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Loose lead walking


Teaching a dog to loose lead walk is possibly one of those skills that is the hardest skill to master for most dogs.

Does walking your dog feel like some sort of chore, where their pulling so much that the walk is just no fun at all. Do you just hate taking your dog out knowing that your just going to be dragged all over the place, and physically hurt.

There is some good news:

Going for a walk with your dog doesn’t have to feel like an uncomfortable task.

Dogs can walk really well when they are taught by us properly, by just paying attention to several key factors.

Why Do Dogs Pull?

Why do dogs pull when on they are on the lead? Does the dog not understand it is not right? Surely its uncomfortable for the dog?

It definitely cant feel good for small dogs who pull. Some small dogs pull that much that their collars choke so much that the dog ends up strangling itself to the point they cough up mucus and can hardly breath. This really isn’t good for them and can be dangerous to the point it can cause serious health implications. We as the owners need to show our dogs a more relaxed way for them to walk with us which doesn’t involve pulling.

The important question here is: What is our dogs getting out of pulling on the lead?

Also why isn’t the dog put off when we stop, make them sit, tell them no, or we jerk the lead? Why don’t these deter the dog from doing it?

Dogs Are Born To Run

It’s been a very long time since our dogs derived from ancient wolves, there is a characteristic that is still today deep rooted in them and that’s the desire to move. When it comes to moving then wolves are definitely the experts, during an 8 hour day the wolves spend it on the go travelling around, basically the wolves awake time! Dogs just like their ancestors are hardwired to move.

Even though dogs were domesticated and became our helpers as well as our companions, all day long dogs were on the go. Dogs have high goals in mind and are hard working athletes: move, go, do something. Many of the tiniest companion lap dogs still want to keep on moving.

So basically what a dog gets out of pulling whilst they are walking is exactly that – walking.

Behaviour = Consequence

Try and think back to when you first walked your dog. Maybe they were just a puppy. A blank canvass, so shouldn’t be hard to train the dog not to pull, right?

Back to when you first walked your dog, they learnt that to make you go in the direction that they wanted to go, they need to pull you in that direction.

It could be that they hit the end of the lead and then pulled a little bit, but because it wasn’t too bad as yet, you continued to move. So now

they are thinking, and learnt “oh this human is slow, they need motivation to keep them moving in this direction.” bit more. And seeing this was your first walk together and you only wanted to walk around the block, you allowed your dog to pull more. His is where your puppy has learnt “pulling makes my human go in the direction that I want to go”

So the vicious circle of pulling and rewarding has began for your dog!

Pulling Is Getting Worse

The pulling might not have been actually that bad during that first walk. But your dog has got more and more stronger as time has gone on and your dog has grown up. Now your dog is pulling so bad that you avoid going out for walks if you can.

Your dog has continued to learn that pulling makes you move and the dog isn’t aware they are actually doing anything wrong. Your dog wants to go and its what they get if they do go, they want the reward and that’s the road that is in front of them.

If your dog is a small then they will put up with the pain and discomfort from pulling just for the purpose of walking. If your dog is a powerful large breed of dog then they might not even be the slightest bit concerned that they are having to pull you. Your dog is an athletic power house due to the months and months of pulling you around, and they know no better.

The dog just thinks to make the human go, then I have to pull the lead.

By Changing The Consequence –We Change The Behaviour

If your wanting your dog to stop pulling, then you need to change the reward that the dog is finding really enticing and is keeping them pulling you. No amount of yelling or punishment will stop a strong willed dog from pulling on the lead, while ever they are allowed to carry on moving in the direction that the dog started in.

So for us to make any lasting changes to the dogs bad lead pulling habits, then we will need to take away the dogs ability to keep on walking.

Stopping Doesn’t Always Work

A method that is commonly used for lead pulling is to stop walking, waiting for the dog’s attention, making them sit and then you start moving again in the same direction.

