Monday, June 18, 2018

Loose Leash Walking: How to stop leash pulling.

Loose Leash Walking (LLW) is where a dog walks with a loose leash, no tension, and is under control without force but by choice. Usually, I prefer the dog walking on the handler’s left but not tightly next to the handler, just with a nice relaxed leash for a leisurely walk.

Many, many, many dog owners would do anything to have a dog that doesn’t pull them down the street when they walk them.

To add to this there are loads of “tools” on the market today to appeal to dog owners. These tools are marketed in such a way that makes a dog owner feel like it will be a magic trick that helps the dog stop pulling. Rarely is this true.  There are tools that definitely help with control and training but there is no tool that will magically train a dog to stop pulling.  The tool that does that is you, the dog owner. 

I won’t lie, if you are using reward-based training to train loose leash walking with your dog you’ll have to put in some work to achieve this.  This is definitely my method of training and I don’t recommend other methods as they have a huge possibility of fallout. I’ll not go into that here, but suffice it to say I don’t use metal, electronic or correction collars to train a dog to stop pulling on the leash (or anything else for that matter).  

By "you'll have to put in some work" I mean you’ll have to commit to working on this daily. I also suggest you don't walk your dog unless you're going to be training him. Set him up to succeed. If he can pull you, he will, and this will set your training back.  So, set a plan and stick to it. I laid out a plan to follow below ... keep reading ... 


1) WHY DO DOGS PULL, IS HE TRYING TO BE DOMINANT?! Dogs pull because they can, it’s rewarding (Hey! She keeps going forward, in the same direction even if I pull!), and the behavior becomes rewarded unintentionally.  
A dog that pulls isn’t trying to “be in charge” or any other silly nonsense. It’s just pulling because it’s not been trained to walk next to you when on a leash. It’s just that simple.

2) BUT SHE’S CHOKING ON HER OWN COLLAR, SHOULDN’T SHE STOP PULLING IF SHE’S CHOKING HERSELF?!  Dogs don’t care, really. The walk is rewarding enough that they will continue to move forward unless given a really good reason not to.  So, they won’t teach themselves not to pull even if they are hacking up a lung by pulling against their collar/harness/leash.

3) HE’LL STOP WHEN I JERK HIS COLLAR BUT THEN HE’LL GO BACK TO PULLING. WHY?!  This is why training your dog what to do instead of pull, rather than tell him to stop pulling, is more effective and better in the long run, than using corrections. 

4) SHE WAS WALKING REALLY WELL THEN SHE SAW ANOTHER DOG & WENT NUTS!  This is a bit of another category of loose leash. In short — more training and likely some specialized training is in order here for how to teach your dog to respond when they see distractions/triggers. So, if your dog goes beyond just needing some leash manners, please seek a qualified person to help you with any leash reactivity or over-reactivity to certain triggers.

5) WHAT IF I HAVE TWO DOGS? If you have more than one dog you have to train each dog individually in order to achieve LLW with each of them.  Yes, that's not usually what dog owners want to hear but to achieve the best results, and prevent you from losing your mind, you'll want to do all of the following with each dog you want to teach this to. 


1) BUILD ENGAGEMENT & FOCUS. This should start out inside not out on the leash where all the things in the world are for them to see and sniff.  

Start by rewarding your dog (with food) when they look at you. Have them walk next to you, all around your home and when they engage with you, or offer eye contact, reward them. Increase the criteria by then taking the dog outside and doing it there. Namely, in the backyard, then the front yard, then down the street, and so on.  Here is a small video of what I start dogs doing inside the house. — 
Also, here is a video on some of the same things in the above video but in under a minute! —
Practice time: 4-5 x day for 2-3 weeks, 2-10 minutes each time.

2) WORK ON LEASH SKILLS WITHOUT A DOG! Yup. You need to learn about leashes, equipment and the like without your dog. Then once you have this down, you can start with your dog.  I made a video going over a few leash tips and a couple of harnesses I like. It’s not extensive, in regards to the different harnesses, but it has some good leash info! — 
For more info on more harnesses to choose from read this review of harnesses from The Whole Dog Journal. —
Practice time: 1 x a day for 3 consecutive days, get a feel for the leash.

