Teaching Your Dog To Loose Leash Walk - The Definitive Guide
Training your dog to walk nicely is no easy task. It’s one of the things we get asked most about.
Fortunately, there are some great tried and true methods for teaching your dog the ways of walking etiquette. Today we are tackling loose leash dog walking.
It’s a style of dog walking that we all aspire to. It takes some practice, patience and determination but if you follow the steps, your pooch will be walking like a dog model in no time!
What Is Loose Leash Walking?
Have you grown accustomed to walking with your dog pulling you in front, leash taught, your arm stretched and your dog heaving you forward like a dragging mule?
The loose leash walking would be the dream for you (and most of us).
It is when your dog trots alongside you with the leash slack or "loose" as the name suggests, and is the pinnacle of doggy walking etiquette.
While some dogs just have a natural knack for it, that is the rarity, not the norm. I have a Podengo who naturally walks with a loose leash without special instruction. We chalk it up to his clinginess and duties as the family watchdog. He has his head held high at all times and walks obediently alongside me, sensitive to when I stop or start.
For most dogs, this will take some time and effort. Let's dig into how to make this happen.
What You Will Need
There a ton of walking aids on the market but loose leash walking can be done with relatively few tools. It very much depends on your dog’s nature and the technique for walking that you decide to use.
Here is a list of things that may help you out:
You can absolutely teach your dog loose leash walking with a regular flat collar. No special martingales required if you would rather not use one, or if your dog is receptive to walk training.
Related: Best Dog Collars Australia
There are two kinds of harnesses: front-attached and back-attached. This means that your leash either clips at the front of the chest or the middle of the back. Front-attached harnesses are best for walk training as they are 'no pull harnesses' because they pull on the front of your dog and spin them around. This is harder to do with back-attached harnesses. Harnesses are also ideal for puppies and breeds with short necks like Pugs and Frenchies to protect their delicate necks when they pull forward. (2)
Of course, there are many dog leashes on the market that are suitable for loose leash training. A regular leash will work so feel free to start with what you have. There are extra-long leashes that work brilliantly for this kind of training too as they give your dog a bit more roaming power. You can then practice recall more easily which I will explain a bit later.
PRO TIP: Definitely do not use a Flexi-leash. These encourage pulling as the only way for your dog to move forward with Flexi-leashes is by pulling forward, when you release more of the line.
Loose Leash Dog Walking: Step By Step Guide
Step One: Know What You’re Signing Up For
I want you to cast your mind back to the last time you saw someone else walking their dog. Let’s take the burden off of your dog’s walking skills for a moment. How were they walking?
Did the dog charge in front and pull? Were they walking perfectly side by side? Did the dog stop many times and zig-zag across the pavement to smell different smells?
If you don’t remember off the top of your head how other dogs walk, I encourage you to pay a little more attention next time.
Why? I think it will help to set expectations.
If you were to see me and my pooches walking down the street, you would see a true mixed bag. Some days both will be trotting alongside. Some days my Podengo would be in front “overseeing” the way. Some days my Retriever would be pulling me to my left to kiss the hand of a stranger.
But I don’t consider my dog’s bad walkers. They are just dogs and perfection is impossible.
You will go through the full range of emotions and experiences walking your dog. Even the most focused and highly trained dogs have their slip ups.
So the first step is to reset your expectations. This is vital so that you are not so hard on your dog for not always getting things right. Compassion and patience are key.
Step Two: Choose a Technique That Works For You
There are lots of different techniques that trainers use for loose leash walking. We are going to quickly run through three that we have experience with and can work for a wide range of dogs.
Red Light, Green Light
The Red Light, Green Light game is a classic among dog trainers.
The basic concept is, when the leash is tight, that’s a “red light”. You can’t progress the walk if the leash is taught. When the leash loosens, that’s the “green light”.
The aim is to teach your dog that a loose leash means that the walk can progress. Without it, you’re not going anywhere!
Step 1: If your dog pulls ahead and the leash tightens, stop still.
Step 2: Call your dog back to your side.
Step 3: Once the leash is slack, continue walking and reward your dog with a treat and praise.
1-2-3 Walking is a technique originated by the trainer Leslie McDevitt. It works well with all breeds of dogs of all ages because of its simplicity.
Step 1: Keep a collection of tasty treats in your pocket or in a side treat pouch.
Step 2: Walk your dog on the leash and loudly say “one, two, three”.
Step 3: On the third count, give your dog a treat from your pocket. Be sure to give the treat at the side of you and close to your leg.
This trains your dog to stay close to your leg to receive their reward.
You may want to add a command to the third count too. For example, “one, two, look at me” works well as you are training them to associate the “look at me” command with grabbing attention and receiving a reward. This will be helpful should your dog get distracted while walking outside.
