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On Lead Training

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Perhaps one of the most common training problem I get asked about is onlead behaviour, whether it is a dog who acts aggressively onlead, lunging and growling or a dog that loves other dogs who also pulls, lunges, barks and gags himself to get to the other dog

Often these dogs have excellent off lead manners. Though puzzling to owners, the difference between off lead and onlead behaviour offers a clue to the problem as well as the solution.  The bad manners onlead always involve unintentional signals from the owner which create a vicious cycle. Here's how:

At some point, usually in adolescence, your dog growls, barks, lunges at or pulls at a dog or person. The owner is surprised and/or embarrassed and not sure what to do. Understandably, the owner begins to anticipate any situation which might trigger this behaviour. Spotting an approaching dog or person before the dog does, the owner tightens up on the lead so he can control the dog better, stiffens his own body posture and holds his breath. The dog notices the change in the lead tension, the owner's body posture and breathing and begins looking to see what has the owner so worried, and once he spots it, begins his rude onlead behaviour. In the case of onlead aggression, the owner actually makes the situation worse without meaning to and the dog simply responds to signals received from the owner.

So what can we do to solve the problem?

Train your dog! Take the time to teach your dog self-control and basic obedience signals which you can reinforce and praise his good behaviour.

Whatever the reason for your dog’s poor onlead behaviour hopefully this article will offer training and management tips so that your dog can learn some onlead manners.

When your dog is onlead there are realistically only two possible outcomes when meeting other dogs and neither are particularly useful:

1.       After the initial sniffing and greeting ritual the dogs play

2.       After the initial sniffing and greeting ritual the dogs fight

Neither of these outcomes is actually better than the other, if your dog plays he has just got a huge reward for going up to a strange dog. The next time he sees a strange dog he will want to pull towards it and have a play session. Every time your dog sees another dog he will pull harder and harder to get to the dog and have a play session. If your dog squabbles or actually fights then your dog could start to fear other dogs when he sees them or he could pull towards them to start a fight. Whether your dog wants to play or fight the outcome is the same your dog pulls and lunges onlead becoming a nightmare to walk in public.

Teach your dog to ignore other dogs whilst onlead.

While onlead teach your dog to ignore and just walk past other dogs unless he has specifically been asked to sit and wait until given permission to interact with another dog then reward the polite sitting and waiting behaviour, with taking his lead off and giving him a “Go Play” signal. 

So how can you teach your dog to walk politely past another dog?

The first step is to stop feeding your dog from a food bowl and start feeding your dog’s meal from your hand has a reward for focusing on you. Once your dog starts paying attention to you and is walking on a loose lead you can go back to feeding him from a bowl if you want to.  Once your dog enjoys interacting with you, life rewards and your praise will be more than enough to further reinforce his interaction.

Your dog will need 3 skills:

1.       A signal to look at you and stay focused on you until you tell him he can look elsewhere.

2.       The ability to walk on a loose lead without pulling.

3.       A Park you dog behaviour. Early on in training asking your dog to walk past another dog might be too difficult for them, teach them the parking your dog behaviour Click here as this is a great tool to start teaching self-control to hyper dogs.

Teach your dog to pay attention to you

It goes without saying that if your dog is paying attention to you he can’t be staring at another dog at the same time. The more you can reward your dog throughout the day for paying attention the more he is going to do it. You can practise this exercise with your dog off-lead at home and on-lead on a walk, start with very few distractions at first and slowly increase the distractions as your dog gets better at the exercise. To start I’d recommend rewarding your dog at least 50 times a day for paying attention to you.

Ignore everything your dog does until he glances at you for an instant. It doesn’t matter how long you have to wait or how short the glance.  At first you may have to wait for several minutes but very quickly you will find your dog will look at you within seconds. As soon as your dog glances at you, say, “Good Dog,” reward him with a piece of food and then take one large step (to break his gaze) and wait for him to look at you again. After a couple of successful goes, increase the amount of time of attention required for a reward — first one second of attention, then two seconds, three, five, eight, and so on. Count out the time of attention in “good dogs” — “Good dog one. Good dog two. Good dog three, etc.” Once your dog is paying attention for 20 or 30 seconds, you will probably find that he is also doing a sit-stay because it is more comfortable for him to sit and look up at you.

