Why is loose leash walking so ridiculously annoying?
I don’t know about you but I hate being dragged along by a dog. Hate it.
And loose leash walking should be really simple, right? Just walk on a loose leash! Easy!
But nope, it’s a tricky behaviour. Unlike “sit” and “come”, it seems there are endless pitfalls to loose leash walking, and even otherwise well trained dogs frequently pull like freight trains.
Training a dog to walk on a loose leash is, like most things with dogs, a matter of rewarding what we do want and making what we don’t want ineffective. Except with loose leash walking we’re contending with two mitigating issues: accidentally rewarding the thing we don’t want, and competing with the excitement of the environment.
If our dog is too excited or too worried to engage with you, play with you or take food then your dog can’t learn how to walk on a loose leash at that moment, in that environment. I know it sucks, but that's just unfortunately just the way brains work.
Also unfortunate is the fact that equipment can’t train our dog for us. Any variety of training collar, harness, halter, whatever doo-hicky is currently on the market, they will not train your dog.
Some tools, like hands free leashes and well designed harnesses, can help facilitate more consistent feedback for the dog and make training easier, but they do not actually change behaviour by themselves.
Training your dog to walk on a loose leash is a practice. And it doesn’t have to be horribly boring or combative. It works best when we take a holistic approach, teaching calm behaviour around distractions, stimulus control around doors and gates, and making sure the dog is getting enough balanced exercise. A dog who can’t control her emotions around exciting things like dogs or bikes cannot walk on a loose leash, just like a dog who desperately needs to run and stretch his legs.
I don’t say this to discourage you.
Once we understand loose leash walking as the complex behaviour it is, we can prevent all that annoyingly messy training. Frustration (both from the person and from the dog) is the enemy of good training. Understanding and clarity are the enemy of frustration.
So if you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall, take a breath.
Ask yourself what is working, and what is not.
Take heart in the fact that this behaviour is HARD. Everyone has to work at it.
As always, proactively reward what you like.
Prevent what you don’t like from being rewarded.
And don’t try to push through frustration!
If you’re struggling with loose leash walking, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Help is here if you need it.