One of my favorite trainers is Turid Rugas from Norway. This posting is dedicated to her and her work. Interestingly, her leash work begins before you attach a leash to your dog.
First, a reminder to use a well-fitted harness to your tool chest which will take all the pressure off your dog’s neck. There is no reason to inflict pain or even injury unnecessarily. There are 3 steps to this training method before you attach a leash. 1) Teach your dog a simple sound – click your tongue, soft whistle – that will signal “follow me”. Start this training inside in a small, quiet place (small porch or other small room) where he can focus on you. Make your sound, and the dog will look at you. As soon as he looks at you praise and reward. Repeat a few times and he will learn that responding to the sound is a good thing. 2) From your same quiet place, make the sound, praise the dog when he turns toward you, now move away from the dog and he will follow you to capture his reward. 3) Still, with no distractions, make the sound, praise and take a couple of steps and reward when he follows you. Make the sound again and change directions. Repeat this exercise a few times and the dog has now learned the command and consistently follows you when you give him the signal.
Now, the leash. Continue to work with no distractions, attach the leash and repeat the exercise. ALWAYS have a loose leash. Don’t you pull the dog towards you. Make your sound and wait for him to come to you. This is the basic skill of walking with a loose leash. When the dog is ready, you can change the venue – perhaps the backyard, gradually add distraction, increase the number of steps and change directions frequently. Keep these training sessions short ( 2 – 5 minutes) to prevent the dog from losing his concentration. If he does lose his focus, terminate the session and work again later.
You can begin to walk in a variety of places, adding distractions as they come. If you can anticipate the distractions, then start at a distance and move closer slowly to help the dog accept and cope with the world.
This method works for puppies as well as for older dogs. For a dog who has learned that pulling is the norm offering a completely different training method will give him a new way to learn and the capability to change his behavior.
I use this method and I like it because it elevates simple leash work towards a better working relationship between you and your dog, relying on clear communication.