Quiz: When does your dog walk start?

A. When you put the lead on?
B. When you leave your house or car?
C. Before you put the lead on?

In my opinion, the answer is “C”.

There are so many ways to teach a dog to walk on lead without pulling but if your dog is not listening to you before you leave the house, they are unlikely to be able to walk nicely with you outside.

What is your pre-walk routine?

An effective pre-walk routine sets you and your dog up for a successful lead walk. So, what is your current pre-walk routine? When you pick up your dog’s lead, do they start bouncing around and become too excited to listen to what you ask them to do or do they stand quietly for you to put on their lead?

A dog who is responsive and clear headed inside the house is more likely to be able to walk nicely outside. So here are some tips for training an effective pre-walk routine.

Tip 1 – Match your dog’s excitement level

If you have a highly excited dog or a very young dog, then trying to “calm them down” before a walk is a little futile. We often rush these dogs to start walking, thinking that a walk will “burn off” the energy but typically adding stimulation to an already excited dog will only increase their excitement levels.

Instead, we need to match our dogs’ level of excitement in the house or yard before leashing up. By playing structured games, we can gradually focus the dog’s attention on us and prepare them for a walk. Here are some games we can play to prepare our dogs for a successful lead walk.

  • Fetch – After a few repetitions of fetch, ask your dog to perform an extra behaviour before throwing the ball or toy e.g. ask for a sit before throwing. Every couple of repetitions increase the number of behaviours for which you ask your dog before you throw the toy or ball again e.g. sit, drop, sit. This progression will help the dog move into a thinking frame of mind.
  • Tug – Play tug, alternating between allowing the dog to win and asking for an “out”. After a few repetitions, ask the dog to perform a behaviour before releasing them onto the tug toy. Like with “fetch” ask for a little more from your dog every couple of repetitions.
  • Targeting games – For dogs who know how to target their foot or nose to an object, you can ask your dog to move back and forward between targets like mats or dog beds. You can play this game quickly to start which matches your dog’s level of excitement. Gradually, you can add some duration to the target to get your dog into a thinking frame of mind.
  • Food games – Structured food games like 2 food game, treat scatters and pattern games are also great ways to lower excitement levels and help focus the dog on you.

Tip 2 – Find loose lead walking position

Once your dog is able to respond to your cues, ask them to find their “loose lead walking” position without their leash on. When the dog finds the position, reward them several times. Take a few steps and reinforce the dog for walking with you.

Once your dog is leashed up, return to this step to reinforce loose lead walking position on lead. Your can reward this position all the way to the front door or gate.

Reinforcing the loose lead walking position before heading out for the walk creates a predictable pattern for the dog. By doing this pattern before each walk, the dog knows what is expected of them.

Tip 3 – Stay still for leashing up

Your dog is now thinking and connected with you and they can find their loose lead walking position, so you are ready to put the leash on. When the leash is presented, we want to reward the dog for remaining still for leashing up. The position the dog takes, i.e. sit, stand, or stand on a platform is dependent on each dog. Also remember, some dogs do not like people reaching over their heads, so choose the way your dog is comfortable having their lead or harness attached.

Here are a few tips for reducing excitement and creating an effective pre-walk routine. In our Puppy 2 and Foundation courses, your trainer will provide more tips and training exercises so you and your dog enjoy your lead walk together.
Teamwork Dogs aims to help you train a great family dog. We offer group training classes for puppies aged from 10 weeks to adult dogs.

Happy training!