The Four Essential Skills of Leash Walking

The Four Essential Skills of Leash Walking

Loose-leash walking is a simple behaviour made up of a variety of complex skills. If your dog does not understand or possess the complex skills, this 'simple' behaviour you are asking them to perform ends up being not so simple for either of you. Before you become frustrated with your dog's disobedience on a leash, consider your dog's skill set in the following areas:

1. Ignoring distractions:

In order to walk calmly by your side, in a distraction-rich environment, your dog must learn to ignore distractions. You need to have a clear understanding of what level of distraction your dog can handle. Try starting in the home. Working with a hands-free leash starting in the house and working towards the front and back yards will help you better understand what triggers and thresholds your dog currently has. (Learn more about triggers and thresholds through our online learning centre.


2. Following a human's body:

Just like when we learn to drive, we need to understand what the road signs mean, how to stay in our own lane and how to share the road with others. When walking with your dog, you represent the lanes, the road signs and the traffic lights. You have to set the rules and your dog needs to understand them. In simple terms, they need to learn how to follow your lead. Puppies naturally follow until around 16-20 weeks when they begin to wonder more independently. Obviously, starting in puppyhood is easier due to this natural desire to follow. Regardless of your dog's age, you will need to teach this skill to achieve loose-leash walking. Start by using a long-line or training-line (no more than 12'). This gives your dog some space to explore and ensures safety. You need to keep yours eyes on the dog. When your dog gets distracted or explores the perimeter of the leash length, be the centre of the wheel and keep turning your body so you are facing your dog. When your dog ‘checks in’, back up and encourage them to come towards you. Start moving together and rewarding your dog where you want them to be on a walk. When you back away, your dog will naturally be attracted to come forward, when you move towards your dog, your dog will naturally move away. Be aware of what your body is telling your dog. 

Note: The JWalker Utility Belt can be connected together to create a long line as well. 


3. Understand directional cues:

Directional cues are essentially your steering, breaks, and gas. You wouldn't want to drive a car without knowing how to steer, accelerate or stop! There are many products and tools on the market designed to control your dog but not all products are designed with your dog's natural instinct or cognitive ability in mind. Some products accidentally push on the gas and the breaks at the same time. Some forget to steer. By directing your dog from the side, you are able to communicate direction and pace. The JWalker dog harness allows you to do this easily. Be aware of what the tool you are using is telling your dog to do. When you turn in a circle towards your dog (dog inside the circle) you will slow them down. When you turn with them on the outside you will speed them up. When you back up directing the dog from the side of their bodies you ask them to slow and come towards you. When you walk forward with your dog clipped on the side you ask them to maintain the pace. This is a language your dog will understand. 


4. Appropriate social etiquette:

We have unspoken rules in our society that are taught at a young age. For instance, you don't hug strangers on the street. This affectionate display is typically reserved for people we are more familiar with. Shaking hands, personal bubbles, soft eye contact and even a tone of voice all affect the nature of a social interaction. Your dog must understand what appropriate social interaction is for them and what expectations we have of them in public. These skill, yet again, are best practiced in calm controlled environments. Most importantly, you, the owner, need to know what your expectations are and be consistent. Teaching your dog to either ignore or greet people or other dogs appropriately will be essential to enjoying a leash walk in public. 


Putting it all together

Once the handler and the dog both have a good handle on the four skills outlined above, it’s time to start putting it all together. However, just like an athlete who has been training, you don’t want to start with the ‘big game’. Set some small achievable goals and take stock of the areas of difficulty. It may be a specific house you pass by or a particularly ‘smelly’ pee area that proves challenging. Be prepared to anticipate possible outcomes so you can RESPOND effectively instead of REACTING emotionally to the dog’s behaviours. Always be ready to modify your original plan if the circumstance change and ensure that the activity ends on a successful note. 


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