Loose lead walking is the dream in dog ownership. Many people who bring home a new puppy have a romantic picture in their mind of what walking their dog should be like. Unfortunately, without training, the reality is usually very different. Dogs tend to want to go full steam ahead when they go for walks, dive into bushes and eat unmentionable things from sidewalks. While we love their enthusiasm, this can cause over-arousal and can also be dangerous for both dog and handler.
Teaching a dog loose lead walking doesn’t mean they need robotic obedience. You can still allow your dog to sniff, explore and experience the world outside, but with boundaries so that they aren’t dragging you around.
It’s important to think about what your goals are for your dog. You may want a dog that:
- excels in obedience competitions
- calmly passes other dogs on the footpath without straining at their leash
- jogs by your side, or
- enjoys relaxed walks with you.
This is an introduction to teaching your dog or puppy how to walk on a loose leash as the foundation for all the above. For more advanced and comprehensive training with controlled exposure to distractions in a safe and controlled environment we recommend attending obedience classes.
Build value for being near you
Place your dog on a leash. You won’t be using the leash to pull the dog along, but it will help your dog to understand that they should stay close to you when they are on leash. It will also keep them safe when you are practising in public areas.
- Start walking and make an exciting noise with a high pitched voice or whistle or pat your legs to get and keep its attention on you so that it starts walking beside you. The idea is to be more exciting and interesting than everything else around you so that it keeps its focus on you.
- When your dog starts to walking beside you, say ‘Yes!’ or click if you use clicker training and give your dog a treat.
- When your dog is almost finished the treat, move forwards again and repeat steps 1 and 2. With this exercise we are simply moulding a behaviour, assigning a command combined with praise and repetition
- Short sessions (30 seconds) multiple times per day will make the training more interesting to your dog.
- Start off with sessions in your house until your dog is responding reliably, then graduate to the back yard, then the front yard, then the street in front of your house, and then throw them in randomly when you are out and about. Gradually increasing the difficulty by practicing in more distracting areas will help your dog to be able to focus on you at any time.
- If your dog is highly food motivated, try tossing the treat for your dog to catch as that will make the game even more fun. If your dog is bad at catching treats, practice with them often and they will get better!
Teaching your dog to walk in the heel position
- With your dog on a leash and standing to your left, give your dog a treat from your left hand in line with your left hip.
- Take a step and lure your dog to follow, then repeat step 1 until they don’t hesitate to follow you.
- Holding a treat near your left hip with your hand closed, take 2 steps, say ‘Yes!’ or click and then treat.
- Assign a cue such as ‘heel’, then repeat step 3.
- Gradually increase the number of steps you take in between giving the treat.
- Here we are reinforcing the dog for standing next to you and walking next to you.
- Fade out the lure: hold your hand as though you have a treat in it. After walking a few steps, show your dog your empty hand and quickly grab a treat from your pocket. By incorporating this into your training, your dog won’t be reliant on seeing a treat to walk beside you.
- If your dog surges to the end of the leash, stop walking or change directions and make an exciting noise with a high-pitched voice or whistle or pat your legs. When your dog starts to move towards you and comes back into the heel position say ‘Yes!’ or click and give your dog a treat.
- Fixating on a ‘sidewalk snack’ or ‘footpath freebie’? They may also need to work on their impulse control. A strong ‘leave it’ cue can take a lot of work for some dogs but will pay dividends in the long run.
- Highly distracted by their surroundings and unable to focus on you? That is a sign that they need more practice in easier less distracting environments. They may possibly also need desensitisation to the things in the environment that they find distracting or scary before focusing on the heel position.
Allowing more freedom (walk close command)
Loose lead walking is about more than walking in a heel position. It is about being allowed to explore and sniff within safe boundaries. The steps are very similar to teaching your dog to walk in the heel position, but without the ‘heel’ cue as it really doesn’t matter where they are, provided they are not pulling on the leash.
- Add light pressure on the leash then lure your dog towards you and give a treat.
- Put a few treats on the ground that makes the dog pull on the leash. Use a higher value (yummier/smellier) treat as a lure to get your dog to turn around and come back to you.
Out on walks:
- When the dog reaches the end of the leash, it creates leash resistance. Stop walking or change directions and make an exciting noise with a high-pitched voice or whistle or pat your legs. When your dog starts to move towards you, immediately release any leash pressure and say ‘Yes!’ or click and give your dog a treat.
- With repetition and practise, the dog will become conditioned to orient to you when there is leash pressure rather than learning to pull against the leash.
- It is preferable to keep your dog to your left, even if they are allowed to stop, sniff and explore a bit. The benefits are that you will be between your dog and any oncoming dogs (in Australia where the custom is to keep left on sidewalks). It will also prevent your dog from becoming a hazard criss-crossing the sidewalk.
- To teach your dog this ‘keep left’ rule, simply add slight leash resistance when they try to cross your centre line. You can also add a verbal command ‘left’.
- Similarly, if you see a potential hazard that you want your dog to avoid, add slight leash resistance. The training from above will have conditioned your dog to orient to you when they feel the slight leash resistance. You can then cue them to ‘heel’ or otherwise engage with you until you are past the distraction or hazard.
If you need help with training loose lead walking, desensitisation, or impulse control, we can assist with private in-home training or group obedience classes. Depending on the dog and what issues you are having, we can recommend which type of training will be more beneficial for you and your dog’s individual needs.