As a trainer, often I get asked how a client can teach their dog to walk on a loose leash.
Dogs sometimes pull on the leash because the dog walks at a faster pace than the person or because he has been inadvertently rewarded for pulling (like when they see someone they like and pull toward them and then get a greeting from the person) or perhaps the dog is very interested in the environment and pulls to investigate odors and other things he is interested in. Not only is this often uncomfortable for the person at the other end of the leash and presumably the dog, but collar pressure on the neck has been linked to several health issues in dogs.
To start, pick an area where there are few distractions and have the dog in a flat buckle collar and 6-foot leash.
Holding the leash with the right hand (so the left hand is free), and with the dog walking on the left of the handler (or in the left hand with the right hand free to guide the leash or dispense treats, if the dog is waking on the right), begin to walk.
If the dog starts to move ahead of the handler, the person can change direction gently, letting the dog know they are changing direction by making a clapping sound with their hand against the person’s leg to get the dog’s attention and then they can gently change direction. When the dog is walking on a loose leash, praise the dog or provide a food reward from the hand closest to the dog, while walking.
If there isn’t room to change direction and the dog is pulling, simply stop and wait for the dog to return to the handler and then proceed. When the dog is a walking close to the person, reward the dog and create a situation where the dog knows that staying close to the person is fun for the dog. When not actively practicing the loose leash walking, use a humane no-pull harness or a head collar. Make sure they fit well and comfortably. Some dogs need to be conditioned to a head collar before wearing it while out walking.
When practicing the loose leash walking, I work on getting the dog focused on the person walking them.
One good exercise is to take a couple of steps away from the dog and then call the dog to the person (while holding the leash) and reward the dog when he takes a couple of steps to the person.
Use things that the dog finds rewarding to encourage the loose leash walking.
For example, if the dog sees a dog friend they would like to greet, have the dog approach on a loose leash and greet as a reward for calmly walking. If he tries to pull, calmly walk him away and try again.
If the dog is interested in stuff in the environment, let him investigate on a loose leash. Calmly bring him back if he starts to pull and reward him for staying close while investigating things that are close and safe.
Jane Bowers, B.A., CABC, CPDT-KA
Jane Bowers has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. Her company is Dogs of Distinction Canine Training Inc. Jane has a monthly newspaper column on dog related topics and is a former host of a live call in TV show on animals. She is a strong advocate for force free and humane training methods for all animals.
Jane has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the Certification Council of Professional Pet Dog Trainers and as a behaviour consultant through the International Association of Behavior Consultants and through the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. These organizations require a minimum number of continuing education units be obtained to retain certification. She is also a professional member of The Pet Professional Guild, an organization committed to force free training of animals and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to being better trainers through education.
Jane is the content creator of the online course Assessing and Interpreting Dog Behaviour, which is a course for law enforcement personnel who meet unfamiliar dogs in the course of their duties. She is the author of Perfect Puppy Parenting, a guide to raising a happy, confident, well-behaved dog.
Jane spent 17 years working for Customs Border Services and in joint teams with US Homeland Security and the RCMP. She spent a further 8 years working as an Animal Control Officer and Bylaw Enforcement Officer.
Jane lives on a small farm with dogs, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. The dogs each came from situations that prevented them from living in their original homes. The dogs range in size and age and with the dog training and behavioral work, whether it’s participating in the development of an online training course, working with a client’s dog or tracking a lost pet or animal.