This method does not always work. this is why:

Why Stopping Does Not Always Work

Stopping, sitting and carrying on with the walk is just a behaviour chain for your dog. When it comes to behaviour chains, dogs are excellent at learning them. That can quite easily memorise A, B, C then so on and so on. They learn that at the end of every behaviour chain there is the reward, and in this case for your dog its walking. Here’s a couple of human examples to think about.

The Police Are Behind You

Imagine your driving along the road when a police car pulls in behind you. The police car doesn’t turn on the blue lights and doesn’t drive the car right up behind you. They are just driving normally behind you. You all of a sudden go through a mental checklist: speed limit, yes. Lights, yes. Both hand on the steering wheel, yes. In fact you’re doing everything correct. And the police officers don’t seem to have any issues with you or your driving. So you carry on driving.

The police officer pulls you over after the next 10 miles or so. The officer says “ Any idea why I’ve pulled you over? You have no idea, the officer states that going back 11 miles just before the officer pulled in behind you, you we in fact speeding.

So why didn’t the police officer pull you over straight away?

You would have expected them to pull you over straight away! We as humans (adults) expect to be interrupted when we do something wrong, and if we are doing a behaviour that is right then we should be allowed to carry on.


Remember back to when you were at school, did your maths teacher make you solve maths problems in front of the rest of the class? I had to on a few different occasions. For me it was awful, worrying and feeling anxious that I might get picked at any moment, and not having any idea on how to solve the maths equations.

If you were one of the unfortunate ones who got picked to give out the answers, yet you had no idea of the answers or how to work them out,

You’d start by slowly trying to write down the equation and you’d look up at your teacher for some sort of confirmation. “I do 1…yes? then I’d calculate x…right?” not being advised that you are doing anything incorrect is permission to carryon with your answer.

But what would happen at the end after you had written down your final answers and your teach turned around and said “Nope its all wrong, it was wrong by the forth line”? You’d be quite confused. Why didn’t the teacher tell you earlier that you was wrong? Why would the teacher let you continue, therefore the teacher was implying that everything was okay?

Stop And Sit Method

If you’re not interrupted or stopped during a behaviour chain, then you can take it for granted that you are doing everything right. After all, you’re allowed to keep on doing what you’ve been doing with the next behaviour and then the next and the next. This will eventually get you closer to the end goal. The idea will apply to all occurrences that we look at, being allowed to keep on driving, continuing with the calculation, being authorised to carry on walking in the same direction, after you’ve been asked to stop then sit.

There’s another mistake with the sit and stop method, well apart from the dog being allowed to carry on going in the same direction as before, the human concept is then wrongly applied for the dog to actually slow down. It is very clear for us humans that the stopping and sitting before carrying on with the walk is meant to be a way of communication to the dog that they are walking way too quickly and they need to slow down. Unfortunately the dog doesn’t understand what we are trying to tell them and to them well its totally meaningless!

The dogs opinion is, that any kind of walking on the lead is already a slow walk. Now unless the dog is running, they will more than likely see any movement as being quick. Now the difference between the dogs speed when they are pulling on the lead and their speed when they are not pulling when they are on the lead is irrelevant. And by actually making the assumption that the dog understands what we want by making them stop and sit because we want the dog to slow down, then we are really over estimating the dogs skills in thinking by quite a lot.

Dogs actually think in the mindset of behaviour and consequence. If you haven’t taught your dog the sit cue as a punishment, then it is hard to apply a sit as a negative consequence for a dog who pulls when on the lead. If the dog pulls and you ask the dog to sit, then they just think it nothing but an exercise that is totally unrelated to walking on the lead.

You Can Harm Your Dogs Training By Doing Too Much

Quite often we’ll try and control our dog’s behaviour but we don’t always manage the consequences of the dogs actions. A great example is if the dog darts out the door when going for a walk. The dog immediately starts to pull on the lead to get out as soon as the door is opened. The response by many owners is to try and hold the dog back and then they ask the dog to sit and stay.

