Probably one of the hardest things to teach our dogs is walking on a loose lead. Does your dog constantly pull your arm with increasing strength as you get nearer to the park? Are you constantly being pulled along to every lamppost, person and dog to say hello? Do you feel as though your dog is actually walking you? Read my top tips below!
I always suggest starting training sessions in a distraction-free area such as your garden as this will help to keep your dog focused on you and not on the exciting surroundings.
With loose lead walking, you want to teach your dog that:
- Good things happen when they walk next to you
- Nothing ‘bad’ happens when they don’t but that there is no benefit when they try to pull on the lead.
- Always start your lead walk in the right way! This means that you do not move forward unless your dog is calm and isn’t pulling and waiting to pounce out of the door the very second you open it. Most dogs will get super excited as soon as you pick up their lead to take them for a walk so once you’ve clipped their lead on, wait by the closed door for a few moments until your dog is calm and then reward them with a treat for this behaviour before you open the door and exit your home.
- If you dog is unable to calm themselves before you leave the front door, then remove their lead and play a game with them in your home to help burn off some excess energy before repeating the first step
- Take lots of treats on each walk (dogs and puppies learning to walk on a loose lead will need lots of treats during the training process)
- You want to show your dog exactly what you would like them to do (walk by your side) rather than waiting for them to ‘fail’ as positive reinforcement training methods have been proven to have the best results. So when you start your walk, use a treat in your hand to lure your dog into position (by your side) and reward them once they are in place and then begin walking
- Each time your dog pulls, stop walking and again use a treat to lure them back into position by your side, reward them and begin walking again
- Keep repeating the above until your dog realises that being by your side means they will receive treats. The first few training walks can mean you’re out ‘walking’ for a long time… but not actually going very far! Be patient as this is one of the hardest things to teach any dog but you should notice a difference after only a few training sessions!
- When your dog is walking calmly by your side reward them frequently for doing so as it’s really important to reward good behaviour as it increases the likelihood of your dog repeating it
- Once your dog starts walking beside you and looks up to make eye contact, reward them! They are getting the hang of walking on a loose lead!
- Mix up your walking route so that there isn’t a routine. Dogs who are walked on the same route will naturally want to pull when they know something interesting is coming up i.e. the park. They also won’t be focussed on you as they’ll already know which way they are walking. So change directions throughout your walk with a ‘this way’ cue to encourage your dog to pay attention to you as they won’t be able to predict which way you are walking
- If you see another dog or a person or anything which you think may be a distraction for your dog, call their name and reward them to ensure their focus is back onto you and not on the distraction. If you need to, keep rewarding them with treats as you pass the distraction to keep their focus on you. If they pull, stop, lure them back into position, reward and then move forward again.
Remember that each member of the household needs to commit to the training to ensure your dog is successful. If sometimes you allow your dog to pull or if one member of the household allows this, then your dog will pull!
Also remember that this is one of the hardest things to teach a dog and often you will find in the beginning that on your lead walks you aren’t able to walk very far at all so remain patient and consistent and always, always reward your dog when they are by your side. You’re building up a closer bond with your dog on training walks, getting their focus back onto you and also mentally stimulating them so training walks benefit everyone!