First, buy a head harness that is designed much like a harness used to walk a horse – there’s a piece that goes over the nose. Most brands include an instructional DVD that shows you how to adjust and use the harness, and re-learn how to use the leash. Head harnesses are self-correcting; if your dog begins to pull, his head begins to be turned toward you. You should never pull on a leash using this harness.
It’s a great tool, but it’s very important to teach your dog how to pay attention to you so you can incorporate that new talent when on walks. The instructional DVDs with harnesses are good, but the walker is always silent, relying completely on the harness, which is not what a good relationship between person and dog is about. Whenever you teach a dog to walk nicely on leash, talk to his a lot!
Here’s how to get started.
1. First, get your dog used to the word “Yes!” being a very positive thing for his. Get a handful of small treats and just sit on a chair near his. He’ll sniff your hand, then look at you for a moment like, “Well?” That’s the moment you say “Yes!” very enthusiastically while giving his a small treat or a piece of his kibble if it’s meal time. Timing is critical – the eye contact should immediately be met with “Yes!” and a treat.
2. Now start moving your hand holding the treats around slowly. When your dog glances at you, say “Yes!” each and every time, and give his a treat. Keep the training session short – just a few minutes.
3. About a half hour later, raise your criteria for his getting the treat just a little: Dog has to maintain eye contact with you for just a bit longer than in the first session before he gets the treat, but continue to say “Yes!” when he looks at you. Smile at his during eye contact, then give his the treat reward.
4. Continue these sessions throughout the day, giving his about half an hour to an hour in between, if it’s a weekend.
5. When you’re getting some nice, lengthy attention from your dog, about one full second, it’s time to put his on leash and walk his around the house very briefly (you’ll be working separately on getting his accustomed to his new harness). Be really animated, saying his name in a very upbeat and enthusiastic way, and immediately rewarding his. You’re getting his in the habit of actually paying attention to you when he’s on leash; at this point the distraction is minimal, but of course, being outside is much more distracting for his.
6. It’s very important to work at this part slowly, building successful, short sessions indoors, then out in the backyard, before you try a very brief walk just a few house lengths down your block. My formula for knowing it’s time to go on to the next step is when I get 10 out of 10 great responses.
7. Don’t push the training too fast or the walk will fall apart. Remember that you need to be even more interesting than the environment, which is a monumental task, so use your voice and frequent small treats along with tons of praise for good behavior and eye contact. This exercise has a very nice side effect: He’ll start wanting to interact with you more and more on walks and in general if you are really consistent with his attention training. If any dog is just put on a leash and taken for a walk with no interaction with the owner, the owner isn’t really seen as the decision-maker in the relationship. His focus must readily and frequently turn to you to prevent his from behaving aggressively, barking, or pulling. The ultimate goal is for your dog to look at you when anybody approaches, and with a history of really fun training sessions, he’ll begin to turn to you rather than focus on other dogs.
8. Remember that you need to catch his way before any signs of aggression or barking starts, so be extremely aware of your surroundings and get his attention immediately at the first sighting of a dog. After a few months, you’ll be very used to communicating with your dog all the time during your walks (in a positive way!), which is ideal.