5 Tips to Teach Loose Leash Walking

Does your dog pull you all over on walks? Do you have a new puppy and want to set them on the right path? Here are some of our best tips to keep your shoulder from dislocating!

First…what is the function of pulling? Ah yes, it gets the dog where they want to go! It is a totally normal dog behavior. Sniff over here…sniff over there…oh wait a squirrel, gotta get to that tree and pee on it! Unfortunately, it can be pretty unpleasant to be yanked around for us humans. It’s on us to teach our dogs what we want them to do in our human world.

  1. Reward your dog for being at your side or even behind you. Think about rewarding at the seam of your pants or even further back. Or what some people may call “heel”. You can name it whatever you want. And you can set your criteria for this behavior in whichever way you like. Some people want their dog right at their side for the entire walk, especially if they live in a busy city setting. Others just simply don’t want the dog pulling and they don’t mind if the dog is in front of them, or to the side, as long as the leash is loose. Where you reward though matters and when teaching our dogs to walk on leash calmly, I actually like starting to teach this in the house or in the backyard where there are lower distractions. Simply have your treats ready and reward at your side. Walk one step, reward. Walk two steps, reward. Now three steps. Get the picture?
  2. Use the environment as the reward for not pulling. Does your dog not take treats on walks? They may be over stimulated and unable to accept food. In an ideal world, it would be best to not let our dogs get to that point but for some dogs, a walk is their main form of enrichment and exercise. That’s okay, we can still teach them not to pull. You may have heard the term “be a tree” before. If I am working with a dog and they start pulling on the walk, I will simply stop and freeze, give a little tug back on the leash(Dogs have an oppositional reflex and will resist pressure when applied..thus the importance of teaching our dogs that giving into that pressure by giving some slack into the leash, is beneficial to them) and as soon as the dog gives me some slack I am going to praise them and cue them to go sniff or check out whatever it is they are after. Just be consistent with the cue you use. If when you give your cue, the dog starts pulling again, just repeat the “be a tree” exercise. Your dog will be as tired from this mental exercise as they would be from a longer walk. Trust me!
  3. Some dogs are so strong and have been reinforced for pulling(pulling in and being allowed to pull in and of itself is reinforcing) for so long that the “be a tree” exercise is not as effective. In these cases, I will simply turn the opposite direction. Sometimes the dog will then pull again going that way…and we simply turn around again. Most dogs quickly will realize that this pulling thing just isn’t working out for them, and if you pair this in conjunction with a reward when the dog turns to follow you, now you have a dog who values not pulling, and following you more then trying to pull.
  4. Loose leash walking takes consistency and practice. There is no overnight magical fix. If your dog has a really strong history of pulling, it is going to be that much harder to change the behavior. Be consistent, set your criteria, and stick to it!
  5. Tools don’t teach dogs, people do but some equipment can be helpful to use in conjunction with training. My favorite harness to use is the Coastal Walk Right Harness. What I love about it is that it is a Step In harness so it is very easy to put on. A lot of no pull harnesses are overly complicated and not user friendly. I also love that this harness gives the dogs shoulders range of motion, some no pull options can actually alter your dogs gait and cause issues down the road. Again, this won’t solve pulling or teach your dog what to do but it can definitely help the process and save your arms and shoulders in the meantime.

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