Do you struggle for calm dog walking? Do you yearn for your dog to walk by your side and not get distracted? You’re in the right place! Continue reading to discover my top 4 tips for calm dog walking…
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The Importance of Calm Dog Walking
Why are leash manners so important? Why do people train their dog to walk politely by their side? It’s a nicer walk! Right?
The reason many of you are here is to help figure out how to teach leash manners to your dog because maybe at the moment it isn’t that fun of a walk. It’s a rare occassion where you hear an owner say they’ve never had to deal with the pulling and barking and constantly being distracted.
I had to deal with Jasper and his leash pulling until I decided I had enough of it. Being a rescue and a reactive dog teaching loose leash skills is vital for a more pleasurable walk.
The process of teaching calm dog walking is in fact relatively simple, the only thing is you need to be consistent which is where a lot of people fall down. Teaching a dog takes time and even longer to teach a puppy something. The bonus side of leash training for dogs however is that you walk your dog at least once a day. This means that at least once a day you can practice these skills even for just 5 minutes.
Primarily you will want to understand why your dog behaves like it does in the first place while on a walk…
Why Your Dog Has “Leash Issues”
The main reason a majority of you will be experiencing this problem is purely because your dog doesn’t know how to act on the leash yet.
- You might have had them as a puppy and it didn’t really matter but now they’re bigger its a become a problem
- Maybe you got them as a rescue and they had a lack of training and exercise before you
- They may lack self-control and want to interact with everyone
- They are constantly getting distracted by people, dogs…leaves in the wind
- Maybe they smell something more interesting than you in the grass
Next time you are walking your dog, walk at a slightly slower pace than normal. What does your dog zone out at? Does he pull on the leash in certain spots? Does he get excited at people or dogs passing by?
When your dog wants something they will try and get it unless you’ve taught them not to. Squirrels, kids running around, skateboards, different smells etc.
The aim of the game is to teach your dog self-control so that you reward them for calm walking with sniffing a tree or running the block. It’s all about team work!
Leash Reactivity In Dogs
Some of you may find that your dog is actually leash reactive. This is a behavioural condition in which a dog will react to a certain stimulus/trigger – another dog, kids, men, trucks, bikes etc. The reaction can range anywhere from a death stare, stiff posture, barking, lunging and even biting! (Find out more about the leash reactive warning signs and triggers)
It is a common issue which many people deal with. If you feel this might be something that affects your dog then check out the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs for everything you need to know to get start to overcome this problem. There’s a lot of information on this blog to help you as well!
My Top 4 Tips For Calm Dog Walking
1 – Use The Right Equipment
First thing you need to do is make sure you’re using the right equipment. This may sound simple but a lot of owners don’t know they are making mistakes.
Retractable leashes will encourage your dog to pull. When they pull they get the reward of wanting to go where they want and even if you stop the leash, they end up in front and pulling. There have been cases of people even getting burns from getting tangled in these.
A long line on the other hand gives you more control, you can hold it in both hands and give and take freedom when needed. You can have them on a short leash, loose leash and even train from distance and allow socialisation.
A harness is the next piece of equipment you should be looking for. Harnesses are becoming more of a chosen option due to comfort. The strain from the leash isn’t localised just around the neck but instead through the body. Some harnesses allow you to connect to the front (chest area) to help reduce leash pulling. Some also come with handle/s that you can grab when needed.
High Value Treats
High value treats should be next on your list of equipment. If you are wanting to teach your dog how to walk politely then you need to give them incentive. The world is a distracting place for them, why should they pay attention to you? By giving them incentive to focus on you and marking this behaviour you will improve your walks tenfold!
Other accessories include things like a treat bag that allows you to quickly dispense treats to your dog whilst carrying your essentials. You’ll be surprised how much easier and quicker your dog learns when you can mark the exact behaviour.
For those with younger dogs the use of a clicker can be very effective with marking behaviour you want. This applies to walking calmly too. When your dog walks calmly or ignores someone walking past then you mark and reward.
2 – Start Inside The House
My next tip is to start inside the house. The routine of going for a walk starts as soon as you either mention the walk or touch the leash. Before you even leave the door you need to prepare your dog for calm dog walking. To prepare your dog you need to make sure they are in a calm state of mind where they are focused (or slightly less excited).
