We all know that feeling when our furry companions try to pull our hands out of their sockets trying to go their own way without any heed for our plans (or feelings for that matter). Even with a small breed like Jack Russells, they are small but mighty and can pull with more power than one could expect. Pulling on a leash is normal behavior and they don’t do it to dominate you. I’m sure they think we’re acting weird with that straight line walking in boring slow pace. It’s perfectly normal and natural, just dogs being dogs – following their nose, eyes and ears to the next new interesting thing.
Walking calmly on a leash is one of, if not the most, crucial skill that your beloved pet must master. The best part is that in the same time you are learning to walk and move with them. This is where your persistence, patience and positive reinforcement comes a long way towards excellent results.
Walk the walk
Dogs and humans differ greatly in their manners of walking and it’s not just the different number of legs. We humans with our “fancy” two legged walk tend to take more or less uniform strides, while dogs trot and gallop and have an entirely different speed and pace of moving around. Your pet might be moving in one direction and speed in one moment, and completely change them in the next second, and do it a million times more in the space of a hundred yards.
We like to think that we know where we are going – we have a more purposeful movement from point A to point B that differs drastically from that of our four legged companions. Dogs are much more observant and curious of their immediate surroundings and tend to go anywhere seemingly at a whim. Walking on a leash restricts their natural movements and they tend to instinctively fight against that feeling. The same goes for us when they are tugging the leash making us lose balance and causing us discomfort and alarm.
Outdoors is full of distractions, new scent at every corner, new sounds, people, dogs, cats, squirrel…you know, it’s all more than interesting to your dog and therefore very distracting when learning new skills. For a start, think of loose leash walking as a trick, because it really is a trick for them. You are asking them to behave in a manner totally different from their natural behavior and they’ll learn it faster if you make it fun and rewarding.
And one other thing…. use effective tools in your favor. I don’t mean here on chokers and prong collars, those are really nasty non-humane tools that harm your dog’s body and mind. Use harnesses with front clip (clip on a dog’s chest). Some people use head leads and consider them positive tools, but I’ve seen many cases where it rubbed fur off of a dog’s nose so I think they are not too comfortable to wear. Those harnesses should turn your dog’s body toward you as soon as they start pulling. Please mind that those harnesses shouldn’t be used with retractable leashes.
Our choice was Ruffwear – Front Range Harness, harness easy enough to use for every day walking, with a leash clip on a chest, but sturdy enough for our adventures in the nature. We both love it, except it got dirty (but that’s the point of adventures, isn’t it?) it’s in the same condition as it was when purchased two years ago and we really use it for every walk (but not any more with chest clip) and it is really comfortable to Kala, my happy Jack.
Beside that one, PetSafe Easy Walk Harness is a great choice too. Comfortable, easy to use and gets the job done.
Start at home
As with all tricks, start a session at home, in well known environment. Put your dog on a leash, fill your treat pouch with treats and start a walk. If you put a dog between you and a wall, you’ll remove a possibility to pull on the side. Call your dog with a cheerful voice, start walking and reward if they are walking next to and the leash is loose. As soon as they start pulling the leash stop in place and don’t allow them to move closer to their goal, getting closer to the point of interest is a reward itself and therefore encourage pulling. Don’t jerk a leash, just call them with cheerful voice and say a phrase like “Let’s go” and start going in the opposite direction (you don’t have to go far – just a pace or two backwards). This will get their attention back to you and move them farther from their goal. As soon as they start walking next to you and paying attention to you, reward them with yummy treats. When you have their attention and loose leash, return and go back in the direction you headed in first place. Walking next to you in a relaxed manner should mean great time and in the end getting to their point of interest, but under your terms.
Once you believe that they have become obedient enough in the confines of your home it’s time to take things to the next level – outside. Now that’s another ballpark entirely.
Rising the challenge – going outside
They might be perfectly obedient and attentive in the confines of your house but in the wider reality of the streets and parks there are numerous distractions that constantly yank at their senses. That could lead to them completely ignoring you and everything that they have learned before. Don’t be alarmed. That’s perfectly normal – you only have to continue your training in those conditions and eventually it will all pan out. The trick is to use the big guns – high value treats that will get their attention no matter what else is going on around them.
If you have a yard, that should be your next training space. It’s still very familiar to your dog, but has lots more distractions than insides, but still not as many as open space. Use a house wall as limitation and repeat what you did inside. When he masters loose leash walking with a wall on a side, move to the center of the yard and repeat. While walking, change walking pace, from slow to running, back to normal and so on. It will learn your dog to pay attention to you as you will be moving unpredictably. Finish every training session with a play or anything your dog likes.
You probably expect what’s next. Rise your expectations and take your dog for a walk to the great outdoors. Just repeat what you did before, reward him when a leash is loose like they did something incredible and stop and turn around when he starts pulling. Be consistent and you’ll do great. Finish your training session in a dog park to reward all the great work he did.
Walking apart together
Both you and your beloved friend should have enough freedom of movement to be comfortable at all times. You must understand and to a certain degree allow them to exercise their curiosity and they must be thought to respect your leadership for your as well as their their own safety.
If you are having trouble with high energy dogs like Jack Russells that might generally mean that they have a lot of unspent energy that hey want to get rid of in a jiffy. Think of them as an unsprung coil – once they let go of some of that energy they will be much easier to handle. Before taking them on a walk try to ware them out with a fetch session or tug of war – it will wind them down and make them more cooperative for the adventure at hand.
And remember, old dogs can learn new tricks too, so no matter how old your JRT is, he’s not too old to learn to walk politely, it might just take a bit longer time but it’s so rewarding when you finally learn your naughty walker to walk politely beside you.
No matter what you do and what training routine you are currently on with your pet it always comes down to 3 basic principles – patience, perseverance and positive reinforcement. Don’t expect your pet to catch on instantly – it will truly take a lot of effort and training but you’ll get there eventually. Don’t lose hope, or your temper. Remember that they want to learn and make you happy – you only have to show them what you want them to do in the correct way. Positive reinforcement will make them understand and catch on much quicker and effective than any other way with no harmful consequences for them or you for that matter. If you follow these few simple rules you’ll be walking hand in paw in no time.