Teaching Loose Leash Walking

Walking nicely on a leash is among the most basic requests we make of our dogs. And, yet, it’s also one of the most common scenarios that lead to dogs wearing collars that choke them, collars that pinch them with prongs, or collars that shock them with actual electricity. (Keep reading. Details on this week’s prizes below.)

Defining Loose Leash Walking
Unless your dog competes in conformation, obedience, or rally obedience venues, he probably doesn’t need a perfect “heel,” where the dog stays at your side with his shoulder right at your shin.

Most of us simply need a decent loose leash walk from our dogs. This includes:

  • Walking nicely in our general vicinity
  • Not getting themselves, us, or passersby tangled up
  • Not pulling wildly toward anything or willy-nilly
  • Not lunging/barking/growling at people, dogs, or other things like (kids on skateboards)*

*We’ll talk more about these behaviors Oct 6, so for now, let’s assume you have a “normal” dog who pulls like crazy on leash.

Point of Power: The Neck
Dogs naturally do this thing, where they pull in response to pressure. You pull. They pull. Hence the drama that unfolds in so many families, where yanking, tugging … and even choking, pinching, and shocking … come into play. (Some call traditional dog training “crank & yank.”)

That’s why head collars or harnesses change the focus from the neck to the head or body. They use what we know about dog physiology and dog behavior in our favor, rather than working against us.

Loose Leash Training
One of the main reasons dogs pull on leash is because it gets them something they want — closer to that other dog, closer to the park, the chance to steal that snack from a toddler’s hand. It’s a very rewarding process. They pull. We get frustrated and give in. They get what they want. Pattern established.

It’s really a matter of the dog having not as much self-control as is required in modern life. A good dog trainer can teach you to teach your dog patience and self-control. Exercises like wait, doggie zen, leave it, and stay go a long away. Even a good sit can save you a lot of grief.

For now, however, let’s just say, in very basic terms, the key to loose leash walking is to teach dogs that Those Who Pull, Go Nowhere.

See in positive reinforcement dog training, we reward what we like and we (mostly) ignore what we don’t. When dogs learn that they get our attention by doing things “right,” ignoring them becomes a powerful way to say, “Nope, not that.” in an unemotional and non-confrontational way.

Trust me. This takes patience, but if you stop moving every time your dog pulls, he will soon learn that pulling = no fun.

Once he stops pulling, you can continue walking, but as soon as he pulls again (which might be right away, at first), then you stop again.

The other trick in teaching a dog not only NOT to pull, but to pay attention to you is to change directions when he pulls. So, if he starts to move ahead to the right and isn’t paying attention to you, you turn around immediately and go left until he catches up. Praise/reward him when he does. Then, you can try to resume your desired course.

Do not wait until the dog is at a full sprint the other way, then jerk or step on the leash to stop him. This delivers quite a “correction” and can do real bodily harm.

Praise & Reward
And, for goodness sake, when your dog gets it right, praise the holy heck out of him and hand over some tasty treat (small piece of chicken or cheese works well).

Soon dogs learn that walking nicely = food/praise/attention. Pulling = no fun.

The Silent Treatment
When your dog needs a little lesson in focus or not pulling, try NOT to say anything because your voice will surely convey your frustration and displeasure. Things like “No!” “Don’t pull!” don’t work.

Don’t say a word. Don’t “pop” the leash. Just stop and wait him out, or change direction.

Dog Training Takes Time
Do not expect that your dog will learn to walk nicely in one day or one week or even one month. It takes a lot of practice in many different locations for dogs to understand that walking nicely means walking nicely no matter where you are or what’s going on.

Prize Drawing #1
This week, we’ll be collecting entries for the first of FIVE prizes we’ll be giving away during the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. All you have to do is post a comment to this blog entry before midnight (MDT), Sunday, Sept 19, 2010, to be entered into the random prize drawing.

Because we hope to reach out to first-time dog owners and new dog adopters, people who self identify as such in their comment below will get a couple of bonus entries. (We’re working on the honor system here, folks.)

You can read all the official rules to learn more, but for logistical reasons, we must limit entries to those in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll notify the winner next week via email, so be sure you enter your email address correctly. Once we know via private email conversations, where the winner lives and what size is needed, we can arrange for prize delivery and for the dog training contact.

This week’s prize package includes:

How Your Donations Help!
Do you want to help spread the word about pain-free dog training? Then, we need your donations today!

