Walk this way
Following are ideas about walking fearful dogs on leash.
1. Fit the dog with a harness which they cannot slip out of. If a scared dogs slips its harness they can be difficult, if not impossible to catch. If you have any doubts consider fitting them with a martingale collar. If you are not sure if a dog can slip its harness, use a back-up leash on a snug fitting flat collar.
2. Use a long line. You can buy a long line in a pet shop or make one yourself out of a clothesline with a clasp attached. If a fearful dog is afraid of its handler, a long line gives them more space to move away from them. Some fearful dogs may need this when being taken out to toilet.
3. If you are using food lures to get the dog to move, fade the lure as soon as possible, so that instead of luring you are rewarding the dog for taking steps forward. Targeting is great for this.
4. Notice if the dog is uncomfortable having someone walking behind them and modify where you are in relation to the dog. My own fearful dog was reluctant to move if I put pressure on the leash while I was standing in front of him. If I stood next to him and asked him to move he was able to.
5. Walk during times of the day when the dog is less likely to encounter any of its triggers. For some dogs this may mean very early morning or late night walks.
6. Mark and reward the dog anytime he walks in an appropriate way. This will vary for each dog and handlers will need to determine where the dog is at in the process of being comfortable on the leash. Toss treats on the ground if the dog is not comfortable coming close enough to take the treat from your hand.
7. Skip the flexi. Scared dogs can bolt and the flexi-leads can give them enough leash to build up some speed. When they hit the end of the line it can be pulled from the handler’s hand at which time it retracts toward the dog. Not only can this be scary for the dog it leaves no leash dragging which could be available for grabbing to gain control of the dog. Not convinced? Check out his blog post.
8. Remember that walking on a leash is like being asked to train for a marathon while holding the hand of a three year old (you’re the three year old). It’s probably not fun or very fulfilling for many dogs so look for ways to exercise your dog off leash.
9. Dogs don’t need to be on a leash to begin to learn polite leash walking skills. Reward your dog anytime they walk next to you by tossing a treat for them to find, then keep walking. When the dog catches up to you, toss another treat for her to find. Begin to increase the number of steps you take while the dog is beside you before tossing the treat. This game can also be played with the dog on a long line. Play this game enough and a leash becomes superfluous and your dog has the start of a ring-worthy ‘heel’.
10. For many dogs leashes have come to predict something scary or unpleasant. If your dog is afraid of the leash desensitize and counter condition them to it by associating positive things with the leash. You can also help by having the leash predict nothing in particular- pick up the leash and do other things besides putting it on the dog. Put the leash on the dog, give them a treat and remove the leash. Mary, on Mary’s Dog Blog has a video showing the work she’s doing with Aaron, her foster dog who is teaching her lots about fear based behaviors.
Here is more information, including videos of teaching a dog to walk politely on leash produced by Ahimsa Dog Training. Note the high rate of reinforcement the dogs receive. Most handlers do not reward a dog near enough to reinforce the behaviors they want.
Before Sunny could be allowed off-leash we worked on the cue for ‘wait’. Fearful dogs often find recalls challenging, and while they may not be able to comfortably approach a person, they may be able to ‘wait’ for their handler to catch up to them. This was one of the early behaviors Sunny learned and helped him feel more comfortable with me moving toward him. Here’s a video of how Sunny learned to ‘wait‘.