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Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer & Pet Expert at FearlessPet.com
Does your little dog pull on leash? Just because they are small doesn’t mean it’s ok. Leash pulling can be frustrating for the human and the dog, regardless of the dog’s size. It can also be painful for your pup as small dogs have delicate necks and bodies. Constant pulling on leash can cause injuries.
It’s important to teach dogs to stop pulling on leash and, you can make it a fun and rewarding experience.
Remember three things:
- Dogs pull on leash because we follow.
- Reward the good and ignore the bad.
- Teach your dog what to do INSTEAD of pulling. In this case it will be walking without pressure on the leash.
Leash training is fairly simple in theory, takes some time and patience, but is well worth it. The time you spend pulling your dog back and forth now (or being frustrated by their pulling) can be better spent in rewarding them for the good behaviors and changing the entire walk experience forever. One challenge you may find with training small dogs is the delivery of treats. It’s best if you can bend down to feed them directly but if you are unable to do so you can gently drop them right in front of your dog. This technique may encourage foraging so another alternative is to use a stick or wooden spoon and treats that are moist and will stick to the end.
To train your little dog to stop pulling on leash you will need:
- A comfortable collar or harness (NOT a choke or prong collar).
- Rewards (this will depend on your dog – do they prefer treats, verbal praise, physical touch or toys?) – whichever they like best is what you should use. For treats, you want to “bring your best”. We recommend Zuke’s as they are soft, delicious, made in the USA and now come in tiny sizes for training small dogs. If your dog is more motivated by toys purchase a small, new toy. If they will be excited by a squeaker, be sure the new toy has one. Save the above rewards for leash training ONLY. If using a new toy you will offer a quick play session when your dog is doing well rather than treats. If they would prefer petting or verbal praise, that works too!
- A hands-free belt/leash set (recommended but not required). This will help you to relax, eliminate the urge to jerk on the leash and provide you with more flexibility in offering rewards.
- If your dog has been pulling on leash for a while, it will take some time for them to understand what you want them to do instead.
You will begin this training in a distraction free zone, preferably inside of your home. If you have children or other pets it’s best to close off a quiet area away from them, in the beginning. Practice this training daily, if possible, for 10-15 minutes or as long as your dog is engaged. Learning stops you’re your dog is not engaged.
Once they are doing well indoors, move the training to a very quiet outdoor area such as your backyard or an empty parking lot. Practice here for a week or so then, move onto a quiet street or neighborhood but don’t move onto a busy park or trail until they are doing VERY well. A good plan is to practice indoors for one week, in your backyard for the next week and so forth.
It’s important to start without distractions so that your dog has every chance to succeed and learn. It’s too much to ask of them to learn to stop pulling on leash when they are surrounded by distractions such as squirrels, people and other dogs.
To train loose leash walking:
- Make a commitment to stop allowing your dog to pull on the leash.
- Let go of any expectations of distance; you will be focusing on training, not how far you go.
- Leash your dog in your home and have the new, exciting rewards in a pouch or pocket. Let your dog know you have them but put them out of sight for training.
- Begin with your dog in a sit, next to you.
- Take a few steps and before they have a chance to pass you REWARD them with a treat and say “YES!” or “GOOD girl/boy”. Continue this all around your home. It will take some time for them to understand why you are so happy (you’re using your happy voice right?). If you pay attention you will see the moment they catch on. If they pass and pull, STOP. If they are pulling into the leash, turn around and go a different direction and reward them again after you have taken at least two steps (you need to be careful to reward the loose leash and not the turn). Continue this training for 10-15 min every day for a week if possible. After the first week, if they are doing well, move onto a backyard, quiet court or parking lot.
- Reward and praise heavily the first two weeks of training. If your dog becomes disinterested in the treats try real meat cut into tiny pieces. (You will taper down on treats but it’s important to have their attention for training). If using a toy, offer a quick play session when your dog has done well then put the toy away.
- Always pair the reward with a word (Yes! Or Good girl/boy) so that when you taper down the reward they will associate the word with doing the right thing.
- After week two you will start to taper down on treats/play. Reward your dog every other or every third time for weeks 3 and 4. After week 4 it’s good to offer an occasional reward as a surprise and to keep your pup happy and engaged.
- If your dog loses interest in the treats or toy, use a small squeaky toy on your back pocket and squeak it to get their attention.
- If you are having trouble or become frustrated, take a break!
- If you catch your dog doing really well offer them a “Jackpot” which would be a quick handful of treats or longer play session. This will help them to remember how great they are and dogs always appreciate that.
- Resist the urge to pull your dog back or jerk on the leash. This is not an effective way to teach them to stop pulling.
Once training is complete:
Mix up your movements by moving sporadically and unpredictably so they have to start focusing on you. Walk in figure 8s, make up zig zags or simply turn around, unannounced. This will help you dog to get more in tune with where you are.