Loose Leash Walking
Let’s talk about loose leash walking…
Does your dog pull on the leash?
If so then the walk is neither good for the dog nor enjoyable for you. It’s generally a sign that you and your dog are not paying enough attention to each other — remember it takes two to pull!
Make this promise to you and your dog now: I WILL NEVER LET MY DOG MOVE FORWARD WHEN HE’S PULLING. (See Harness section below for the only exceptions.)
Pulling on leash is very rewarding to a dog (self-rewarding behavior). What do I mean by this? The action itself of pulling doesn’t feel so bad at the time and it gets the dog where he needs to go.
***A behavior as rewarding as leash pulling takes a lot of time and effort to fix. Bear in mind that a dog that’s next to you on a tight leash is still very much pulling!
Let’s put it this way. Say you’re addicted to gambling, and that you like to go out and gamble until you run out of cash. At an intervention, your family prevents you from gambling. You pay careful attention to them and maybe once a week, they aren’t paying attention and you head out for an night of gambling and fun and you win big bucks. Are you still addicted to gambling? Well yes. Are you ever going to stop at this if this carries on? No. In fact, your urge to gamble is most likely stronger than ever!
So…you have this canine ‘pulling’ addict in your care, one who wants to go forward and sometimes it works to pull hard, so he might as well try it all the as much as possible. What do you do? Follow the Training tips below.
Note: If you have more than one dog, then make sure to practice the leash training techniques on each dog separately, in the beginning.
Time to Start Training for Loose Leash Walking
Reward him for the ‘checking in’ ie ‘looking at you’ whenever you are walking together. Learn how to use the clicker or marker word although a clicker is recommended. Practice walking on leash or even off leash at your home, where your dog probably doesn’t want or need to pull. Each time he looks at you, click (or mark) and give him a reward, tasty treats are good for this (in the house, you can practice this with his kibble if he’ll work for kibble.) Whenever you take him for a walk, do the same thing religiously…. This will help bring the focus of the dog back to you. Besides, it’s hard to look at you if he’s way ahead of you!
Reward him for being in the Sweet Spot. Click or mark and treat whenever he is in the area near your left leg, imagine a 2 foot by 2 foot box next to you (It doesn’t have to be the left, but that’s the traditional side. Just pick one and stick with it.)
Pretty soon he will begin to think that it is a very good thing to be next to you. As he gets better and better at this, fade out the use of food by treating with less frequency (fading the treat). You’ll need more treats if the distraction level goes up, for instance in a different environment with more dogs/people etc.
The loose leash dance. Teach your dog that the slightest amount of pressure on the leash means that he should stop and return to you. On your walk, even if he’s not pulling, hit ‘reverse’ and suddenly walk backwards. So you’ll be walking backwards and he turns around to face you, so he’s walking forwards, but the reverse direction as he was. When he turns to look where his feet are taking him, give him a treat. Repeat – repeat then repeat some more. If he pulls ahead, do exactly the same thing. As time goes on, don’t reward him if he decides to pull, only if you suddenly walked back without him pulling ahead. Please not this is not a collar correction, just a cue, so don’t jerk it to make it hurt, that’s not the goal of the exercise – the goal is to make it gentler and gentler, until a slight tug from you puts your dog back to where he should be. As time goes on, stop walking backwards and just reward your dog at your side and keep moving forward.
Feeding Tree. Dogs have a built in resistance to pressure, this is what’s known as Opposition Reflex. This helps them get out of bushes etc. that catch on their fur, but makes it difficult for us to train them to go into the direction of a pulling leash, not away from it. Leash pressure can be from a dog stopping or from a dog pulling ahead, or from you changing directions. Do not allow the dog to go where it wants to on a taught leash. When the leash pressure eventually eases up – you will feel this in your hand and arm, you can also see it by the way the leash begins to sag – click or mark and give the dog a treat at your side. You can do this inside the home, which is a great place to start. It’s best to combine the Feeding Tree with rewarding for the Sweet Spot, otherwise the dog is forced to pull on the leash to get more treats.
Speed as a Treat. Reward with Speedy Training by walking fastest when the dog is next to you in heel position (speed = quick) and slower as s/he gets farther away (speed = slow, slower, etc.). Just before they arrive at the end of the leash, you have the option of slapping your thigh or making the ‘kissy’ noise and if he reaches the end, either stop (speed = stop) or do the loose leash dance (speed = backwards). At first, your top speed might be running – whatever pace your dog wants. As time goes by, it’s gradually slower and slower to match your boring human slow pace. By using the word “Run!” or “Quickly!” just before you speed up, you can also teach your dog to walk quickly on cue – great for intersections and other places you want to move through quickly.
The ‘Focused Walk’. This is a great technique that I learned to keep my wild eyed mal-mix focused. Teaching your dog to follow your finger is a fun game. This is your defense against potential problematic encounters cats, children, dogs, and other fascinating things. Let’s say your dog is on your left, leash in your right hand. Hold the clicker (if you use one) in your right hand as well and load your left hand with treats. Put one finger out on the treat hand, like you were pointing at something. Encourage your dog to chase the finger (remember, this is supposed to be a fun game, not a boring obedience exercise!)
