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Train Leash Walking - Step 1 - Understand This

You don't need empathy necessarily to stop leash pulling. But you need to understand something.

Step one to good leash behavior is an imaginary conversation. For real. Get comfortable. Close your eyes and imagine you are transported back 100 years to talk to a grand or great grandparent.

A young boy in a red cap walking with books under his arm accompanied by two unleashed dogs
100 Years Ago. Leash walking not a thing.

Tell them your plan is to tie your dog to a 6 foot rope and you will hold the other end and train them to walk by your side all over the place, including in new, interesting and scary places. Like really any place outside except the yard.

My ancestor's first thought would be that I hadn't turned out to be very bright. And then out loud they would patiently explain that a dog isn't going to like that. Dogs like to run around and sniff and chase stuff.

A cowboy on a black horse on a mountain with two Australian Shepards

It wouldn't be a humane concern really. Life was rough back then and, while nice people, they were rougher on people and animals than would be acceptable today. But part of navigating a rough, demanding existence was understanding the facts of life. And how animals are is one of those facts to move with. They would probably have let me try it so I could see for myself how the dog was going to react.

If I went on to tell them in the future and all the dogs wore leashes, even together, and there were lots of problems with pulling, aggression, and bonkers behavior they would have said "Well of course. They don't like that." (Affirming their first thought. That I wasn't too bright).

A young girl walking on a path in a field with a black dog

This doesn't mean don't use leashes. To me it's a little like driving cars. Problematic? Sure. But necessary for the life we live. Just understand how unnatural leashes are and how natural it is for a dog to act badly on them. Nobody from any period in history until now would have expected anything besides gnashing teeth, flying fur, and pulling the person around in an attempt to run.

What might surprise these old farmers is that actually, in my experience, the overwhelming majority of dogs CAN learn to relax and be calm and comfortable on a leash. It took me a long time, a lot of mind shifts, and a constant open mind to figure out how to do it.

A young child walking a brown dog on a loose leash down a suburban street

My training process is comprehensive and dog-centric. It can't be contained in a blog. But here are some key facts to get started.

  1. Dogs don't want to walk. They want to run.

Getting your dog as much off leash running and exploring as possible will make it much easier and humane for the dog to be calm and under control on a leash. Using a long line or remote collar for safety is advised if you are not in a fenced area.

A brown Spanish Water Dog and Black Toy Poodle on a dirt tree lined path
Stella and Neville exploring nature

2. Leash training takes hundreds of hours over a long time.

Dogs have 4 legs. We have 2. It takes a long time (and literal neurological reprogramming) and a lot of practice for the dog to find a stride that is compatible with yours. If your dog is growing, this is going to further complicate them finding their stride as their brain and body changes.

A white woman lures a golden doodle in the heel posiition
Give 10-20 hours of luring practice in a low distraction environment for dog to find their stride

3. It's OK to take a walk without your dog.

You DO need to ensure your dog is getting adequate exercise and enrichment. (And young large breed dogs need an ungodly amount). But a leash walk isn't the ideal way anyway. If what your mental and physical health needs is a brisk walk in the morning and your dog loves to weave and sniff or takes constant vigilance, go ahead and leave them at home. IT'S OK! Meet their needs a different way and feel free (and proud) to take care of your own health.

A Black woman with a pink tank, pink ear buds, and grey yoga pants walking briskly through a tree lined park
It's OK to enjoy a walk without your dog

4. Leash training is not "linear"

Leash training involves a lot of different stuff. It isn't a series of steps you complete and scaffold to get to your goal.

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