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Loose Leash Walking Part I: Clarity

One of the biggest challenges dog owners face is how to teach their dog to walk politely on-leash without pulling or lunging. Why is this so difficult?

The main reason why it's so hard for dogs to walk nicely is because, from their perspective, humans are just sooooooo slow! The vast majority of dogs are much speedier walkers than their human companions. Obviously this ends in a situation where the leash is tight most of the time; the dogs are annoyed with having to slow down, and the people are annoyed with having to speed up!

Before you even *start* training your dog to walk nicely on a loose leash, however, it is really helpful to plan out a few things first as far as what you actually mean by "walk on a loose leash." By getting a little clarity for yourself, you'll then be able to give clarity to your dog. Ask yourself these questions, and then stick with them!

1) What side should my dog be on? Should he be allowed to change sides at will?

2) Can my dog be slightly ahead or me, or slightly behind, or does he need to be precisely at my side?

3) Is my dog allowed to sniff at things along the way? To stop and sniff?

4) Are there any special rules for the walk? For example, should the dog stop automatically at curbs? Should he stop and sit at curbs?

For casual walking, there is no one right answer for any of these questions. This is what I call "Owner preference" -- which means that you can teach the dog to do whatever you feel is best.

For me, I prefer the dog to be on my left side while walking. It is traditional to walk dogs on the left, so if everybody follows this custom, then if I pass someone coming straight at me on the sidewalk, there is a two-person buffer between the two dogs and I appreciate this. It also frees up my right hand and side to do things like check mail or hold packages.

Personally, I like my dog to be very slightly ahead of me. This way I can monitor what she's looking at, how she's doing, if she's panting, if she looks like she might be about to go after a squirrel so I need to step in immediately, etc. Again, this is a personal choice! One of my clients likes his dog to be squarely behind him, because he says he has tripped over the dog several times and this way the dog is out of his way!

My dog is totally allowed to sniff at things along the way, as long as she can "walk and sniff." Hey, part of the whole point of walking is to provide exercise and stimulation to them, and sniffing is an important part of that! So she can sniff as long as it's discrete and doesn't bother me or slow me down. She's *not* allowed to lunge off after scent trails (sorry, Halo!) and she's not allowed to stop me in order to spend more time sniffing at a spot. Now, sometimes if she's very polite and good with her leash-walking, then I'll walk along with her if she finds a good scent trail. This reinforces polite leash-walking by teaching the dog "if you want to go somewhere, keep the leash loose and just maybe you'll get there!"

For me, there are no special rules about curbs or stopping. Some of my clients though, have trained amazing automatic halt/sit/waits at curbs and I love to see those! She does, however, have a rule about dogs -- if she sees a dog, she's to check in with me and not go rushing off to greet it! 

Go ahead and ask and answer those questions for yourself, and next blog post will go into some of the nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts stuff about training loose-leash walking!

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