depends on both you and your dog.
Some dogs are eager to please and can learn in a matter of days, while for others, more stubborn, dogs it may take several weeks.
Implement a rewarding system
The most practical way of rewarding your dog is by using small and easily chewable treats. Also, they are tasty and quick enough not to distract the dog from the training.
If the training session has finished, a longer and more time-consuming reward may be implemented. Those rewards include tug-of-war or a game of fetch. A more complicated, but efficient reward system is the clicker training.
Give your dog time to get used to the collar
When obliged to wear a collar for the first time, many dogs can get uncomfortable and nervous. Their entire attention focuses on the collar and how to remove it. If your dog does not like its collar, there are several things you can do. Those strategies include:
- Distracting the dog – try putting the collar on while the dog is busy with some other activity, like playing, eating or watching something interesting (perhaps the neighbor’s cat)
- Rewarding the dog – as soon as you put the collar on your dog, give it some food treat or a new tow
- Loosening the collar – the collar should be tight enough, so it does not slip, but loose enough, so it does not cause discomfort. If in spite of the previously mentioned strategies, the dog seems uncomfortable with the collar, do not hesitate to loosen the collar. Once your dog gets comfortable with the collar, you can tighten it to the appropriate measure.
Introduce the leash
The leash drives some dogs crazy and makes them see it as another toy, while other dogs shut down and hesitate to move. When you first attach your dog’s collar to a leash, it is advisable to drop your end of it on the ground and pretend that everything is normal.
You can even play with your dog or give it some food or let it play with another dog, while the leash is dragging around. However, you need to be careful and make sure that it does not get tangled.
If your dog freezes when you put it on, take few steps back and call your dog to come or lure it with some tasty treats. When the dog gets used to it, you can start picking it up, but only for short periods of time.
Then, slowly but progressively, increase the “collar and leash” periods, while constantly rewarding your dog’s good behavior with treats and praises. The goal is to help your dog associate the “collar and leash” time with fun and food.
Step 3. Leash training
Create a calm environment
In the initial phases of the leash training, it is recommended to use a quiet environment with little or no distractions. Some dogs, especially young puppies have short attention spans, so all training sessions should be short and entertaining.
Additionally, dogs get easily distracted and carried away, so a distraction-free environment is a must. For dogs that are not used to the leash, even seeing it may be a challenge and distraction.
Upon seeing it, these dogs may become overly excited and start barking, spinning or whining. If your dog shows such behaviors, do not encourage them. Instead, stay perfectly calm and hold the leash in your hands until the dog calms down.
Dogs are capable of picking up your energy and therefore are more likely to stay calm if you give them a good example.
Leash train in a familiar environment
A familiar environment is ideal for beginners. Therefore, it is best advised to start the training inside your house. Put the leash on and whenever your dog chooses to walk beside you reward it.
If it continues walking beside you, reward it with every step. Soon, the dog will start walking beside you without the need of giving so many treats. The goal of this phase is for the dog to realize that it is worth its while to watch where you go and to go along too.
On the other hand, if the dog seems completely uninterested, stop the training session and continue when the dog is hungrier and more tired.
If your dog is hungry, the treats will be more appealing, and it will be more eager to win them. Additionally, if your dog is tired he will be less likely distracted.
Change the training environment
Once the dog is comfortable with the leash and comes to you when called, it is time to test its skills and continue the training in the outside environment. Keep in mind that in this phase there will be many challenges.
The outdoors offers many sounds, smells, sights, and encounters and each one of them may impose a distraction or trigger for inappropriate behavior. Be patient. Everything that goes on outside, for your puppy, is new and intriguing.
Therefore, at first, the walks need to be extremely short. With time, you can slowly increase the duration of the walks. It is important to always carry small and easily chewable treats with you.
If your dog seems nervous, bend down in front of it and pet it or calm it down with a gentle and loving talk. If you notice your dog focusing on something in the environment, take a few steps back and call its name. When your dog follows you, reward it with a treat.
Address bad behavior issues
The best way of preventing bad habits is addressing them early on. No matter what your dog does, it is important never to get angry, yell or use physical force.
There are plenty of constructive and positive ways of reinforcing good behavior. Every bad behavior can be addressed appropriately. For example:
- The dog pulls the leash – every time your dog pulls it, you need to stop walking and stay still for a moment. Do not pull it back. Just letting the dog know that pulling does not get it anywhere is enough. Call the dog back to you, let it calm down and reward its good behavior. If you are consistent and patient and do this every time your dog pulls, it will soon learn not to.
- Instead of walking the dog sits or lays – if the puppy hesitates to move, take a few steps back, call its name and give some treats. Then you can start walking and walk until the dog resists again. Repeat the process every time your dog shows resistance. If calm and consistent, you will address this issue in no time.
Consistency is a crucial part of any training process, not just the leash training. Dogs are naturally inclined to respect and respond to the pack leader – you. Also, dogs are eager to please and can learn quite fast if adequately approached.
All you need to do is communicate your expectations adequately. If you consistently and permanently reward positive behavior and stop bad behavior, the dog will quickly learn what is good and what is bad.
The dog will learn to differentiate acceptable behavior from non-acceptable behavior. If you are not consistent and let your dog pull frequently and stop it once in a while, the dog will be confused and uncertain about what you want.
Until your dog learns to walk without pulling, all walks should be considered as training sessions.
Step 4. Continue the training in adulthood
Take frequent walks
The more walks you take, the less likely it will be for your dog to forget its training. That is why it is recommended to take your dog for walks multiple times a day. Each step reinforces an excellent walking behavior.
Always be in front
Being in front establishes that you are in charge. If being in front is difficult because your dog keeps pulling, shorten the leash and keep shortening it for every pulling. However, do not get nervous. Be calm and attentive.
Pay attention to other dog walkers
If your dog is well-behaved and knows how to walk on a leash politely, it does not mean that all dogs are. Always be prepared to deal with undesired behaviors from other dogs. If your dog ignores what the other dog does, reward him with a treat and continue walking.