When I first start working with a lot of clients who struggle with leash walking, the first thing I notice is that they usually wrap the leash around their hand a million times, hold the leash as tight as possible, keep their arms super tight and tense, and they don't allow the dog much freedom in movement. The result is often a dog who strains against the tension, creating a walk that is unpleasant for everyone. (This isn't bashing these people in any way, because we have all been there! In fact, when I demo this in class before teaching leash walking, they all laugh and say "have you been watching us get ready for walks?")
In this case the tool (the leash) isn't working to help improve the behavior (the leash walking). It is likely making it worse (the tension often has the opposite effect and makes the dog pull more, not less!). I encourage people to unwrap their hand, drop their arm, loosen the leash and focus on teaching the the dog to move WITH their person--leash or no leash. Yes, that seems scary, but it isn't.
And I get asked a lot: What harness/collar/leash is best for teaching my dog not to pull. The answer really is none of them. No tool will teach your dog not to pull. The tool may HELP you in teaching your dog not to pull, but it is still about the TRAINING and not the TOOL. Often dogs get "collar smart" or "tool smart" and only perform a behavior in the presence of certain tools. So, maybe he only offers great leash walking if you put his head halter on, but if you try him on a harness, he pulls like crazy. That is a tool smart dog.
In the video below, you will see that when I change direction, Garmin goes with me. Not because I drag him, but because he has learned to follow body cues. There is ZERO tension on his leash. He is not relying on the tool to tell him where to go. He is relying on the training.
If you focus on training and reinforcing the behavior and not focus on relying on the tools you will often find you get a more consistent result. Also notice that he is only getting verbal praise here. We started teaching this using treats and other reinforcers, but as he got better at it, we could fade that out. (That said, I ALWAYS have cheese on me on walks because of his reactivity, but we didn't need it here, thankfully!)
Leash walking is a tough behavior to train, but when we start to realize that we need to focus on TRAINING and not the TOOLS we use, we can often switch our perspective a little. Garmin will give me this same behavior in our fenced yard off leash, walking on my driveway, in a field on a long line or in the house while we practice. Why will he consistently give me this behavior? Because I focused on TRAINING the behavior, he hasn't become tool smart--he just knows what he needs to do.
If you are struggling with getting your dog to perform behaviors in the absence of certain tools or guides, let me know. Happy Training and Happy Dogs. #LLRcanine