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10 Top Tips for Loose Lead Walking

Probably one of the most common training problems for owners and probably one of the most frustrating things to teach but the one thing we just wish our dogs would do! Here are my 10 top tips to help you through your loose lead walking training.

1.     Ditch the aversives

There are lots of tools on the market advertised to stop your dog from pulling on the lead. Unfortunately, this equipment works through fear and pain and can damage your relationship but also make your dog less responsive to you. Teaching our dogs to enjoy loose lead walking and the freedoms it can bring builds a brilliant foundation for all of our other training.

2.     What length is your lead?

Contrary to popular belief, a short lead does not make your dog more likely to walk nicely. It may make them easier to control because they have less momentum but they will likely still be putting tension through the lead.

A longer lead allows your dogs the freedom to sniff and explore and often giving your dog this autonomy makes them more likely to check back in and listen to your instructions. Think of teenagers! You tell them no so they do the opposite, you give them a choice and they are more likely to do what you ask. Extendable leads aren’t ideal as the lead length is too inconsistent plus they also work through your dog applying lead pressure to get it to unwind. This defeats the object of what you’re trying to teach. A 2m lead is a good starting point and once you are more confident with your lead handling skills you might prefer even longer.

3.     Be consistent

The most difficult part about loose lead walking is consistency. If sometimes we let our dogs pull and other times we don’t it makes it confusing for our dogs to understand what we want and act accordingly. Our dogs are likely pulling because they know that it gets them where they want to go. If our criteria for this is skewed, we won’t make any progress. So you have a choice. You can either never let your dogs pull you ever again, regardless of how little time you have, whether you have the kids in tow or whether it torrentially raining. Or you can give your dogs predictable cues that tell your dog when they can and can’t pull. The method I most commonly use is to teach the dogs that when they are on the collar they are in training mode. When they are on the harness they are allowed to pull so for those times when you can’t be consistent with your training you have a get out of jail free card!

4.     Consider what motivates your dog

Currently, your dog's motivation to access everything else in the environment is stronger than their motivation to stay and train with you. Whilst we can manage the environment to reduce its saliency, we also need to look at making ourselves more motivating. Food is the easiest way to do this for loose lead walking. Consider a variety of different treats; crunchy treats, cooked meats etc or even Primula squeezy cheese and liver paste if they are particularly snatchy. If your dogs can’t or won’t take food outside of the house then you need to work on this first before you try loose lead walking.

We can also use toys to motivate our dogs before a training session or as a break between repetitions to give our dogs some variety.

5.     Pick your environment

As we know, your dog finds the environment super motivating. This means we need to consider where we do our training to get the best out of our dogs. Consider quiet routes with minimal people, dogs, sniffing spots, wildlife etc. Once your dog has some solid foundations in place, you can start to move into more distracting environments. If you see a distraction, try and create as much distance as possible so that your dog can remain engaged with you. Over time this will decrease.

6.     Build a reinforcement zone

We can’t expect our dogs to offer loose lead walking if we don’t teach them where we want them to be. It is easier to teach your dogs to walk on one side or the other but once they’re getting good, you can use both sides. Put your lead in the opposite side of that that you want your dog on. Lure your dog with food round to your side and heavily reward your dog for being in a loose lead walking position. Don’t add any movement until this position is spot on.

7.     Be generous with your treats

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that they feed too infrequently or fade the treats out too fast. To beat the environment, we must feed regularly so your dog wants to stay at your side. This may mean feeding every single step. Once your dog understands the game we can start to increase the number of steps between feeds but if you see a distraction then you may want to go back to feeding more regularly.

8.     Don't reward your dog for coming back

Many people will tell you to stop when your dog pulls. This is correct however what you do next is important. When your dog pulls, stand still and wait for them to turn around or offer a little verbal encouragement. When they come back, lure them around into your loose lead walking position but don’t feed them. Take 2 steps forward then fall back into your step feed step feed pattern. The reason we don’t feed our dogs for coming back is we run the risk of teaching our dogs that pulling then coming back gets them a treat. This creates a yo yo effect and a sore shoulder for us! By feeding for taking a couple of steps it is the nice walking that got them the reward not the pulling and coming back.

9.     Break your training up

Your dog’s training stamina and attention span might be quite poor if they’ve not done much before so it's important you keep your training to bite sized chunks and take plenty of breaks. If you notice your dog struggle to reengage or pulling more then it might be time to consider a break. This is where your collar vs harness training can help.

10.  Set your expectations

If your dog has been pulling since their first walk then the likelihood is you’re not going to be able to train this overnight. Dog training is a journey with good days and bad days and you must consider this and try not to get too frustrated. The developmental stage your dog is in can also play a role in your dog’s training. During adolescence, your dog goes through a whole host of hormonal, biological and neurological changes which change their learning ability, memory retention and frustration tolerance amongst other things. This can make training hard so try and cut them some slack

It is important to note that sometimes head collars are required for everyone's safety. If that is the case, then these should be positively introduced so your dog feels comfortable wearing them (similar to doing muzzle training) and should only be seen as a temporary measure whilst you work through your training. The risk of musculoskeletal damage, in particular neck injuries from your dog pulling into a head collar long term, is something that you should consider.

If you need support with your loose lead walking, take a look at our training packages here


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