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Why is Leash Walking so Challenging?

NEWSFLASH!!!!!! Dogs don't come preprogrammed with a leash walking skill; it is not normal or natural to them.

Dogs want to have choices in where to go and what to do, no different than any person.

One of our biggest failings as humans is that we often have unrealistic expectations. "The dog should do it because that's what I want." or "He knows better than to pull." Well hello... have you ever gotten a person to cooperate 100% of the time? Good luck with that! We all have our own priorities and that is with people who understand exactly what we want! Dog's are doing their best to be dogs, they are not robots or slaves. We need to ensure that we meet their needs as well as find ways to cooperate so that we can meet their needs and ours.

We also limit our dog's options by using a short leash 4-6 feet which can make a walk more frustrating for the dog because it does not allow them to move naturally or at a comfortable pace and prevents them from exploring and sniffing making our walk on pavement not a lot of fun for them.

Walking from A to B at a steady pace is a human concept. Sure dogs will get up and go get a drink and go back to bed. But walking down a street in a straight line? Not being able to move and approach at a different pace or flank around and use body language appropriately? Not being able to detour and go sniff? These are not normal or appropriate approaches for a dog, it is something that has to be learned.

Why is my dog's natural way of exploring the world not the same as our way?

We live in a VISUAL world, We see things and situations and are attracted to them or want to walk away from them. Dogs predominantly live in a SCENT-oriented world! While they do visually orient, they investigate or "see" and perceive situations more with their nose rather than with their eyes!!! Their need to sniff to explore is how they are genetically oriented. They have a structure called the Jacobsen's Organ that is specifically dedicated to processing odour and this links up with a huge part of their brain that lights up to process odour information.

In addition:

The pace we walk at is not always comfortable for the dog, small dogs will be forced to "run" beside us, whereas big dogs might feel held back as we are not moving fast enough for their natural gait.

The footing may not be comfortable for our dog. Hot pavement, sharp gravel, etc.

The dog may be worried or overstimulated due to the surrounding environment. It may be too busy, noisy, crowded, etc. This can also happen if there is no opportunity for them to "sniff it out" or if they have had negative associations with a similar situation.

The area may have an undesirable odour such as too much dog waste or other strong offputting smells.

A nice calm walk starts in your living room!

Are you setting your dog up for FAILURE or SUCCESS when you get ready to take him for a walk? Putting your shoes on, and grabbing your coat and the leash can create happy anticipatory behaviours in your dog: jumping up, running around a bit, and getting excited, you know what that looks like in your home!

On the other hand, some dogs are dreading going out and will hide when you grab the leash or do not want to be leashed up..... but we still need to take them, or do we?

In both cases teaching the dog calmness skills will make a huge difference! Instead of just leashing up and going, think about how your dog feels, watch the emotional display!


Getting excited or scared: STOP, and go back to other things like reading a book or making a cup of tea, ANYTHING besides continuing with the emotional overload-provoking movements. Instead, break the behaviour down into smaller portions that your dog can comfortably stay calm around. Repeat until your dog is able to give you a calmer behaviour throughout the getting ready process. This part is desensitization to the process of getting ready. And even training an incompatible behaviour for the dog with an exercise like staying calm on your bed while I get ready will go a long way towards a calmer start to your adventures.


Getting out the door. With the dog on a leash, you would continue the above principles: too much, not calm? This is a great place to use scatter feeding to help your dog calm down before starting the walk. You can scatter inside or outside the door depending on your dog's arousal level. Repeat until your dog is calmer and then continue further into the real world!


Once outside, give your dog permission to SNIFF AND OBSERVE often! Alternate your loose leash walking requirements with a few minutes of sniffy walk here or there and you will find your dog and you both enjoying your walk so much more! When practising your loose leash walking work in short bursts of 2 minutes with lots of high-value rewards!

Make use of a longer line of 12-15 feet versus our standard 4-6 feet line. This can make the walk more enjoyable for the dog. Of course, you will only give the dog extra leash length if safe to do so and gather it shorter when you want the dog to walk beside you, or when people or dogs or traffic are approaching.


The process of walking with calmness goes so much faster if we REWARD what we like the dog to do! Reward your dog for checking in, even if you didn't ask for it! Cooperation goes both ways and showing your appreciation will make that relationship so much better. Yes, praise is nice, but rewards like treats, playtime, and permission to go see someone/something or go sniffing can be just as valuable or even more so!


Reward with something of value and be generous!! Would you work hard for a boss who only pays you the minimum wage while you pour all your effort into doing a good job? Not likely, but I am sure you would work harder if your boss praised you regularly AND gave you a bonus on top of your generous payment.

A great game to play out on a walk is the Choose To Heel game, super simple to do and helps to create enjoyment, calmness and focus.

The principle of the game is to reward your dog when they are directly beside you, Mark ( YES, GOOD or NICE) when the dog is right in position, reward ON THE GROUND instead of from the hand, and step forward as soon as the dog picks up the piece of food to eat. The dog now has another chance to catch up to you and be rewarded! Before you know it, the dog feels that the very best place to be is right beside you! Practice only in short 2-minute intervals and alternate with meeting your dog's needs and desires so that they can enjoy their outing too!

ALL DOGS and ALL PEOPLE CAN LEARN, how to walk together cooperatively, but we need to take into account the needs of both parties and ensure that we don't put them in situations they are not yet ready for. As always, if you need extra help make sure to reach out to your trainer!


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