Leash Manners: The Final Step

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Pulling on the Leash is not Accpetable

Leash manners are imperative to good dog training.

Nothing disturbs me more (well almost nothing) than seeing a dog pulling his owner down the street!  Even if it is a small dog, the damage done to the sensitive organ the trachea or windpipe can be irreversible!

Once as a vet tech, I sat with a dying dog that had a collapsed trachea, and it was one of those moments I will never forget.   His owners were having trouble determining if they wanted to invest thousands of dollars in emergency surgery that might not even work on an older dog, and I was left to comfort the dog who couldn’t get enough oxygen into his lungs.  As I sat with an oxygen mask to his nose, it hit home that a lifetime of leash pulling can have devastating consequences.  It is one of my most painful memories.

Do not allow yourself to get into this habit!  Even if you don’t see the horrors of leash pulling now, you might later have to deal with them later.

And, let me say that pulling on a “harness” is also not the answer!

The point is to teach your dog to have manners and to watch you and to follow you, WITHOUT pulling.

In my previous articles; The Premise of the Magical Dog Leash,     The Magical Dog Leash Part 2: Finding Heel,   and Teaching Your Dog Drive, Focus and Heel for More Leash Skills,  we talked about how to teach our dogs about the leash, heel position and how to use their prey drive to teach them drive and focus (or eye contact).  And, now it is time to teach your dog specifically about “Leash Manners” when you are out and about walking together.

This is the final step, at least to this series of articles, but the good news (if you are coming in late) is that you can teach these skills in any order.  However, because we can become so lazy with our dogs on a leash, I usually prefer that people get the first steps conquered at home in their houses without a leash!

Now it is time to teach your dog that these new expectations are involved also when he is outside and on his leash!

First we must teach him about his leash, specifically.

These are Not Good for Training!

Do NOT use a flexi-leash or extendable leash.  Flexi Leashes are great for when you are on vacation and need your dog to have enough space to go potty.  But these leashes are HORRIBLE for training purposes.

Your dog needs to KNOW how long his leash is all of the time.  If it is sometimes 2 feet and other times 15 feet you are setting your dog up for failure and for the ability to pull you off of your feet!

Imagine from your dog’s perspective one minute he can run out to 10 feet and the next he is locked in at 2 feet.  Don’t you figure he would assume he still had 10 feet of freedom and he would hit the end of that leash like a bullet?

Dogs are not only capable but NEED to know how long their training leash is!  This means you need to use the same leash all of the time, at least in the beginning until he knows and has good leash manners!

I start off with a 6 foot leash.  6 feet gives me enough space to train and give him some leeway but not enough for him to get a “running” start at the squirrel!

You can even do this step initially in your house.  You are simply going to clip the leash on and teach him how long it is.

Synthetic Leather is Nicer on Your Hands

What You Will Need:

  • Your Dog
  • Yummy Treats and/or His Favorite Toy
  • A six foot leash
  • A Clicker

Getting Started:

If I know that my dog is going to be over excited or won’t listen to me outside, I will start this inside.  However if I have a chance at keeping some of his attention I will go outside to a concrete area like the drive way or an abandoned parking lot.

Concrete doesn’t smell like raccoons, opossums, other little critters and dogs, so it is easier to keep your dog’s focus on a hard surface instead of grass at first.

Now make sure that your dog has his whole leash available; don’t gather it up to be shorter.

Keep your left hand OFF the leash!!

Put the loop of the handle of the leash over your thumb and grasp it in your right hand.  Do NOT wrap the leash around and up your wrist.  The human wrist is not a strong body part and if yanked it can be broken.  However your hand and gripping with it is strong and if you feel like you need to you can release your grasp and let the leash go instead of getting pulled into traffic or suffer from a broken wrist or arm!

Keep your left hand OFF of the leash unless you are getting ready to stop then you can slide it down the leash to stop his forward motion; otherwise you have a tendency to keep the leash tight and it could strangle your dog and he will pull no matter what!  Right hand leash walking only!

If he chooses to stay in or around “heel” position you will click and reward him with his treats or with his toy.  This teaches him that this is the IDEAL position.  Even though it is not a requirement, right now, this is where we want our dogs until we ask them to be there on command.

If he is not paying attention to you, turn around and go the other direction.

I play a game of keep away with my dogs.  As soon as your “general” focus is not on me and it is on something else, I turn around and head the other way.  I don’t allow them to pull me, I give them a quick pull when they hit the end of the leash.

