HOW TO MASTER LOOSE LEASH WALKING
Is walking your dog less of a fun time and more of a chore? Shoulders hurt from getting constantly dragged down the street by your out-of-control pup?
Fear not- there is hope! Even for the most stubborn, hyper, crazy, insert-your-adjective-of-choice-here dog, a leisurely walk on a loose leash is within reach.
First things first, we want to make sure we’re set up for success and that means having the right equipment. You will need:
a treat pouch, fanny pack, or other treat-carrying device
a leash or long line (I prefer working with something 8’-15’ personally)
your dog’s reward of choice- high value treats like bits of hot dogs or cheese, or their favorite toy- which can be stashed in the aforementioned treat-carrying device
poo bags so you can be a shining example to your community and pick up after your dog
a quality harness
Now, let’s talk harnesses for a second, because not all harnesses are created equal. I am a HUGE fan of body harnesses, particularly for puppies and dogs that don’t have the best leash manners (yet…). There are a few reasons why, and you can explore more of them here, but the biggest reason for me is it prevents undo strain from be applied to your dog’s neck, which is a very sensitive area. You may have seen various iterations of “no-pull” harnesses in stores and online, but buyer beware! Many front-clip “no pull” harnesses can actually cause damage to your dog’s shoulders if they tighten around the front of the body or otherwise restrict movement. The best example of this is the popular Easy Walk harness. I would advise you to avoid these harnesses like the plague in favor of something that allows your dog’s shoulders to move freely. Here are a few of my favorite harnesses, and yes many of these do need to be ordered online. Trust me, it’s worth it: Blue-9 Balance Harness Ruffwear Frontrange Harness Perfect Fit Modular Fleece Harness Sense-ation harness Walk In Sync harness Walk Your Dog with Love harness Hurtta Casual Y-Harness
2) Burn Off Some Energy Beforehand
And no, I don’t mean play fetch for an hour or bring your dog to the dog park. That kind of exercise will likely only amp your dog up, causing them to pull more. Why? Because those activities are EXCITING for your dog, meaning their bodies are going to be chockablock full of adrenaline afterwards. Asking them to go for a leisurely stroll after such pumping them full of the “GO!” hormone is probably not the best idea. Instead, focus on burning off some mental energy. Play a structured game of tug, throw in some obedience training, play a scent game, or teach your dog a fun trick. Now, if you insist on using fetch as a way to expel some energy, make sure you’re using fetching the ball as a reward for other behaviors. Ask your dog to sit, lay down, stay, and then throw the ball as a reward. That way they are still having to use their brains- we want to make sure they’ve had a good mental workout before taking them for a walk.
3) Change Your Mindset
While using the methods listed below, you may find that your usual 20 minute walk around the block suddenly takes an hour. While that’s to be expected in the beginning, it does mean that you may find having a certain distance to walk can be frustrating. Instead of focusing on walking a particular distance, focus on walking for a certain amount of time. Set a timer on your phone and go for a walk using any of the methods below. It doesn’t matter if you got very far, what’s important is your dog spent all that time learning better leash manners. You will find that over time, you will be able to walk farther and farther with a nice loose leash!
4) How to Loose Leash Walk
With all of these methods, we aren’t looking for the dog to to ANYTHING other than keep that leash loose. It doesn’t matter if they are behind you, next to you, in front of you, on your left, right, upside down, or sideways. As long as that leash is loose, they get to keep doing what they’re doing (within reason). The main reward we are going to use is the ability to sniff. Sniffing is VERY important for dogs! They take in the most amount of info about the world around them through their nose. Checking out all the smells along the way is like us reading the newspaper, jumping on Facebook, or checking Twitter. Letting your dog sniff to their heart’s content will also mean they are using their brains the whole time they are walking, which turns your walk from a unitasking exercise to a multitasker- physical AND mental stimulation in one. Win-win! Below are my go-to methods for getting a dog to walk on a loose leash, listen in order from most to least-used:
The Mark & Go
This method is particularly great for puppies, but can also be used for adult dogs as well. It’s a fabulous way to teach your dog that sticking by you is awesome and they should do it more. Your dog can’t pull you down the street if they’re happily trotting along next to you! Check out this video for a quickie review of this method: https://youtu.be/DFMhJRHHdas
The “Make Like a Tree”
Whenever your dog pulls, stop moving. You don’t have to say or do anything other than stop moving, anchor your hand holding the leash to your belly, and wait. Eventually your dog will look back as if to say, “Hey, what’s the hold up?” As soon as your dog gives back some slack in the leash, mark it with a “yes” and keep walking. That’s all you have to do! This method teaches a dog to yield into leash pressure versus pulling through it. We are using their ability to continue with the walk as the reward for keeping a nice loose leash.
Rubber Band Dog
Whenever your dog hits the end of their leash and pulls in one direction, you immediately call them to you and walk several paces in the other direction. This method works well for dogs who become easily frustrated and need more direction than the “make like a tree” method uses.
This is the method that is the most intensive but is great for adult dogs who are intensive pullers. It’s also a fabulous method for walking your dog around areas that have lots of distractions as it involves the most engagement with the handler. You’ll need a LOT of treats (small, pea-sized bits of high value food) for this one! Start with your dog sitting next to you. Walk one step, stop, and give your dog a treat. When giving the treat, encourage them to move back to your side and reward them there. Then walk two steps, stop, and reward the dog at your side. Then take three steps, stop, and reward. Then four steps, stop, reward. Continue repeating this until you’re able to walk 300 steps with your dog prancing happily along on a nice loose leash. If at any point your dog pulls on the leash: stop, call them back to your side, ask them to sit, and start over again from one step. Like I said, this method requires the most intervention between you and the dog, so I typically only use it for dogs who truly need that much guidance OR for teaching my dogs to walk close to me in high traffic areas (like pet stores).
A FINAL NOTE
I cannot stress this enough: be consistent!! The key to solving leash pulling is teaching the dog that pulling on the leash doesn’t work. They are pulling because they want something- they want to go after smells, they want to pee on something, they want to see another dog or a person, etc. We have to teach them that they do not get what they want through pulling. By allowing your dog to continue moving in the direction they are pulling, we are essentially telling them, “Hey kid, this is working, keep it up!” Which leads to more pulling, and more frustration. When your dog pulls, all the fun stops. We stop walking, they don’t get to chase after smells or pee on the fire hydrant or say hi to the neighbor. Not until that leash is LOOSE! If people constantly coming up to say hello to your dog is throwing them off, don’t be afraid to ask for space. “Please don’t say hi, we’re in training right now,” is usually all that’s needed, but if you want to make things blatantly clear from the start you may consider an “in training, do not disturb” vest or leash for your dog. It may take time for your dog to finally learn how to maintain a loose leash for the entire duration of a walk. Do not be discouraged by this! I’ve worked with MANY dogs who took MONTHS to finally get the memo that pulling is a no-no. Be patient, be consistent, and your hard work will be rewarded. Here are a few of my clients showing of their skills: Simba & Gracie: https://www.facebook.com/woofwhoshappy/videos/1832263373521376/ Indy: https://www.facebook.com/woofwhoshappy/videos/1769395219808192/ Macho & Luna: https://www.facebook.com/woofwhoshappy/videos/1667167556697626/ Lois: https://www.facebook.com/woofwhoshappy/videos/1122198717861182/ Zola & Thias: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bm_h5qBBfHT/?taken-by=woofwhoshappy