Teaching our students how to teach their dogs to walk with them and not pull on the leash can be a daunting task; in fact, many instructors will tell you that it is the most difficult thing to teach beginning students. Most will agree that one reason is that it seems to be so hard to teach handlers to keep a slack lead. It takes two to tango, and usually the handler is pulling as well as the dog!
Jean Palas NADOI # 751 has found the use of the head collar to be a good way to teach leash respect. Because she works with many children, and families as well, she likes the control the head collar gives handlers of any age and ability. “The dog is easily controlled in a gentle manner and this gives the people a better attitude about walking the dog,” says Jean, who prefers the Gentle Leader™ brand head collar. Jean begins the first les-son without the dogs, and shows handlers and their families a video about the GL™ and it’s use, and follows up with a demo of how to fit the device. Then when the handlers come back for week two they are prepared to work on walking on the head-collar. Jean stresses to her students that the head collar is not “forever,” and that transferring to a neck-type collar is easy. She prefers a martingale style collar, and because the student can easily switch back and forth as needed (the HC can stay on the dog during this transition), most students will accomplish the change of equipment with no problem.
Member Charlotte Peltz NADOI # 987 starts off teaching polite leash walking with-out a leash. Armed with a left hand full of goodies, and of course in a safe, confined area, she encourages the dog to cometo her left side. When he is in the correct position, he gets goodies, but when he is out of position, “the kitchen is closed!” She also advises that simply continuing to walk or run away from the pup will cause him to want to catch up to your left side, and of course at that point he is rewarded with the goodies. When Charlotte adds the leash, she will often have the dog drag it at first, then she holds it in her right hand and continues to dispense treats with the left (prevents the dog from crossing over in front of you to get them). Charlotte also writes of using the “return to go—do not collect goodies” method. Very simply, she puts a food reward on a plate or a brick about 15 or 20 feet away. Your goal is to walk with your dog to the goodies on a slack lead. Any tightening of the lead and you must return to your start place. This teaches a lot of self control (be sure you practice approaching the goodies from all directions).
Member Janet Fridge NADOI # 563 passes on a technique that she says works for green dogs and also for those that have learned to pull on the lead. The idea is to have the handler stand still, and get his hands off the leash. Jan says that a waist leash works great for this, but you can also string a 6ft lead around the handler’s waist just as effectively. Do make sure that the lead is not so long that the dog can really get up a “head of steam” and pull the handler over!
According to Jan, “the handler just stands still. Hands off the leash! The moment the dog tightens the leash, the handler takes a hold of it and uses it to quickly bring the dog back to her. Then the handler lets go of the leash again. When the dog is paying attention to the handler, and the leash is slack, he is rewarded with praise and a tasty food treat.” With a little luck the dog will begin to pay more attention to the handler because the pulling isn’t getting him the rewards and the slack leash is. Jan also mentions that the handler can hold a container of treats with one hand, and use the other to mete them out (both hands are busy, so he has no hand to tighten up on the leash). This will encourage the handler to be very observant, and quick to reward the dog that is giving slack to the lead and paying attention to her.
Jan progresses to having the handler and dog take a few steps around two chairs in a circle to the left. As the dog and handler both maintain a slack lead, more steps can be taken, and the chairs will help to act as “passive guides” for the dog.Should pulling occur at this point, simply grab the leash to pull the dog back to where he needs to be (back up if necessary), and start once more. Jan says, “your pace will be slow at this point, but that makes every step count and the dog will focus on the task at hand and on the handler.”
“Build on success, enlarging the path of travel to an oval, and then to straight line heelwork. Speed up to a more normal walk-ing pace, introduce right circles and turns and weaving through cones.” Jan says this technique is straight from the ‘80s, but still works well!
And my favorite way to get polite lead walking? I (Helen, NADOI # 372) have to say I like and use all of the above techniques, but find the old-fashioned prong collar to be my most useful tool for those dyed-in-the-wool pullers. Not only will the prong collar elicit “self correction” in most dogs, it enables handlers to keep their hands relatively still. No jerking or pulling! Ahhh…what a wonderful sight to an instructor! Thanks to Jean, Charlotte, and Janet for their great ideas. Hopefully, they will help you help your students with this some- times vexing problem.