Leash Manners - What's important to you and how do you tell your dog what you want?
What is Leash Manners?Before we can talk about leash manners we have to make sure we are all on the same page. People have various different definitions for positions they like to have their dog walk in. Let me start by saying there is not one way, the right way, or one size fits all approach to leash manners. In this post I'm going to explain various positions and cues that I use. Not so that you'll train this way too, but so you know what I mean when you read about leash manners in this blog.
Leashes & Tools
I use various different leashes to predict the type of walk I plan to take with my dogs. Typically I'm using a longer leash (6-10 ft) when hiking in low traffic areas and shorter leashes (2-4 ft) in high traffic areas. This helps my dog(s) decide how close I want them to stay and how carefully I want them to pay attention to me vs the environment. I have found that a 2 ft leash clipped to either a waist belt or shoulder strap is the best set up during public access training. You want your dog to be able to lay down in a heel at your feet, but not have so much leash that either you or your dog are tripping on it.
I also use a Y-front Harness
**Harnesses do not cause pulling!"
But they do make it easier for a dog to self reward because they can lean into a pull to reach a smell or other distraction. For that reason, I suggest using a harness with a front and back clip for all adolescents and continue to do so until the dog has the leash skills for all environments. For the best control you must use a dual clip leash or adapter so that you can use both front and back clips the same time. If you use only the front clip and the dog pulls hard the harness will twist and potentially harm the dog's leg that it gets pulled inot. If you use only the back clip, the dog may pull hard enough to hurt you. The dual clip provides tension on both to turn the pulling dog back around so they can't continue to pull toward the distraction.
Cues I use & their meaning to me
Loose Leash or Relaxed Walking: This is more a exercise walk where I want my dog(s) to enjoy all the environment has to offer, so they can walk anywhere they want as long as they are not pulling me. I've used multiple cues over the years to help my dogs remember to avoid pulling me. In previous days, I would tell my dog to stop pulling with a cue "easy" or "enough" or some other harsh voiced term. These are called Non-Reward Markers and can easily become aversive, especially if we've paired these with leash corrections. The newer, more educated me has learned that dogs struggle more when we tell them not to do something and instead we need to tell them what we need them to do. I've worked my way through several cues here to finding something that works for me and this might be something I'm constantly tweaking. The more I use the same cue word over and over again, the easier it is for ME to allow my emotions to show through with voice inflections and when that happens I change my cue. Currently I tell Azul to slow down, wait for me, or far enough as his reminder or I might give him an alternate cue that he can't do from far away such as Walk Nice, Check In (look at me), U-Turn (follow me the other direction), etc.
Loose Heel: This is a relaxed heel where I want Azul at my side, but don't necessarily need him to pay 100% attention to me, staring up at me. For this type of heel I use "walk nice" with Azul and I've also used "with me" with previous dogs. This is what I use mostly in public places, but I also use it out on the trail if we are walking passed another person on the trail or something is heading our way such as a jogger, bike, or another dog.
Heel: This is the formal, competition style heel where the dog is to give me 100% focus while there shoulder is in line with my knee and they are looking at me. We use this for crossing roads or passing other dogs if one of them is anxious or over-excited.
Wait: For when I need to pause for a moment which could be at an intersection, when I need to check my phone, or any reason on our walk that we need to simply stop and stand still for a moment. Azul can sniff and look around, but his feet should remain still without stepping any direction as he waits for my next cue. If I'm doing something where he doesn't need to remain still, I'll use the cue "Wait Here A Minute" which allows him to be more flexible but he knows I'm not moving for a minute.
Directional Cues: These are advanced cues that I give my dogs mainly on longline sniff-a-bouts: left/right, this way (move in my direction), go around/this side (avoid the obstacle by staying on the same side as me), this way (walk my direction or change directions with me). These cues I begin teaching in adolescence, but continue to teach throughout life as we increase our communication skills as a team.
Teaching Heel or Walk Nice
I use the same methods to teach heel and walk nice! However with young dogs that are still learning I only use the "walk ice" or "with me" cue. I don't teach the formal heel until my dog is starting to come out of adolescence and learning to control themselves a bit more. Of course we still have to cross roads and such with my younger pups, but they are often still trying to figure out the loose heel position so I only use that cue.
With my very young puppies I work to teach them that reinforcement comes in the position by my side. I do this without any cues and when they are figuring it out I and the "walk nice" cue. Here is a video of puppy Azul doing practice exercises in the house. I do a lot of practice in the house and outside I wait for my puppies to choose to be at my side, offering lots of reinforcing treats when they make this choice. They are always free to move away and sniff any time they want, but earn reinforcement every few steps when they stay at my side. This is where I add my cue. You can see lots of videos on YouTube about teaching this stage. But this is often where the training assistance stops. Yet, as dog owners we need to be able to take this into the real world.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when moving out into the world, is not having realistic expectations for how long puppies can maintain this position without moving off to do doggie stuff. That's because even as a puppy, our dogs are individuals and all progress at different rates. The key is to adding in distance & duration in heel slowly. Here are a few ways that I add distance to my loose heel position.
- The Cone Game: Set cones, cups, or even paper plates about 5 feet apart in the beginning. Let pup explore as you walk up to the first cone, stopping and giving your cue then luring into position if needed. Use your lure or target hand if necessary to walk to the 2nd cone in the loose heel position. At the 2nd cone release them to sniff until you get to the 3rd cone. And alternate between loose heel, then sniff, then loose leash, then heel, changing back and forth at each cone. Slowly increase the distance between the cones. If pup is struggling, I'll increase the distance between the cones that will be free sniffy time and keep the distance short for the loose heel position, slowly working toward getting them to the same length. If you set up 6-8 cones, you can do a U-Turn at the end and walk back the other direction or stop and take a break.
- Use things that naturally occur on your walking path to help teach the loose heel during your exercise walks. The walking trails that I use tend to have small foot bridges occasionally, so with a younger dog I will always ask for a loose heel on the bridge. This allows for safety incase others come across while you are there, but also provides an unchanging distance that your dog will be in position before they are released. They learn that switching surfaces between the trail and bridge predict the expected walking position. I then look for other naturally occurring surface changes along our walking paths.
- Use approaching distractions to predict the need to walk at your side. We all have had a pup that struggles with jumping on people when they first met. However they can't jump on someone while in the loose heel position. So when we see people approaching we work on heel or a sit/stay while those people walk passed. This also provides safety for other things that might be passing us; traffic at an intersection, dogs walking near us, and pretty much anything moving toward us.
I want my dog to have a really good understanding of this cue before I take them into pet friendly stores for additional socialization environments. This is a good place to build up duration using a shorter leash inside places that are not your home. Check out this video that shows Azul's skills at different ages.
Now this video isn't here to show you what to expect at any certain age, but more to show you that progress takes time! Avoid comparing your dog's skills to others their age because every dog is different. Work the dog in front of you!
If you'd like more info about advanced your dog's heel skills to the next level, check out the post from Canine Coach, Elliot Brooks at the Crazy2Calm website.
Once your dog has learned what YOUR criteria for walking in a loose heel is, you can add the cue you want and slowly add in distance, duration, and distraction. Then you can use this in practice sessions where you are working on focus around other dogs.
Check out my previous blogs on Why Sniff-A-Bouts are Important, Taking a Sniff-A-Bout & Walking Your Adolescent that were part of my June & August Themes.
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