3 Basic Leash Skills You Should Teach Your Dog
All dogs – no matter their breed, size, age or lifestyle – benefit greatly from being taken out to walks on a regular basis. Not only does this activity help them get their exercise, but it also helps them get their energy and stress levels down so they’re calmer and more relaxed when it’s finally time for bed.
But there’s a problem. What if your dogs are not exactly into walking? Do you find yourself constantly playing tug-of-war with them, or trying to desperately avoid a re-enactment of the Battle of Hoth? What if you can’t even get them on their dog leash, period?
This is where leash skills come into play. Leash skills refer to basic skills done by a dog on a leash. These skills are taught to foster discipline in your pet and to make the very activity of walking safer for both dog and owner. And to help you get started, we’ve assembled a list of the three most important leash skills any dog should know – as well as tried-and-true tips on how to teach them.
Before anything else, however, make sure you have the following: a secure but comfortable dog collar and leash, treats, and a clicker. If you’ve got all those, then you’re ready!
Leash Skill Number 1: Calm Leashing
You’ve got your clicker in your pocket and a bag of treats ready. But even before you and your dog can step out the door, one thing stands in your way: your dog refuses to stand still and let you clip on the leash. This can be avoided by training your dog to calm down a bit when they see you holding the leash.
- Walk to the door with the leash in your hand.
- Stand completely still and silent until your dog calms down.
- Once your dog is looking right at you and has all four paws on the ground, make a SLOW approach to attach the leash.
- If your dog starts to get excited again, quickly move back to a standing and silent position, with the leash held behind you.
- Repeat steps 2 to 4 until your dog can stand in front of you, still and quiet, while you clip the leash on.
Leash Skill Number 2: Calling Off the Tug of War
Now you’ve got the leash clipped on, and both of you are ready for a walk. But another obstacle is in your way: your dog is pulling on the leash, leading this way or that, and tripping you in the process. What to do?
- When your dog pulls on the leash or starts going crazy, stop in your tracks. It’s important to avoid reflexively tugging back on the leash to snap your dog back to attention; the sudden movement may hurt or injure your pet. Allow them to pull your arm along, but nothing more than that.
- Once your dog has calmed down enough to allow the leash to go slack and/or stopped moving to look at you, mark that behavior with your clicker or a “yes!” and then reward them with a treat.
- Continue walking immediately. Repeat steps 1 and 2 as necessary. Don’t forget the treats!
This skill is a great starting point for loose leash walking as well. The more your dog learns how to adapt to your pace during walks, the less they’ll feel the need to pull you along. If you find that your dog has too much energy to begin with, then we recommend playing games with them before the walk itself, just to burn all that excess energy off.
Leash Skill Number 3: Walking Side By Side
This is the most important leash skill for your dog to learn: how to walk by your side as much as possible. This not only reinforces discipline but also prevents them from circling around you and possibly tripping you up.
- Shorten your dog’s leash so that it has just enough slack to prevent them from moving all over the place. This makes it apparent for your dog that you want them to be in this position whenever you’re walking them. If you find yourself dragging your dog along, then the leash is too short.
- Whenever your dog strays (or tries to), lure them back to your side with treats. Mark and reward this behavior appropriately.
- When your dog begins to get used to the idea of staying by your side, mark and reward them for doing so. Do this every few steps at first, then slowly start to increase the distance between each treat until you can walk the entire distance without even rewarding your dog once.
That’s it, the 3 most important basic leash skills any dog should be taught. Make sure to be patient and persistent when teaching your dog. For sure, all your efforts will pay off once you get your dog to walk calmly beside you. Good luck and happy walking!