Now we are going to make it a little more challenging for your dog. After praising and rewarding your dog for looking at you, as you step away, turn your back on your dog to intentionally break his gaze. Give him plenty of time because now he has to work out that staring at your backside doesn’t work, but instead he has to come round in front of you to “find your face.” Praise your dog as soon as he looks up at you and then repeat the exercise.

After a few goes, it’s time to teach your dog to pay attention on a signal. Say, “Watch,” (or whatever signal you want to use) turn away from your dog and praise him as soon as he makes eye contact. Now you will be able to use this attention exercise in motion by asking your dog to “Watch” while you’re walking.

Once your dog understands the “Watch “ signal you can ask him to watch for anything he wants to do, once he looks at you, reward him with the behaviour he wanted to do. For example, you dog wants to go outside and play in the garden ask him to “watch” once he does reward him by opening the door and letting him run outside. 

Teach your dog to walk on a loose lead

You may practice this exercise at home (indoors or outdoors) or on a walk.

Stand still, holding a lead that is about (2 M/6 Feet long) in one hand and your dog’s dinner in the other with both hands held in front of you resting on your stomach. Ignore everything your dog does until he sits. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. Eventually, your dog will sit. Many dogs will go through an entire repertoire of behaviours that worked in the past to make you walk. The dog may lunge into the lead, bark, circle and jump-up. Just stand still and ignore your dog’s unwanted antics. Wait for your dog to sit.

The longer your dog takes to sit, the better he learns that his previous attention-getting and lead-pulling behaviours no longer work. When he eventually sits and receives immediate praise and a piece of food, he will have a light-bulb moment. “Ahhhh! So sitting is the secret to get my owner to move forward.”

As soon as your dog sits, immediately say, "Good dog," offer a food treat, and then take one huge step, stand still and wait for your dog to sit again. Your dog will likely explode to the end of the lead, thereby showing you that your behaviour has been reinforcing your dog’s pulling. Wait for your dog to sit again. Most likely he will not take as long this time. When your dog sits, praise, offer a piece of food, take one big step and stand still once more. Repeat this sequence until your dog moves forward calmly (because he knows you are only going to take one step) and sits quickly when you stop and stand still.

Your dog has now learned the behaviour that makes you stop and the behaviour to make you go. If he tightens the lead, or bounces and barks showing no self-control, you stop. But if he slackens the tension on the lead and sits, you take a step. After a series of single steps and standstills without pulling, try taking two steps at a time. Then go for three steps, then five, eight, twelve, and so on. Now you will find your dog will walk attentively on a loose lead and sit automatically whenever you stop. And the only words you have said were "Good dog."

Occasionally, stand still and delay giving the food for longer and longer periods. Praise your dog as he remains looking up at you in a sit-stay. Count out the length of the sit-stay in “good dogs”—“Good dog one. Good dog two. Good dog three, etc.”

Once your dog as learnt that he only gets to move forward once the lead is loose, let your dog range and sniff on a loose lead, but every 25 steps or so, have your dog sit, walk closely by your side and sit and then sniff and wander on a loose lead again. Always have your dog sit and walk close by your side when passing another person or dog and when crossing a street. Once you have passed the other person or dog or crossed the street have them sit and let them have the length of the lead again if it remains loose.

Until your dog has learnt to focus on you and walk on a loose lead I would put my dog into park when we come across a distraction that is too much for him to exercise self-control. When he is in park he can’t be accidently rewarded for lunging and pulling onlead. It is when he gets back his self-control that he gets rewarded by the walk continuing.

He only wants to say “Hi!”

My experience has been that it is owners of breeds considered non-aggressive that cause the most problems in dog-to-dog interactions simply by being unaware that their dog is rude. Unfortunately, a lot of golden retriever owners fall into this category.  Everyone is quick to label, criticise and chastise the owner of the dog that is lunging and snarling as being rude. But very few recognise that simply getting into another's dog space - however sweetly and quietly - is just as rude in the world of dogs. Owners of rude dogs do not perceive their dogs' actions as rude; they see only "friendliness”. Thus, the classic line, "He's only trying to say 'Hi!'"

