Containing a Boxer’s exuberance enough to walk well on a leash can be a challenge. It is doable with a lot of patience, the right equipment, and some consistent strategies.
In a Boxer puppy, pulling on the leash is usually just overexcitement.
If allowed to persist, pulling can become a habit for a Boxer. Dogs do what they can get away with, and what works. If your Boxer strains on the leash and gets to sniff that tree or greet that dog, then he will do it again next time.
To train your Boxer to loose leash walk follow these 7 simple steps with absolute consistency:
- Start walking
- Stop whenever your Boxer strains on the leash
- Resume walking when your Boxer moves close enough that the leash becomes slack again
- Reward calmly but profusely with treats and praise whenever your dog stays beside you
- If your dog is pulling like a maniac, do an abrupt about-face and stride in the opposite direction
- Once your dog catches up, proceed again in the original direction
- If your dog stands stubbornly with the leash taut, use a pulsing motion with your wrist to repeatedly tighten and release the leash — just enough pressure to be annoying, so that your dog moves closer to end the pulsing. This is more effective than a constant tension, which can just amplify a dog’s instinct to resist restraint
Things You Will Need When Training Your Boxer To Loose Leash Walk
- high value treats
- a front-attaching harness
- a relatively calm place to practice
Principles To Follow When Teaching Leash Manners To A Boxer
- make sure your Boxer is never rewarded for pulling i.e. he doesn’t get to go in that direction
- reinforce the heel position as the “reward zone” by having praise and treats flow when your dog stays in that spot
- consistency is key — always have the same consequence for each behavior so your dog learns clear cause and effect
- be gentle and patient but more stubborn than your Boxer so she learns who’s boss
- set your Boxer up to succeed: don’t start in the middle of a busy dog park with lots of dogs running every which way. Practice in an empty car park or on a deserted sports field (even in your own driveway) until your dog has mastered the behavior in that setting. Work within your dog’s ability and gradually increase the proximity to distractions and build up to more stimulating environments, only once your dog is succeeding most of the time in the level below
- exercise your dog before attempting a leash walking session to get out some energy so he’s more able to focus
- keep sessions short — dogs have short attention spans, finish on a high rather than going too long which can cause both dog and owner to get frustrated
- give your dog lots of opportunities to practice walking on leash — if he does it rarely he’ll never have a chance to get good at it
- never resort to harsh methods or punish a Boxer for not getting something right — they are sensitive souls and will just shut down
Troubleshooting Boxer Leash Manners
Boxers can be a handful. Sometimes they can have you at your wit’s end.
Don’t despair. There are ways to get back on track.
When Treats Aren’t Working
Boxers get bored easily.
Dried liver might have had your dog on his best behavior last week, but now barely rates a sniff.
Keep your Boxer on his toes. Change treats before they become humdrum.
One trick is to use a mixed bag of treats so it’s pot luck. It’s a form of intermittent reinforcement, which has been shown to promote learning. Your dog stays engaged because he’s never quite sure which reward is coming next. Perhaps it will be that super delicious morsel he’s hoping for.
Be quick with the reward. If there’s a delay, your dog may fail to connect it with the behavior, which is key to instilling the incentive to offer that behavior again.
Make sure you’re using the treats not to bribe, but to reward.
There’s a fine line between the two but it’s a critical point. If you end up holding the treat out as a lure so that your dog only comes closer to grab it, it won’t be as effective. You’ll likely see your dog grab the treat and then go right back to straining on the leash until you present another treat. Your Boxer has trained you, instead of the other way round.
What you want is for your dog to decide to offer you the behavior and then to have that behavior trigger the production of the treat. Cause and effect.
It’s a subtle difference. One is your dog seeing something he wants and taking it. The other is your dog knowing what behavior you want, choosing to give it to you, and then seeing that something good flows from that. The treat doesn’t exist until he does the right thing.
Is Your Boxer Out Of His Depth?
Sometimes your Boxer will seem to just not be able to listen and behave.
Your dog may be what dog trainers refer to as “over-threshold”. In other words, he’s overstimulated or in a situation that is beyond his capacity to handle.
