Loose lead walking
Loose lead walking is an important skill to teach. Not only is it beneficial for your dog, it is also beneficial for us and means that we aren’t being constantly pulled around and potentially injured.
Reasons why your dog may pull on the lead:
- Lack of understanding of what’s being asked of them
- Distractions including smells, animals, food etc.
- The environment being more exciting than you i.e. going to the park
- Success from pulling (they get to where they want to go by pulling)
By following the steps below, your dog should start to engage with you when they are on the lead.
- Collar or harness
- Clip lead (the longer the better but not an extending lead)
- Large treat pouch
Step 1 – Preparation
- Fill your treat pouch with a few handfuls of treats.
- Find a suitable environment for teaching. This should be free from distractions, secure and large enough to have your dog off lead with space to walk around, ideally your house or garden
- Choose a side for your dog to walk on and stick to that side when teaching.
Now you are ready to teach….
Step 2 – Get into position
- In your open space, with your dog off lead, wander around in no particular pattern. Every time your dog is by your side on your chosen side, praise and reward them by dropping a treat behind you.
- Carry on walking around and repeat every time your dog is by your side. The aim is for your dog to eat the treat then come running back to your side.
- Repeat this for no more than 3 minutes at a time and repeat 3-4 times a day
- Once your dog is consistently coming back to the position, start to reward them from your hand
Step 3 – Introduce the lead
- Clip the lead to your dog, holding it in the opposite hand to the side that the dog is on and repeat step 2. This time, instead of dropping treats behind you, praise and place them on the floor by your dog or feed from your hand. If feeding from your hand, stop and feed.
- The longer the lead is, the better. You don’t want your dog to learn to put tension in to the lead and this can happen quicker with a short lead. You also want to make sure your dog has the opportunity to get it right without the lead keeping them in the correct position as this isn’t showing understanding from your dog.
Step 4 – Start walking
- Once your dog understands the position you would like to walk them in and they are consistently staying by your side then it’s time to practice going for a short walk.
- Before doing this, make sure your dog has been to the toilet as this can have an effect on their concentration.
- Start by walking your dog somewhere familiar and choose a quiet location with no distractions (this may be around the street you live on but do not choose the walk you do to the park)
- Praise and reward your dog every step that they choose to stay by your side. When you reward them, stop and reward them. This gives your dog chance to collect their thoughts before carrying on.
- If your dog goes off to explore or they come across a distraction, stand still, let them explore as much as they are able to on the length of the lead you’re using. You do not need to talk to them or pull them away, just wait, let them explore then when they are ready to carry on learning they will look at you. Once they feel they can concentrate again, encourage them back to your side with your voice, moving backwards a couple of steps or guide them with a treat (don’t give the treat just yet), walk forward a step and continue to praise and reward them.
- Again, keep your sessions fun and short and repeat often throughout the day/week
If your dog is struggling to stay focused then it may be that you have progressed too quickly or the environment you are working in is too distracting. Keep the routes short and repeat the same ground or go back a step until your dog is successful
Step 5 – Gain confidence
- Now your dog has a better understanding of the position you would like them to walk in, you can start to increase to 2- 3 steps each time before rewarding your dog.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Little and often will help make sure your dog enjoys learning, stays focused and doesn’t find it stressful.
- As your dog gains confidence and understanding, you can start to increase the amount of steps you take before rewarding. Make sure you don’t try and progress too quickly. If your dog starts to lose focus or positioning then go back to rewarding more frequently
Don’t be tempted to use the lead to correct your dog, the lead should be there purely for safety rather than control. If you are having to use the lead to position your dog then it means your dog doesn’t truly understand what you would like them to do so go back a step or two.
Step 6 – Increase the distance
- You can now start to increase the distance you walk and vary the routes you are taking.
- Once your dog has learnt loose lead walking and they can practice it successfully in multiple environments and varying distances, you can increase the steps you take before you reward your dog. Ideally you want to be rewarding your dog no less than after every 10 steps you take. Again, if you find they can’t manage that long without losing concentration then go back to rewarding more frequently or choose an easier environment.
Tips for success
Remember to practice in easier environments and when your dog is at their calmest. Practicing loose lead walking to the park, for example, when your dog hasn’t had a run may not be the most successful. Instead, try practicing on the way back from your walk once your dog has burnt off some of their energy.
Be clear with your expectations, so now we are learning loose lead walking, now we aren’t. This is especially important in the early days as your dog is still new to it.
Don’t try and progress too quickly. Just because your dog can walk loosely outside of your house for 3 minutes, don’t then expect them to walk nicely somewhere else. It takes time and consistency and can be one of the hardest behaviours to train as a lot of dogs naturally want to pull so be patient and teach it in small manageable pieces. Happy teaching!
There may be times where you can’t practice loose lead walking but still need to get your dog from A – B. It may be that you are still following steps 2-5 but you still need to exercise your dog. If this is the case then if possible, drive your dog to the park. That way you can still take them out but they aren’t practicing to pull you there. If you don’t have access to a car or your dog is worried in the car then use a release word such as “go free” or walk them on a harness if your dog is fine with it. This means that they are able to walk ahead but also means that there won’t be any treats available. If you say “go free” and they offer any loose lead walking then reward it, but make sure you don’t reward them if they decide to pull or walk ahead.
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