Mastering the Art of Loose-Leash Walking: Part 1

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Walking your dog should be fun and enjoyable for all. Loose-leash walking (LLW) means your dog is calmly walking near you on leash while still being allowed to explore, sniff and enjoy the outdoors within the leash length, without pulling, tugging or lunging.

As we all know, this can be challenging for many dogs, especially where there are lots of new places to go, people to meet and other dogs to sniff. Dogs often pull on their leash to get closer to things they’re interested in. This is normal! Using a dog gear harness with a front clip option will help decrease this behavior while you work on your dog’s LLW skills.

With time, patience and consistency, dogs can learn how to walk nicely on leash, making it more pleasant for the both of you.

Getting Ready to Harness Fun
Have your dog dressed in their collar, Happy Harness (leash in tow), along with a few tasty treats. You can use these to reward behaviors you want, communicating with your dog that they’re making good choices.

Note: The leash is used as a safety line, not for controlling your dog. Try not to pull or tug at your dog. Also, it’s best not to wrap the leash around your hand or wrist, which can cause serious injury if your dog pulls. Again, dogs who pull severely do great with a dog gear harness that allows the leash to be clipped to the front.

The First Steps
Start your practice indoors, or in another low-distraction environment.

  • Begin by prompting your dog to come to your side. Use a treat and your happy voice to motivate your dog to come into position next to you. When your dog gets to you, give them a “Good dog,” then deliver a treat.
  • Give a verbal walking cue such as “Let’s go,” take 2-3 steps (using a food lure if necessary) and then stop, have your dog stop (having them sit is optional), say “Good dog,” and deliver another treat. Continue to practice this step until your dog is consistently walking beside you without a food lure. You can then begin to take additional steps, increasing the distance you move as your dog is able to be successful staying near you.
  • If your dog knows a “watch me” cue (making eye-contact with you), you can add it when you stop, along with saying it intermittently when walking. Teaching your dog to check in with you while out and about helps to remind them that you’re out together, and enhances the bond you share.

Once your dog understands the concept of LLW in this low-distraction environment, increase the pace by walking briskly indoors with them on leash. If they go to the end of the leash, stop walking, wait until there is slack in the leash, and then begin again. When they come near you on the side you want them to walk, use a cheerful voice to praise. Whenever they get into heel position or put slack in the leash, say “Good dog” and give them a treat. Also reward your dog for any eye contact.

If after a couple of minutes you don’t find your dog spending more time at your side or with a slack leash, consider moving to a less distracting area. You may also need to reward more frequently in the early stages of training, always delivering the treat in the position you want. This helps motivate your dog to stay interested, as opposed to wandering to the end of the leash, looking for something else to do.

When you are having success with this step, you can begin to move to more distracting environments. Rather than going straight from your living room to a busy hiking trail, consider first moving to the back yard, then the front, then a street your dog is familiar with. Keep up the treats, petting, and praise for polite walking on a slack leash!

We wish you much happiness and success with unleashing adventures and harnessing fun!
Stay tuned for the next part of our loose-leash walking discussion, where we will “green light” adventure.

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