It may be that you’ve moved too quickly. You might be asking your dog to cope with something without having first equipped him with the experience and skills required.
If this happens, rather than continue with the situation, which is just prolonging the opportunity to rehearse bad behavior, abort and try again another time.
Then, go back a step. Reduce the degree of difficulty to a level where your dog is performing well. You want him to experience success and to enjoy the process.
Particularly with a Boxer, if it’s not fun, he’ll quickly opt out.
Some dogs are food motivated. Boxers can be that too. But mostly Boxers are fun motivated. Make training a game and you’ll be winning.
If Your Boxer Goes Crazy When He Sees Another Dog
This can be a hangover from having attended a puppy school where dogs played madly with each other.
Or it can be caused by off leash dog parks. Either way, this kind of unstructured, high intensity play can cause your Boxer to associate other dogs with wild behavior.
This takes some unlearning, but it’s possible.
The trick is to provide your dog with lots of opportunities to practice a different response.
First, you need to reestablish yourself as the most interesting thing in your dog’s world on walks. You have to trump the sights, the sounds and the scents. You have to be able to get your dog’s attention over other dogs.
One way to approach this is to train your dog to look to you whenever another dog presents itself.
The method goes something like this:
- Start walking
- When another dog appears and gets your dog’s attention, say his name or nickname
- When your dog looks at you, reward with a high value treat and proceed past the dog
- Whenever you lose your dog’s focus and he starts to fixate on the other dog, say his name and when he gives you his attention, produce the treat and reward
- Make sure the treats are not given constantly throughout the rest of the walk but only in response to your dog behaving well in the presence of another dog
With repetition, your dog will come to associate other dogs not with going ballistic but with immediately looking to you, and receiving a reward. The stimulus is the sight of the other dog. The response is giving you eye contact.
You’ve just replaced one unwanted behavior with a different, incompatible — and desirable —behavior.
Your dog can’t do two things at once, so it’s mission accomplished.
Let Your Boxer Burn Off Energy
A domestic dog has a cloistered, sedate existence compared to the active, adventurous life of its closest living relative, the wolf.
It’s important for your Boxer’s psychological wellbeing to make sure there are plenty of opportunities to “be a dog”, and to engage his natural instincts including his prey drive.
Giving your Boxer raw meaty bones to chew is part of this equation, going a long way towards creating a healthy, happy dog.
Otherwise, this pent-up frustration can spill out as misbehavior, reactivity, you name it.
A contented, well-adjusted Boxer will behave much better in every situation, including on leash.
If you’re struggling to maintain engagement with your Boxer during walks, it can help to bring a tug toy and have a game of tug now and then.
You can also play games along the way in order to keep your dog focussed on you. Be the life of his party.
Loose Leash Walking Or Heeling?
Heeling is a more precise command, requiring a lot more discipline.
Walking to heel means your dog sticks perfectly by your hip — not in front, not behind, not out wide.
Most owners are happy for their dog to walk as they please, as long as there’s no pulling.
It’s worth teaching your Boxer both commands, using separate words, so he knows the difference. You can then require your dog to walk to heel for certain portions of the walk, but allow him to dawdle and sniff the rest of the time, providing he keeps the leash slack at all times.
Walking to heel can be a useful skill for passing distractions like aggressive dogs, or for moving swiftly out of dangerous situations.
Walking A Boxer Off Leash
This one is great fun and something you want to progress to, but it’s high degree of difficulty.
Walking off leash is not what you give up and resort to because your dog is a nightmare on leash.
If your dog is uncontrolled on leash, going off leash could be a recipe for disaster. Master the basics first.
What Kind Of Harness Is Best For Teaching A Boxer To Behave On Leash?
Generally regular collars are best avoided because of the potential for neck strain. Harnesses are gentler on your dog’s body while giving you more control with this strong breed.
Front Attaching Harnesses
Sometimes called “no pull” harnesses, these can be very effective with Boxers.
Harnesses distribute the forces more evenly and spare your dog’s neck from yanking.
Attaching the leash at the chest instead of between the shoulder blades means when your dog pulls, he gets turned into you.
Not common these days. When the dog pulls, they tighten.
These are choker-collar hybrids that are mostly solid collar but have a section of chain to give the tightening effect when the dog pulls.
