Training any dog to walk on a loose leash is difficult, let alone a giant breed. Without proper walking skills, a giant breed could easily drag you down the street. Not to mention two giant breeds – yikes!
Mauja and I began working on loose leash walking the day she joined our family. She was doing wonderfully with our training until she turned a year old; that’s when the pulling began. At a year of age, Mauja was already over 100 pounds and very strong. It was difficult for me to hang on to her, but I also hated the pressure on her throat. I worried about potential throat damage down the road.
I was having a difficult time keeping hold of Mauja and juggling the treats, so I started to look into my options.
I had used a Gentle Leader for my first dog, as he was very reactive, and my family’s dogs growing up so I was familiar with the tool. I really, really didn’t want to use it because of how people act when your dog is wearing a Gentle leader – most people think it’s a muzzle and assume your dog is aggressive.
I never quite understood that since it’s obvious the dog can open its mouth, but that was the reality.
After a failed attempt at using a no-pull harness, I caved and purchased a Gentle Leader.
The Gentle Leader has been invaluable in training Mauja and Atka. It is absolutely essential that you give your dog time to get used to the leader before attempting any walking with them. Lots of treats and praise will help make the leader exciting rather than upsetting. If you don’t desensitize properly, you could have a dog constantly attempting to paw or rub the leader off.
For me personally, I don’t train a perfect heel for our typical walks. I feel it is much too difficult for a young dog to maintain and I prefer to allow Mauja and Atka to enjoy their surroundings rather than focus on heeling.
Instead, when we hit the pavement for our hour (or more) long walks, I focus on loose leash walking. As long as the leash remains loose, they can sniff as much as they like. They know that they can sniff that flower, but they better move on before the leash tightens because I’m ahead of them. This strategy has worked very well for us.
After about 6 months with the Gentle Leader, Mauja was able to switch to a no-pull harness for our walks. Atka used the leader for the same amount of time, but has graduated to a traditional buckle collar.
Loose leash walking is not an easy skill for dogs. Practice and patience will go a long way.