3) WORK ON LEASH SKILLS INSIDE YOUR HOME. Use your engagement exercises and practice them indoors, without distractions. As shown in one of my videos above, this one — — you should do the exercises in this video but with a leash on now.
Practice time: 3 x a day for 2 weeks, 10-15 minutes each time.

4) TAKE IT TO THE STREETS! Now step outside of your home. This might be a driveway or a sidewalk or a breezeway, depending on where you live but don’t go far, esp if your dog is highly distracted.  Start with low-level distractions, work on the engagement exercises above that you’ve now done without a leash indoors and then indoors with a leash.  Now add in a cue to tell your dog he should stick with you. I like to use "Let's go!".  This tells my dog I'm about to walk and she better be walking with me.  I start to walk and on we go. 

5) REWARD THOSE CHECK-INS & GIVE FEEDBACK! I see the most common mistake people make is rewarding too little, not enough and missing moments when to do so.  Feed, feed, feed your dog when they check in with you on a leash. Walking next to you, loose leash and then they turn to look up at you — "YES!" Now, feed, feed, feed that! In between those feedings give verbal feedback. All. The. Time. "Good boy. That's a good boy!"

6) WHAT IF HE PULLS ONCE WE ARE OUTSIDE?! So if your dog does forge ahead, just pivot and do a u-turn in the opposite direction. Wait for Fido to catch up to you on your left side, then reward as he returns to your side. I discuss this in my video above with my Beagle, Charlotte in my kitchen.  You should actually be doing a lot of turns and moving in other directions when working on leash skills. If you stay in a straight line you'll go mad.  This helps teach your dog to turn with you/when you're turning and to stay in tune with you. 

7) REWARD LIKE MAD! (Can't express this one enough.) Take a lot of great food with you. A. LOT. Once I hit the streets, or outdoors, with leash work I take boiled chicken, hot dog pieces, cubes of cheese, etc.  My dog gets some major yummy stuff for paying attention to me when on a leash in distracting environments.  Do not be stingy with the food or rewards. Maybe feed your dog only half, or less, of her normal meal that day and feed a ton when she's working with you.  

Here is a video of me with a Dobie I'm working with at my house for leash work.  Notice how much food I give him, when I reward him. I give him about 5-7 little pieces, one at a time while we are walking and while he's paying attention to me.

8) SLOW & STEADY WINS THE RACE. Take it slow. Make your sessions short and don't go far at first. Actually, I really don't go anywhere. I stick to my little cul-de-sac in front of my house then slowly move past that after the dog has gotten more reliable on a loose leash. I slowly add in goals like: tomorrow we can go 2 houses down, perhaps by the end of the week we can go 4 houses down! 

IN CONCLUSION ... FOR NOW ... Right now this is all I'm going to give you. These are just beginning steps to get your dog to walk nicely on a leash. It all starts to fall into place after you do these things but you have to start here.  For more info on how to proceed with more distractions, what to do when your dog stops paying attention to you on a leash and more troubleshooting when walking your dog ... stay tuned! 

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stacy, thanks for the great advice! These are good methods that have been fairly effective with our newly adopted shelter dog. I have a question for you that I have been struggling to find an answer for regarding walking. Our dog is very overstimulated and over-threshold in new places. Now I know you said that you wouldn't recommend walks without training, but we are trying to get her used to new places on top of our normal training/walking routine. She has gotten pretty good at LLW around our block, but sometimes I'll add in a loop through the downtown area so she can see the sights and smell the smells and start to get used to these new things, but I don't ask her to walk very nicely because I know she can't do it in that setting because she is over-threshold. Is that a bad idea? I'm at an impasse because I don't want to stall her LLW progress, but I also want her to be able to experience new places. Maybe this is too deep of a question for this post, but I'm trying to seek opinions. Thank you very much!