Being able to walk your dog without stress and a loose leash is important for both you and your dog’s sanity. Walking your dog and allowing them to experience different smells around the neighborhood will stimulate their brain, flooding their body with “happy chemicals”.
A dogs’ sense of smell is at least 10,000 times better than a humans. Once an odor enters into a dogs nose it separates into different pathways, stimulating different areas of the brain. In addition to the main olfactory epithelium, the dog also has another olfactory epithelium found in a special organ above the roof of the mouth called the vomeronasal organ. The part of a dogs brain that is dedicated to analyzing many of the different smells encountered on a walk, is at least 40 times greater than ours. This is part of the reason why allowing a dog to go on long walks and explore different smells is important.
Loose leash walking creates a great bonding experience between you and your dog.
Four examples of tools are treats, correction collars, head halters, and no pull harnesses. These methods must work hand in hand with positive reinforcement, treats, and patience.
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Ideally we would all like to be able to use no special collars and have our dog walk with a loose leash next to us. I have 4 dogs, two of them walk perfectly with no special tools, one is almost there, and the other is in the learning stage. The main way I accomplished this was through high value treats.
For me, the mere act of carrying treats causes my two eldest dogs to never leave my side. I usually only have to give out 1-2 per walk. They are both always so curious, wondering, when I will hand out the treat, that they never stray from my side. To get to this place with your own dog, will take a lot of time, dedication, patience, and not forgetting your treats at home.
There are many methods and tools to help you and your dog walk with a loose leash. I don’t care if my dogs walk next to my side, I like to let them roam and sniff. What I don’t want is extreme pulling.
No matter what kind of tool you use to help your dog with loose leash walking, positive reinforcement with treats, will work hand in hand. The correction collars and head halters, in most cases, should only be temporary.
The entire goal is to get your dog to focus on you instead of everything else in the environment.
Before starting the loose leash training, your dog should already be conditioned to look back at you when you say a word. I use the word “here” and some people like to use the word “look”. (Send me an email to get step-by-step instructions on this.)
Allowing your dog to get some energy out before your practice session will lead to less frustration and a higher success rate.
Never leave home without having high value dog treats. These are special treats that are only pulled out for loose leash walking. I have found that the dehydrated liver treats, salmon treats, or boiled chicken work best.
Get your treats, leash, and dog, start out slow, anytime your dog comes over to your side hand her a treat. If she pulls ahead say your word, the one that you have already taught her, and if she responds by coming back over to your side then hand her a treat. If she doesn’t respond to your word, you can either stop and wait for her to come back over to your side or start slowly walking the opposite way, once she gets back near your leg, give her another treat.
This method is VERY time consuming, your walks will not be long distance, but will give you long lasting results that will improve the relationship between you and your dog for years to come.
Practice this daily in short intervals. You will start to see improvements after 3, 10-minute per day sessions 7 days in a row.
Patience is key here.
This method will work alongside all the other loose leash-training tools.
- Head Halters
There are 2 main head halters that I have used, one being the Gentle Leader and the other being NewTrix head halter. They are both designed to direct the dog’s body by controlling its head and nose. Both of these tools have pros and cons and both take some time for a dog to get used to.
The Gentle Leader is designed to redirect the dog’s focus, by turning the dog’s head. By using it in conjunction with treats, you are more likely to not have the dog go back to pulling after you remove the Gentle Leader.
The Gentle Leader pros: great for mild pullers, and can give you more control while you attempt to train loose leash walking using treats.
The Gentle Leader cons: puts pressure on a dogs nose to stop them from pulling forward, so many dogs pull despite this pressure and end up with a line across their nose from the Gentle Leader rubbing in it. This tool does not teach the dog not to pull. Dogs tend to not like the Gentle Leader and take some time to adjust to it.
NewTrix is designed to give you control when walking your dog by exerting pressure behind the dogs head. Unlike the Gentle Leader, which hooks under the chin, the NewTrix hooks behind the head. This collar has given me complete control, with very little effort of a 90lb dog.
NewTrix pros: uses a scientific method referencing Newton’s Law “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. If the dog pulls, and we pull back, the dog will to want to pull ahead more. Try tugging on your dogs leash (without any training collars on); your dog will pull back away from the direction that you tugged the leash. This is in sync with Newton’s Law. NewTrix is more like a head halter that a horse wears, and causes the dog to lean back into it, hence not pulling.
NewTrix cons: I used this on a fearful dog that I am fostering and she was able to slip out of it by backing up. She had no problems wearing it and the loose leash walking was going great until she heard a noise that terrified her, as she got scared, cowered, and tried to run home, the head halter came off. Luckily they have a safety buckle that clasps onto the regular flat collar. Most dogs need time to adjust to it; they will try to remove it by pawing at it or bucking up into the air.
The two main collars that I have used are the martingale and prong. Both have their limitations and each can be an effective tool if used properly.
The prong collar is not a long-term solution, it is a short-term training aide, and the dog should graduate to a martingale or other collar of your choice within a few months.
The prong collar must be snug and sit right below the dog’s ears. Most dogs do well with a small or medium, 2.25 mm link, Herm Sprenger collar. Just like the Gentle Leader, this collar can harm the dog if used incorrectly. The prong collar works by giving a universal pressure around the entire dogs neck. The prongs have rounded edges and are at an angle, these are not designed to choke the dog.
Prong collar pros: With minimal effort, you can have your dog walking next to you in 1 day. They are easy to use but MUST be fitted correctly; most people I see with them are using a collar that is much too big and loose for their dog. The amount of pressure and correction that you need to use is much lower that a Gentle Leader.
Prong collar cons: If fit improperly they can hurt the dog’s neck. Some people use the collar to yank on the dog and hurt the dog.
This is my collar of choice for all of my dogs. It is primarily a collar for dogs that already walk well on the leash.
These collars are especially good for dogs whose heads are smaller then their necks or for dogs that tend to back out of their collars. They cannot slip out of it and it sits loosely on their neck. It will ever so slightly tighten when or if they start to pull. If dogs are trained using a prong they can graduate in a few months to a martingale.
Pros of the martingale: The collar does not tighten indefinitely like a slip/choke collar. This collar works well for dogs that may slip out of other flat collars. Since the collar slightly tightens it can be used to give a signal to the dog to stop pulling but this is if the dog already knows what the signal means.
Cons of the martingale: The collar should not be worn all day, and it is not designed to stop pulling. It can cause a neck injury for extreme pullers.
Back clip harnesses are for sled dogs and pulling, so front clip harnesses were designed as a training tool. Like with any of the other tools above, the handler needs patience, positive reinforcement, and treats. People like to use the harness because they don’t choke the dog, the front clip harnesses work by redirecting your dog back towards you through pressure applied at the front of the chest. The handler has to do an extreme amount of work, through treats and positive reinforcement.
Front clip harness pros: comfortable to wear for some dogs, good for dogs who have sustained a neck injury.
Front clip harness cons: dogs can slip out of it, and it is not good for extreme pullers. Some dogs get a rash under their front legs, where the harness rubs.
In conclusion, if you have a dog that pulls on the leash, I would start out walking your dog with a pocketful of treats, just to see the response level, so you know what you are up against. If your dog is not interested in the treats you have, then you must find better treats. If after a week you don’t see improvement, then introduce one of the tools listed above. They are all a matter of personal preference, so pick one that suits your dogs needs. Whichever no pull training tool that you choose, should be used alongside the treats.
Good luck, and happy walking!