The intention is not to pop the leash or deliver a “leash correction” the idea is to remove yourself from your dog when his focus is not on you.

He quickly learns, even though he has 6 feet of leash to wander on that he should pay some bit of attention to you and where you are at all times.

Dogs can multitask to some small degree and he is capable of knowing where you are even when he is just ambling along and sniffing on his leash.

My rules are that my dogs are NEVER allowed to pull me.  When they are on a leash, they can be dogs and sniff the ground sometimes (when I release them) but they can’t PULL me over to something.  They must always respect me and my body while we walk.

A Good Heel is a Beautiful Thing!

Putting it all together:

Your dog has now learned how to “Find Heel Position”

How to stare up at you and give you “Eye Contact and Focus”

And now you are teaching him “Leash Manners” and not to pull you.

Now when you go out and you are enjoying a walk with your best friend and you see a distraction (another dog, a skate boarder, bicycle, car, or person coming) you can command your dog to “Heel” position and “Watch Me” to get that coveted eye contact.

As the person passes your dog should be in heel position and staring up at you paying no attention to anything else in his world.  Remember to click and treat and praise him for a job well done!  And, after the distraction has passed you can release your dog back to having the “run” or length of his leash.  Just remember that he is never allowed to pull you!!

If he is not paying attention go the other direction or call him into heel position and have him give you some focus!

Practice, practice, practice!  The time to teach your dog these skills is when there are no distractions around!  If you practice and have fun together your dog will have no problem ignoring the other things in his environment and giving you his full focus!

There are 43 Comments

  1. Pearlie says:

    How do I integrate this into a situation with hunting dogs? I have 2 bird dogs, and want them out “hunting” when sent out, but when we’re back in the city, I want them to walk at heel and not be distracted by everything they see… I have tried the treats, and it seems they are selective in regards to different stimuli. in low to moderate stimuli, getting their attention and walking past the “stimulating object” is not a problem. when the stakes are raised though, and there is a “super stimulating object” in view, they don’t care about treats or toys… on the other hand, we also have a pittbull who is so extremely focused and expects toys or sticks to be thrown, we practically trip over her and have to keep casting her out…. Obviously, a happy medium would be the answer… not taking away their drive to “find the bird”, but also getting them to think I’m more interesting….I cannot afford to carry live birds in my pocket to throw & have them fly away…. I need a plan here plz help! thx

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    It is expected in many sports to have dogs that work away from their handler and then dogs that also listen when on a leash. And, thankfully dogs are wonderful about learning and understanding the differences as long as they are taught well.

    There is nothing wrong with carrying toys and treats for use in more stimulating environments and using them to your advantage!

    The key is training for those situations and controlling them to the best of your ability. This is a matter of training. No dog can go from training inside your home to the crowds of a down town and not be over stimulated the key is to work up to more stimulating environments through training.

    Inside your home.
    Outside front and back yard
    Abandoned park with no one else
    Park with one or two families
    Crowded park and so on….

    Also I would recommend reading using these articles I have posted at the end and read all of the leash training articles…links are in the article to the others, especially with your high drive pit bull! Teach her that if she listens you will throw her toy 😉 That is what she wants, she just has to learn some impulse control and the conditions first!

    http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/building-dogs-drive/
    http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/training-dog-drive/

    [Reply]

  2. joyce says:

    I have a dog that wants to sneak up behind peopleand try to nip at their heels, it people that he really doesn’t have anything to do with on a daily basis. He is not around theses people maybe once a month. It has been hard to train him because he does not like any treats that I have bought, Would like some suggestions as what or how to train him. Thanks

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  3. Renee says:

    Hi,
    I have a sweet little Bichon Mix and have worked with her since I bought your program, however, I just cannaot seem to get her to ignor other dogs when walking. She barks and pulls. I have tried what your training says to do, but she still does it. She does not do any of that at the dogs park. any suggestions?

    [Reply]

  4. SHEILA MORISETTE says:

    i use an expandable leash but keep my shih tsu pretty close in the locked position, but he can tell by the click of the leash lock when he is free to wander farther…and takes off from there, but never to the very end…i am very proud of him…he never learned the work heel but rosponds to “stay by me” and circumstances of our walks he is always on my right…is that okay???

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    It is all about what you want in a dog… if the right side is what you want than that is fine. Most obedience classes just have them on the left so that it is consistent.

