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  • Writer's pictureClinique Vet LaSalle

Doggy Basics: Harness & Leash training

Updated: May 24, 2023

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The Basics:

Our goal is to use positive reinforcement as a training method. Positive reinforcement is when a positive stimulus (food, toy, praise) is given after a desired behaviour has been performed – this increases the likelihood of it reoccurring, thereby strengthening the specific behaviour. We want to focus on rewarding the simplest form of the task and slowly increasing the steps in order to reach our goal behaviour.

First, you must figure out which reward your dog is most interested in; what will motivate him and capture his attention the most to allow him to focus on learning.

There are 3 main types of rewards:

  1. Food: If your dog thinks with his stomach, use this type of reward to keep him focused during your training sessions, whether it be liver treats, soft treats, or crunchy treats. Find out which ones are his favorite!

  2. Toys: If your dog is motivated by play time, use a toy to keep him focused during your training sessions. Here are some options: ball, squeaky toy, rope (does he prefer a smaller toy that he can hold in his mouth or play tug-a-war with?) Experiment with all of these to find out which type of play he prefers!

  3. Praise: If your dog lives for your attention, this is the best way to reward him for training. Praise can be either a verbal cue (ex. saying, ''good boy!'' or ''bravo!''), performing a trick (sit, paw), or getting pet by you. Make sure you know which one is his favorite – maybe it’s all of them!

*Make sure this treat/toy is only used for training to increase its desirability.

Fun fact to remember:

A verbal cue should be used in all cases for any type of training. Start by picking a key word: ''bravo!'', ''good girl!'', ''yes!''. Once the word is chosen, I suggest you try this exercise at home for the following week with your dog (remember to use the type of reward that is most interesting to your pet): Randomly use your chosen word and throw a savoury treat near your dog at the same time. Your dog will make the association that ''bravo'' = treat. The goal is to get your dog’s full attention every time you use your key word. Next, apply this every time he does a desired behaviour.

*Fun analogy: Your dog should be as excited to hear that key word as you are when you hear the winning lottery sound!

How to get the harness on:

Before beginning with the leash, your dog needs to be accustomed to his collar and harness. We want to use baby steps to do so – slow and steady training. Here are the fear free steps to follow:

*Be certain that when using your positive reinforcement key word, that it is used at the exact moment of the desired behaviour – timing is everything. A delay of just a few seconds can accidentally reinforce an undesired behaviour.

Remember to go step-by-step following your dog’s level of tolerance. We don’t want to move too quickly and skip ahead because we may risk making them afraid of the harness instead.

How to walk on a leash :

The goal is to have your dog walking beside you or slightly behind you (it is best to choose one side) and to have a loose leash during your walk. It is important to give them time to smell and explore as they wish.

It is important to understand that most dogs will pull on leash because it gets them to where they want to go, faster.

  1. Before you even begin your walk, start by having your dog sit beside you on your chosen side and reward him for doing so. The longer he sits, the more you can reward him (eventually decrease the frequency at which you reward him).

  2. Choosing the correct walking pace for your dog is important – it should be quick enough to keep your dog at a fast trot. The slower you walk, the more likely he will want to stop and sniff, or mark his territory (remember to reward him when he is trotting next to you!).

  3. Make sure your dog knows that when he pulls, he cannot advance – meaning when he pulls, you stop moving immediately. He must then come back towards you. At this point, you have two options: wait for him to heel and sit, or start walking in the other direction (this way he is behind you again).

Which type of leash should I use?

Retractable leashes are not recommended. A fixed length hand-leash or a fixed- length leash that attaches around your waist (hands-free) is recommended.

In conclusion

Begin your walks in a low distraction area (i.e. around the block), your dog will be less distracted by new smells and less fearful by new environments for the beginning. Eventually walk him in increasingly distracting areas or situations (the board walk, near a dog park etc).

Practise these doggy basic tricks on a daily basis for better results, keep training your dog’s brain and make it an enjoyable process for you both by continuously using positive reinforcement! Remember, success is dependent on effort!

Isabelle L.

Certified animal health technician supervisor

Assistant technician supervisor

Fear free certified

Picture #1 & 2 : Stitch T-L / Demonstration : Malibu L. / Picture #3 : Inconnu

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