Teaching our dog to walk on a loose leash can be challenging, both for us and our dogs. But it can also be very rewarding.
Loose-leash walking may take longer than teaching your dog cues like “sit” or “down”, but if you’re patient and consistent, your walks will improve! Here are a few pointers to guide you in the right direction.
Walking on leash requires our dogs to perform a lot of behaviors that may feel unnatural for them:
Most dogs’ natural pace is much faster than ours. It takes an incredible amount of self-control from our dogs to walk so much slower than they normally would. And not being able to sniff all those smells? It’s like if somebody blindfolded us while we’re watching our favorite movie!
Trying to force our dogs to stay by our side may provoke an “opposition reflex” from them. If somebody grabbed your arm and tried to pull you one way, your instincts would tell you to move the opposite way – and this is also true for our dogs.
For our dogs, mastering walking on a loose leash is very different from learning cues like “sit” or “down.” With cues like that, we can often see the results right away. With loose leash walking, we will have to brace ourselves: our dogs will get incrementally better, but it won’t happen overnight.
In the dog world, approaching each other face-to-face is a faux pas. Dogs prefer greeting each other by coming from the side, in a non-threatening way. Walking on a sidewalk and moving from point A to point B in a straight line forces our dogs to appear quite rude when meeting other canines or people.
Tips to work on loose-leash walking:
- Build a great relationship with your dog: show your dog that being close to you is fun! Give him a couple of cookies or pets for staying nearby.
- Reward your dog for checking in with you. Choosing to look at you or choosing to be by your side, without being asked, deserves a reward from you.
- NEVER move forward if your dog is pulling. Think of a tight leash as a red light and a loose leash as a green light. You don’t even need treats for this exercise because just getting to move forward is a reward in itself for your dog.
- Think of a walk in terms of time instead of distance, such as: “I will walk my dog for 30 minutes. I will stop EVERY TIME my dog pulls. We may only walk for one block, but the leash will be loose.” Remember, dogs are gamblers, and if pulling works once out of 300 times, they will keep trying to pull.
- Exercise your dog before going for a walk. That includes physical exercise like playing fetch or chase, and mental exercise like learning a new trick. Give your dog five minutes to cool down before you venture outside.
- Use equipment that works for you, not against you. No-pull, front-attach harnesses help redirect your dog back to you when your dog pulls. Choke chains and prong collars may irritate and frustrate your dog.
Here are some quick DOs and DON’Ts to keep in mind.
- Always look for tools that fit well and are comfortable for your dog to wear
- Use a 4-6ft leash to teach walking on a loose leash,
- Take the time to learn how to use a tool to help your dog not to pull
- If one tool doesn’t seem to help, seek advice from our trainers before buying more
- Extendable / flexi type leashes do not work to teach your dog the difference between pulling and not pulling as there is always tension on the dog.
- Never use tools that cause pain when the dog pulls
- Just put the tool on the dog and expect a miracle to occur
- Try a tool one time and if it doesn’t work, keep buying different ones, there is usually something else going on.
Working together using positive reinforcement and calm body language builds trust and understanding. Your dog will want to listen to you and you’ll both learn to have fun on walks as a team.
Tanya Roberts is the Senior Manager of the OHS Training & Behavior Department and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Tanya continues her education by attending seminars and trainings so she can provide clients with current, scientifically based information. Her best teachers continue to be the wonderful animals at the Oregon Humane Society who she works with regularly during their stay.