These are usually used if a front-attaching harness isn’t working. They give a lot of control and can be very effective. If incorrectly fitted, or used inappropriately, head halters can do your dog damage, so make sure you know what you’re doing or get assistance.
Other Skills That Can Help A Boxer Have Good Leash Manners
You can use a command like “Focus” to request your dog give you eye contact.
Teach your dog the command at home and then practice in increasingly distracting situations.
Say the word “Focus”. When your dog looks at you, reward. You want instant eye contact, not a delayed effect.
This can be instilled with games, like this one:
- Have your dog hold a sit. Perhaps you use a “Wait” or a “Stay” command in this situation, depending how you’ve trained your dog.
- Then, throw a ball. Your dog’s every impulse will tell him to chase the ball, but the game is to wait until released.
- When he succeeds in not breaking the sit, praise and then give the release command, either “Free” or “Go get it” etc.
Note: you’ll need to toss the ball very gently and just a short way at first, perhaps even just placing it down. Otherwise, the urge to chase will be too hard to resist.
Once your dog understands what you’re asking him to do, you can progress to throwing the ball with more gusto and eventually kicking it.
This is impulse control too and an essential command that can save your dog from snaffling up random and potentially poisonous things on the sidewalk, or dropped food in the kitchen.
You can teach this command this way:
- Put a treat on the ground
- Firmly say “Leave it”
- If your dog goes to grab it, cup your hand over the treat until he backs off, then remove your hand
- When your dog successfully leaves the treat, without trying to approach it, praise him then pick it up and feed him the treat (or a different treat) as reward
A rock-solid recall is a prerequisite to going off leash.
To teach this one:
- Choose an area with few distractions and have your dog on a long line
- Instruct your dog to sit and stay
- Wander away and eventually issue the command “Come!” in a bright, inviting tone
- When your dog runs to you, praise lavishly and reward with a high-value treat
- If your dog ignores the command or reroutes away from you on the way, use the long line to remind him where he’s going (the long line is critical for avoiding failure/rehearsal of wrong behaviors and for preventing your dog “stealing” rewards for himself by just running off to investigate whatever he likes rather than performing the recall as asked)
Once your dog has perfected the recall from a sitting position, up the ante:
- Have your dog on the long line and let him wander around sniffing things at will
- Randomly issue the “Come!” command
- When he runs to you, make a fuss of him and treat, then say “Free” and let him return to doing what he likes
- Repeat in increasingly busy situations so that he builds up to being able to drag himself away from more and more compelling distractions in order to obey your command
Keep sessions short and enjoyable. Finish up before his concentration lapses and he starts failing. You want to avoid having to drag him to you.
Moving towards you should always be a positive experience for your dog.
Establishing You As Pack Leader, Your Boxer As Follower
The key to raising an all round well-behaved Boxer is him knowing his place in the pecking order.
He is not boss. You are. His job description is not pack leader, but good follower dog.
If you don’t clearly establish your dominance, your Boxer is likely to constantly vy with you for this leadership role. This jostling for power will come out in all sorts of undesirable behaviors.
Every interaction you have with your Boxer, and every aspect of how the household is run, sends a message to your dog about who’s in charge and what’s expected of your pup.
This makes the house rules for your dog particularly important.
Whether he’s allowed on furniture, whether he sleeps in the human bed, who eats first, whether he’s allowed to jump all over people, barge out the door and through gates, if he’s allowed to bark inappropriately, if he has to wait calmly for food.
It all matters in communicating to your dog the kind of behavior that will elicit rewards.
Make sure you’re sending a clear, consistent message so your Boxer knows what you want. If the rules change according to the day or the whim of the human, or depending on which member of the household is present at the time, your dog will end up confused. Bad behavior is often the result.
With clear boundaries and firm rules, your dog feels secure and relaxes into obedience.
Concluding Thoughts On Boxers And Pulling On The Leash
Boxers are highly intelligent and very trainable dogs.
It’s user error on the part of us owners that can cause their effervescent personalities to morph into unmanageability.
Make it fun, be consistent and you’ll soon have your Boxer prancing perfectly beside you on walks.