Forming Better Leash Walking Skills
If you have been following along with this blog, you have practiced walking around and having your dog follow you. If you have not practiced these steps, go back and read my last blog “Introduction to Leash Walking” and implement those steps first. The purpose of the first exercise, “follow me” is meant to convince your dog that you are on the move and it is their responsibility to keep up. Your dog should be convinced that you are walking away and will leave them behind if they don’t start moving. Of course, you won’t, but your dog doesn’t need to know that. Sometimes you may even need to duck behind a tree so that your dog can’t see you but you can see them. Here the idea is to let them look up and feel lost. Wait a minute and if your dog hasn’t found you call their name to let them know where you are. If you have a dog that has trouble seeing you at a distance, stand and wave your arms over your head while calling their name. This experience of feeling left behind will teach you dog to keep an eye on you whatever else they are doing. In walking with your dog there are only two positions: you are leading or you are following. Your dog will respond accordingly to which ever position you assume.
The next step is to begin shortening the leash. The way we accomplish this is by simply shortening our 15 or 20 foot leash a couple of feet at a time. Go to the same park you have been using and begin the “follow me” exercise with the leash a few feet shorter than it was the last time you played this game. Remember to walk rapidly and change directions often and then give your dog a treat every time they catch up. If your dog turns in your direction but then runs right by you to take the lead again, be patient and immediately turn and walk another direction. Each time your dog works within the new length of the leash (begins turning with you before reaching the end and getting a little tug), shorten it a foot or two more and begin again.
This is one of those exercises where you are likely to see the lightbulb go on in your dog’s brain. They will need prompting (usually a light tug on the leash) to remind them to turn and catch up and then the lightbulb goes on and they suddenly get the flow of the game and begin turning and moving with you before the leash becomes tight. At this stage you can begin teaching your dog to stay even closer to you by finding a “natural” obstacle course. In my area, we have lots of parks with picnic tables and grills that we can use to weave in and out. Ideally, your obstacle course should be a combination of 6 or 7 stable objects place within 15 or so feet from one another. These objects can be anything: boulders, trees, telephone poles, bushes, or playground equipment.
Begin by making your leash about 10 feet long and start walking the obstacle course at a fairly rapid rate. The faster you go and the more turns you make, the easier it will be for you dog to follow. It takes a good deal of time (sometimes 6 months or more) for your dog to remember and consistently implement their walking skills. Most dogs have to mature before they can reliably control their desire to wander and focus exclusively on the walking. It is worth remembering that if you fall back into the habit of simply walking in straight lines along sidewalks, your dog will also revert to stopping, sniffing, etc. How you conduct yourself is key to how your dog conducts themselves.
Next month, walking your dog off the leash.