In my previous 2 blogs, I have talked about how to pick methods that will make leash training (or any training for that matter) more successful and enjoyable. I also shared my favourite leash skills that I teach every dog I work with. In this final blog in the Great Leash Training series, I want to talk about why leash training can be particularly challenging.
What is Usually Missing in Leash Training
Leash training can be difficult because of management. Management? How does management come into leash training? That’s a great question. I think it’s one that many people don’t ask, and that’s why we have problems. If you have read or watched any of my training materials, you will be familiar with the concept of management and why it’s so important. If you are new here, let me give you a crash course. When we are wanting to teach our dog a new skill or change behaviour, it’s important to remove the opportunity for them to start doing or keep doing behaviour that conflicts with what we are trying to teach. For example, if we are wanting to teach our dog not to jump on people, then having them jump on people is not only going to be confusing, it will slow down the process of teaching them a different way of greeting people. Management saves the day by putting your attention, time and reinforcement towards the new behaviour you are building.
So back to leash training. Teaching leash skills can be a daunting process because using management may not be as obvious as in other types of training.
You can’t just skip walking your dog until your leash skills are perfect. Your dog is going to be over-threshold and you will be continually in situations that are beyond where your dog’s leash training skills are at.
You can’t puppy-proof the world. You can’t control everything that happens when you are outside your home. Gosh, it feels a lot of times that we can’t even do that inside our home! And you cannot be in leash training mode the entire time you take your dog out.
How to Make Leash Training More Manageable
So what’s the solution? I have a few pieces of advice for you.
- Pick appropriate times to train. I start all leash training skills at home. Then I pick appropriate times throughout the walk to practice. Depending on where the dog is in the training, I will choose locations and situations where I feel confident that the dog will have a good experience and will be successful. In the beginning, this means I will choose times when the dog is calm and relaxed, and when the environment is quiet and there’s not much happening around us.
- Training times are short, fun and very well-reinforced. Proficiency doesn’t just come with practice. The dog finds value in the behaviours being taught and will be motivated to do them if they are well-reinforced.
Here’s where the management comes in:
- We spend a lot of the walk not training. I want the dog to have a fun and enriching experience while we are out. Although the times when we are training will be great for the dog, it helps if there’s lots of time to do things the dog loves. Sniffing, exploring and just being a dog. This will also add another layer of reinforcement to the training.
- By allowing the dog to do other things on the walk, I’m not spending most of the walk struggling with the dog because their leash skills aren’t up to snuff yet. Outside of the short training periods, I’m not worried about getting anywhere in a hurry. We linger to sniff, explore and play fun games together. Providing lots of enriching things to do throughout the walk removes the pressure of having to actually walk somewhere.
- And here’s an insider tip. I seldom walk my dog on a regular 5-foot leash. It’s too hard to provide the type of enrichment and movement that dogs revel in when they are stuck at our sides. Giving them that extra room and freedom will allow them to burn off more steam, have more fun and make the walk a much better experience for them. It also makes things so much better for the handler. With the ability to move about and have more access to the environment, I’m preventing the dog from being put in a situation that they’re not ready for.
In case you’re thinking that it’s too much hassle to carry 2 pieces of equipment, you can accomplish everything that I’ve mentioned just using a single line. It’s actually easy to switch back and forth from handling a long line at a standard length for training to a longer length. You just need a bit of practice to get the hang of it. Once the dog has the skill to walk comfortably on leash next to me, I still use a long line for most of my walks because of the freedom and enrichment it provides the dog.
I hope you have enjoyed this 3-part Great Leash Training series and it has given you some useful ideas. I’d love to hear what you found most valuable and what you are going to try with your dog.