How To Teach Your Dog To Walk With a Loose Leash
Tired of pulling, barking, and lack of control when walking your pup? Look no further. Our guide will help you through leash walking and all of the potential roadblocks you may encounter.
To teach your dog to walk with a loose leash, you must start by teaching them how to heel. Having this concept down will help you get them under control and stop leash pulling on your walks.
An important aspect of loose leash walking is remembering that our dogs need to have both structured and unstructured leash time. Going for walks is an exciting expedition for our dogs, and it’s unfair to prevent them from smelling and interacting with the environment. That’s not to say that we should let them pull us down the road either. The important distinction is having them walk calmly when asked and have a bit more freedom when on an unstructured walk.
When starting out with leash walking, you need to be sure that you have a well-fitting harness or collar as well as a leash that correlates to your dog’s strength. Safety on your walks is paramount, especially if you are still working on your emergency recall. Having a collar slip or a piece of walking equipment break can be scary, but if you have a solid recall, you can be confident that your dog will return to you, even without the leash.
The next step is gearing up for your training session. I would highly recommend some form of a treat pouch and a clip to keep your dogs leash attached to you. Having the pouch and leash on your person will keep your hands free and make it easier to deliver treats to your dog quickly. Mix up the variety of treats in your bag but make sure to start with something high-value to keep their attention on you.
- Paw Lifestyles Treat Pouch: This pouch is by far my favorite as it has room for treats, poop pages, and a separate holder for your phone or keys. I cannot recommend one of these enough as it makes all forms of training so much easier when you can quickly reward your dog and not have to mess around with other things in your hand.
- All In One Leash Combo: 6 feet in length with a traffic handle and clip, this leash is the perfect training tool. If you’re working with a larger dog, the additional handle is a great way to help position your dog where you want them while teaching heel and can also help you pull them back in a distracting situation.
For your dog, I would recommend sticking with a 6-foot leash attached to either a collar or harness. With the leash length, you can easily call your dog back to your side and keep them from wandering too far from you.
It’s always best to start inside your home or in an area that is free from distractions. You want your dog to be able to focus on you, which is best achieved when there aren’t other exciting things going on around you. When working in your home, you may be able to get away with low-value rewards or kibble as the environment will be less stimulating.
Start in your quiet space and attach your leash to either the dog’s collar or harness. Begin by placing a treat close to your dog’s nose, right by the inseam of your pants. Choose either the left or right side of your body and stick with it throughout the course of your training. Once your dog gets into position, immediately reward them for staying by your side. If they move forward or backward, remove the treat and place it back at your pants inseam after regaining their attention.
Once your dog understands the concept of where you want them to stand, begin by stepping forward just an inch. Keep the treat right by your leg and the dog’s nose. Reward them for moving with the motion of your leg, and refrain from rewarding them if they move out of position.
Heel training can move incredibly slow at first but will pay off tremendously over time. Having your dog come back to position, even when on an unstructured walk, is paramount to their safety.
In The Meantime
Working on heel can take months to perfect. And let’s face it, sometimes you need to take your dog on a walk for them to potty or just burn off some energy. So, when you aren’t on a structured heel walk, there are a couple of ways to manage pulling until you can get a full heel in place.
The concept of the standstill technique is exactly how it sounds. When you’re walking with your dog, and they begin to pull, stand still and firmly hold the leash. The moment your dog relaxes their shoulders or turns to you, reward them by walking forward. The second they pull again, stop until they release the tension on the leash. You will have to repeat this frequently until your dog gets the message. I recommend doing this several times per day when starting your walk.
Like the standstill, circles create the message that your dog pulling in a given direction isn’t going to give them what they want. The second they start pulling, quickly turn around and head the other direction. In my experience, this works rather quickly as compared to the standstill method as most dogs pull to get towards whatever is in their line of sight. Repeat this as much as necessary and incorporate it into your heel training as well.
Loose Leash With Distractions
Possibly the most difficult task of loose leash walking comes in when there is a significant distraction or environmental factor that you and your dog have to contend with. The best way to work on distraction training is to get a solid “Look at me” down before putting your dog in a new environment. Being able to break their attention away from whatever the stimuli are and focus back on you is critical. You can also use the Leave it/look at me combo and turn around to head in the other direction.
It is critical to practice with varying distractions while in a controlled environment. You can accomplish this by throwing toys around and having your dog leave them alone and continue to heel on leash. You can even play car sounds or garbage truck sounds on your TV.
Planning out your training sessions and focusing on specific distractions or factors will grant your the largest strides of success. Think about your walks in terms of time and not distance. Twenty minutes spent heeling and paying attention in your driveway while a dog walks by is more stimulating to your dog than walking a mile while pulling. Be patient and always set your dog up for success by training inside first, slowing increasing distractions, and making sure to try your hardest not to put your dog over threshold (putting them up against something they simply could not ignore or something you haven’t trained for).
Let’s Talk About Prong Collars
There is an enormous and often divisive stance regarding prong collars and their use in the dog training community. Personally, I am against prong collars as I believe that you can achieve loose leashing walking without having to rely on force for compliance. In the end, it is up to the owner and their trainer to make the choice that best suits your dog, but as with all behaviors, positive reinforcement will always net you the best response in the long run.
The key to having your dog walk calmly, with a loose leash, is patience and a lot of training. Asking your dog to ignore its often very exciting surroundings to walk right next to you is a task that requires diligence and time to master.