Dog Training: Using the Leash for More Than a Walk

Dog Training: Using the Leash for More Than a Walk

Destructive puppies are an unnecessary handful.

If your puppy keeps chewing on everything in sight, there's a simple training technique you can implement: keep him on a leash at home. Restricting his freedom by using his crate at certain times is important. Baby gates across hallways, closing bedroom doors, putting things away, and gaining the cooperation of everyone in the family are all helpful steps as well. But there's one more step you can take to ensure you know what your pup is up to at all times—you guessed it, a leash.

A Powerful Tool and Technique

Puppies and young dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them. Chewing up your shoes, socks, glasses, cell phone, or remote are fun because they smell like you. Grabbing a shoe and dashing around the house while someone chases him is also great fun. Knocking over the kitchen trash can, stealing food, and chasing the family cat are entertaining, too, with built-in rewards. A crate, baby gates, closing doors, and other training techniques are all useful, but one of my favorite ways to teach a puppy (or newly adopted dog) is to use the leash. Since I prefer to prevent unwanted behaviors from occurring rather than deal with problems afterwards, I can do this easily when the puppy is on leash and close to me. By keeping the puppy within leash length, I can also teach him that good things happen when he hangs out with me. Then, too, if he decides to do something I don't want him to do, since he's close I can see what he's doing and can interrupt it before it becomes a problem.

Sit on the Leash

I began teaching him to wear a leash when he first came home with me by using a "lure and reward" training technique. Holding the leash with one hand, I'd have treats in the other. Letting Hero smell the treat, I'd take one step backwards and when he'd follow the treat (even one step) I'd raise him and give him the treat. After three or four repetitions I'd stop and play with my puppy while he was still wearing the leash as I want him to think that good things happen when he's got the leash on. Gradually I ask him to follow the treat (and me) for a few more steps. Only when he's happy on the leash, not fighting it, and willingly walking on the leash do I go on to the next training step. When introducing my new puppy to the concept of wearing his leash in the house and being restrained, I began by sitting on his leash. So, with his leash fastened to a soft buckle collar that was snug enough he couldn't pull it over his head, I got myself an ice tea, a book to read, and a chew toy for him. I put half of his leash on my chair and sat down. Giving him his chew toy, I drank my ice tea and read my book. When Hero was quiet and chewing on his toy, I reached down and rubbed an ear or scratched his neck. If he fussed, I ignored him. After five minutes I got up and we walked outside so he could relieve himself. This exercise does several things. First of all, you can relax and do something you want to do without fussing over the puppy. The puppy learns that fighting the leash doesn't gain him anything while being compliant and calm on the leash results in quiet petting from you. He learns to be quiet and calm in the house with you. He learns he doesn't have to be a rowdy puppy. In addition, you aren't restraining him; the leash is. Semantics, I know, but you aren't yanking at the leash, yelling at the puppy, or otherwise reacting. As Hero became used to this exercise, I gradually extended the time. Now, at four months old, we can relax together for half an hour. He can calm himself, relax, and even sleep. The "sit on the leash" technique is not new. It's been used for decades and I've heard it attributed to several different trainers although I believe the late Margot Woods of Applewoods Dog Training in Maryland started using it about 40 years ago.

Leash in Your Pocket

If I have things to do around the house, I simply tuck the handle of Hero's leash in my pocket and do what needs to be done. He can follow me to the laundry room while I rotate the laundry then follow me to the bedroom while I fold and put away the clean clothes. He can hang out in the kitchen with me while I load the dishwasher and wash down the counters. I'll have him tag along as I empty trash cans, take the trash outside, and the big can to the curb. By having his leash in my pocket, I can keep him with me, watch him, and he gets to be with me. Plus, he learns all the sights, sounds, smells and feels of the world he's living in -- which is great socialization. If I'm doing something where I prefer he not be underfoot (such as cooking), then he can be outside or in his crate with a chew toy. I do not turn him loose in the house to get into trouble.

Prevention Rather Than Correction

When raising a puppy I prefer to concentrate on teaching a puppy what to do rather than what not to do. For example, right now as I'm writing this at the computer, I'm sitting on Hero's leash and he's on a dog bed to my left. He's sleeping right now but a few minutes ago was chewing on a chew toy. I can concentrate on this article and I'm not worried about what he might be up to at the moment. He's learning to be quiet and calm while I'm working. It's much better than following him around the house picking up chewed shoes! However, if, while the puppy is on the leash, he decides to do something you don't want him to do, it's easy to interrupt him. After all, he's right there with you. If Hero decided to chase the cat, for example, I'm sitting on the leash and would feel him pulling so I could grab the leash and stop him. If he decided to get into my office trash can I could interrupt him. One day he thought to chew on the dog bed and I interrupted him and put his chew bone back in front of him. I praised him when he chewed on that instead.

The Leash Requires Supervision

Your puppy must be within eye sight when you use the leash. If you can't see him and he's dragging the leash, immediately go get him. If you can't watch him, take the leash off and put him in his crate or in a safe place outside. An unsupervised puppy could get the leash tangled somewhere or around something and choke himself or otherwise hurt himself. The leash is a wonderful training tool but requires your supervision at all times.

More Freedom

As Hero gets older I'll gradually allow him more freedom. He'll drag the leash as I move around the house and when I do yard work outside. As his obedience training progresses and he's listening and cooperating, then I'll give him more time off the leash. However, his behavior will determine the time frame for more freedom. My four year old, Hero's older brother, Bones, was reliably off leash in the house and yard by six months of age. The proof of this training for me was that Bones never chewed inappropriately, never raided trash cans, never stole food off the counters, and developed wonderful household and companion dog manners. Don't be in a hurry to provide your puppy with too much freedom too soon. Use the leash to restrict your puppy's freedom, to teach him what to do, and to prevent bad behaviors from happening.
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