Training your dog to walk on the lead - Loose lead walking
Does your dog go wild when you say the word ‘walkies’? For plenty of dogs, their daily walk will be the most exciting time of the day, they’ll be eager to get to the dog park as quick as they can for a run around.
However, it can take what you envisioned to be a pleasant stroll along the streets to be a battle over who’s the strongest when your dog is dragging you along on their lead. If you’ve got a petite pooch, this won’t be too much of an issue, but if you’ve got a bigger, stronger dog like a Labrador, we can promise you that your Lab will win that fight.
Whether you’ve got a new puppy that you want to get loose lead trained to perfection, or you’ve decided that you’ve put up with the pulling for long enough with your adult dog, the time is now to start changing that behaviour.
We’re going to give you all the tips and tricks you need to master loose lead walking, so the time you spend walking your dog can become a pleasurable, leisurely experience, rather than a race to reach the park.
Why do dogs pull on the lead?
Your dog will probably be pulling on the lead because they’re excited to be out and about. Think about it like this, if you were cooped up in the house, staring at the same four walls all day every day, you’d start to go a little stir-crazy. The time your dog gets to spend out of the house is all dependent on you.
That means that when they do go for a walk, they’ll be absolutely buzzing to be outside to get some more freedom and experience all the new sights and smells. Dogs navigate their way around the world through their superior sense of smell, so it’s no surprise that they basically yank your arm out of its socket to try and sniff the next thing.
Dogs pull because they know that it genuinely works. If you’re telling your dog off while they’re pulling but you’re continuing to take steps forward and be pulled along, they’re getting exactly what they wanted. No matter how much you try and discipline your dog, reprimanding them and yanking them back, they know they’re still going to get to their destination because you’re still walking.
You need to turn the tables and show your dog that pulling will actually be the slowest method of getting them to their end location. The more they pull the longer it’ll take to be able to run free in the park.
How do I stop my dog from pulling on the lead?
Stopping your dog from tugging at you nonstop down the street will be a lengthy process. The longer you’ve endured the pulling, the tougher it’ll be to change the behaviour, however, it can be done with some time, patience and dedication.
We’re going to give you our step by step guide to loose lead walking to make walking the dog a fun experience again.
Step by step guide to loose lead walking
Find your equipment
It’s hard to find the right equipment that’s the best for walking your dog, some will recommend just using a collar and normal lead, some will suggest using a harness, a slip lead, extendable lead, or maybe a head collar. Basically, the options you can choose from are vast. There’s no right or wrong answer for which is the right gear for you and your dog, you need to figure out what works the best for you.
Every single type of lead, collar or harness will have positives and benefits. For example, collars can create discomfort and be a strain on the neck if your dog is bad for pulling, but then some suggest that harnesses can actually encourage pulling. Harnesses that clip on the back can push your dog to have an oppositional reflex against the pressure of the harness and feel the need to pull even more.
Extendable leads are another tool that can work great for some dogs but make things worse for others. They can be quite tricky if you’re wanting to train your dog to walk to heel. However, if you think your dog is already lead-trained quite well, they can be great to give your dog some freedom to explore if you’re in a location where they can’t be off lead.
Overall, choosing the right tools to begin practising your loose lead walking depends on you and your dog. Realistically, no matter what equipment you choose, whenever your dog feels any pressure coming from you pulling their lead back, the more they’ll be inclined to pull in opposition.
Start with a sit
When training your dog to walk on a loose lead, you need to really take it back to basics. We really do mean the basics here, for this first step, your dog won’t even be leaving the garden or putting a lead on!
Canines are curious by nature, so you need to start somewhere with minimal distractions such as your house or garden. You want your dog’s focus to be entirely on you, so reward your dog for just sitting or standing by your side. By giving your dog a reward when they’re at your heel, you’re making yourself the most exciting thing in the environment, so give them a reward even if they just glance up at you.
At this point, you don’t even need to be moving around the garden, you just want them to know that they’re doing well if they’re by your side looking up at you.
Follow the leader
Still sticking to the garden, start walking around with your dog off lead and keep praising and rewarding them when they’re by your side giving you their utmost attention.
