Walking Your Dog on a Loose Leash
Boy try typing that into a search and you will get a truck load of articles on the subject and most of them are places you have never heard of. This tells you not only is this a very common problem with dog owners, it is also a big money maker for those willing to sell you the magic wand to fix your problem.
For folks that are getting into dog agility this problem is one that needs to be address fairly quickly and at the same time is an issue that will correct itself in the process of teaching your dog agility. In fact, it is something you will be working on from day one as your dog must learn to give you leadership or your agility career is doomed.
We are not saying you will get your dog to submit to your authority, but rather they will willing look to you for the partner that gives direction. However, in order for that to happen you must be willing to be a fair, consistent, understanding, thinking and forgiving leader. Your dog will not change until you change yourself and become the leader they need and want to follow.
One of the best ways to start your dog in agility is without a single piece of equipment. Teaching your dog simple exercises such as targeting and body awareness will teach your dog to stay focused on you. If your dog is focused on you, he will not be pulling on the leash. Using treats or toys you start with rewarding your dog for looking at you. Some use the dog’s name or get creative with cues like “look” or “focus.” Every time your dog responds by looking at your face you reward. Some dogs do not like eye contact so don’t ask it from them, just that they look up at your face.
When your dog becomes proficient under no distraction, start adding minor distractions such as moving to a room with more activity or setting a favorite toy down near them. Gradually add distractions at a rate that your dog is distracted but not overwhelmed. You want them to always succeed. Then you can add movement, first you moving around them then having your dog move with you. This quickly becomes shadow handling.
Only take a step or two rewarding the dog when he follows and stays focused on you. Then slowly add distance. Then slowly add speed. Then mix it up changing speed, when you stop and how fast you start. Be sure to work on both sides and you can even throw in some recalls by calling them and running backward while being fun. Finally add distractions such as an area with more movement or putting toys or treats that the dog has to pass being sure you reward them when they choose to stay focused on you.
When you can do this in a safe environment you can move out into open areas or going on a walk. Starting again from the beginning and asking them just to focus on you in a static position. Then start adding distractions as before like setting toys near them, then add movement, then add distance. Always asking for their attention when you see them think about mentally drifting away and treating when they focus on you. Don’t be discouraged if your first walk is just up and down the drive. All dogs learn at a different rate and they all have different attention spans. It will get better with practice as long as you stay one step ahead of them and always make yourself more interesting than the distraction.
Running backwards calling and getting excited may sound like one too many things to do, but you must make yourself more fun than whatever gets your dog’s attention and then reward with play or treats. If you do your homework in the controlled environment your dog will have a solid foundation of understanding and will find it much easier to comply when distracted. Then it is up to you to remain consistent with your dog both in expecting their attention and rewarding them.
All the work will be well worth it when you can walk your dog in confidence that they are connected to you and understand what you want them to do.