How to walk calmly and happily on a leash is one of the most important things we can teach our dog.
If you've ever walked an overly excited or stressed dog on a leash, you know just it can be frustrating, stressful and sometimes scary.
It's never too late to teach a dog how to walk well on a leash.
Whether they are a puppy or an adult, leash and harness training is achievable and essential at any stage of a dog's life.
Understanding poor leash behaviour
For most dogs, walking on a leash doesn't come naturally and they need time to adjust.
With vastly superior senses to humans, dogs can see, smell and hear things far more intensely than us and dogs often wish to explore the world at a much faster pace than we do. However, with time, patience and gentle encouragement, most dogs adjust to walking on a leash.
Some will even appreciate the slower pace, stopping to sniff more frequently and absorb the sights and sounds around them.
Make sure the fit is right
A well fitted harness or collar is essential so your dog can walk comfortably on a leash.
The general rule of thumb for collars is that you need to be able to slide two fingers easily under the collar.
Puppies grow very quickly, so make sure to check the fit of their harness/collar a couple times a week.
Make sure to invest in a good quality leash that is right for the size of your dog. Smaller dogs require thinner leashes with a small clip, while large dogs should have a thicker leash with a large clip.
Leashes should also be long enough to allow your dog some range and ability to explore and sniff the world around them, but not so long that the dog can get themselves into trouble.
Loose leash walking
Loose leash walking should be the ultimate goal of your training sessions.
Loose leash walking refers to when a dog is walking with a slack leash, without any tension or strain.
This is gold standard leash walking.
The best way to encourage your dog to walk with a loose leash is by using a reward-based training method.
Essentially, if a dog is walking on the leash without pulling, reward them with a treat. However, if they start pulling or tugging, come to a complete stop and stand very still.
This teaches them that pulling on their leash actually slows them down, rather than speeding them forward.
Harness the power
If your dog continues to pull even with a good quality and well fitted normal harness/collar and leash and consistent reward-based training, you may need to consider using a front-attach harness when walking.
It's a gentle training aid that discourages your dog from pulling.
We encourage you to speak with a dog trainer on how to adjust your dog to the use of a front-attach harness, but it's a great option to allow your dog to continue to explore enthusiastically, but you can remain in control. Walking your dog should be the highlight of the day for both you and your pooch.
With consistent training, aids and equipment, using a leash on your dog walks should be a comfortable, relaxed and highly enjoyable experience.
You can exercise this new skill throughout the RSPCA Million Paws Walk: Walk this May, where the RSPCA is asking dog owners to walk their dog for 30 minutes every day in the month of May. You can still sign up and start raising money to fight animal cruelty at www.millionpawswalk.com.au.