Teaching a Big to to Walk with a Loose Leash

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 3, 2018

For this Santa Monica dog training session we did some loose leash training with Samson, a 4 year-old Mastiff / St Bernard mix who is reactive to the sight or sound of other dogs.

Usually when I sit down with my clients, I find that they neglected tp provide the dog with rules, boundaries and limits. As a Los Angeles dog behaviorist I have found that a lack of structure is often be linked to unwanted dog behavior problems. In fact, the first part of most of my sessions are pretty similar as a lack of structure is a very common trait in dog’s who need my help.

Because Samson’s guardians had done a good job of providing structure, I only needed to spend a small part of this in home dog behavior session on the importance of rules and limits.

I went over ways to entice and reward Samson for desired actions and behaviors as positive reinforcement is a key element so the dog knows what it can do to please us. The more we reward dogs for the things we like, the more often they will offer those behaviors.

After going over the escalating consequences I use to disagree with unwanted (non aggressive) behaviors, I showed the guardians a few exercises that will help Samson develop more self control or redirect his attention away from things that may cause him to react.

The next step was to head outside for some loose leash training. Because Samson was reactive to the sight of dogs and Santa Monica is very dog friendly, we headed to the alley in the back of the block so we could do some positive leash training without any other dogs around.

Anytime you have a dog with a behavior problem, you need to help the dog learn and practice the behavior in the easiest capacity possible at first. Once the dog gets comfortable with the basics, then you can move on to the next step. Training a dog to stop pulling on the leash is certainly one of those situations.

Dogs with dog aggression often have an accompanying case of poor leash skills; pulling their guardians along on the walk. As humans, we often contribute to this problem by correcting on the leash, pulling them towards and away from things or using horrible pain causing tools like pinch collars.

Teaching Samson to stop pulling on the leash and walk next to his guardians will take some time and practice. While loose leash walking itself will not stop his dog aggression issues, removing frustration from the walking exercise will go a long ways towards reducing the cortisol in his blood which will in turn help him stop feeling so “on alert.”

Practicing the come back when the leash gets taught and a sit every few steps will help Samson start paying more attention to his guardian and less to the dogs nearby.

Additionally knowing how to reach his body language and practicing u turns and redirecting exercises will help the guardians intercede while Samson is what we call “below threshold.” ie calm. This calm state is crucial any time you want to help a dog get over any unwanted dog behavior. But when it comes to stopping dog aggression, its one of the most important things.

When we headed back inside I showed the guardians a counterconditioning exercise that will stop Samson from barking at sounds outside his home. This is another technique that will take practice, but if the guardians can make a list of the sounds and systematically desensitize Samson to all of them, his big bark should quickly be a thing of the past.

For about half of the dog reactive or aggressive dogs I work with, the rules and boundary changes in the house help greatly reduce or stop the dog’s aggressive behavior outside if it. But since the guardians have done a good job of that already, we may need to set up a follow up session to do some behavior adjustment training. I asked them to text me in a week or two with an update (unless they have questions sooner).

If they are not able to identify things that set Samson off and redirect him effectively in a few weeks, we will need to set up a follow up session to exclusively address that issue.

To help the guardians remember all the positive dog training tips I shared in this in home dog behavior training session, we shot a roadmap to success video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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