Maybe you have a big dog that drags you down the street when you take him out for a walk, nearly pulling your arm off. Or maybe you have a little dog who strains against the leash and you wonder, as he coughs and gags, how much does it hurt his little neck? Either way, it’s not healthy for you or your dog to be struggling on walks.
But before you get too mad at your dog for pulling, understand that walking slowly in a straight line, like us humans tend to do, is not natural for dogs. They would rather run around exploring and sniffing all sorts of interesting smells. Dogs just don’t come preprogramed to walk nicely on a leash. Instead we must teach them.
Here I’ll teach you how to train you dog not to pull on their leash, that is no tension on the leash, aka “loose leash walking.” This is not a structured “heal” position but practical training for daily walks. There are a few different ways to teach a dog to walk with a loose leash. Because different dogs learn best with different training methods you may need to experiment to see what works best for your dog.
1. Change Directions
As soon as your dog begins to pull on the leash, turn around and start walking in the opposite direction. As you turn you can say something like “come on” or “this way” to encourage your dog to follow you. You want to keep your dog guessing which direction you’re going so they learn they have to pay attention to you.
Reward your dog when they are walking with the leash relaxed even if it’s only for a second. The reward can be a simple “good” or “yes” and, if your dog is motivated by food, give them a small treat. Also reward your dog when they make eye contact with you. If you have eye contact, they are paying attention to you.
If you are trying to reach a specific destination while using this method, know that you can change directions as often as you want, as long as you change directions every time your dog pulls. So, when your dog pulls, turn around, walk a few steps, then (whether your dog is pulling or not) change back to your original direction and continue on your way.
This method tends to work well with dogs who get excited to go for walks because they can keep moving without getting frustrated with stopping or leash corrections (listed below).
When your dog pulls, stop walking. When the leash is relaxed, continue walking. If your dog wants to go somewhere they don’t get to go unless they’re not pulling. Continuing forward is the main reward with this method but I also like to add verbal praise and sometimes treats when the dog is walking nicely and when they make eye contact with you.
3. Leash Corrections
Leash “snaps” or jerks are not very effective at teaching a dog not to pull and usually teaches a dog that their owner is annoying and should be avoided if the dog wants to have fun. You often see these dogs completely ignoring their owner when off leash.
A type of leash correction that can be useful is a gentle pull and release to reposition the dog. The release of tension should occur quickly because it’s the release, not the pull, that’s most important. After several of these your dog should start to understand that he is supposed to walk at your pace. It’s also important to reward your dog when he walks nicely and when he makes eye contact with you.
Notice that with all the methods I list above, the dog should be rewarded when they aren’t pulling. This is the most important part. The more good behaviors are rewarded the more good behaviors will be repeated! In other words, the more you reward your dog when they are walking nicely the more your dog will want to walk nicely!
- Retractable leashes are counter productive when it comes to teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash because retractable leashes are built to always have tension. So, leave the retractable leash at home when you take your dog for walks. If you don’t have a normal leash available, lock the leash at a set length to keep it relaxed during your walk.
- Teaching your dog to walk only on your right or only on your left stops him from changing sides during the walk and potentially tripping you in the process. If you want your dog to walk on the same side every time, only reward him on that side.
- Some people believe dogs who walk in front of their owners are being “dominant.” This is not true. It simply means the dog thinks there is something interesting up ahead. You can read my article here on why dominance is misunderstood.
- Playing games that teach your dog confidence and value in being close to you can help a lot with their loose leash walking.
Taking your dog for walks provides the opportunity for exercise, mental stimulation, and bonding. With so much to gain, why wait to take steps towards better walks with your dog? If you’re ready, try one of the methods above or hire a trainer to help, and start experiencing joyful walks with your beloved dog.