Leash Training

Leash Training Your Dog for an Enjoyable Walk

Leash training your GSD is a very important part of dog training. Going out for walks should be enjoyable for both you and your pet. The big problem about going out with your dog on a leash is that it’s inherently uncomfortable and if done incorrectly can create many unwanted problems.

In this article I want to introduce to you 3 exercises you can practice with your pooch on every walk. These use positive and fun methods and will teach your dog self control, that walking next to you is rewarding and that pulling on the leash leads nowhere.

Going out on walks with your dog takes two though. This means that you also need to learn some things to be able to enjoy outings. Paying attention to your dog and avoiding frustration and punishments are at the top of the list.

If you live in a major or even big city, where distractions, sounds and other doggos are complicating leash training ~~ take it slow. More often than not, practice and loads of patience, is all it takes.

Before you start leash training your dog

  • In the below exercises below, use the word “Good job!” or “Yes!”. The first thing we need to teach your GSD is what is called “a marker word or sound”. It’s very easy to teach: just say “Good job!” and immediately afterwards give him/her a treat. Repeat until your GSD hears the word and starts wagging its tail before you deliver the treat. For more information you can learn more about markers here.

Exercise your GSD frequently. Play games with him/her in the backyard and take him/her to dog parks (if applicable, see Dog Sociability is a Spectrum) or preferably on doggo dates with other responsible doggo owners for socialisation and interaction with other dogs. This will keep your GSD more calm in general.

  • Never give a jerk on the leash. Your GSD will pull and YOU will teach him/her not to but you also need to STOP yanking the leash. If you find yourself doing this, try putting the hand that holds the leash behind your back.
  • Use a Martingale collar and a 1.5-2 metre leash, non-retractable, for training. This is the best way to teach your dog.

Leash training your dog: Exercise 1:

Self-control before going out the door

Having a difficulties putting the leash on because your GSD is bopping around like a jack-in-a-box?

Then, to prevent your dog leash pulling, you first need to teach him/her self-control. This is easy but it requires you to be patient and very consistent!

Don’t use  treats for leash training your GSD, the act of getting the leash on and going out will be the reward itself!

  1. Grab the leash. If your DSD starts behaving like an complete nutjob, put it back in place and walk away.
  2. Wait until your GSD calms down, the moment he/she calms down grab the leash again.
  3. If he/she gets crazy ~~ you guessed right ~~ put the leash back and wait until he/she calms down again.
  4. Repeat the above steps until your GSD gives up, gets tired of jumping or learns that if he/she is sitting down the leash will get attached to his collar and the pair of you, will go outside.
  5. Needless to say, you need to start this with plenty of time to succeed. And you need patience, lots of it! Actually, it is  recommend practicing this 3-5 times a day even if you are not going out for a walk with your dog until he/she starts understanding what he/she needs to do.

~~ TIP ~~

To speed up leash training your dog, try doing 5-10 mini sessions a day. But make each walk outside shorter to save some time (a short walk around the block).

If you do this, you will also be able to practice these exercises in short session which is also beneficial.

To help your GSD achieve self-control faster you can also try a similar exercise when feeding him/her.

  1. Ask your GSD to sit before you put the food bowl down.
  2. If at any point while bending to place the bowl on the floor your dog stands up, start over.
  3. Only place the food bowl all the way down when your GSD remains sitting the whole time.

This sub-exercise is actually for you, the human. You will notice, as you do it, that you won’t be able to put the food bowl down in one movement. You may have to bend a few inches and as your GSD stands up, you should stand up too. You will need to slowly and progressively repeat this until you can put the food bowl on the floor in one movement. The whole process may take a few days if your dog has a lot of energy and very little impulse-control.

When doing the “Dance of the Dog Leash”, you need to use the same principle. Progressively get the leash near your GSD only if he/she is standing still. You won’t be able to do it in one movement in the beginning, but if you work slowly, eventually you will get there.

Leash training your dog exercise 2:

Staying close to you is rewarding!

This exercise will prevent dog leash pulling by teaching him/her that staying close to you has its rewards!

Using  the dog training method capturing. The idea is to catch your GSD doing the correct behaviour, in this case walking nicely close to you.

Step 1: Have treats with you when going out for a walk, a treat pouch attached to your waist can be very useful. You must bring high value treats! Because you will be competing against difficult distractions (other dogs, cats, bunnies, people, cars, etc).

Step 2: Start walking normally and wait for the right moment. Every time your pet comes near you (even if it is by chance), MARK & REWARD

Step 3: Repeat until you notice that your GSD chooses to stay near you. When you start with this exercise, you may reward your GSD only a few times but then, as your GSD realises that if he/she stays near you treats appear, you will reward more and more often.

Step 3b: It may be that you feel your dog NEVER comes near you during a walk. At some point, even if only through chance he/she will. However, a way to work through this a little faster is to first reward even if your dog is further away from you than what you want. You MARK & REWARD if the leash is somewhat loose (not tight). Then, naturally, your GSD will start getting closer to you and you will be able to reward those times too.

Step 4: When your GSD starts to come close to you more often, you can cut down the treats. The best way to do this is by randomly rewarding a few of his/her approaches and ignoring others, approximately 70% of the time.

Step 5: Eventually, your GSD will adopt the habit of walking near you, and you won’t need to reward at all. If your GSD is a puppy, it is recommended that you continue rewarding randomly until the dog becomes an adult. If your dog is already an adult (over 2 years old), then practice until you feel comfortable that you both get the habit of loose leash walking down pat.

Step 6: If at any point in time you dog seems to regress, simply reapply the above steps.

This exercise will not necessarily make your dog walk nicely on a leash, but with repetition and practice your dog will learn that being next to you is good and he will start to do it more often.

~~ TIP ~~

This exercise will not necessarily make your dog walk nicely on a leash, but with repetition and practice your dog will learn that being next to you is good and he will start to do it more often.

Leash training your dog exercise 3:

Pulling on the leash leads nowhere

This exercise is a little grueling so my recommendation is that you think about it like a game. You are going to play Red LightGreen Light to teach your dog to stop pulling on the leash and walk nicely.

Like working on self control, this exercise does not require the use of treats. Being able to continue walking down the path will be the reward.

Step 1: Start walking naturally, try a brisk pace. As soon as you feel the leash tightening, STOP (Red light when the leash is tight). Do not pull on the leash yourself! Just stop walking.

Step 2: Wait for your pet to look at you or loosen the tightness in the leash. As soon as this happens start walking again (Green light when the leash is loose). The most important concept here is timing. As soon as the leash becomes a little loose, MARKand continue walking.

Usually, the leash will become loose when your dog: looks at you, start to turn around, starts to sit or takes a step backwards. If you wait until your dog sat completely or turned around and came to you to MARK and continue walking, the walk will be choppy and your dog may instead think that he is required to sit to keep walking. Your goal is to convey to your pet that loose leash is needed to keep walking.

Step 3: Repeat often. Be patient and think about it as a game! Do 5-10 short sessions a daily in the beginning, but keep them short! keep them short.

~~ TIPS ~~

Practice this on your way back, when your dog is tired, then progressively work backwards.

Pay attention to your GSD and work on your timing. If you stop, and get distracted and fail to MARK and keep walking when the leash is loose, your GSD will not understand what is going on. The same concept applies while walking. If you walk for several steps and then remember to stop because your GSD is pulling on the leash, he/she won’t understand that STOP only happens when the leash is loose.

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