Pulling on the leash is a natural, normal behaviour for dogs. It gets them where they want to go, at their own pace. If you’re being dragged behind your dog on walks, you’re simply teaching them to pull even more. Because the act of pulling is being rewarded as it keeps them moving forward to get to where they want to go.
Loose leash walking is a difficult concept for dogs and their owners. But it can be done with practice, patience and perseverance!
Before you start you will need a few things: a flat collar, a front clip harness, treats, patience and a bit of spare time. It does not matter on which side your dog walks – I would actually teach both sides.
For your dog to understand the concept of a loose leash, first teach him the heel position. I call this ‘close’. Once your dog understands that, you will relax the leash and can leisurely walk. The cue I put to this is ‘let’s go’.
To get going:
- Teach the heel position first, teach it on both sides.
- Put the leash in your right hand, the dog is on your left side, the leash connects to the dog with a slack in front of you, a handful of treats in your left hand. And change for the other side.
- You are making the position on your left knee a high reward zone.
- Get attention, ask for a sit, step off and lure the dog into the correct position (head on your left knee). As soon as the dog is in the correct position, say ‘yes’ or click (clicker) and reward.
- Repeat and gradually increase your criterion, reward after two steps, three steps, seven, ten etc
- Do short sessions on your walks.
- Do short sessions without lead in the backyard or in a fenced area.
- If your dog pulls, stop, ask her to come back to the correct position, do a few steps and reward.
Once you start teaching heel, you cannot change the goal posts on your dog. This means if you cannot insist on a loose leash but still have to walk your dog, you need to change something in the set up. Otherwise, you are confusing your dog. I recommend using a flat collar if you train heel/walking on a loose leash but use a front clip harness if you are not training and accept a bit of pulling or lagging.
Once your dog gets the heel position, gradually start relaxing the heel position and let your dog walk a bit ahead, behind etc, as long as there is no tension on the leash. If the dog pulls, stop, ask him to come back into the heel position, and reward after a couple of steps in the right position.
The most common problems are:
- Too low reinforcement rate. In the beginning you have to reward every step. Loose leash walking is boring and difficult for both of you!
- Walking straight lines. If you walk a straight line the dog is very likely to surge ahead. Try walking curves or figures of eight.
- Session is too long. Keep it short and sweet.
- Reward for coming back into the correct position. If your dog pulls and you ask him to come back into the position and then reward, you will get a yo-yo action. Dog pulls, dog comes back because you are rewarding the coming back rather than the correct position. You have to get your dog to walk for a couple of steps in the right position before your reward.
- Walking on a tight leash. If you hold the leash tight, the dog thinks that is what you want. You need a loose leash.
- Relaxing the heel position too early – the dog has to understand the heel position as a high reward zone first.
And by the way, do you know why we walk the dogs traditionally on the left? It is a left over from the military training: Holding the gun in the right hand so the dog has to walk on the left.
Have fun and a little bit of patience!
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