We are not dog training experts but we are dog lovers and enjoy taking our Dogs wherever we go. We've learned a few things from some behaviour experts about having a good on-leash dog. Here's some of the things we've learned.
Every dog is different and what works for one, may not work for another
Like people some dogs are optimists, some pessimists, some stubborn, others obliging, some born with curiosity, others with reserve. So consider this when you're interacting with your dog. A more reserved dog might enjoy quieter praise and correction 'nice job bud', while a more outgoing dog might enjoy more 'GIDDY UP WOO HOO BRAVO!'.
There are as many views on dog training as there are on raising kids and finding what works for your dog is the key. Keep an open mind and find what your dog is most comfortable with.
Let Them Be Curious
Dogs need time to think about stuff at the start so don't go interrupting them when they're figuring stuff out. Let them look, then ask them to come away with you once the investigation has gone far enough for them and you to be comfortable.
Dogs learn by contrast, trial and error. They need to experience things to learn so while we keep them safe it's also important to let them explore and be able to make good decisions without always being told what to do. That's the difference between an obedient dog and a balanced dog.
For us personally we just want a dog that's balanced and happy in the world, who makes good choices even in tough situations (the best choice is usually just to let it go).
Let Them Practise Their Skills Before You Test Them
Teach things in low-key, distraction minimal environments until your dog knows what's expected of them then up the ante on the distractions and let them practise making the right decisions based on what you've taught them.
Don't try to teach a recall when called in the middle of a paddock with lots of smells and freedom and things to chase after. Maximise the likelihood of the good choice when training before adding in all the temptations.
Socialise, Socialise, Socialise
Everything starts with a well socialised dog. Although dogs have been domesticated for hundreds of years, that doesn't mean they have been socialised to live in our modern human world. It is your job to educate them about the ways of life e.g. what is acceptable behaviour, how to communicate, what to do when there's a crowd etc.
Being socialised doesn't necessarily mean being an extrovert and 'super social'. It essentially means a dog that is comfortable in its social environment - not over-aroused including 'over friendly', withdrawn or intimidated by its surroundings but leaning towards ambivalent and at-ease.
Introduce them safely and calmly to things they will inevitably encounter when out with you e.g. other dogs, people (big, small, wearing hats, wearing glasses, holding umbrellas etc.), babies, bikes, loud noises and everything in between.
- Do this calmly and gradually and remember that the quality of interactions is more important than the quantity
- Let your dog be curious, allow for calm exploration and be your dog's place of safety - if they are getting out of their depth, quietly intervene by putting yourself between the dog and the source of danger without making a big fuss
- If your dog is showing signs of over-excitement or anxiety (licking their lips, lifting a front paw, stiff or trembling) then ask them to turn toward you, back them off slightly and let them observe for a while until they are comfortable to make another approach. That quiet turn away is one of the greatest lessons you can ever teach.
- There is a socialisation window in the first few months (up to 18 - 20 weeks) where your puppy is particularly open to experiences. Use this curiosity window wisely for quality interactions and building confidence.
- Remember it's not necessarily about being extroverted and friendly but about being relaxed and comfortable - socialised isn't the same as 'social'.
Leashes Are Not For Control, They Are For Conversation
A loose leash walk isn't anything to do with strength, control or blind obedience. It's about a dog that's balanced and happy in its place in the world and with you.
There are some great online resources for creating this balanced kind of behaviour on leash. Check out Tyler Muto from K9Connection or Mark Vette from DogZen for some great instructions. In essence:
- Dogs learn that pressure on (the collar) means all forward motion stops, and that pressure off (the collar) means all things begin to move again. As soon as that tension comes on, slow and change direction. As soon as they turn their head back toward you, even if just slightly at first, reward them by releasing some more of that pressure from your end of the leash
- Don't work in straight lines and expect your dog to always be at a tight heel. Be a bit more random, like dancing at a wedding and use changes in direction to keep your dog learning that forward is only ever in the direction you (not them) is facing
- Start in a really uninspiring environment, then increase the distractions as your dog makes better choices
- Don't talk too much until your dog knows what the behaviour you want it - so once they are coming 'with you' then you might like to add in the words 'with me'.
Don't let your Dog, whether it's a big one or a little one, get used to walking at the end of a tight leash. They only get what they want on a loose leash. There's not need for a fuss, just a backwards step. Reward for loose leash behaviour with things your dog likes - like exploring, or praise or treats. This applies to little dogs too so don't let their petite size become an excuse or permission for bad manners.
This can make for some very long and sometimes frustrating training walks, but it is worth it. Your dog is programmed to learn, you just need to figure out the best way to teach them. If you have a difficult time, consult a good dog trainer sooner rather than later, preferably before the behavior becomes established.
The Right Gear
We did not design any of our gear specifically for training purposes. There are plenty of things out there that will help to make training more fun and effective. The best investments are time and knowledge, everything else is an add on. Most importantly tools are only useful when they are applied well and start with the simplest ones before getting into more complicated arrangements.
However, the Gandhi leash can help in establishing some of these good behaviours. The short bungee section gives you a little more time and freedom to bring the pressure on and off; carry an emergency supply of treats in the stuff sack for when the ones in your pockets run out; use the longer and shorter lengths of lead to give your dog practise at being close in and further out and in the interests of everyone's shoes clean always carry a poop bag in the stuff sack to clean up after your Dog.
Once your dog is comfortable and is running off leash the Gandhi really comes into its own. That's when you start wearing it around your own body to carry stuff, while your dog floats around you. If you need to leash-up in a hurry, the carabiner snaps quickly over their collar without fussing looking for a d-ring.
You may also like to try the Stunt Puppy Stunt Runner or the Everyday Leashes available from stuntpuppy.com to help with training your dog to be peacefully by your side.
The Tip Of The Training Iceberg
Training your dog is fun and rewarding for both of you, or at least it should be. This is just the tip of the training iceberg and there's a whole field of science dedicated to this. As we said, we're not dog trainers so do your homework on trainers in your area.
We love the work and the ways of Dr Susan Friedman around behaviour and learning. She's a rare breed of genius, warmth and accessibility. You can learn about her at http://www.behaviorworks.org. The University of YouTube is also filled with easy to follow training videos that you can refer to, and seek out a good trainer in your area to get you started. Check out Tyler Muto on YouTube and Mark Vette at www.dogzen.com.