Loose Leash Dog Walking 101

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Dog pulling on leash to sniff grass


Dogs Love to Pull. You Can Train Them Not To

It is in a dog’s very nature to want to wander around, explore and sniff things while outdoors. When a dog pulls on the leash to try to sniff things it can be very frustrating for you as the owner.  Being able to train your dog to be good at loose leash dog walking will make your outdoor adventures together more enjoyable.

Follow These Steps to Train Your Dog to Walk With You on a Loose Leash:

You will need your dog, walking equipment (harness/leash/collar), a treat pouch, high quality treats and a clicker . Make sure your dog is familiar with clicker training. He must know that a “click” means he is doing something correct and will be rewarded in return “with a treat”.

Dog sniffing out his leash and harness

Step One: Start by putting the equipment on the dog

If your dog has never used any walking equipment before it is a good idea to let him sniff the items to prevent fear.  Once you think he is comfortable with the items put the collar and harness on. I find that a front connection harness is very helpful to prevent a dog from pulling. Do not use a back connection harness it will only encourage pulling. As you are putting the items on click and reward him for letting you do it. Next, attach the leash to the harness.

Step Two:  Decide on goal behaviour you want to reward

Everyone will have their own idea of what they consider a loose leash walking behaviour. I personally consider my dog to be walking with a loose leash when he is walking at my side (preferably the left) or slightly in front as long as he maintains a loose leash in between us. You may want your dog to be right next to your side in more of an informal heel position. Either way, choose the goal behaviour you want to reward.

Step Three: Watch for the goal behaviour, click and reward with a treat

Walk with your dog on a leash. Pay close attention to your dog for when he shows you the goal behaviour. When he does click as he is doing it and reward immediately after clicking.

You may want to start out by rewarding him for just keeping focused on you and walking in the same direction as you, then to a certain distance away from you, then progressing up to only rewarding him when he is in your goal position.Walk with your dog around the house trying to maintain a loose leash and a close distance between each other. Click and reward your dog with a treat whenever he performs the goal behaviour.

If he causes the leash to become taut STOP. He will stop and then eventually look at you as if to say “Hey, what is going on, why are we stopping?”. When he does this or when the leash becomes loose again, because he stopped pulling, click and reward. Continue to walk for a few minutes making sure you are paying close attention to when he shows you he can walk with a loose leash. Make sure you are clicking and rewarding. Practice this for at least a few sessions or until you are confident he will perform it perfectly every time. Once this happens you will add a cue to the behaviour.

Step Two: Adding a cue to the behaviour

Give the cues “this way” every time you turn to move in another direction, or if he loses focus on you. Continue to loose leash walk him for several minutes around the house, taking breaks by have him “sit”, “stay” and “look at me” (if these are behaviours he already has on cue) making sure to reward with a treat. He will understand that you are the leader and he will want to obey your cues. Every time you have him start walking again from a sit position say “okay, lets go” to let him know you want him to follow you and start walking again. Continue to walk loose leash around the house until you are confident he listens and follows your cues every time. Make sure you continue to click and reward when he listens and follows your cues.

Step Three: Add distractions

Adding a spouse, friend, or child in the room will help to ensure that your dog will follow cues even when there are distractions. Continue with loose leash dog walking around the house, this time with a spouse, friend or kid standing in the room or walking around the house. Do not punish the dog if he loses focus, rather reward him when he focuses all his attention on you and the cues you are asking him to perform. Make sure you reward with lots of clicks and treats.

Step Four: Take loose leash dog walking outdoors

Dog walking with good loose leash behaviour

You will want to start this step in a quiet area outside. Follow the same basic steps as in house loose leash dog walking except you are outside.  Pick a relatively low distraction area to start, like your backyard or quiet neighbourhood. Perform at least a few short sessions in which he can perform well before moving onto the next step.



Step Five: Move to a busier area with more distractions

Dog walking on-leash smilingOnce your dog is able to walk well on a loose leash outside in an area with limited distractions, it is time to add more distractions. Walk on a street that has people regularly walking down it. See how he responds and if he can continue to focus on you and your cues. He may try to focus his attention on other people or dogs but try to keep him focused on you by using the “look at me cue” and rewarding him with a treat. Reward him when he follows you on a loose leash. Have him “sit” and “stay” several times during the walk to keep him busy and more focused on you and reward that as well. When he gets the hang of walking back and forth on a loose leash it is time to add some distance.


Step Six: Walking for longer duration and correcting pulling

Dog stopped and looking back with leash taut

Try to walk you dog in one direction down the street on a loose leash. If he continues to walk with a loose leash, that’s fantastic, if not (and likely the case for most puppies or untrained dogs) he will try to pull ahead or in one direction or another. As soon as the leash goes taut, STOP! Act like a tree by standing completely still. If he turns his head around and acknowledges you click and reward him with a treat.

Let the leash become loose again. If he continues to pull do not let him drag you. Once again stop and wait for acknowledgement and/or a loose leash. Reward when he is able to walk with loose leash. If he constantly pulls and can’t walk in the same direction with a loose leash, try turning and walking in another direction. Never allow him to continuously pull on the leash, that will only encourage the behaviour. If he still doesn’t catch on I would do some other tricks to make him happy and feel rewarded such as sit or shake a paw. I would try training again later that day or the next day.

Patience, consistency and positive reinforcement is key!

It is not easy to train a dog to walk well on a loose leash. Consistency of training and lots of positive reinforcement is the way to train him to develop this behaviour. If he does not catch on to a particular step in the first session practice over multiple sessions. Keep sessions short to a maximum 3 minutes especially in the beginning , so your dog doesn’t get frustrated. Keep consistent at training with a few short sessions a day until the behaviour is learned. Once you are confident he has learned the behaviour and it is on cue you can fade out the clicker and continue to reinforce with “good boy” and treats. Eventually he will walk on a loose leash only needing occasional treats. You can even reward him with other things such as play time at the dog park.

During walks it is important to allow your dog times where he is free to sniff things around you as a reward for walking well. I don’t mean allowing him to pull you towards things, but simply allowing him to sniff things close by while maintaining a loose leash and close distance to you. This will show him there is a time and a place for sniffing and if he walks well when you want him to he will be rewarded. It does take time and patience but trust me it will be worth it in the end. Once you have taught your dog loose leash dog walking your walks will be more enjoyable for the both of you.


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