Walk without pulling means just what it says. While your dog is on a leash, he can go ahead of you, behind you, or to your side — but he should immediately return to you the instant he feels the slightest tension on the leash. To teach your dog to walk without pulling, you can try this combination of three methods. They all work fine by themselves, but your progress can be greatly enhanced if you use all of them. They are all powerful communications that say to your dog: “Stay by my side (or close to it) without pulling, and you’ll be forever free to walk with me wherever I go.”
1. The start/stop method
Whenever your dog pulls, creating a taut leash, stop in your tracks. He will sniff for a while and eventually wonder what’s going on. When he turns his head to look at you, you’ll feel the leash slacken and the muscle tension decrease. Start walking forward again.
This gives him the freedom to explore again. Now your dog is learning that a taut leash (muscle tension) means stop and a loose leash (relaxed tension) means go.
Note that there’s a critical juncture you must be aware of to make this method work. Within the first ten-minute session, your dog will figure it out and you have to be aware of his recognition. Here’s what will happen. Let’s say you’ve done a dozen or so stop-and-gos. There will now come a point where your dog will back up or relax his shoulders as soon as he feels the leash go taut. This will happen so fast you won’t have a chance to come to a complete stop. This is the critical point at which you effusively praise and treat your dog. Why? Because he has just figured out that he can keep you moving if he backs up a little, so his action stops the pressure. That’s the whole point of the method. He thinks it’s his idea.
If you don’t acknowledge the split second this happens, he’ll say, “Well, now I’m confused,” and go back to pulling. This is a tactile, not a visual signal. Try closing your eyes and walk a few steps so you can feel the loosening tension rather than look for it.
2. The “wait for me” method
Using the first method, you continue to walk while the leash is loose. But you may find that your dog stays in place and waits for you to catch up. If that happens, you can give him an additional reward for being close to you.
To explain, let’s say you are practicing the start/stop method. The leash goes taut, and you immediately stop. When the leash tension slackens, because your dog turns her head to look at you, you praise her and immediately start walking again. (Tight means stop; loose means go.)
But let’s say that instead of pulling again when you begin walking, your dog waits for you to catch up. Now she’s by your side. When that happens, you immediately praise and treat her for being in that position. She will quickly learn that she can not only keep you walking as long as she keeps the leash loose; she will also figure out that if she’s by your side, she’ll get an additional bonus of food treats. It’s very similar to the spontaneous heeling method.
To summarize, you’ll be practicing the start/stop method — but adding rewards if your dog waits for you to catch up.
3. The reversal method
You’ll again practice the start/stop method but will add another twist. Say your dog stops to sniff something and you walk ahead. As he catches up to you, and before he can pass you, quickly lure him with a treat and turn around and walk the other way. Once again he’ll be by your side, so immediately release the treat. As you walk, if he stays in heel position, continue to praise and treat him.
This method works because dogs really don’t like to retrace familiar ground as much as they like to explore new territory. Your dog learns he can keep you going forward if he doesn’t walk ahead of you. He also learns that he intermittently gets treats if he stays by your side.
Paul Owens began training dogs in 1972. He is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and a leading proponent of positive, nonviolent animal training. He is author of The Dog Whisperer and The Puppy Whisperer and is featured on the Dog Whisperer DVDs, Volumes One and Two. Paul is also director of the Raise and Praise Teacher Training Program, and the founder/director of the children's after school violence prevention program, Paws for Peace.