We are not dog training experts but we are dog lovers and enjoy taking our Dogs wherever we go. We've learned a few things from some behaviour experts about having a good on-leash dog. Here's what we've learned.
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
Everything starts with a well socialized dog. Although dogs have been domesticated for hundreds of years, that doesn't mean they have been socialized to live in our modern human world. It is your job to educate them about the ways of life e.g. what is acceptable behaviour, how to communicate, what to do when there's a crowd etc.
Because our dogs are interacting constantly with people, being calm in crowds, navigating cafes, mountain biking trails and having to act as mannequins for fittings on new styles we have worked to made them comfortable in all of these environments.
Introduce them safely and calmly to things they will inevitably encounter when out with you e.g. other dogs, people (big, small, wearing hats, wearing glasses, holding umbrellas etc.), babies, bikes, loud noises and everything in between. Do this calmly and gradually. The sooner you start this and the more gently you expose your dog to new things, the better off you will be.
Do not let your anxiety become your Dog's anxiety - keep calm and socialize!
Take Puppy Steps
Start small. Teach your Dog that being next to you is the best place in the world and that good things happen (like treats, pats, kind words, games, love) when by your side. Teach them to make eye contact with you to get what they want. There is not such thing as a free lunch, so any form of reward for a learner dog comes from them doing something rewardable. Eye-contact - Good - Treat.
Then teach the basics at home where there are fewer distractions and less stimulation. Gradually increase this comfort zone and if you find bad habits creeping in, go back a step.
Don't let your Dog, whether it's a big one or a little one, get used to walking at the end of a tight leash. They only get what they want on a loose leash. Our trainer taught us the 'penalty yard' for when our 35kg pup tried to pull us to where he wanted to go. Simply back up a yard if they pull you towards something so they learn that pulling takes them further from where they want be, not closer. There's not need for a fuss, just a backwards step. Reward for loose leash behaviour with things your dog likes. This applies to little dogs too so don't let their petite size become an opt out for good manners.
This can make for some very long and sometimes frustrating training walks, but it is worth it. Your dog is programmed to learn, you just need to figure out the best way to teach them. If you have a difficult time, consult a good dog trainer sooner rather than later, preferably before the behavior becomes established.
Positively reinforce, positively reinforce, positively reinforce. Ignore the behaviours you don't want and teach them what you do.
Avoid trying to teach an over-stimulated dog. If there are lots of distractions, work on the simple things to set up success. Teach new things in a quiet environment with fewer distractions.
Keep your training sessions short and successful. Don't be tempted to continue just because it's all going so well. Always end on a good note.
Don't Be Too Much Of A Human About It
We humans tend to do a lot of talking and arm waving when we communicate. Dogs use body language. If you use too much voice and arm waving, you look like something to be chased or jumped upon, and will confuse your dog.
Use your voice with short, easy commands. We use 'close', 'go-round', 'quick' because they are things we naturally say to our dogs at home and on walks. These commands are natural for us and so become natural to our Dogs.
You will unlikely ever win a physical leash pulling competition with your Dog. Use your enormous human brain instead to bring your Dog's attention back to you. This will all depend on how well you have done in making yourself the absolute centre of their world, getting them to make eye contact and in reducing their reaction to strange things.
Play, treat, distract, and always instantly and consistently reinforce the behaviours you want repeated. If your dog has learned to ignore a command, you may need to consider changing it and retraining them. Once a command is redundant (through being repeatedly ignored) you will likely need to create a new command and accompanying behaviour.
Don't make excuses for them like, oh he doesn't like this or is afraid of that, or he was a rescue and he doesn't like men, hats, traveling in the back, the rain etc. By all means consider these, but don't let them become excuses for not establishing the behaviour you want. It might take more time and patience, but rehabilitation is possible.
And lastly, your dog's name is not a command other than to get them to look at you. The real command follows that. Don't let them become immune to the sound of their name by constantly calling it without any rewardable behaviour to follow.
The Right Gear
We did not design any of our gear specifically for training purposes. There are plenty of things out there that will help to make training more fun and effective. The best investments are time and knowledge, everything else is an add on.
However, the Gandhi leash can help in establishing some of these good behaviours. The short bungee section gives you a little more time to instruct your dog to come back to you if it starts to get too far away; carry an emergency supply of treats in the stuff sack for when the ones in your pockets run out; use the longer and shorter lengths of lead to give your dog practise at being close in and further out and in the interests of everyone's shoes clean always carry a poop bag in the stuff sack to clean up after your Dog.
You may also like to try the Stunt Puppy Stunt Runner or the Everyday Leashes available from stuntpuppy.com to help with training your dog to be peacefully by your side.
The Tip Of The Training Iceberg
Training your dog is fun and rewarding for both of you, or at least it should be. This is just the tip of the training iceberg and there's a whole field of science dedicated to this. As we said, we're not dog trainers so do your homework on trainers in your area.
We love the work and the ways of Dr Susan Friedman around behaviour and learning. She's a rare breed of genius, warmth and accessibility. You can learn about her at http://www.behaviorworks.org. The University of YouTube is also filled with easy to follow training videos that you can refer to, and seek out a good trainer in your area to get you started.