Have you ever seen a dog walking perfectly on a loose leash? If you have you probably had to stop and stare for a minute. I’m sure you have seen the opposite of this scene many times. A dog and human attached by a leash. The human looks like their arm is going to detach and the dog sounds like he is choking! Not a sight we like to see, still, it is all too common. In this article, we will learn how to fix this problem in a kind and positive way. Let’s get this sorted!
First off we are not going to be using: choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, head halters, or anything that says it will help your dog walk on a loose leash. These are mostly marketing gimmicks or outright dangerous to your dog’s health.
So, what do you need? A harness. You might want to choose one that the dog steps into. Some harnesses go over the head and a lot of dogs don’t like that. Choose a harness that fits your dog well and is comfortable to him.
Why a harness vs a collar? When the leash is attached to a collar and the dog pulls it’s bad. Pulling on leash with a collar on can crush the windpipe of small dogs. Not only that, but pulling on a leash attached to a collar can lead to thyroid damage in any size dog. Thyroid damage can lead to all sorts of other health issues. So, we want to use a harness that spreads the weight out over the dog’s entire chest, not just a thin point around his neck.
You also need a leash. Just a plain 6ft nylon or leather leash is perfect. Don’t try this with a retractable leash. Retractable leashes are always taut so how can you teach a dog to loose leash walk on a retractable leash? You can’t.
You will also need some tasty treats! You might be able to use a toy, if your dog enjoys playing with them, for some of the training. Make sure your treats are particularly high value to your dog.
Before You Attach A Leash
When you imagine a dog pulling on leash, what does it look like? Like the dog is trying to get away from the human on the other end. It’s pretty obvious that the dog isn’t interested in being with the owner. So, before we walk a dog on leash we want to develop your dog’s desire to be with you.
So, before we put a leash on, we need to start without one. Start inside, because outside is too distracting. Puppies do super well at this game because they naturally want to be with you. You can do this with older dogs too but you need extra tasty treats.
Be ready with treats and a toy, if your dog likes to play. Show your dog that you have treats and toys and then simply walk around. As your dog follows give him treats and praise or little games with the toy. If he gets distracted by something, you run off and hide! This will teach your dog to think that if he takes his eye off you, you’ll disappear with all the treats and games!
Once your dog has the hang of this game inside, try doing it out in your fenced yard. Praise and treats and little games when the dog is following you. But if he gets distracted by a passing butterfly or a smell, run and hide behind a tree or shrub or lawn chair. When the dog realizes you disappeared he’ll think “where did that human with all the treats go?!”
When your dog finds you whether inside or outside give him big praise and start the game again. This game teaches your dog that he needs to keep an eye on you. If he gets distracted you with your treats and games might just vanish!
Why We Walk Dogs
Walking a dog is for a dog’s physical and mental exercise. A dog should be allowed to sniff when he goes for a walk. Sniffing for a dog is like looking at the latest social media updates. “Smells like Sophie got into the garbage again… Oh, and Rex, smells like he has been on vacation.” Your dog must get to use his powerful sniffer, it is important for his enjoyment of life.
This is why we loose leash walk instead of keeping a dog in a perfect heel position the whole time. In a heel position, the dog doesn’t get much mental stimulation and let’s be honest they don’t get much physical exercise either. Unless you have a tiny dog who takes 15 steps for every one step you take
If a dog is loose leash walking he can be 5 feet behind you and then trot along to be 5 feet ahead of you. This gives him more exercise than just walking right next to you.
Red Light, Green Light
This is a very simple way to teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash. Simple, yet it may take some time. Start in the house for the least amount of distractions and grab a handful of treats.
With your dog’s leash attached to his harness take one step. The dog will likely fly to the end of his leash. But you only took one step. Wait until the dog has stopped pulling, perhaps he will sit down or lay down, but there must be slack on the leash. Give your dog a treat if he looks back at you when there is slack on the leash.
Once there is slack, take one more step, if there is tension on the leash, immediately stop. Wait again for slack. Then take one step. Repeat this until you can take two steps at a time, then three steps at a time. Continue in this way until your dog can loose leash walk all over in your home. Always giving your dog gentle praise when there is slack and giving him a treat when he looks at you.
Next, take this training to your fenced in yard. Because you went outside there will be more distractions. It may seem, at first, that your dog has no idea what you are doing. But continue the training one step, if he pulls, stop. When there is slack one more step. Repeat this until your dog can walk around the whole yard on a loose leash.
Next, take it to the front yard. Again your dog may seem to have lost all his loose leash training knowledge. But simply take one step and wait for slack on the leash. Repeat as above until you can walk your dog all-around your front yard.
Now, it’s time to hit the road for a walk. Your dog should do pretty well, but always remember if he pulls, stop. Then walk again as long as there is slack on the leash. The minute there is tension, you become an immovable anchor.
Now, eventually, you will come to a mailbox, light post, a tall bit of grass, or something that your dog want’s to smell. And it’s okay if he does, but he must learn that he can only sniff it if there is slack on the leash. So, when he pulls out to the end of his leash to sniff something, stop. When there is slack take one step. Repeat until you finally get to the smell.
This teaches your dog that he can smell things, but he can get there a lot faster if he keeps the leash slack. Good things happen on a loose leash.
Once your dog has mastered loose leash walking around your neighborhood try walking in other places. Parks, subdivisions, trails, stores, as many places as possible. This will really drill it into your dog that when he is on leash it must be loose or he won’t get to go anywhere.
Remember to always stop the second there is tension on the leash. And always praise your dog if the leash is loose. Of crouse, always give your dog a treat if he looks back at you when there is slack on the leash.
Loose Leash Walking, The Long Game
Walking with your dog on a loose leash can be one of the most rewarding aspects of dog ownership. You can both get mental and physical exercise as well and have lots of fun! If you do things to make yourself more interesting on a walk your dog will be more interested in walking with you.
So, what would make you a more interesting walking partner? Spontaneity! Change directions randomly walk or run backward, cross the street (if safe to do so), turn a different way at a crossroads, let your dog choose the direction you walk next.
You can also change speeds. Walk faster or slower, sprint, jog, run, jump about a little. You can even skip or create a weird walk.
Feel free to stop on your walk for a fun training session. Perhaps practice tricks, recalls, stays, sit, or heel. Lure your dog to jump over a stick or log. Stop and get him to pose for a treat and a picture.
If you are in a populated area randomly head up the stairs or ramp of a building. Try going into shops that don’t say “not dogs allowed.” All they can do is ask you to leave or you might find a new favorite place to shop with your dog!
Dog’s also love it if you point things out to them that they would find interesting. You might point out a feather, an animal trail, a sun-dried worm, or a wet spot on a mailbox. You can even whip out a toy for a little playtime on the walk or chase a squirrel or some geese with your dog.
Your dog won’t want to be anywhere but with you when he walks if you make yourself interesting. Not only will both of you get more mental and physical exercise you will also have a lot more fun!
Walking with your dog can be miserable or highly rewarding. It all depends on whether or not you decide to take the time to train your dog to walk on a loose leash. Your dog wants to go walkies, he is willing to learn. Take the time and train. You will both be happier and healthier for it. And your bond will be stronger than ever!