One of the most frustrating elements of dog ownership is walking a dog that pulls at the leash. Good leash manners are essential for a relaxed walk that is safe for all involved. A perfect heel is not required, simply close attention paid to the handler by the dog.
Part of successfully teaching a puppy or dog to walk nicely on a leash is to know the equipment available to you. Not every dog is going to respond to every collar type or leash length. Be consistent for a time, and if efforts are not panning out, try a new tool for the task.
Leashes come in a variety of materials and lengths, from quite short at 18 inches to quite long at 100 feet. Very short leashes are best for dogs already trained to walk at a nice heel, otherwise, it will be a little constraining. Leashes that are very long are best for parks and open areas where the dog cannot be off-leash and needs work on coming when called. There is plenty of room in which to work with leashes from 15 to 100 feet in length, and the dog can still be reeled in to reinforce the recall if necessary.
The most common materials are nylon and leather. Both are fairly lightweight and sturdy, capable of standing up to the occasional nip or snag. A dog with a bad habit of biting down on the lead might do better with a leash of chain links until that phase has been trained away. Rugged leather dog leashes are handsome and sturdy, and when taken care of, can last a lifetime.
The collar type that you are by far most likely to observe on dogs is the common flat or rolled collar, one that fastens with a buckle or a plastic clip. These are convenient collars, easy to slip on and off and useful for holding your dog's tags for identification, rabies vaccination proof, and county license. These collars can be dangerous for dogs that are prone to pulling. It can cause pressure and swelling in the eyes, so a dog with glaucoma or other condition where pressure in the eyes is an issue can be at risk from flat or rolled collars.
Like flat collars, the martingale differs in that it has an extra loop that tightens when pressure is put on the lead. This is not to correct, as with choke collars, but to keep the dog from slipping the collar and running free. At their tightest, a martingale should be adjusted so that the dog cannot be accidentally strangled. These collars are excellent for canine Houdini imitators who can duck out of any collar.
Once traditionally the sole collar of dogs who were in training, choke collars are easy to use incorrectly and difficult to use to best effect. They have fallen out of favor now that professional trainers are migrating en mass to positive reinforcement rather than jerking the dog's neck to make corrections. With choke chains, the idea is to give the dog the knowledge that a strong correction awaits when it misbehaves. Thus, lighter corrects might be good enough because they are reminders of more painful corrections in store.
In terms of training tools, the pinch collar is nearly as old as the choke collar. Traditional trainers like to refer to it as power steering; you do not need as much physical strength to make an impression as you do with a choke chain. Despite resembling a device for torture, it may be safer than the choke chain. It places less pressure on the neck on a hard jerk. Pressure is still placed on the neck, however, so this collar is subject to the same issues that the previous collars can cause.
Harnesses have several advantages over collars. While they aren't recommended for being left on all the time, neither are all collars. Apart from that, they're a good tool for training puppies as well as older dogs. They give the handler better control than does a collar, which is particularly useful in crowds or on busy streets. They prevent quite small dogs from injury related to pulling at a collar; the harness spreads pressure across more of the body, reducing strain on the back and neck, and discourage pulling.
A variant on the basic harness, a front-attaching harness discourages pulling still further by redirecting the dog's attention. Some dogs learn to pull more with a back-hooking harness, whether due to breed tendencies of spitz-like huskies and malamutes or simple individual stubbornness. A harness that hooks in the front turns a dog when it tries to take the lead and surge ahead. The progress is thus curbed, teaching the dog that the only way to get anywhere is by following the handler.
Headcollars or head halters are highly useful for trainers who want to speed up progress while keeping the dog's attention. Once leash manners are learned, it is possible to switch back to a basic collar. The principle of head halters is the same as it is with horses who are handled with the same equipment type: the body of an animal, however large, tends to go where its head is pointing. Dogs also pay the best attention when their focus is on their handlers; with headcollars, it is a breeze to turn the dog's head from whatever distraction affords itself and back to you with simple gentle pressure. The disadvantage is that dogs need to be trained to enjoy wearing headcollars. Positive, repeat association with walks and treats should do the trick nicely, however.
At the very beginning, you need to get the dog accustomed to wearing the equipment you plan to use. Let the dog or puppy wear them for short stretches of time at first, inside the house. Play with the dog and give out treats to associate the equipment with positive things. Leash time should be loved by the dog; it should represent fun and food.
This is a basic step for teaching any desired behavior: teach the dog that a certain sound means that food or a treat is coming. Some people use clickers, others cluck their tongues. Using a word such as "good" or "yes" is also popular. Whichever the cue, the method remains the same: have the dog on the lead in an area that is quiet and free of distractions and make the sound. The instant the dog looks at you, give a treat. Soon the pup will be coming over to you for the treat.
When the dog is approaching you for a treat while wearing the leash, back up several paces and then give the dog a reward upon its arrival. Keep the initial training sessions short so as not to overtax a beginner's attention span. Continue progressing until the dog, upon receiving the cue sound, approaches you and then walks a few steps with you.
The dog now understands that the sound means a reward is imminent upon approaching and walking a few paces. Practice walking while holding the leash, a few steps at a time, giving praise and rewards for good behavior. This is easier to do inside because of the limited distractions. The dog will still find the equipment distracting enough at this stage, so do not rush taking it to the great outdoors.
New challenges await you when you take the dog outside the first few times. There is an abundance of sensory input that the dog will be hardwired to pay attention to, and your job is to keep the dog's attention fixed on you. If the dog's attention wanders away from you, or if it looks like the dog is about to lunge at a distraction, make the cue sound and keep moving a few steps to reward the dog's following you with praise and a treat.
Everyone wants to believe their dog is perfect, but the likelihood is that there are going to be some bumps in the road to good leash manners. Being able to walk with a relaxed lead and a complete lack of lunging or pulling is the ideal goal. These troubleshooting tips will help when practicing to perfect good leash manners.
If the dog begins to pull in the other direction, become rooted to the spot like a tree. Stand completely still, refusing to move until the dog returns to you. Do not give in to the temptation to jerk or yank the lead, nor should you drag the dog with you in the direction you want to go. Remember tools such as head collars and front-clip harnesses for problem pullers.
If the dog lunges after something while you are walking, the key to correction is to be prepared. Whether it is another dog, a car, a person walking, or a cyclist, redirect the dog's attention back to you using a treat before the lunge actually occurs. This requires close observation of your dog's cues and behaviors as well as demanding that the dog pays close attention to you. Be proactive.
Some dogs are prone to barking at distractions while walking. This is often due to behavioral problems that spring from lack of exercise. Dogs need both physical and mental stimulations, and some breeds require more than others. Particularly intelligent breeds get bored easily and will react to outside stimuli if they do not receive enough of a workout for body and mind. If barking remains a problem despite offering enough exercise outside of walks, like good games of tug and retrieve, proceed as though the dog were lunging at things: create space and then offer treats to distract before the dog begins to bark.
Loose leash walking is the ideal when it comes to good leash manners. This requires vigilance on both the part of the handler and the dog. It is great for bonding because both of you should be focused on each other. Good leash manners are also important for safety. A dog that does not behave well on a lead can be a danger to you, your dog, other people, and other dogs. Some dogs become stressed or aggressive when ill-trained on a leash and other equipment. Encourage ideal leash manners for the safety of all involved.
Leash manners are an important part of training your dog. Keep sessions short and frequent, careful not to over-tire your dog. Be consistent and make it clear that pulling is unacceptable. This should be clear every time, at once. Try walking at a fast pace when training to keep your dog more focused on the walk and less inclined to pay attention to outside stimuli. Be consistent, be proactive, and enjoy the bonding time training your dog.