At this stage, you’ll probably need a fun squeaky toy in your hand to keep their attention on you, or a constant drip of tasty treats. As the training continues, you’ll be able to increase the length of time they can walk by your side for without a reward. You can introduce a command word here, such as, ‘heel’, ‘walk’ or ‘lets go’.
Then, you want to start doing the exact same tactic but introduce the lead. One of the most important factors here is to keep the lead totally loose, you want it to droop down in a ‘J’ shape. Any tension you have on the lead will encourage their instinct to pull. Make sure they’re walking by your side nicely and consistently glancing up at you before you move onto the next step.
Keep things chill
Now your dog can handle walking really well in the garden, they’re ready to go on a proper training walk. One of the most crucial things to remember at this stage is to make sure your dog is in a relaxed state before you even think about stepping foot outside.
If they’re at a high level of arousal, they’ll be totally ready to take on the world and getting their attention on you will be a near enough impossible task. At the end of the day, the new sights, smells, people, dogs and everything around them will be much more interesting than looking at you!
Getting your dog to sit down before you put on their lead promotes this state of calm, however, many dogs will get crazy with excitement as soon as they see the lead come out. Unfortunately, you’ll have to put the lead back away, wait for them to calm back down and try again. This can get really repetitive, and it might take several attempts. Obviously, this can be a pain if you’re trying to get your dog’s exercise in before work, so it’s best to practice your loose lead walking when you’ve got the time.
Our dogs are very perceptive, so you need to be in a calm state of mind too. They’ll be able to pick up on your stress, excitement, anger and they’ll no doubt try and get on your last nerve when you’ve not got the time or patience!
It’s nice to see our dogs excited, so plenty of owners get their dogs all giddy by asking them if they want to go on a walk. Dogs are pretty clever, so they can quickly make the association between seeing the lead come out and the word ‘walk’. This is also why many people decide to spell out W-A-L-K when talking in front of their pet to prevent the excitement. Be careful though, after a while, many dogs can work out the meaning behind W-A-L-K too!
Taking them outside
Now it’s time to take things outside. You want to adopt the exact same approach here as you did in the garden. Also, choose a side that your dog walks on and stick to it every time. If your dog pulls and doesn’t have a side they should be walking on, they might zig zag in front of you, which could potentially be dangerous, causing you to get tangled and even trip up over the lead.
When they’re walking by your side at your desired pace, you need to keep rewarding them. Timing is crucial here, you need to reward them at the exact point where they’re doing well, you don’t want to accidentally reward them for dragging behind or pulling ahead slightly. Even though it might not be the most fashionable, getting a little treat pouch is a good idea so it’s easy to dispense treats and keep the timing consistent.
Stop and start
Nailing loose lead walking is all down to your dog learning that the only way they’ll get to their destination is by walking next to you without any strain on the lead.
If you begin to feel any strain on the lead, you need to stop and wait for your dog to notice you’ve stopped and allow the lead to become loose again. If your dog doesn’t return to your side, start walking in the other direction to regain their focus. It’s good to keep switching directions anyway to ensure they’re always sticking by you and you’ve still got their full focus. If they’re pulling badly, keep the lead short without tension, you can’t have any strain on the lead no matter how short it is.
Sniffing everything on the ground is just normal canine behaviour because smell is their primary sense, their way of experiencing the world, but they must learn that there’s a time for sniffing and a time for walking. When your dog has their nose to the ground, it’s essentially like reading the newspaper, they’re finding out what dog has been there, what things are in the environment and they’re just enjoying the world. The goal is for your dog to know there’s a time for walking, which is the journey there and back, and a time for sniffing, which is a destination such as the park.
Consistency is key
You must try and make every walk a training session. Unfortunately, this will mean that your walks will take a lot longer than usual, but in the end it’ll all be worth it. Don’t give up, some dogs will take to the training better than others.
Our dogs naturally have a much speedier walking pace than humans, around double the speed. This probably doesn’t apply to the little legs of a Dachshund dog, but most dogs do walk a lot faster. This means it’s actually really hard for your dog to walk slowly by your side, it requires a lot of mental work and willpower. In return for all their hard work, you must reward and praise them generously! Tasty treats are like a salary for our pets.