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  5. Harold says:

    We have a three year old mixed rescue that’s been with us for about 1 1/2 years now. She does really well on the leash most of the time and knows how to heel, but she still has some problems. One thing we haven’t been able to stop so far is her reaction to joggers, bicylces and skateboards. Every time a jogger, bike or skateboarder comes toward us out on a walk, she lunges after them and pulls to the end of her leash. Once they are past, she goes back to normal. I’m not sure if she’s afraid of them or what the issue may be. Do you have any ideas of how we can train her to not be aggressive toward these fast moving objects?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    You have to stop and get her attention, read the other articles in this series on getting her focus and eye contact.

    [Reply]

  6. Michele says:

    I am a dog walker & I walk a 9 year old Golden Retriever, 5 days a week. She walks quite well on her leash until we try to return home. Then she becomes quite stubborn biting at the leash, pulling in the opposite direction, snarling & very resistant to walking home! She is a sweet, well behaved dog otherwise but our walk home is very frustrating for both of us. Any advice is welcome, thanks!

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    This is made more difficult by the fact that you are not her owner so making sure that training is followed up on may be difficult if not impossible.

    I would take a toy and try to redirect her.

    Also don’t move while her mouth is on the leash.

    And I would spray it with bitter apple just prior to starting home so it tastes bad and makes her less likely to grab it and tug.

    [Reply]

  7. Jackie says:

    I have a 6 month old puppy who doesn’t really pull on the leash, but makes sure to walk just a little ahead of me. If I stop walking she will just continue on as soon as I let her walk again, she is very unfocused on me and only on her surroundings. I have not tried practicing getting her focus on me at home yet but I have tried walking in the opposite direction if she puts pressure on the leash by going too far ahead, however, she will bound and run around me or steel herself against my small tugs and after a few more stronger ones goes the direction I have gone in but all agitated and excited. It seems to frustrate her even more. If I stop and make her sit there till she calms down she whines and gets out of her sit position or starts sniffing around after a few minutes. Any suggestions of things I can do on walks, before I manage to train her to focus on me?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Focus is your best bet, you are teaching her impulse control. Focus and eye contact is one of the very first things I teach my dogs.

    When they are forging on the leash but in heel position I often turn to the left toward them so I almost bump into them (no kicking or kneeing like other trainers might suggest) just take that space and it is usually weird enough that it teaches them to respect your space and not get so far in front.

    You can also shorten the leash by putting it behind your back and holding it with your right hand, then your dog won’t see it in your left hand and you can make it shorter to about the spot you want her in.

    [Reply]

    Jackie Reply:

    Thank you so much!

    [Reply]

  8. I have a 17 month old labradoodle. I can control him on a lead. My problem is when he plays with other dogs he barks! He is not fighting with them he just runs along side of them and barks. We can empty out the dog park soon after we arrive. ): Can you help me?

    [Reply]

  9. Merilyn says:

    HI Minette,

    one of the problems I have with my Japanese Spitz is once we start going for a walk or out anywhere he is too excited to even want to take a treat and not really interested in them though he loves them any other time.

    How do I get around this when trying to train him things like stay, heel and not to pull on his leash?

    Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Number one you can exercise him with a few good games and training prior to “walking” him. I find a tired dog is more fun to “walk” with!

    And I schedule feeding AFTER walks so you are hungry while we are walking. If you aren’t interested in food I might skip a meal so you learn to take food while we walk.

    [Reply]

  10. Forrest says:

    I have a large 3 year old german shepherd who I adopted from the SPCA a few months ago. I can tell she is quite accustomed to pulling on a leash (she is 80 pounds so you can imagine how strong she is and her previous owners did not train her to not pull). The only other dog I have had was already well trained, so I’m not exactly sure what to do.
    I have tried switching direction and letting her hit the end of the leash or gently bumping into her (changing direction toward her) to get her to pay attention, and it has worked pretty efficiently, but if she’s ever too distracted by something she pretty much ignores me and keeps pulling like a sled dog. I know I have to teach her not to, but what do I do if/when she starts pulling?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Read all of the articles in this series and it will tell you step by step

    [Reply]

  11. I have a 6 month old Terrier mix from the shelter. Training is going O.K. except I cannot control her (on a leash) when she sees people, goes crazy to get to them, lays down at their feet if I can’t stop her, etc. Is this just a part of puppyhood as leash training is going as expected until a person appears and there is nothing I can do to attract her attention, or stop, sit at command.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Puppies will do whatever they can get away with… it is exciting to meet people, but I won’t allow my puppy to be pet if he is out of control.