This is how I taught my dog’s loose leash walking. If your dog pulls ahead, the reversal technique helps to reinstate that your dog is following your lead.
The surprise of not really knowing which direction you’re going helps to reinforce the feeling of teamwork. Your dog needs to walk with you and not against you.
Step 1: When your dog pulls ahead, turn around and walk in the opposite direction.
Step 2: Reward your dog when they walk by your side.
Step Three: Start Your Practice At Home
When starting any kind of walking practice, it is always good to start in extremely familiar surroundings.
Essentially what you are doing by starting in your own backyard or living room is removing the element of surprise. It’s the passing cars, eager babies, whizzing bicycles and fire hydrants that pull your dog’s attention away from you and ruin the flow of your patter.
While walking outside is of course the goal (which we’ll talk about next), some practice sessions in the home are crucial to laying the foundations of good walking habits.
So let’s set the scene.
You have your collar of choice and leash of choice. Using one of the above techniques, layout a course around your home or garden (if you have one), practising in short bursts.
Pro tip: It’s great to do this for around 10 minutes before a real outside walk just to instill some habits. Your dog is expecting to go outside when you gear them up for a walk so this way, you’re also giving them the reward of exploring the world after your training session.
Step Four - Loose Leash Walking Outside
Now it’s time to journey into the big wide world. Of course, this is the goal but I want to preface this section by saying, you will fail - a lot.
Even if you take the tip of practising your walking techniques at home before going out immediately, those calm steps that you took indoors are likely out of the window once you step outside. That’s normal - don’t panic.
Your dog is just very stimulated by the sights and smells of the outside world which is encouraging them to have less attention focused on you.
The trick is to calm your dog before you start walking and maintain the same energy you had inside as outside. Walk slowly and use the same techniques to capture your dog’s attention.
This brings us onto the troubleshooting portion to help you with outdoor loose leash walking.
Common Problems You May Face
What if your dog pulls?
If your dog is continuing to pull ahead, the natural knee-jerk reaction is to pull back.
Resist the temptation to pull them backwards. It’s not going to be particularly effective. If you have a strong dog, it’s going to be even more of a fail to pull them back.
The best thing to do is stand completely still.
If you use the front-attached harnesses mentioned before, it can help prevent pulling.
What if your dog lunges or barks?
If your dog tends to bark or lunge at other dogs or passer’s by, the best course of action is to be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Act before the problem arises.
Maybe you’ll need to cross the street if you see a group of dogs walking up ahead. If your dog is particularly excitable around cars, choose walking routes that have fewer cars until you can gain confidence in their walking skills.
Prevention is best here.
What if your dog isn’t grasping the loose leash walking concept?
There could be a few flaws in your system if your dog just isn’t grasping things:
- Are you offering good treats?
The rewards you give need to be enticing enough to hold attention. A piece of regular dry dog food is not exciting enough. For my dogs, I use small morsels of chicken, sausage or ham.
- Avoid the unbeaten path
Walk training is not the time for more adventurous walking routes or busy, over-stimulating environments. Keep things simple, particularly in the beginning. Walk during quieter times of the day. Take the simpler routes that your dog is already familiar with.
- Have the patience of a saint
This is going to take time. Please don’t expect that your dog will be the perfect walker after just a few sessions… or ever really. Perfection does not exist. You are aiming to get 1% better each day and over time, loose lease walking will become far more natural.
Help Your Dog Become A Better Walker
By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to achieving a stress-free walk. Starting slowly is key. As long as you are patient and calm, you’ll surely achieve success in the end!
Dogs pull on their leads because of excitement generally. They are either excited to get ahead or they want to get to a certain sight or smell faster. It has nothing to do with mischief. Dog’s are just not born with walking skills! This is why your patience and calm is paramount to loose leash walking success.
Walking is one of the best ways to exercise your dog because it’s easy to do, it helps with socialisation and the mental stimulation of the outside world is great for your pup. Walking covers so many bases. However, for more ideas on exercise, you can combine walking with:
Topple puzzle games
Running (if they are suited to it)
- Jones, J. August 30, 2017. “What are Martingale Dog Collars?”. Orvis News. Retrieved August 27, 2023. https://news.orvis.com/dogs/what-are-martingale-dog-collars
- Clark, M. April 28, 2022. “Collar Versus Harness: Which Is Best For Your Dog?”. DogTime. Retrieved August 27, 2023. https://dogtime.com/dog-health/general/43739-collar-vs-harness-best-dog
- Donovan, L. August 30, 2019. “How to Teach a Puppy to Walk on a Leash”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved August 27, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/teach-puppy-walk-leash/