Loose leash walking - stop your dog from pulling

Author picture Jessica  - updated: 08/09/2020

What is loose leash walking?

The main objective of loose leash walking is for your dog to walk at a similar pace with you. The leash is also relaxed and does not have any tension.

Some people don't have any preference for where the dog needs to be as long as the leash is loose. While others prefer to have their dog next to them or to never forge ahead of them. There is no right or wrong. In this instance, it comes down to personal preference.

Some people also believe that when a dog walks in front of them, the dog is trying to dominate them. This is not true at all! In most cases, the dog has just never been taught what the criteria of loose leash walking is. If you have a preference of where you want your dog to be during a walk, be consistent with that from the start.

Step by step guide for loose leash walking

  1. Find an environment with no distractions and have lots of small moist treats ready. In general, it's a good idea to train before meal times as your dog will be more motivated.
  2. Attach your leash and start walking. Mark (with a clicker or the word 'yes') and reward your dog the moment they start walking with you.
  3. Continue to walk up and down or in circles. Continue to mark and reward frequently to show your dog they are doing the right thing.
  4. Start introducing distractions once your dog is consistently walking with a loose leash in that environment. Keep the distractions simple and gradually increase it.
  5. Move to a more challenging environment and practise steps 2-4 again. This will help your dog to generalise the behaviour.
  6. Continue to practise in various environments and situations. Refer to our loose leash walking checklist below.

The right equipment

Attach the leash to your dog's collar. Harnesses make it comfortable for a dog to pull. Therefore attaching the leash to a harness is not the best way to be teaching loose leash walking. Your leash should also be comfortable for you to hold. There should also be just enough length for your dog to be next to you. If your leash is longer than that, take up the slack while you are teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash.

We want to set our dogs up for success while they are learning. This means limiting the distance they can wonder so they have a higher chance of getting it right. Only use a retractable leash if you can lock the length of the leash.

How long does it take to train loose leash walking?

Practise loose leash walking as a separate training exercise before expecting your dog to walk nicely in public. Training sessions should be around 3-5 minutes at a time and ideally, 2-3 sessions a day.

The more you practise, the faster you will see results. Don't try to multitask and train loose leash walking on the way to the park or the shops. Set aside dedicated time to train this or you're likely to give up because you are in a hurry or get flustered because you are juggling your kids and groceries at the same time.

It is important to keep in mind that progress will depend on your dog and how long they have been practising and gaining success with the previous behaviour. For example, you'll see faster progress with a 7-month-old puppy than an 8-year-old dog.

This does not mean it's not possible to teach an older dog how to walk on a loose leash. It just means that you'll need to be more patient and be willing to keep practising. After all, you are training to override 8 years of pulling history!

Loose leash walking tips

  • Use any opportunity to train your dog to walk nicely on the leash and set up and practise all kinds of scenarios before expecting your dog will understand what to do in the real world.

  • Your dog should be relaxed and engaged with you during training. There should not be any pulling, stopping to sniff or going to the toilet. Keep the sessions short but practise frequently. Once they understand the concept, you can start letting them sniff and explore with the use of a release word (“ok, go sniff/say hi/toilet"). If you keep letting them pull to exactly where they want to go while trying to teach them to walk on a loose leash, it'll be very confusing for them.

  • At any point, if your dog can't focus, it means that the situation is too much for them to be thinking straight. So take a step back and work on the previous stage or at a further distance. For example, your dog walks great inside the house and the moment you step out of your front door he gets over-excited. Take a step back, and practise inside the house but with the front door open. Practise walking past many times without going outside. Then practise taking 2 steps outside and walking back in. Then practise just outside the door, etc.

  • Practise loose leash walking with a collar and put a harness on your dog if you want to bring your dog somewhere but don’t have the time to be consistent with their leash walking skills. For example, if you want to bring the dog to the shops, just let them wear the harness and pull into it. When you are ready to train, change to the flat collar. This will only be needed in the beginning. While you start to generalise the loose leash walking behaviour by practising in different environments. This helps to make things clearer for the dog about when he is and is not supposed to be pulling. Because if you try to teach loose leash walking and expect them to walk nicely on a collar one day and the next day allow them to pull you because you are busy, it's going to create confusion for your dog.

Why does my dog pull on the lead?

There are many reasons your dog pulls on the lead but it can usually be narrowed down to 4 main reasons.

  1. It works for them - this is the most common reason. Most dogs pull because their natural walking pace is much faster than ours and walking at a human's pace is very unnatural to them. They have learnt that pulling gets them where they want to be as quickly as possible.
  2. Over arousal - your dog is overexcited or has too much excess energy. This could be genetic. Your dog does not have an outlet for their drive or it could be that your dog has never learned how to appropriately deal with their energy. When your dog is over-aroused, it's impossible to teach them anything let alone expect them to walk nicely at your pace. So, if you have a dog with excess energy, try and burn some of that off before your walk by playing a short game of tug or fetch.
  3. Reactivity - this means your dog has a positive or negative emotional response to certain things in the environment. For example, they may see another dog and desperately pull towards it to try to play. Or they may see a bike a pull in an attempt to chase it. If you notice your dog has reactivity to certain things, make an extra effort to train with those things in mind or seek help from an experienced dog trainer.
  4. Fear/anxiety - your dog may be fearful or anxious about being outside or in a new environment and may be pulling to try and find a safe place to retreat to.

If you have attempted consistent training but you and your dog are not progressing, consider seeking help from an experienced dog trainer.

Did you know, at Pawshake, we have many pet sitters who also offer dog training? Some sitters will also train your dog while pet sitting them. Search for a sitter near you.

Loose leash walking checklist

Below is a checklist of some distractions and situations for you to practise during loose leash walking training. Remember to practise often and have fun with your dog!