Loose lead walking. It is a concept we see mentioned often as a vital part of happy relationships with our dogs. Loose lead walking, once established, aids in making walks more relaxing and fun for all involved. Given its importance in making the human and canine relationship better, any methods necessary to get your dog to walk on a loose lead are surely a good thing? Not so. As with anything we wish our dogs to learn, there are kind and ethical methods to show them what we want, and there are aversive, unethical and frankly unpleasant methods as well.
Less years ago than the more enlightened dog people are comfortable with, it seemed as if every single person walked their dog on what proponents call a ‘check chain’ but what I now refer to as a ‘choke chain’. That is what it does, particularly in the hands of those that have not been educated in the structures located in the dog’s neck. This is a large part of the rise in popularity of harnesses as opposed to attaching a lead to a collar, regardless of whether or not loose lead walking is established.
A harness is not a quick fix to create loose lead walking without putting in the time to teach a dog what we want, however. Training loose lead walking is not a quick process, particularly in a dog who has already learned to pull. It can be done, however, with a plentiful application of patience and tasty treats. The easiest way to have an end result of a dog that is happily established in their loose lead walking is to start out as a puppy (with the tasty treats!) and teach them right from the start so that they never learn to pull. That is not always possible, and definitely not for the people that choose rescue dogs who are often older and have already established habits.
The most effective basic method is the same, whether for a young puppy or an older dog, using a flat collar or a harness, and is commonly known as the 300 peck method. It starts with consistently rewarding the dog when they are in the position you want them to be for loose lead walking. As training progresses, treats are given at longer intervals so that, in the beginning, a reward comes at every stride, then every other stride, every third stride and so on. After a successful time of this, reward comes intermittently so that the dog never knows it is coming on that stride, and so will stay loose lead walking as they know a reward will come at some point while they are walking nicely.
If loose lead walking is part of ensuring we enjoy our time together and strengthening our human/canine relationships, does it make sense to use any method that might cause pain and fear and, as a result, damaging that bond?.