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Having a dog that can walk well on leash is one of most frequent desires for any dog owner. A dog who pulls or strains on their leash can make for a stressful walk, if not a painful one for a sensitive throat. Collars can place pressure on the airway when a dog pulls or yanks at his leash and this can make walks a very stressful ordeal.
Luckily, there are alternatives for dogs who pull, whether they be large or small. One of the most popular solutions is to fit your dog with a harness that allows you to train him to walk properly without the physical discomfort on the throat that pulling with a collar can cause. However, a harness may give the dog more leverage for pulling, so training is required to have an appropriate loose-leash walker as your walking companion.
Adjusting to the harness is generally the first step. Once your dog can wear it comfortably, you’ll then be responsible for teaching him to walk properly on a loose leash without pulling. This requires teaching him proper restraint, ignoring distractions, focusing on your pace and step, and learning an appropriate 'heel' at your side. Practicing every day is important to develop good habits.
Harness walking can be started at about 14-16 weeks of age after your dog has had the appropriate vaccinations. Walking him prior to this may result in him developing an illness from an outside virus or bacteria. Once he begins walking, keep him on a routine and walking once or twice daily. With repetition and practice, walking in a harness will become familiar and easy for your dog after a week or two. Remember to take your dog walking only when you are not stressed and are in the right mindset for training.
Before taking your dog out, be sure that you find a harness that fits him appropriately. A proper harness should be snug but not tight and allow you to place two fingers in between it and your dog. Adjust it as needed and be sure the clasps that hold it in place are solid and not broken. Find a leash that is at least five to six feet and hooks onto the harness properly. Bring along some treats in a small pack or a bag to reward for good walking habits. Have these on hand, as you’ll want to reward quickly so your dog attributes good behavior with the treat. Taking too long may render the reward ineffective.
The Heel Method
Determine how you want your dog to heel. Typically, the dog stays at the left of you, but you can go with what you feel comfortable with.
Reward for correct positioning
Use a treat to mark the proper ‘heel’ position. Repeat a few times with a treat and then without a treat. Use your hand and the treat as a lure to begin with to get him into the appropriate position.
Start your walk
Once your dog is familiar with it, place your dog into the heel position and start walking. Take a step and allow him to follow. If he follows at your side, reward appropriately.
Increase your step count
With each attempt, increase the number of steps you take before rewarding. Be gradual about it so you do not move faster than your dog can handle. If he fails to stay at your side, go back to the last number of steps he was successful at and try again.
Keep training short
These training sessions work best when they are kept between 10 and 15 minutes in length. Give your dog plenty of breaks to go and play or get water. You may want at least two to three times a day in order for your dog to pick up what you want him to do and have good manners on his harness.
The U-Turn Method
Let your dog know it’s walk time
With harness properly fitted and leash in hand, give your dog a command that tells him it’s okay to start walking. ‘Let’s go’ or ‘walk’ both work fine.
Allow your dog to take a few steps
As you start walking, your dog will usually start somewhat next to you or a little bit in front of you. Let him walk until he starts to get to the end of about two to three feet of leash and is significantly ahead of you.
Say ‘slow down’ or ‘easy’
When he begins to get ahead of you, use a verbal command to let him know he should relax. Any verbal command works as long as it’s stated in a calm manner while still being distinct enough for him to hear it.
Turn and walk in the other direction to interrupt his stride as soon as he starts to apply pressure to the leash by pulling, using a word to let him know that you will be doing so. Any other word will work fine as long as you remain consistent. Things like ‘try again’ or ‘listen’ can work in the same manner.
Reward as your dog catches up
Before your dog has a chance to pass you up again, reward him for the few steps where he’s at your side. Take the reward away when he gets too far ahead.
Repeat as necessary
Training this way will take many repetitions. Stop and turn around each time your dog gets ahead of you, rewarding for good behavior as necessary. Keep these training sessions mild in length, somewhere around ten to fifteen minutes, increasing in length until your dog can walk on a loose leash effectively for the duration of an entire walk.
The Stop and Go Method
Start the walk
Be sure to give your dog a cue that indicates it’s okay to walk. Any sort of verbal cue will work. Take a few steps forward along with her.
Reward for good walking behavior
While your dog is at your side, reward her with plenty of treats. Remove the treats when she passes you and starts to walk ahead.
Once your dog starts pulling on the harness, stop walking entirely and interrupt her.
Call your dog to you
With a treat in hand, have your dog return to your side and reward once she does. You can either use your usual recall command like ‘come’, or you can use a new one to specifically use during your walks like ‘back up’ or just ‘back’.
Resume the walk
Start walking again, rewarding for her being at your side. The result is her realizing that the walk stops when she pulls on the harness and does not resume until she is at your side once again.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 01/08/2018, edited: 01/08/2021