It is however really hard for the dog to understand exactly what is happening. In the dogs mind the action of them trying to sprint outside and then the consequence of the door being open are really clear. Having someone telling the dog to sit and stay is nothing but back ground noise.

The dog isn’t trying to disobey you far from it, the dog just doesn’t understand that you’re giving them the sit and stay command is a consequence that is tied to them wanting to rush out of the open door.

Do this instead:

If the dog tries to dart out, shut the door. Don’t say anything and do not pull the dog back by the lead. Just shut the door.

This is guaranteed to make more of an impact on your dog than any command you might give them, and even more so than trying to pull them back by their lead.

Use the following two consequences for the dogs behaviours:

Dashing forward – shut the door

Staying put– door opens

This will help to make it a lot clearer to the dog that they’re literally in charge of their own outcome with a situation.

If the outcome looks the same whether or not the dog is pulling (in the case of having the door open and telling the dog to sit), then they will have a hard time acknowledging why it is so vital for them to stay put.

But if outcome of the dogs behaviours are directly connected to their actions, then the dog will be able to change their actions to do exactly what you want and to what leads them to their actual goal- in this case going through the door.

What Really Works

We know two very important key facts:

  • Dogs love to move.
  • Dogs actually respond better to direct consequences of their actions, which communicates to them whether or not they have got it right.

Let’s look at what reward the dog finds in their behaviour for pulling through the thought process. It’s being permitted to carry on walking in the direction that the dog want to go.

This is the dogs greatest achievement– and it’s going to be a chance to teach them that they can only get what they want if they don’t pull on the lead!

So what are we going to do every time the dog hits the end of the lead?

We turn around.

This may seem a little strange. Turn around? At the beginning if you have a dog who pulls quite bad then you will be turning around every few seconds.

Going back to when you were training your dog to not dash out the door, you were more than likely closing the door quite a lot before you even got out of the door. When training loose leash walking, it is vital that you use the same clarity and consistency in your feedback. Every time your dog gets to the end of the lead, turn around 180 degrees.

What About Only A Little Bit Of Pulling?

Its crucial you’re consistent and obvious with your training. Your dog has already learnt that pulling gets them that walk. But this is where all of a sudden you’re going to change those rules and show you’re dog that to make the walk happen then your dog isn’t going to pull.

It is a lot easier for your dog to grasp that they should avoid putting any kind of pressure on the lead full stop, more than they would if it was just a little pressure on the lead.

If you let your dog pull just a little bit, even if its to just walk around your estate, or you want to nip to the post box ,it is only natural that your dog will revert back to where you started, and that’s pulling.

The Best Place To Be, Is By My Side.

We know how to communicate to our dog not to pull when walking on the lead. So how do we help our dog to be successful when walking without pulling?

Dogs who are just starting to relearn loose leash walking, it might be quite difficult to only have turning around and walking straight as an option to provide feedback.

Your dog has spent a long time practising that pulling makes them go for a walk. Now that you have changed the rules and not pulling makes them go for a walk is what you want. They will still be in the old mindset at times and may find it hard not to pull. So you want to give your dog all the help you can!

So Which Side Should You Walk Your Dog On?

A lot of dog trainers teach dogs to heel on the left side only. Personally I teach my dogs to walk on a loose leash on both sides. Not only is this

useful when you’re walking along a road that might only have a pavement on one side and you might only want your dog on the side that is not right next to the traffic, but it can also help in some dogs sports like agility where the dog needs to work on both your left and right side.

The exercise below teaches the dog to choose to stay at your side by creating a reinforcement history for it.

Step 1: Just Standing Around In The Home

To start with, you want to practice having your dog at your side at home. You will build reinforcement history for being and staying in the correct position.

choose a wall and stand by it with your dog stood between you and the wall. The wall is there as a barrier to stop your dog from moving out to the side and moving away from you. For this exercise there is no need to use the lead. Because you are at home, your dog isn’t going anywhere and you can practice teaching them where you want your dog to be and not by using physical pressure, but only by using a good amount of tasty rewards.

