Loose Leash Walking
Updated: May 30
Walking without pulling is one of the biggest training challenges, but the reward of easier walks is well worth it!
Pre-Walk Appetizer: Got a dog who starts at a 10 out of 10 on walks? Play fetch or tug, or have an easy training session, for 5-10 minutes prior to starting on a walk. Get some of that energy out!
Walking Equipment: Get your dog dressed in whatever they're going to wear. Some dogs benefit from a front-clip harness or a headcollar.
Treats and a treat bag: When you're outside, use high value treats that your dog really loves. After all, you're competing with some of the most interesting things in your dog's life out there! He needs to be paid well.
Reward the Good
Reward your dog when you catch him doing something you like! I like to reward:
1. Walking next to you and
2. Giving you eye contact!
Say “yes” and give a treat at his "take out window". The take out window is at your dog's head-height, right next to your leg, on the side of your body you prefer him on. (Either side if no preference!)
You can also use “life rewards” by letting him sniff things if he approaches them on a loose leash.
Respond to Pulling
If you can see your dog is going to pull, try and prevent it! Call your dog's name and reward him for responding at his take out window!
Any time your dog pulls forward on the leash, stop and back up until he comes with you. (Avoid jerking, dragging, etc.)
Walk backwards briskly until he follows, then praise and walk forward again. You may need to encourage with your voice. (For some dogs and owners, circling is easier or more appropriate. If your trainer recommended this instead, you'll circle instead of backing up.)
Do not give your dog a treat for this. (Lots of dogs will learn to pull to get a treat!) Instead, his reward is getting to go forward again like he wanted!
If your dog pulls right or left, keep walking forward with intention. (Avoid dragging/choking/etc. Walks are supposed to be fun!)
The Treasure Game
This is an easy way to start loose leash walking practice in your house! (Yup, indoors! See below for more.) It helps your dog learn that a loose leash gets him closer to what he wants!
With your dog in a “stay”, tethered to something sturdy, or on a leash with somebody else, show him something exciting, like food, a toy, or even a person! This is the “treasure”.
Place the treasure a short walking distance (Start with maybe 15 feet) away from him. Then, return to him and pick up his leash.
Walk her toward the treasure. Anytime he pulls, immediately start walking backwards until he comes with you, and then resume walking forward.
When you walk forward, you are rewarding the loose leash. When you walk backwards, you are preventing your dog from rewarding himself for pulling by getting closer to the treasure.
Continue until you get to the treasure and let him eat it/play with it.
As he gets better, you can go for longer distances and more exciting treasures.
Putting it Together
Practice indoors first. Just like other behaviors, it's easier to start inside with fewer distractions.
Practice in your yard next! Again, we're slowly increasing distractions.
Start with short sessions. This is something that takes a lot of mental and physical energy for both of you. You might ask your dog to walk on a loose leash for a few minutes of each walk to start, then gradually increase the length of time you do it for, until he can do it all the time!
Use two pieces of equipment. (Or two different attachment points on a harness.) One for when you expect a loose leash and one for when it's okay to pull. Nearly every dog readily learns to tell the difference. This lets you preserve all your hard work!
To switch safely, bring a second leash or use a double-ended leash like the one from 2HoundsDesign so that you can clip onto one loop before unclipping the other.
Remember, this is a challenging behavior for most dogs. (Think of taking a 5 year old to a children's museum and asking him to walk with you instead of touching the exhibits...) Look for steady progress. For young puppies and teenage dogs, it's normal to see some dips in performance on some walks. Let us know if you see anything you're concerned about so we can help!
Set your dog up for success!
Provide regular sniffing breaks so your dog can do what dogs need and love to do: Sniff and explore! This means pulling over and hanging out/walking slowly so that he can get a good sniff. Many people will hold their leash at half-length when they want walking and let out to full length for sniff time.
If you're in a situation where your dog is scared, reactive, super-excited, or otherwise very emotionally involved, don't expect or require loose leash walking. Instead, focus on helping him out with those big feelings. (Not sure how? Let your trainer know!)
If your dog is extra-excited on walks, consider playing or training before you go out! Taking time to play fetch, have a game of tug, chase each other around the yard, or have a little training session can help take off some of that edge and make a more enjoyable walk for both of you!