    He must sit or lay down.

    AND, I keep great treats and feed him for good behavior, this usually makes me most exciting and other people much less exciting and he likes petting… but he would rather me give him a treat so he becomes a bit indifferent to people touching him 😉

    [Reply]

  12. jody says:

    We have a 2 year old rescue, collie,shepherd, golden mix. Walks well on leash except when trucks,tractors or large vehicles pass. People, other dogs, bicycles, cars and even motorcycles are not a problem. He acts ferocious and tries to run at the tires, I am afraid of being pulled into the passing truck and being harmed as well as the dog. after the truck passes we are good. Someone suggested a shock collar but I don’t agree with that approach. Can you help?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Teach eye contact and focus http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/eye-contact-focus-behavior-broken/

    If he is focused on you he can’t pay attention to anything else!

    [Reply]

  13. Don says:

    I HAVE 2 year old black lab and he barks and growls at everything and a anybody Round. He is very well clam inside and have no behavior problems inside. In the last 6 months he has become more aggressive outside. Any help?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    contact customer service at info@thedogtrainingsecret.com to find out when our next aggression class begins or if you can get access to the DVDs for training

    [Reply]

  14. Nancy Hughes says:

    Have been wondering how to get eye contact, will try this trick next.
    The next thing I have to work on is the anxiety thing. Man, cannot leave this dog no matter what.
    I have tried taking her in the car and leaving her.
    Oh, man crying, barking, forget it. She we know cannot be left in the house, she got out of her crate, and then chewed the frame off the laundry room door.
    Getting in the back of my car is another issue. She wants to be in the front, so everytime I get in the car I have to take her to the back and say stay. Until the next shopping stop and the same thing happens. Tried doing it firm and repetitive what else is there? Been at this for a month. Not seeing any improvement.
    The other thing is that she keeps getting into the cats poop and eating that. Last night forgot one chair to block it off and think she got in it because this morning she is not eating her food. Scolded her but apparently this did take.
    She had a parasite problem last September wonder if this could be the cause of it? She was skin and bones. If she gets this again I will put her down since now we know the problem. I am not spending $400 on medication and wasting money.
    I have tried the boundary training. Can see that didn’t work.
    Now being told if I want her to go into places I need her to have some professional training. Loved this one the trainer was telling me that I am expecting too much from this dog in a month.
    Marvelous after all this I need professional training paperwork and therapy training on top of it. So she can go with my husband and because he has just lost one leg.
    Well, feel I have done the best I can do, now let someone else try something and see if that works.
    I have accomplished the walking from pulling, heel, the sit down command on the leash, stay and sit well, in five minutes she gets up and moves about, and then I have to do this again put her back to where I want her, she insists on being beside me all the time and most is the separation anxiety. Tried the Command collar and the prong, no difference. The car situation, verbal commands instead of the leash going to. Eating the cats poop, and getting in the back of the car let the professional trainer get me through these. Cannot seem to get through to her. I don’t have any other problems. The trainer uses the E collar, see what that does.
    Won’t rack up my back that is for sure.
    Will let you know how I make out on this one. Will be different training process for me that is for sure.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    What you need to try is positive reinforcement and actual training/meaning teaching, not pushing, alpha rolling, yanking, pronging, and shocking… those methods don’t work well and are especially inefficient and make problems worse on needy dogs.

    [Reply]

  15. Pam says:

    Try oven roasted turkey (sandwich meat). In training class people said the same, their dogs weren’t food driven…..until they tried the turkey. Not expensive if you cut into small bits & very good for dogs.

    [Reply]

  16. Paula Edwards says:

    My little malti-poo keeps stopping in her tracks when we walk. I have her come to me, give her a treat and try to move on, but she stops again. I have tried treats and no treats. Sometimes I walk around her and then she keeps going for a bit and then stops dead in her tracks. I don’t want to pull her for fear of hurting her back legs. No fun to walk with her, as adorable as she is! What am I to do? Please help.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Honestly with little dogs especially, I just keep going. The tug on their leash for a moment or throw a fit but they will come.

    Most small dogs want to be picked up. If you had a Great Dane what would you do? You would probably just teach the dog to keep going and leash manners.

