Walking in Rhythm……..
Loose Leash Walking and Recommended Progressive Training Gear are Here!
By Genie Tuttle, BA, CPDT-KA
Don’t mind if I DO! Leash manners and calm walking behavior are critical skills for today’s companion dogs to learn. Your dog’s ability to remain calm on leash and walk past people and other animals means that you can venture out into the world with confidence. Even the most free-ranging dog needs to be able to get from the car into the vet or groomer safely from time to time, all the while successfully navigating the busy parking lot and passersby. While some dogs are content to trot gently right alongside their owners on leash, many prefer to “lead the charge!” or lag behind like a lead weight. More often than not, pulling on leash is at the top of the list of reasons why clients come to me for help. Fear not – we have the technology!
Over the past several years the desire to teach dogs a formal “Heel” has given way to the more relaxed companion-animal version of walking without pulling on leash, called “Loose Leash Walking.” Most people simply want to be able to walk their dogs comfortably from here to there without having to get rotator cuff surgery as a result. Heel position precision is still expected in formal obedience competitions, but not so much by the general public. As a result you can choose whatever position is comfortable for you as a handler, either just a loose leash or a tighter “Heel” position.
I am also delighted to report that old school “Jerk and Choke” heel training is becoming a thing of the past among educated progressive trainers and owners alike, thank goodness. In addition to being violent and tedious, jerk and choke “training” quickly de-motivates dogs and is also completely unnecessary.
In my Basic Skills & Manners classes we cover loose leash walking by teaching dogs and owners fun games like “Red Light, Green Light” and “Penalty Yards.” Pulling on leash is self-rewarding if you think about it. Dogs pull to get where they want to go and their owners follow behind them. The dogs get rewarded by getting to the object they want, so it works! In “Red Light, Green Light,” owners learn not to proceed in the desired direction until the dog puts slack in the leash, usually by turning around and wondering why their owner is being so obstinate! The dog acts to put slack in the equation; the owner does not jerk the dog into position. “Red Light” means no forward progress/STOP when the dog pulls and creates tension on the leash, and then “Green Light” means “Go!” when there is no tension on the leash. It comes together quite quickly when clicker training techniques are used since you can mark the exact moment your dog stops pulling and reward it. “Penalty Yards” is a version of “Red Light, Green Light” in which the owner backs up (providing a penalty or greater distance away from the desired object/place) when the dog pulls on the leash. A nice loose leash gets the dog closer to their goal (forward progress), and part of the dog’s reward for not pulling is access to the object, tree, etc. These two games make training and learning to walk on a loose leash fun and enjoyable for both ends of the leash.
Let’s review the equipment that aids this process. You’ll need a 6-foot leather or nylon fixed-length leash, not a “Flexi” or retractable leash. The leash needs to correspond to the size of the dog. Do not put a big heavy leash on a tiny dog or vice versa. Your dog should always wear a collar with ID tags on it out in public, in case they get away from you unexpectedly. For most dogs a common buckle collar or Martingale collar will do just fine to teach leash manners as the equipment about to be described here does not attach to your dogs neck anyway. Martingale collars have a tightening loop on a wide loop type design and are recommended for greyhounds in particular, since their necks tend to be larger than their heads.
My favorite pieces of equipment to teach dogs not to pull on leash are the Easy Walk Harness by Premier and the Sense-ation Harness by Softouch Concepts. Both of these harnesses instantly prevent pulling on the leash in a humane way with a belly strap that goes behind the dog’s front legs. The leash snaps on at the front of the dog’s chest. The dog is prevented from pulling forward by gentle pressure behind their front legs. These training harnesses are not to be confused with traditional harnesses, which connect the leash at the dog’s back. Traditional harnesses tend to encourage pulling, while front clipping harnesses like the Easy Walk and Sense-ation discourage pulling based on the dog’s body dynamics while walking. Additionally, front clip harnesses like those described here are not what I recommend for dogs that lag behind on walks, that is a whole different article!
I like walking my dogs with control distributed about their body rather than just around their necks. It feels right to me. The differences between the Easy Walk and the Sense-ation harnesses are few. The Easy Walk has a Martingale fitting at the front of the chest where the leash attaches, and two places to clip and unclip the harness itself on the dog’s body, in addition to a different colored belly strap for ease of use. The Sense-ation harness does not have a Martingale chest loop fitting (just a ring), has only one clip for fastening the harness and a matching belly strap, which makes putting it on correctly only slightly trickier.
Head halters like the Gentle Leader by Premier or the Halti Headcollar are also effective and humane alternatives to teach your dog leash manners. Head halters are recommended for certain behavioral issues in addition to teaching leash manners, and usually require more of an acclimation period than front connection harnesses do. Dogs with short nose lengths (brachycephalic) like Pugs, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, are not great candidates for head halters.
As with any piece of equipment, you’ll need to check the fitting of your training equipment regularly to make sure the original fit adjustments are intact. Nylon can loosen over time so it’s best to check the fit before each use. No choke chain. No prong collar. No brute force. The combination of loose leash walking theory and the progressive humane gear outlined here will get you where you need to go (on leash) in a way that’s enjoyable for both you and your dog. Life is short, enjoy the walk! Thanks and a shout out to the Blackbyrds for putting that song in my head for this piece……..”Walking in Rhythm……..Singin’ my song……..”
Genie Tuttle, CPDT-KA has been training dogs of all breeds for over 25 years. She has earned the Certified Professional Dog Trainer Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) credential which was the first independently issued credential in the dog training industry today. She is a Professional Member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). Genie has been a greyhound owner for over 17 years and is currently owned by greyhounds Manx and Corsa. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.doggenie.com