How to Perfect Your Dog's Loose Leash Walking Skills in Six Easy Steps | NOW FRESH
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August 25, 2021

How to Perfect Your Dog's Loose Leash Walking Skills in Six Easy Steps

  • Training
NF - Header image - How To Perfect Your Dog's Loose Leash Walking Skills In Six Easy Steps

For many dogs, a walk is the highlight of their day. It gives them a chance to get some physical exercise and engage with the smells and sounds of a larger environment.

For some, the excitement is such that they pull on their leads constantly, making the situation uncomfortable for everyone involved.

If pulling causes a dog discomfort to the point of causing a neck injury or throat damage, why does he carry on doing it?

For starters, it’s not natural for a dog to be tethered to a human or to travel at our leisurely two-legged speed. Don’t forget, dogs are descended from wolves who travel at an average pace of around 5 mph, which is considerably faster than a human’s 3 to 4 mph walking speed. 

Secondly, we often inadvertently teach our dogs that pulling helps them achieve their goals. If your dog pulls and you carry on walking in the same direction that they’re pulling, you’re effectively rewarding this behavior. This leads the dog to conclude that pulling is essential if you’re both to carry on moving in the same direction.

To get positive results, we need to change our strategy. The following six steps can help you do that so you and your dog can enjoy a relaxed walk instead of a fraught tug of war contest.

NF - In blog image - walking a dog on a trail

Close the Door

Before tackling your dog’s leash walking skills, let’s start with their forward propulsion. Prepare for your walk as usual but, if your dog attempts to race out of the door the moment it’s open, close it again. Don’t restrain them with the leash just yet — just use the door to show them the consequences of their actions. As soon as you can open the door without them dashing towards it, you can proceed with your walk.

This step makes it clear to your dog that hurrying forward isn’t conducive to going outside, which is what they want, making it easier for them to understand they must stay beside you rather than surge ahead.

Turn Around

If we carry on walking with a dog that pulls, we’re rewarding their behavior by allowing them to get closer to their goal of moving forward. 

To counteract that behavior, all you have to do is turn around. Whenever your dog reaches the end of the leash, turn around and walk in the opposite direction. You may find you travel only a few feet from your house on the first attempt, but consistency is more important than progress at this stage.

The Heeling Touch

For a dog to walk on a loose leash, they need to be close to you and focused on you. Getting your dog to stand still next to you is therefore a vital step. To do this, stand next to a wall in your home, positioning your dog between you and the wall. Here, you can use treats to reward them for staying beside you. 

Walk the Wall

Once your dog is content to stay beside you and get rewarded for it, it’s literally time to take the next step. Take one small step forward and, if your dog goes with you, reward them. Repeat as many times as necessary until you can walk several feet with your dog glued to your side. 

Head Outside

Choosing a quiet time of day, take your dog outside and repeat the wall-walking exercise in your yard or garden. Every time they stay with you, reward them with many treats until they begin to understand the value of staying at your side.

The First Walk

Now that you’ve got your dog’s attention, and they’ve learned that staying with you brings plenty of rewards, it’s time to start walking. Set your dog up for success by making sure they’ve already had plenty of exercise. A dog who's full of energy will only be frustrated by a sedentary walk, so give them a chance to let off some steam by playing a game of fetch or chase with them first.

The instant your dog starts to pull, turn around so that they understand that this behavior will not get them any closer to their goals. The moment the leash is loose, reward them.
Steffi Trott - Blog
Steffi TrottFounder of Spirit Dog Training

Start walking and give your dog regular rewards for staying at your side. As long as they’re not putting pressure on the leash, they can keep having treats. This process may take some time to perfect, especially if your dog is easily distracted. Even if your dog’s distracted or looking in the other direction, you need them to receive the treat to reinforce their good behavior. To do this, hold the treat directly in front of their nose and wait until they accept it.

If your dog reaches the end of the leash and starts to pull, turn around and head in the opposite direction. You don’t need a voice command to reinforce this, simply turn and walk. One of the major benefits of this maneuver is that it places the dog behind you, instead of in front. To get to the front again, your dog now has to walk past you, giving you the perfect opportunity to reward him for walking by your side.

The instant your dog starts to pull, turn around so that they understand that this behavior will not get them any closer to their goals. The moment the leash is loose, reward them.

Keep your training sessions brief to start and always finish on a good note. Don’t forget, you’re asking your dog to change their entire approach to walking, and they’ll find processing all this new information tiring.

“Just” leash pulling — or actual reactivity?

Some dogs only pull on leash when they encounter a so-called “trigger”. This means that they become stressed and reactive when seeing another dog or person on their walk. 

This type of leash pulling needs to be addressed in a different way, by changing the dog’s underlying reactivity. Simply giving a dog treats for staying by your side won’t work, because the ingrained stress response is too strong.

How do you determine if your dog simply has bad leash manners, or actually is reactive?

If they pull most of the time, regardless of who is around, they need a general leash training approach.

If they are only pulling when another dog or person appears, and seem stressed and agitated, then they may require specialized reactivity training.

Conclusion

Teaching your dog to walk contentedly beside you isn’t rocket science and doesn’t require any expensive equipment. What it does require, however, is patience, persistence, consistency, and treats aplenty.

Take your time and keep your training sessions short, especially during the initial stages. A dog that has recognized the benefits of staying by your side in the early lessons will seek out that same position faster and with more confidence later down the line.

For more information on the best training tips for your dog visit Spirit Dog Training.


Author

Steffi Trott - Blog

Steffi Trott

Founder of Spirit Dog Training

Steffi Trott is an accomplished dog trainer who has trained with thousands of dogs online and in person. She specializes in game-based training and working with reactive and fearful dogs.