Let’s face it, Great Danes are huge animals and without proper training your Great Dane will be taking you for a walk (or dragging you) instead of the other way around. This is why it is so important to train your Great Dane how to behave on a leash at a young age. The sooner you begin leash training the better!
Get The Right Gear
When it comes to leash training having the right equipment is key. Forget that fancy retractable leash. It gives your Dane way too much leeway and can make them much more difficult to control. A sturdy 6-foot nylon leash is more practical for training and will give you greater control.
The next thing to consider is whether to use a collar, a harness, a head halter, or a prong collar. If you are training a puppy a prong collar is overkill and can potentially injure your pup. Head halters can be used if your puppy is over rambunctious or easily distracted. For most puppies a flat nylon strap collar orwell-fitted harness is likely the best choice.
Bear in mind that if using a collar be sure that it is properly fitted to avoid them slipping out of it. Also be aware when using a collar you should always maintain a short lead, you do not want them running full-tilt to the end of a long leash.
A harness eliminates the possibility of your Dane slipping free and terrorizing the neighborhood and helps prevent the inevitable neck snap that occurs with a collar. Harnesses are typically more comfortable for your Dane as they do not choke and are a more distributed restraint. On the other hand, this lack of discomfort can promote pulling in some dogs.
Regardless which type of restraint you use, be sure that it is well-fitted and that you know how to use it properly.
Begin With The Basics
We know this post is about leash training, but before you begin leash training your Dane should already be familiar with the ‘sit’ command. ‘Sit’ is one of the easiest commands to teach and is a stepping stone to more advanced training like leash etiquette. In fact, later in this tutorial we will use the ‘sit’ command to aid you and your Dane in mastering the leash. You can learn more about teaching your Dane to sit here.
Curb The Excitement
One of the main reasons dogs can be difficult to manage on a leash is because they are excited to go. After all there are a whole slew of new sights, sounds, and smells that can overwhelm your dog’s senses.
You can avoid promoting this feeling of excitement in many ways. Time your leash training sessions well. For instance, do not start leash training as soon as you get home from work when your Dane is already excited to see you. Consider letting them run out in the yard for a little while to tire them out, or begin your walks shortly after meal time.
Also, do not get them all wound up before you go. Quietly and calmly get their leash and lead them to the door. No need to ask excitedly ‘Are you ready to go?’. That ‘go’ word is often enough to get your Dane all fired up and less receptive to training.
Starting small can apply to both your dog’s size and the length of training sessions. As with all training you should start young. Puppies are typically much easier to train than older (larger) dogs and behaviors learned at a young age will stay with your dog for life.
Starting small also refers to the length of time spent on a given training session. With leash training you want to start with short walks with repeated correction and reward. If your pup is more rambunctios than most, you might consider beginning leash training indoors with short walks back and forth in the living room or garage.
Bear in mind that your Dane will need to get out in the real world to complete this training as there are many more distractions outdoors than in, and you want to acclimate him/her to the many stimuli that abound in the great outdoors.
Be The Leader
Dogs are pack animals and pack animals live in a hierarchy. You must be seen as the leader in this hierarchy. This does not mean that you have to prove your superiority – it means that you have to earn your Dane’s trust. Your relationship with your Great Dane (especially when training) should be seen by both of you as a partnership in which you are the leader.
When it comes to leash training being the leader also means that your Dane should never walk ahead of you. This is where a short leash (6 feet or less) comes in handy. Hold the leash at a short distance from your dog’s neck or harness attachment point. You want to allow enough room for his/her mobility, but not so much that they can wander without pulling. A good rule of thumb is to always keep his/her shoulders slightly behind your hip. Walking in this position will help to establish you as the pack leader, and give you more control of your pup.
Correct And Reward Early And Often
Until your Dane understands the rules of walking on a leash they are unlikely to perform as expected. You need to be patient and expect that the first few sessions are likely going to be a little frustrating for both of you.
The hardest part of leash training is maintaining the lead position. Your dog will likely try to run ahead, to the side, or maybe even around you. This is why it is so important to keep the leash short. The goal is to keep them directly beside you and just behind your hipline. Remember, this is a learning experience for your Great Dane; he or she is likely unsure what is expected of them. If they manage to stay in position for even a few steps offer them a treat. Reinforcing the desired behavior will help your Dane understand the goals of the exercise more quickly.
If your dog pulls, simply stop, hold the leash firmly, and tell your dog to sit. Do not jerk on the leash; it is ineffective and potentially harmful for your Great Dane. If your Dane obeys the ‘sit’ command, reward him/her with a treat or praise. Once all is calm again, give the ‘heel’ command and begin walking, making sure you have the leash in the correct position prior to setting off.
If your Dane refuses to sit, or begins pulling again right away, turn them in a circle, maintaining position as best you can, and begin walking in the opposite direction. This change of direction will often help them to refocus.
Again, if your Dane manages to maintain position for a few steps reward them. Oftentimes the relatively constant flow of treats is enough to keep them in line and helps them to ignore distractions.
End On A Positive Note
Regardless what lessons you are trying to teach your Great Dane it is important to end on a positive note. If your Dane fails miserably the first time out end your leash training session with the ‘sit’ command and praise him/her for complying. You want them to associate their training sessions with positive reinforcement. This will help make future sessions easier and prevent your Dane from associating training time with negative feelings.
Patience And Praise Win The Day
Unless your Great Dane is some sort of genius or savant it is unlikely they will be a natural on a leash. Like humans, dogs and other animals are resistant to being restrained. Training your Great Dane to look forward to these sessions is all about trust and positive reinforcement. You need to be patient and diligent with your leash training. Eventually they will catch on and you both will be the better for it.