As our service project, we’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge. (More details on how our efforts dovetail on our About Page and on the No-Choke Challenge page.)

Just click the donation button on this handy-dandy donation widget to get started!

If for some reason you cannot see or use the donation widget below, please visit the Never Shock a Puppy Donation Site instead.


Read More!
Never Shock a Puppy coalition members (and others, we hope) are blogging from their own sites on this and related topics. Each of us explain our opposition to shock collars (and other punitive methods in our own ways), so we hope you find at least one blogger who “speaks your language” so that you can follow our campaign in a way that feels most comfortable to you. Check out this blog hop to learn more.

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24 Responses to Teaching Loose Leash Walking

  1. Becky says:

    We adopted 2 small dogs this year who we were told were 2 & 3 but turned out to be 8 & 9! Big difference. We did go to a beginner obedience class at the big box store if only to give us a chance to build our relationships with them in another environment. They at least do teach loose leash walking in exactly this manner and never recommended anything other then a harness or head collar. Not as great as the behaviorist we used with our last rescue but adequate and cheaper! Two older dogs have been a little more expensive vet wise then two younger ones might have been!!

  2. Donna Sek says:

    Liked your article. I’ve been using some of your suggestions, and my Tayla is just starting to learn not to pull . Thanks.

  3. Becky says:

    I adopted my first dog about a year ago and we have been through two rounds of obedience training from different places. I continue to be amazed, and sometimes frustrated, by how different training methods can be (and one did advocate the use of choke/prong collars). I’ve had the most success, though, on my own using techniques outlined in the article and practicing patience. Walking on a loose leash has been the biggest hurdle, but we’re making progress. Thanks for the article. I’m encouraged to continue what I have been doing and confident we will both be happy with the results.

  4. Thanks for this article. I’m sharing it online. I’m a dog walker and it breaks my heart to see the many dogs I do being yanked and dragged around by the neck here in NYC. Additionally, too many people are using the right equipment (ie a Halti) in the wrong way. Its great that they are aware enough to know they need help, it isn’t helping to, for example, put a dog into a head harness when the dog is walking in a pack with a dog walker and the dog walker isn’t paying attention to where the dog is–not doing loose leash walking. And even more alarming is when I see a dog in a head collar receive a “correction.” Never ever yank the leash to correct a dog in a head halter. The entire idea behind this tool is to use it to LEAD the dog, not drag the dog back by the face.

    • Thanks so much, “Aunt Christine,” for this important point. That’s exactly why we’re giving away a 1-hour private dog training lesson IN ADDITION to the head collar or body harness prize. We want people to have the tools and the insights to use them well.

  5. Elisa says:

    I adopted my first dog Moxie (a doxie) in February 2010 and his brother Liam (a rottie) in April 2010. I have taken Moxie to obedience lessons that work with a lot of positive reinforcement. I have used the trick of constantly giving him treats as the walks by my side or since he is so low on the ground I have used one of those long wooden cooking spoons dabbed in peanut butter. By giving him a reward he has improved much on his walking, his nose is what gets him distracted a lot, its the hound nose. Our rottweiler is not food motivated at all but we have used positive reinforcement by petting him, so he walks by my side if i give him constant ear rubs or back pets 🙂 I do use harnesses on the rottweiler and our foster dogs but I was very opposed from the beginning by suggestions of people that I needed a big choke collar because of the breed.
    Thanks for the post and maybe we can join the blog hop!

  6. This is excellent information for dog owners. It’s so easy to fall back into the old habit of trying to convince the dog you’re the “pack leader” or that you’re “in charge”… they already know that! The key, for me, is patience, love, and understanding. You need to pay attention to your dog – try and understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. Rewards based training works – for all of us, not just our dogs!

  7. Natalie Martin says:

    I adopted a Border Collie/Aussie from a local rescue almost a year ago. She had really horrendous leash manners- it was as if the leash wasn’t there at all (and on top of that she had reactivity issues too! :P). A couple weeks with a strict no pull policy using the methods described as she is now perfect on leash. Training a dog not to pull is simple, but at the same time you really have to be consistent and above all PATIENT!!

