One of the most frequent questions we see as dog trainers is “how do I stop my dog pulling on the leash?”, and it’s not just in the usual dog training channels you will see this. It’s everywhere on the internet. It’s heard at the dog park, the vet, on the street, heck, it might also be the topic of dinner party conversations.
The responses to this question are right up there with housetraining on the quality of the advice you will see …. some of it is very good, some of it is very bad, and some of it is harmful. Yes, stopping a dog pulling on lead is something everyone has an opinion on, even if they have never had a dog.
BUT, here’s the thing, if you ask me, my team or my students “how do I stop my dog pulling on leash?”, we don’t have an answer for you. That’s because we don’t think in terms of stopping our dog from doing things. We decide what we want our dog to DO, and train that. I’ve covered this before on my blog in “Where the Heck is Do-Land, Anyway?“.
What we want our dog to DO is to walk near our side so that the leash is loose. Once we determine what we want, we can build our dog’s value for doing that. Building value means training in a way so that our dog comes to LOVE what it is we want him to do and will make a choice to do just that, anywhere, anytime. The very first step is educating our dog in HOW to make great choices …. and if that’s a new concept for you, join in with my free ItsYerChoice Summit, and I’ll help you see how fun and easy it can be!
Loose Leash Walking and the Reinforcement Zone
Loose leash walking starts with you understanding your dog’s “Reinforcement Zone” (RZ). I’ve got a short clip below for you from a video in our Recallers program. The clip explains what RZ is and how you can use it to your advantage!
If we create a Reinforcement Zone that is very specific for our dogs, that’s where they’re going to want to hang out. For most people, the dog’s Reinforcement Zone is right in front of them. And here’s why …. say you’re sitting down and watching television and your dog comes up, you’ll talk to him and reward him right in front of you. You give your dog his dinner dish, and it’s in front, so the association for your dog is that it is rewarding to be in front. Even if you just give your dog a cookie for nothing, chances are, he will be in front of you. If you are sweet-talking your dog, he’s likely in front of you.
You’ve got all this reinforcement happening in front. The dog figures out that in front of you is where the good things happen. The challenge with that is when you’re trying to walk your dog on leash, you don’t want him in front. You have to fight against all that reinforcement you have put in for your dog being in front in everyday life.
You can make changes starting today! Be mindful of where and how you reward your dog. It does not matter how old your dog is, or his history, you can create a Reinforcement Zone by your side, and it starts in general daily life.
Rehearse Successful Loose Leash Walking
If you want your dog to walk on a loose leash, it’s about rehearsals of doing just that. You need to set your dog up for success to earn reinforcement by your side. While you are working on loose lead walking (LLW), you could put your dog on a harness for the times you know you won’t be ‘training’ LLW, and he is likely to pull. Make sure the harness is not one that will restrict the dogs shoulders.
But when you have your dog on a lead and collar, your goal is to have no pulling. Visit my blog on D.A.S.H. for the sequential stages of training that we encourage trainers to follow. If you need more help on rehearsing success, I wrote a post years ago covering the appropriate use of a Head Halter. A Head Halter will allow us to give our dog a great deal of reinforcement for walking on lead in the position we want and set him up for success.
Where is Your Dog’s Reinforcement Zone?
What I’d like everyone to do right now is to start noticing where your dog’s RZ is. Every dog has a RZ … the place he will seek to find reinforcement. That RZ may change depending upon who he is with or what environment the dog is in. Once you are aware, you can create an RZ for your dog that is by your side. Soon it will become a new habit to reward your dog at your side and that will give you and your dog many benefits.
Let me know in the comments what you notice about your dog’s RZ in daily life and where your dog shows you his RZ currently is.
Today I am grateful to have been able to combine a business trip to Texas this week with a catch up with friends.