When inside the house constantly touch the leash and your shoes or make your keys jingle. You want to keep your dog on their toes. If they get excited every time you touch your things, simply put them down and do something for a few minutes. Continue doing this until your dog is in a calmer state of mind before you leave the door.
You want to make sure that your dog shows self-control. The biggest hurdle will be the front door. There’s no blaming them either, a whole world of potential to go and explore. This is why teaching them self-control at the start of the walk is essential. If they get to run out of the door and carry that excitement through the walk you’re going to have to keep up!
Get your dog to sit by the door and slowly open it. You are looking for calm behaviour, if your dog gets up or moves towards the outdoors, close the door. Repeat this until you can fully open the door.
3 – Teach Self-Control Through Alternative Behaviour
Having taught self-control and calmness inside the house, it is time to teach it outside. As mentioned before, the reason dogs behave badly on the leash is because they haven’t been trained properly.
During your walk you want to teach them alternative behaviour to the problem issues that you are having. For example if they are constantly pulling then you need to teach an alternative. You need to teach that pulling means you stop (or turn back) and the alternative you teach is a loose leash means you can keep moving.
For dogs that bark at triggers then this is a bit harder but it is possible to teach alternatives. Teaching them to sit down or to look at you or targeting or to follow you. There are many different behaviours that you can teach and the principle for teaching them is very basic.
Mark The Behaviours You want, Correct Those You Don’t
When your dog displays behaviour you don’t want, mark it with a no. Correct the behaviour e.g. If your dog gets excited at something and pulls – make them sit. Mark the correct behaviour with a yes/clicker and treat. Repeat this constantly making sure to praise and reward your dog.
If you want your dog to focus on you more, then every time they look at you and check-in, mark and reward. This teaches your dog to look to you for guidance, to remember that good things come from giving you their attention. You can call their name or make kissy noises to get the attention of your dog and reward them. Practice this in slightly busy areas to increase attention.
The first 5 minutes are the most excitable for your dog. With the proper leash training for dogs you can learn how to calm your dog in these 5 minutes so you can enjoy the rest of your walk!
4 – Let Them Be A Dog
Having a reward system is very important to improving the connection with your dog. When the two of you discover that you want to work together, great things happen!
You are already rewarding when correcting behaviour but a crucial point I want to talk about are designated break spots.
These are spots you have during the walk where you basically let your dog be a dog. Whether it be a toilet break, a little run around, the chance to sniff, chasing squirrels. You can’t expect your dog to walk nicely all along if there is no light at the end of the tunnel right?
If you find your dog struggles reaching these designated spots then break it down. Have breaks when you reach the end of the street calmly (making sure you reward too). Let them sniff around or give them a quick praise and treat.
How do I stop pulling on the leash?// How do I stop my dog getting excited around people on walks?// How do I stop my dog pulling before the designated break spot?
Teach an alternative behaviour! Find the behaviour you don’t want and correct and reward with what you do. All these issues can be solved by teach an alternative.
Why is my dog so distracted?
Dogs are simple creatures and their attention is limited. If you are in an area with distractions and smells, then getting your dogs attention will be harder than normal. Start training to get your dogs attention in quiet places before busier spots.
How do I teach my dog to walk on the leash?
There are many maneuvers and techniques that you can learn to help you with leash training for dogs. Starting and stopping, changing pace and direction and working in busier areas. These are all examples of how to improve your walks!
Enjoy Calmer Walks
A walk should be something in harmony. Where you enjoy spending time together. It shouldn’t be all business from A to B as quick as possible. You should enjoy it. This is why breaks are important, this will be what your dog looks forward to on the walk, not the exercise! I hope these 4 tips will help you achieve the calm dog walking you are seeking!
You Aren’t Alone!
Don’t forget to leave a comment whether to ask a question, give your own tips, give feedback etc and check out the leash aggression training blog for more information and resources on dealing with leash reactivity in dogs. The worlds a better place when people help each other!
- Whole Dog Journal – Great post on loose leash walking – https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/training/how-to-train-your-dog-to-calmly-walk-on-leash/
- WagWalking techniques to calmer dog walking – https://wagwalking.com/training/walk-calmly-on-leash
- Great techniques from Victoria Stilwell of Positively – https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/loose-leash-walking/