  8. Great tips! I find that just simply stopping works pretty well with Buster. He comes right back to me when I stop. I’m just waiting for him to make the connection that if he doesn’t pull at all, we keep moving forward. =)

  9. Sharon/Cleo says:

    Being a “parent” to a dog for the first time, is something I work very hard at, just like people do when they choose to have children. I grew up with dogs, my mother was a dog trainer but they were *hers* not mine. I was essentially one of the pack – reminded of this every time my mom called me by one of our dog’s names.

    I love your post and totally agree with your viewpoint on how dogs relate to us humans!!

  10. Lindsay says:

    Wow, those are some awesome prizes you are giving away! Although I would love to win, I would also like to see the prizes go to a new dog owner, as you suggested.

    I use prong collars for certain dogs and Gentle Leaders for others. I can definitely see how positive reinforcement techniques really work, and I use them with a lot of dogs. One of the main things, as you suggested, is time. It takes a long time to train a dog, and a lot of patience which means a lot of walks. It’s a gradual process that happens slowly.

    Enjoyed the post!

  11. Ashley says:

    I really need to work on the whole stopping whenever your dog pulls with Snarf. We kind of just cheated by buying a Gentle Leader but I know there will come a time when we forget it and he needs to have leash manners. We just need to block out some time and do it. Thanks for that reminder!

  12. nic says:

    We have a 10-month old, and he actually pulls back a lot during the first 5 minutes of the walks. He does not want to move forward. He just wants to go home. After 5 minutes or so, he gives up and starts walking with us pretty well. When we get closer to home, though, at the end of the walks, he pulls forward like crazy just so he can get home faster. Being the first time dog owners, we had no idea that there could be a dog that was not thrilled about going outside to walk. Changing from a collar to a harness helped a lot, because he used to choke himself by pulling. Still, we always wonder how we can reward him for moving forward without actually turning around to go home…

  13. Thanks for the great tips! I find that many of them really do work, but I need to first train *myself* to remember to be consistently practicing them.
    I have a Halti for Ellie and it works like a dream, but without it, I am lost (when she sees another dog or animal).

  14. Dianne/Louisebear2 says:

    Informative and easy to understand post! Hate hate hate shock collars, pinch collars etc. Never Shock A Puppy!

  15. deb says:

    Love anything that emphasizes positive training!!

  16. Found it! Thank you. I’ll send the link to this blog on to my friend today. This is good stuff!

  17. Lisa W says:

    Both of my rescues pull A LOT at the beginning of the walk and not so much later. We are working on “heel” to remind them that sometimes they need to be right next to us, but as you suggest, as long as they aren’t pulling me down the street I’m okay with it. I take my babies to day care, though, and sometimes they aren’t really great about reinforcing commands… Thanks for the post — it’s a great reminder!

  18. Thanks for continuing to spread the word and for giving people alternatives — exactly what positive reinforcement is all about!!! 🙂

    Leash manners are very difficult and very time consuming to teach. But the rewards are life long. It really is worth the time and energy and it’s amazing to hear people’s surprise and admiration when they find out how you did it.

  19. I am so thankful for this article. I’ve never had the heart to use a choker, but I have also never had a dog that was easy to walk with. This method seems so logical (Love and Logic for dogs!) – I will definitely be applying this with our new puppy. We bring him home this week from the Boulder Valley Humane Society!

  20. Nadia Ratelle says:

    My husband and I are newlyweds, and first time dog owners. Maxwell Smart, our cocker spaniel poodle mix, is almost seven months old. Training has been an interesting (sometimes frustrating, sometimes joyful) experience for us. True to his name, Max is very smart and catches on to new things very quickly. He is quite the little energetic fellow, and has the zaniest personality

    I am a responsible, loving and caring pet parent. Not only do I believe in and use positive reinforcement training techniques, but I provide a healthy, species-appropriate diet for Max, and I am constantly cuddling with him while I read up on anything dog related. My goal is to be as knowledgeable as I can be in regards to all the decisions I am making for him, and in doing so, provide him with the best life possible!

    I completely support the purpose of this website. Training should be fun for the pet and the humans involved, and not involve scare tactics or physical punishment. We taught Max to loose leash walk using the exact technique described on this site, and though it took a little while, he know realizes that pulling doesn’t work in his favour. The easiest way to get where he wants to go is to walk nicely beside me.

  21. Deb D. says:

    I support anything that emphasizes positive training for dogs. I am appalled at the number of people so willing to shock their dogs into submission. Thank you for passing along such good advice!!

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