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Loose Leash Walking Made Easy!

Loose Leash Walking Made Easy

Hi everyone! I’m Renee, the Pet Specialist at Jeffers Pet. Today, I’m going to teach you how to master loose leash walking with your dog. If you’ve ever experienced being pulled by your dog, you know it’s not a lot of fun for you. Most dogs would prefer to walk at their own pace, meandering, sniffing, and doing whatever they please. If you’re up for one of those walks, hook a retractable leash to your dog’s collar and enjoy yourselves! However, if you just want to enjoy a nice walk at your pace, I will show you some simple steps on how to succeed.

Training Tips Before Loose Leash Walking

A small dog tugging on a leash while walking

Dogs love “games”, so this lesson in loose leash walking is going to begin as a game. During this “game”, your dog will learn that all or most reinforcement (or the good stuff) will come from behind, and second, that you will toss the treats to the ground – not far, so your dog has to look for it. There are a few simple steps that you will need to do to train BEFORE you do any walking with your dog:

  1. Put your dog’s leash on and just stand still. When your dog releases the tension on the leash, mark that behavior with a “YES!” and show them the treat in your hand. Let them see you placed the treat on the ground by the outside of your left foot. Once they’ve eaten the treat, move to the end of the length of your leash so it is tight and stand quietly. When they move to release the tension, once again say “YES!”, show them the treat and place it by your left foot.  At this point, don’t worry about eye contact. What you are teaching at this point, is that releasing the leash tension gets praise and treated. Do this several times, repeating the “game.” 
  2. Continue to stand still, now that your dog is not pulling. NOW you will praise them for eye contact. After the praise, drop the treat by your left foot. Praise and treat three times, just for looking at you while on a loose leash.  
  3. Again, while standing with your dog on a loose leash and looking at you, toss your treats right past your dog’s nose, about 3 feet away (behind you, never in front). After they eat the treats and come back to you looking for more, praise (YES!) and treat by once again placing the food by the outside of your left foot. Move and repeat.
  4. Once again, toss the treat right past your dog’s nose (behind you).  After your dog finishes eating it and turns around to come back to you, you turn your back and start walking (just take a few steps in the beginning.)  When your dog catches up to you, but BEFORE they get past your left leg, praise “YES!” and treat. Repeat several times.  

Note: Make sure when you toss the food, it goes right past your dog’s nose, but not out of their reach at the end of the leash. You don’t want to reward them for dragging you to the treat. Now that you have your dog following you for a few steps, it is time to start walking and reinforcing behind or next to you.

Training on the Move

A small dog loose leash walking with it's owner.

Your dog is on the leash. You turn away from them and start walking. Your dog follows. As the dog catches up to you and is coming up next to you – maybe even makes eye contact – mark the behavior (YES!) and drop the treat next to your left foot. Don’t keep moving and be sure the first few times that you let the dog know that you have food in your hand.  Once they finish their treat, start again.  Show them the treat and then turn and take a few steps away from them, walk until they catch up, and drop the treat next to you or a little behind.  

NOTE: Dropping food next to your side or a little behind helps your dog stay close to you. It prevents your dog from anticipating and forging ahead.  So, drop the food behind you, or you can even let your dog take it out of your hand, behind your back. Once again, please don’t drop the food so far away that your dog has to drag you to get it.

Start again. Begin to walk in a direction that your dog is at an angle beside you or is behind you. As your dog catches up, drop the food behind you or next to your pant leg (or let them take it from your hand, behind you). Once the dog has eaten the food and is coming back toward you, start walking away from them again. Try for more steps before treating them. TIMING IS EVERYTHING! Don’t let your dog get in front of you. If they do, pivot away, wait until they catch up, BUT is next to or slightly behind you and drop the treat.

Now it’s your job to increase the number of steps BEFORE dropping the food behind you. NEVER give the treat if your dog has gotten in front of you. Work towards walking more steps before rewarding. You can vary this and reinforce while they are next to you if you prefer, or toss the treat behind you, so they have to hunt for it, then reinforce them for catching back up to you, again, treating behind your back or next to your left foot.

As your dog gets better at loose leash walking, and you can walk quite a distance without them forging ahead or pulling, don’t fail to reward (reinforce) intermittently. For your dog to walk without pulling, they have to believe (because you rewarded them) that there is a much better chance of good things near you than in the big wide world. Remember, if you never let the leash get tight, your dog won’t learn that they can pull you.  

Thank you for reading! I hope this has helped you and your best friend enjoy many walks together. If you have any questions, you can reach me at 1-800-JEFFERS, or email me at rsjones@jefferspet.com