I meet a lot of people that say “my dog will only come or stay if I have a treat”. My answer to that is: “You may be using the treats incorrectly!”. For the most part, when you’re training come and stay, the treat should not be present. Treats should be in a pouch, in a closed fist and/or behind your back. It should be about the BEHAVIOR of the dog, not the reward. The reward comes later, as a reinforcer. The only time a treat should be visually present is when you are luring (see notes below for definition of lure) a dog into their first sits, downs and during leash training for heel work. For the sit and down, the treat should be replaced by a hand signal ASAP. Other than that, the dog shouldn’t see your treats on a regular basis. Obviously they know you have them but, if you’re using the treat to get your dog to come or stay, I urge you to change that by surprising them instead. For come you have to ask yourself “What can I do to get my dog to come to me?” This means: Am I EXCITING enough, positive and fun? Or am I simply standing still and saying their name? That’s not very enticing. Move your body, say their name in a happy voice and make coming to you FUN. Mix up your rewards between food, toys, praise and petting (surprise your dog with ALL once in a while).
Because food is a Primary Reinforcer for dogs training your dog using treats is a very effective way to change behaviors. Some dogs will even train with their dry food (kibble) which can be a great way to utilize their mealtimes for training. You can also try mixing their kibble half-and-half with treats. If you aren't using your dog's meal for training, be sure you deduct the same amount from their next meal so they don't become overweight.
Here are some ways treats are used in training:
With all of this being said, it’s important to be aware of WHERE the treat is during the training. If you aren’t using it as a lure (see #1 above), it shouldn’t be in plain sight.
If you'd like to see the video that goes with this post, you can do so here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti6ASuZvjTA
I strongly believe in TRAINING a dog to stop pulling on leash rather than relying on a device; be it a collar, harness or other equipment. I do not recommend prong or choke collars, they take away from our connection with our dogs and I believe that training is all about connection. I would also like to add that it’s important to separate training from walking. If you plan to do an “exercise” walk while training, please don’t. Training shouldn't have any expectations of distance, this will only create frustration for you and your dog.
There are several methods you can use to teach your dog to stop pulling on leash. I will cover three here. Personally, I just like a nice, loose leash but some want their dog beside them at times so if that’s you, #3 will be your best choice. I encourage you to try everything and decide what you like.
Before you begin remember:
To start leash training. Have some of your dog’s favorite treats ready but please note: Let’s make the reward the WALK, not the treats. We will use the treats to reinforce the dog’s position but they should see or work to the food. Keep them out of sight in a pouch or pocket and only use them as recommended below.
When I say “reward” I mean verbal praise AND treats. This is called “pairing”. The goal is to say the praise while offering the treat so we “load” the praise. This way, we can taper out the treats and the word still has good meaning to the dog going forward.
I use three methods for teaching loose leash walking - I suggest you try all three and choose one to use consistently.
1. Turn around. When your dog pulls on leash say “uh oh’ and turn around. Take a few steps and say “good dog” the MOMENT they are beside you (they will naturally have to get beside you because you just turned around). Reward them with a treat when you say good dog. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you are turning around constantly try to walk faster and be SURE you are catching all of the moments your dog is in the right place. You cannot over reward your dog being next to you, let them know how much you like it and they will do more!
2. Back step. When your dog pulls on leash or get further ahead then you want take two to three steps backward (but don’t turn around). Watch your footing, you will be facing forward but moving backwards. Keep the leash anchored and steady against your body so you aren’t using it to pull your dog back. Anchoring it makes the dog have to follow you. When they arrive at you, proceed forward again. Here the walk is the reward. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Reward your dog for all of the steps you take WITHOUT them pulling or being ahead of you.
3. Bring back: When your dog pulls on leash say their name and start walking backwards. Bend over slightly to “lure” them towards you. (You will now be face to face). Once they come all the way to you, turn your body around clockwise (RIGHT) and they will end up in the perfect heel position on your left. Don’t turn RIGHT until they have connected with your (I prefer eye contact but that might be too much for your dog – try it and see). Next, take a step and reward them QUICKLY by saying “good heel” and treat (taper treat later). Feel free to continue feeding treats to keep them there, for several steps for the first week or two. Try holding a treat by your side and “luring” them for a while too (keep them interested but don’t give it to them for several steps). If they go ahead or pull repeat, repeat, repeat. This means you may have to walk backwards for several steps so be sure you have clearance behind you. Every time you turn around, your dog will be in heel position and the more you reward that, the longer they will stay there.
Having trouble? Work on building eye contact and name response with your dog, this will come in handy during leash training. If they pull, say “watch me” (once trained) or their name to get their attention and to stop pulling.
Have fun and use loads of happy, verbal praise and delicious treats at first. Walks should be fun for both of you. This training will be worth it, stick to it and watch your dog start to naturally get into place and try to please you.
Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
I understand that leash pulling is one of the most frustrating challenges many of you face. I happen to LOVE teaching it so I am going to try to explain it from my point of view.
It's important to think about WHY you dog is pulling. This can vary many times during a walk. Is it to sniff a bush, get to another dog or to move faster? Once you define the reason, it's easier to figure out the solution.
Let's say there’s a dog across the way and your dog is pulling to meet them. In this case, no matter what your dog is wearing (any type of collar or harness) they will probably STILL PULL. Greeting or reacting to other dogs is one of the main reasons a dog will pull hard on leash. The solution? Teach a really solid "Leave It". This will solve the problem and knowing leave it is an excellent skill for any dog regardless.
Let's say your dog is pulling to sniff a bush - you could use leave it OR, as I would recommend, use it as a reward. So, if I am walking a dog and they start to pull towards something like a bush or plant I will say "let's go", turn around and then make a conscious effort to get the dog back to the bush with a loose leash (even if I have to pick up my pace for a moment) as the reward. If you are consistent with this method your dog will learn that they never get what they want when the pull but they do get it when the leash is loose.
Sometimes, dogs simply have a faster pace than we do. In this case you can teach "easy" by saying it and rewarding the dog when they slow down and "hurry" by teaching them to step up their pace on command (maybe I should do a video on this!). This way you teach the dog when and where it's necessary for them to slow down but you also speed up for them as a reward too.
If your dog pulls on leash simply to forge ahead, that is simple to teach – stop following them. Stop, wait for them to stop pulling into the leash and only move forward when they take the pressure off. If they pull again, turn around, reward the moment they catch up to your side and continue. The first few walks will be frustrating – if you let them be. Otherwise, breathe and laugh thinking “Oh ya! you are just being a happy dog”. Remember, your dog isn’t pulling to make you mad. They are pulling because they have places to be, people to see and lots of things to sniff (so use all of those things as the reward).
You can also teach heel and release the dog with an “ok” when they can sniff. I prefer loose leash walking personally but some would rather have their dog closer in. I am happy as long as I’m not being pulled so I reward the times the dog is not pulling, stop or turn around when they are and it ALWAYS resolves. Each dog is different so it may take a couple of walks or a few weeks, depending on the rate at which the dog learns, my commitment to the training and the time we put in.
I believe every interaction with a dog should be in the best interest of all involved. I always think about the reasons the dog is "misbehaving" (although to the dog it's not so) and work with that in a way that solves the problem and also supports the dog's well-being.
The one thing you will need most of all for this training is patience but once you get the hang of it, you will find it rewarding and fun for both of you. My leash training videos are packed full of tips and tricks to help you and your dog get out and enjoy some great walks together.
Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant