Many times humans are unaware that they are on a different communication wave length than dogs. The pet owner is frustrated because they think they are clearly communicating, but the dog is confused and many times begins to shut down. It reminds me of someone speaking English to a person who does not understand the language. Instead of changing what they say or their gestures, they continue to say the same thing, getting louder each time. To work toward polite leash walking skills, you must first know how to successfully speak your dog’s language.
One of the ways we communicate to each other is through the movement of our hands and arms. “Move the chair over there,” we say as we extend our arm and point to the corner of the room. Other humans would automatically know where “there” is from the arm extension and finger point. If we want to position our children just right for a family photo, we will use our hands to move them into the exact pose. We do the same with our dogs because, after all, we are human and this is the way we communicate to each other.
As our dogs begin to pull, our natural instinct is to pull the leash back with our hand and arm, to move them into the desired position. We assume our dogs understand that when we pull back on the leash they understand the desired position, but as we have observed the dogs just don’t get it.
The Body as a Whole
If you have ever watched a dog herd, he will move in the direction that he wants the flock to go. Dogs understand movement in a completely different way than humans. Dogs use a combination of body movement, pressure and release of pressure to get the herd to move. Rather than moving only your arm to communicate the direction you would like your dog to go, you must move your entire body.
Dogs understand movement in a completely different way than humans. When walking him on the leash, rather than moving your arm to communicate the direction you would like him to go, you must move your entire body.
If I wanted you to move closer to me, I would take steps close to you and you would naturally take steps toward me. Dogs are the opposite. If I take two steps toward a dog, he will take two steps back. Have you ever noticed when you start to walk toward your dog, unlike a human, he will back up?
To communicate on the leash in a way that your dog will understand, you must use your whole body movement in the opposite direction that you want him to go.
Michelle Huntting’s Training Method
You will need treats, clicker*, leash, dog, and bait bag (treat tote).
*Clicker is not required. Handler can use a verbal marker like the word “yes” instead.
For the first few times you work on this exercise, take the leash handle with your dominant hand and place your hand with the leash against your tummy (with hand flat pressing the leash against tummy, as shown in the picture of me below). This position will help you realize how much you are using your arms versus your body as a whole to get your dog into position.
How To Teach:
Step 1#: Start walking.
As you are moving forward, observe your dog. If you get one to two steps with your dog at your side, fantastic! Click and deliver treats, but make sure you keep walking. Please do not stop and ask for a sit as you deliver a treat, and then move on. It is completely fine to slow way down especially at first while you get the hang of it to deliver the treat, but please continue the movement.
Also, be watching your dog for any intention of moving out in front of you.
Step 2#: (If dog goes out in front of you), stop and make a sound. The sole purpose of this sound is to be polite. When I was pregnant, I had gotten so dehydrated that I was admitted to the hospital for fluids. The nurse was taking me down a hall as I was attached to the IV pole. She turned to go in a different direction without saying a word to me as I continued walking forward. I quickly changed directions, but in that moment, I thought, “Wow that must be how dogs feel when they are on leash and no one alerts them of a change.” It has been my experience that a sound gives a polite “heads up” that we’re moving or changing direction. Again, this sound should not be correctional, but a polite sound to let him know you are changing directions. Sometimes I use a quick “kissing” sound, and I have also used a quick “hup” sound.
I stopped because Boy went out in front of me. I made a sound and started moving back.
Please note: It’s crucial when you are going through this entire process that you go through the steps quickly. Don’t wait for him to look; simply go through the process. He will look at you once the movement begins.
Step 3#: Start backing up until your dog is behind you or at your side.
It is important to make sure that he is actually beside you or behind you. Many new handlers think that right in front of them is okay and reinforce this position. Right in front is not beside or behind.
Step 4#: When he’s behind or beside you, click (mark) and quickly move forward again.
Boy is behind me so I clicked and moved forward. Note from picture: With this method, at times when moving forward, you will need to shift the leash around your back to the front of your body again.
The reward in this situation is the movement forward, not a treat. If you treat after your dog moves out in front of you, your dog will more than likely learn the pattern of going out to the end of the leash and return for a tasty treat, and then repeat by going back out to the end of the leash.
Step 5#: During this entire process, any time your dog walks two or more steps alongside you, click (mark), and deliver a treat. Again, do not stop walking when delivering the treat, and never cue a sit when you are working on leash walking! Expect that it will take some practice to learn how to keep moving while you hand the treat to your dog, but I know you can do it. Watch your dog for ANY eye contact toward you; then click and treat.
Training Tip from my book Control On Leash
Building the bridge of communication between dog and pet guardian