    [Reply]

  17. Patricia says:

    I have 4 dogs,Dobermann dogs,I walk them one by one,because I can’t walk the four of them together.sometimes I walk two.And that’s my question,what can I do to teach them to walk together and don’t go crazy. They love going out and hate to wait for me to take them one by one.I would love to be sure they wont pull me and go behind people,bicycles,or something,because together they act as a pack and could become aggressive. Or should I give up this wish,is it impossible??

    [Reply]

  18. Rhonda says:

    It sounds like you have too much on your plate with caring for your husband and don’t have the time or wherewithal to train your anxious dog. It would be a kindness for all to find a new home for this dog. I will happily take this dog off your hands. Perhaps then you could find another dog with a better suited personality to your needs. I live in the Denver area.

    [Reply]

  19. Shannon says:

    Do you think it would be effective to teach a puppy to return to you when they feel pressure on the leash? I.e. The owner puts a small amount of tension on the leash and the moment the puppy looks at the owner, or takes a step toward them, click and treat? That way when on walks, if the puppy wants to stop and smell something, but you didn’t want them to, you would gently pull on the leash and they would immediately return to you. Would this be effective, or would it teach the puppy that pulling on the leash gets them a reward?

    [Reply]

  20. Mike says:

    Hii,
    We have a 1 year lab who has a ton of energy. At 8 wks he knew his commands and trained well. At 4 months we took him to basic training for socializing and to get him to walk better on a leash. We then enrolled in a boot camp course and dog walking classes. We have used a martingale collar, pinch collar, harness.
    Our dog is just not getting the not to pull no matter what we do. He gets so excited when we are walking and there are other dogs and people. He dislocated his front right leg on the harness jumping, and he asphyxiates with the martingale and collapses. We just don’t know what to do. Prior to his bootcamp class yesterday ( I took him for a long run to tire him out first, but it did not help 1 1/2 hrs later at the class. The class requires a martingale collar and the trainer brought a dogmatic to put on him. He got so anxious and crazed over it, she said it isn’t for him. Even if we took time practicing putting it on his face, she had enough experience to know this is not the option for him. As we took it off, and returned him to the matingale collar, he started to pull again and fell over on his side as he asphyxiated and was not getting enough oxygen. I am so worried as I have been brought up with labs and shepards, We never had this problem. We practice inside and through the yard – he is great at following our commands and walking nice and calm. As soon as we get out the front door, it is a different story. Do you have any suggestions that can help us? Thanks so much.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Get a gentle leader

    [Reply]

  21. Quiyana says:

    I have 2 dogs a jack russel terrior and a russel terrior I tried to train them not to pull but nothing works sometimes they pull so hard thier collars come off thier small right now but very strong sometimes I feel like the the only way is to tighten the leash it helps a little but I don’t want to damage thier wind pipe the jack russel terrior is good at basic training but is still distracted easily the russel terrier is very well behaved she does what I tell her if I tell her to sit and stay she will for about 3 minutes and she knows how to ignore distractions but they both always pull on a leash the russel terrier will only sit and stay if she’s not distracted but no matter what I do or say they won’t stop pulling do I pull back sometimes this has been going on since I first got them and they are like 3 now

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Read all of the articles in this series

    [Reply]

  22. Rohit says:

    Hi.
    What is the ideal age to start training a pup? I have a three months old golden retriever who’s pretty intelligent and loving but I don’t know when should I start to train him. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Immediately!

    [Reply]

  23. Pamela Welsh says:

    I have a liggle 5 month old Maltese and she pulls as if pulling a sled. I have a had time without shortening the leash to get her beside me. What do you suggest? Thank y ou

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    read the articles and the ones highlighted within

    [Reply]

  24. Angelica Zadarnowski says:

    Hi Paula. You’re one of the few I’ve ever heard of with this same problem I have. My dog is an 18 lb. rat terrier mix and she won’t walk unless I give her treats. It’s my fault for giving in to her in the beginning. I’ve tried to wait it out and just stand there, but we’d be there all day. She is totally food obsessed. So I was wondering if you ever resolved your problem with your malti-poo?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    You are misusing treats! Read this to better understand http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/misusing-treats-dog-training/

    [Reply]

  25. Nana says:

    I have 2 dogs at home one is 6 years old and the other is a yorkie 5 month old , I joined dog training and nothing seems to be working my puppy is only motivated by what she sees my other dog do.. Problem is the other dog isn’t trained at all except for using a wee wee pad because my wife rescued him from a shelter : so I really don’t know what to do. I need help please!!

    [Reply]

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