You can get your dog in their place between you and the wall by throwing a treat behind you, and as your dog looks at you after eating it, luring your dog next to your leg.

Now give your dog lots and lots of treats whilst they are in this position. Your dog doesn’t have to do anything. It is all down to you! You want to show your dog that this is best and perfect place to be.

Step 2: Walking Along The Wall

Do at least one or two sessions of rewarding your dog with treats for doing nothing else than being in position next to you and just standing there, you can then proceed to walking at the side of the wall. This doesn’t mean you have to walk for 5 meters. It just means taking one small step and enthusiastically rewarding your dog for walking at the side of you. Then another small step, so on and so on.

It’s really important that you don’t try and rush this training. It is meant to be easy, fun and manageable. This is not meant to be a challenge for your dog, it is to build a reinforcement history of staying by your side. The more the experience of being in this position is positive for your dog, then the smoother the actual loose lead walking will be.

The more time you put into these first steps, the better prepared you will be for the later stages.

Think of this as making a small deposit into your loose lead walking bank every time you reward your dog for being by your side in the home.

Step 3: In Front Of Your House

This time have your dog on the lead and in your hand, this is for safety and not for steering your dog, but do exactly the same as before but outside your house along a wall. You can choose a time of day that is low-distraction at first. Maybe late in the evening, early in the morning or in the afternoon. I don’t really recommend starting this while its peak time for people driving to and from work or walks their dogs along your street at certain times. By training at busy times like these, you will set yourself up to fail. Just stand next to the wall and reward your dog for standing by your side. By now your dog should do this enthusiastically, after all those treats they’ve eaten in the position before.

Don’t try pushing your dog too far and aim for as much attention and focus as you possibly can.

Step 4: Walking Along The House

Progress to walking along the outside of the house. Begin with one step at a time and lots treats for staying at your side. Then two, three, and so on. Remember, don’t try and rush this. This is not a step that you want to tick off your list quickly, but rather it be a long-term investment into your dog’s understanding of the value of staying by you.

Putting Everything Together

Now that you have a lot of theory and planning, are you ready to put it all into practice?

Begin with your dog after they have already had some form of exercise (more regarding that to follow). Have lots of treats ready and try holding several in your hand at once for quick rewards.

Start walking. As long as the lead doesn’t go tight, you can give your dog a treat. Make sure that your dog eats their treats. To start with your dog might not even know that you have any. I occasionally the owner trying to reward their dog, but their dog is totally unaware and is sniffing or turning their head to the side, don’t give up. Hold the treat straight in front of your dog’s mouth, you need them to take your reinforcement when you want to deliver it!

If your dog does get to the end of the lead and pulls, turn around. Don’t speak, don’t say your dog’s name (Turning on the lead is not a recall), don’t say “nope”, “ah-ah” or anything similar. Just quietly turn and walk in the other direction. You now have a huge advantage: Your dog was in front of you before you turned, so now your dog is behind you. This means that in order to get in front of you again, your dog needs to go passed your side, the perfect time to treat them and remind them of the value that comes with walking at your side!

Carry on like this: While your dog isn’t pulling, carry on walking and reward them regularly, If your dog does pull then turn around. It is really important that you turn around straight away.

Make your sessions short and finish whilst you’re ahead. Don’t spend half an hour practising this! Your dog’s whole view of the lead walking world has just changed and for them to try and process it is tiring for them. They will learn quicker in the long run if you keep your sessions short and successful.

While you’re retraining, please take note that:

Training Loose Lead Walking Is Not Physical Exercise

While you’re training your dog’s loose lead skills, you will need to find another type of exercise for them. As discussed above, you and your dog won’t cover a lot of ground to start with when training loose lead walking.