Click or mark and treat as soon as they get close to the hand target (the finger). After a few times in a low distraction environment, your dog will most likely follow the target with no food in the target hand. Click (or mark)and reward the dog a treat from somewhere else, like your other hand. You’ll need to work on being able to stand up while your dog does this. If she jumps, just click when he’s on the floor, and he’ll do that more often than jumping.
Work on relationship building with you furry friend. Pulling on the leash can be a sign that your relationship with your dog could use some fine tuning. Are you the kind of person that demands he pays attention to you without you paying attention to him? One way I’ve found to improve your relationship is to always ask your dog to ‘Say Please’ to get what he wants. (check out or no free lunch handout on this). For example, on a walk you can ask him to sit and look at you before he is allowed to go on a sniffing spree.
Always set your dog up for success. For all of the above techniques and ideas, work best in situations where your dog will be successful. If you decide to take him out to train and he is just crazy, pulling every which way, hes going to learn nothing, and you will just become more and more frustrated. Believe me, at some point in time everyone has been there! Back up a step or maybe two — work at home, inside, with fewer distractions. Then work in the backyard. Next, work in front of the house. Make your training walks last longer, going further and further. Avoid distractions that your dog isn’t ready to handle: if you can make it all the way to the park, but not through it, for example, bring along one of the management tools below for the currently-impossible stage of walking nicely through the park.
Physical Tools for Loose Leash Walking
I recommend that your dog wear a harness or head collar whenever you go on a walk, until your dog gets very, very used to walking politely on a loose leash, and then slowly wean off of the head collar or harness in six months to a year. “Weaning off” means that you’ll use a regular flat buckle collar in places that your dog can focus on you and not pull, and in high distraction places that are still difficult to focus, use the head collar or harness. The same applies to harnesses. Of course, you can also use a harness forever; it’s your choice.
Pressure to be on time and not late causes people to allow their dogs pull, so I recommend head halters or body harnesses almost exclusively. With these tools, you don’t have to use treats every time (or ever, actually), but if you work on the ‘look at me’ and reward the dog for being in the Sweet Spot, you will be able to transition to a regular collar sooner rather than later.
Rear Attachment Head Halters. These head halters use your dog’s opposition reflex to get the job done. The leash gets taught, the dog feels a push forward from the action of the collar, then he stops or walks backwards to oppose the push. Keep the leash very short if and when you first use this. The drawback is the cost and the fact that you have to get the dog used to the dog to the head halter. Quite often they’ll flop around like fish for a few days and paw off and on for another week or two. But you’ll go on more walks, because it starts becoming fun! Ensure you do plenty of research before deciding on a harness or head halter
Front Attachment Head Halters. These head halters work on the basis that a dog will move in the direction of its head. The benefits are that these usually work like power steering on a dog, large or small. Again the drawback being you have to get the dog used to the head halter. Recommended Brands: Comfort Trainer, Gentle Leader, Halti, Snoot Loop (recommended for dogs with short noses).
Body Harnesses. There are many different types of body harnesses. Front-attachment harnesses offer greater control and are a lot easier to get your dog used to than a head collar (no desensitization needed). While potentially your dog could still drag you down the road on a regular harness attached to the top loop (the one on the dog’s back), this doesn’t happen with front-attachment harnesses. If you hook it on the front, with the harness relatively tight, you’ll get a similar effect as with the head halters. To get additional control, you can combine the front attachment harness with head collar.
Be careful when you are picking out a “no-pull” harness. Try to figure out what makes is so the dog wouldn’t pull. If it’s because it hurts the dog to pull, you need to move on. We like the front-attachment harnesses most. Benefits of front attachment harnesses: The dog turns around to face you when it tries to pull. It is my personal favorite management tool for this issue, because dogs take little or no time to get used to it and it works very well. A rule I stick to is that when the leash is attached to the back of these harnesses, the dog may pull, but when attached to the front of the harness or the collar, no pulling is allowed. The drawback being the harnesses offers less control than the head halters.
DIY Harness. This is an emergency method only. Let’s say you are on a regular walk, you thought you’d be in a training kind of mood but suddenly your dog (Jack) is just too irritating to deal with, yup it happens to dog trainers too. To make matters worse, you left the Gentle Leader at home (shame on you!). Take your leash and loop the handle end under the dog’s waist/midriff. Now you have two places to grab the leash — one on either side of the dog. Gather both of them up in one hand and you’ll have more control than you had before. There are lots of ways to make your leash into a harness – experiment! My advice is to do a test run before you leave the house if you ever feel that you’ll need this option.
I never ever recommend the use of slip chains (a.k.a. choke chains), prong collars, basically any collar that works because of the pain or irritation the dog will experience.