I often get asked by owners that have taught their dog to walk politely on a lead "But how do I stop other dogs from being rude?"

There is no easy answer to that question. Certainly, no matter how aware or how much time an owner has put into teaching their dogs to be polite, it is not possible to stop other dogs from being rude - or, more to the point, it is not possible to educate all other owners so that they won't allow their dogs to be rude.  Unfortunately, ignorance and rudeness are widespread.

Here's my advice for dealing with the "rude factor."

1. Socialise your dog thoroughly with other dogs; for puppies, you want to socialise with other puppies of a similar age and adult dogs who have been well socialised themselves.  This means off-lead socialisation, not sniffing noses at the end of a lead. The more experience a dog has with other dogs, the more refined his judgment will become about what constitutes rude or foolish behaviour and how best to deal with it. He'll also learn how to be a polite dog himself.

2. When socialising your dog under someone else's instruction or guidance, be careful. Some long-time dog owners and trainers are appallingly ignorant about basic dog behaviour and unable to set up a positive socialisation situation. If you feel uncomfortable with a situation, remove your dog. It only takes a few seconds for a bad experience to leave a lasting impression, particularly on a young dog. Just turning dogs loose together to play is not socialisation.

3. Watch your dog. Your dog will tell you all you need to know about his view of the world. Pay attention to his behaviour. Position yourself and/or the dog so that you can always see your dog. If he appears to be concerned, find out why. And then help him.

Teach yourself to recognize the small, subtle signs that he's shifted out of a perfectly relaxed state of mind and the “calming signals” your dog offers. These may be as simple as the tilt of an ear, a raised eyebrow, a slight holding of the breath or tensing of the muscles. Each dog is different - learn to read your own dog.

If you can't watch your dog in a situation where there are potential problems, put him somewhere safe. I've seen far too many incidents occur unnecessarily because an owner was engrossed in a conversation in the dog park or on their mobile phone and ignoring their dog because their dog is “friendly”.

4. Be pro-active. If you see an ignorant owner and his rude dog headed your way, do your best to protect your dog. If possible, walk away, lightly and quietly asking your dog to focus on you. Be sure you are breathing and relaxed - don't let your apprehension about a possible altercation impact negatively on your dog.

If you can't walk away, put your dog into park and try to get the person to stop. Position yourself between the ignorant owner and your dog (Remember, stepping between dogs is an act of protective leadership). If you need to, sharply tell the person to "please control your rude dog." You'll probably get a dirty look (ignorant owners rarely believe they or their dogs are rude and are shocked when spoken to sharply) but chances are good they'll at least make a show at controlling their dog or move huffily away from you.

DOs & DON'Ts

DO socialize your dog so that he speaks the language of dogs.

DO accept the unfathomable disliking that your dog may have for another dog.

DO build your dog's tolerance levels through repeated, positive experiences.

DO continually educate yourself regarding normal and appropriate canine behaviour in different situations.

DO plan ahead to how you will handle difficult situations, people or dogs.

DO earn your dog's trust by keeping your promise to protect him.

DO pay attention to your dog when you are with him.

DO insist that your dog behaves politely.


DO respect the fact that your dog has a need for & a right to his personal space.

DO put your dog first - all your hopes, dreams & titles all mean nothing if you ignore the needs, fears and realities of whom your dog is.

DO honour & respect your dog's concerns, whether or not you share them. (Remember how your mom checked under the bed for monsters when you were a child? It probably wasn't because she was afraid of the monster).


DON'T bring an intolerant or under socialised dog to a puppy kindergarten or other places of rudeness & stupidity when you know he can't handle puppies, stupidity, or rudeness!


DON'T turn a rude puppy or dog loose with an intolerant adult.

DON'T expect your dog to like every dog he meets (at least until you like every person you meet.)

DON'T allow your dog to become overexcited or rude - help him find a more appropriate behaviour or remove him briefly from the triggering situation.

DON'T allow other people to allow their dogs to be rude to your dog.

DON'T ignore your dog or what your dog tells you about his feelings.

DON'T punish a dog for telling another dog to get the hell out of his face.

DON'T punish an adult for reminding a puppy to mind his manners.


DON'T let your training or competition goals overwhelm your good sense - always be fair to your dog.


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