Keep changing your locations up and add more distractions into your walks. At the end of this training, you want your dog to walk consistently by your side, wherever you are, whether that be the park, the woods or even the beach. No matter how exciting the environment is, you want your dog’s first priority to be you.
Of course, this won’t happen overnight, you’ll need commitment, patience and most of all, a lot of treats to bribe your dog into cooperating with you!
Should I start loose lead walking with my new puppy?
Yes! The sooner you can start training the better, even before you can take them for their first walk. As stated, the longer your dog has pulled on the lead for, the harder it is to switch up that behaviour.
When you first bring home your puppy, introduce them to the lead. It’s not uncommon for a puppy to be quite spooked when you first put a lead on them, usually they’ll try to bite, chew and jump up at it. This is why you want them to get used to what the lead is used for before you go on your first walk with your new four-legged friend.
Put the lead on your puppy and allow them to just roam about the house, play and generally chill out with the lead attached to them. This will start teaching them that the lead is nothing to be alarmed about. Start walking them in the garden with the lead, adopting the same first steps as you would if you were trying to train any dog.
If you can get loose lead walking mastered when they’re still a puppy, it’ll benefit you massively in the future. You definitely can teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s tons easier if you start from a young age.
What should I do if my dog keepings stopping and refusing to walk?
Strangely enough, sometimes dogs can be really stubborn and just refuse to walk.
This could be for several reasons, your dog is tired, in pain, their collar, lead or harness is uncomfortable, they’re nervous or they might just not want to leave the park and go home! Whatever it is, you need to change your dogs mind about continuing to walk.
It’s not a good idea to try and lure them to walk using a treat, this will only make them more inclined to stop because they think they’ll get more treats. Also, never yank them to come along, they’ll just dig their heels in and continue to be stubborn.
Try whistling or squeaking a toy, this will grab their attention and hopefully they’ll be too distracted by this to remember that they didn’t want to move. You can also try returning back to your dog’s side and give them a little tap on their back, not a stroke however, you don’t want to reward them.
They probably won’t be expecting the touch, it’s something a little weird, so they might wonder what’s going on and decide to get up and start moving.
While off the lead, your dog might be perfectly fine with their environment, however, when they’re on the lead they might start lunging, barking or growling at something such as cars, people and other dogs. This might mean that your dog is reactive on the lead. A lead can make your dog feel restrained and uncomfortable in their environment, it essentially feels like they’re trapped in a cage.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an aggressive dog, they just react in an undesirable way while they’re on the lead. This might be because they’re fearful of the stimulus and they’re feeling frightened and agitated that they’re unable to get away, so they feel the need to lash out. It could even be because they’re frustrated.
Socialisation is a key part of puppyhood, but sometimes, if your pup was allowed to greet every single person and dog they saw, they’ll feel frustrated when they can no longer do this all the time. When you’ve got a young, no doubt adorable puppy, a lot of people will want to greet your pup so it might come as a bit of a shock to them when they have to walk past someone without a greeting! This makes them react in a negative, not so polite way.
Just like loose lead training, helping your dog to cope with their lead reactivity will take patience and perseverance. You need to figure out what’s triggering the behaviour and slowly expose your dog to the stimulus at a low level where they don’t react, rewarding them with high value treats when they don’t react and they put their attention on you instead.
For example, if it’s other dogs that spark the reaction, start your training at a large distance away from the other dog. If they ignore you and start to lunge, bark, growl then you are too close to the trigger, so you need to back up and start again. Progressing with this type of training will be a lengthy process but will be totally worth it in the end.
Nobody wants to go out for a walk and feel like they’re getting dragged along the street, with their arm nearly getting yanked out of its socket.
Getting your dog to be a professional at walking on the lead nice and politely is a skill, taking lots of dedication and time to get it mastered. However, once you’ve cracked it, you’ll reap the benefits for the rest of your dog’s life, not having to battle with your dog on the daily to walk by your side.
If you can start training at a young age, it’ll make the whole process a lot easier, but if not, don’t fret, training can begin at any age. Now’s the time to start, go grab the lead and get your dog to walk!