You’re going to need to find another way to provide your dog with exercise, because

  • 1. Unless your dog is quite old or a breed that is sedentary, they are going to require physical exercise.
  • 2. Your loose lead walking training is going to be loads easier if your dog isn’t bouncing around full of energy.

Whatever skills or behaviours we are training the dog, we always want to set the dog up for success. That means not only capturing the moments in which the dog is doing something right, but also trying to let the dog go into the training session with the best possible mindset.

Loose lead walking is a low energy activity that should be calm. If all your dogs exercise is on lead walking, then they don’t yet understand that they shouldn’t be pulling on the lead, and you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and feeling frustrated.

Your dog is going to be full of energy and ready to go, and then we want them to walk slowly on the lead. Your dog will pull a lot, you will turn around a lot and you won’t actually cover a lot of ground and when it comes to the next session your dog is going to be even more full of energy and ready to go.

But Instead, you want to start another cycle: One where lead walking is a nice relaxing time for your dog, with a lot of sniffing and chilling out.

To be able to achieve this, it is important that your dog has had some sort of energy burning outlet before you start your training.


How to avoid problems with the method stated above and not sure how to deal with them?

Here are a few solutions.

The Dog Won’t Take Any Treats

If your dog won’t take any treats from you when practising your lead walking, then they aren't in the right mindset to learn as yet. Refusing to eat is a common sign in dogs who are over aroused.

The key here is not to look at a method without using treats, but to get your dog back to a state where they are able to eat.

We all know the high level of excitement that goes along with not being interested in eating food. You may have felt like that before sitting an exam, going through high levels of stress at work or before a date. Remember that feeling of buzzing with energy and adrenalin and not feeling the slightest bit hungry.

This isn’t the right mindset in which a dog can be cool, calm and collective enough to be able to take a relaxing walk on the lead.

If your dog isn’t able to eat, then go back to the situation in where your dog could eat last. If they stop taking the treats when you walk past a busy park, then go back to the corner of the road before you got to the park. If your dog stops eating the treats when practising loose lead walking in a group class, then create some distance between you and them and practice further away.

Refusing to take treats is very strong feedback from your dog, it says “I am too over aroused to be able to learn right know”.

It is important to always take this seriously and make the situation less arousing for your dog.

My Dog Only Walks On A Prong Collar/Choke Collar/No-Pull Harness

If you have used a specific tool when walking your dog, you can still use the method stated above and transition over to a flat collar or a regular harness.

The primary concept of choke collars, prong collars and no-pull harnesses is exactly the same:

Pulling makes it physically uncomfortable for the dog, so that the dog basically self-corrects itself.

Like with the door example but, the dog still sees the final goal in front of them all the time and that’s going out walking. The behaviour of pulling is paired with the consequence of feeling discomfort. Whist this works, it can make the dog become “collar-smart”: They know when they’re wearing the equipment that makes pulling feel uncomfortable, and they need to be wearing it in order to reliably not pull when on the lead.

The dog still has that big reward in front of them the whole time: Getting to walk where they want to walk.

(But walking fast might be slightly painful.)

If you want to move from using a corrective collar to a flat collar, then follow the steps written above. Don’t use the collar in a corrective way, but instead rely on turning around as the only consequence for you dog pulling.

Fading Out The Treats

Now of course you’re not going to want to spend the rest of your life walking your dogs with handfuls of treats.

Once your dog gets better at realising that in order to walk, they will need to control their speed, you can start to give them less and less treats. Dogs really love eye contact and friendly words from their owners, so start by replacing every second treat with a smile and a “good boy/girl” to start with.

Since walking is such a strong reward in itself, eventually going walking will become the sole reward.

As you are fading out the treats, you can go from fading out every second treat to only giving your dog a treat at every street corner to only one treat at the end of the walk to no treats full stop.

Again whilst you are doing this, you still need to remain very consistent in your consequence:

Pulling will always need to be met with you turning around.

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