Loose-leash walking is not to be confused with the “heel” command. Loose-leash walking is basally just good manners. You control the length of the leash, with your hand in a natural position alongside your body. As soon as the dog gets too far ahead or behind you, there will be tension on the leash, moving your hand out of it’s natural position. This is what we want to prevent. So the goal is that you, as the pack leader, set the pace and the length of the leash, and your dog peacefully walk with you, not interrupting your pace with frequent sniff breaks, or pulling ahead of you creating leash tension, and sometimes emotional tension!
Start practicing loose-leash walking in a distraction-free area, like the living room. As your dog masters Loose-leash walking in that area, introduce her to areas of increasing distractions, like the back yard, then a quiet street, then a busy street, etc. Make sure that she is consistently walking Loose-leash before introducing her to the next level of distractions. This might take a few days, but the patience is worth it. Eventually, with practice, your dog should be able to walk Loose-leashed past even her biggest triggers. For my dog, it’s cats.
Start walking with your dog beside you. As soon as your hand moves due to tension on the leash, introduce a leash pop, which is just a very fast, flick of your wrist. The severity of the leash pop really depends on the dog. It shouldn’t be violent, especially for a small or skittish dog. On the other hand, larger or more stubborn dogs might not respond to very soft leash pops, so start soft, and gradually increase the severity of the leash pop until they respond and the leash loosens. It doesn’t need to be any more severe than so training doesn’t become an unpleasant experience for your dog.
As you walk, remember: you choose the pace. Don’t stop every time she stops. Corrections (leash pops) should happen in motion, without you having to break your stride.
You want to set the pace as the pack leader. So if your dog consistently pulls ahead, you can turn around and start walking in the opposite direction. She will probably adapt quickly and start pulling in this new direction, so just keep turning around unexpectedly until she understands that she isn’t going to get where she wants to go. This technique isn’t the first choice for fearful or skittish dogs, since the abrupt change in direction might startle or scare them. But these dogs usually aren’t the worst pullers either 🙂
Remember that timing is everything. For corrections, you must pay close attention, and administer the leash pop immediately after your dog goes too far.
You can add a verbal correction for a very distracted dog, but Loose-leash walking is really just about good manners for your dog. It shouldn’t be a response to a verbal command, but rather should be expected at all times. A verbal correction, like “No” isn’t a command, it’s only to be used when she is very distracted.
So there it is! We love this method, because it doesn’t rely on treats or clickers, which you may not have on hand when you want to go for a walk with your dog. Achieving Loose-leash walking takes practice and consistency. Only work with one dog at a time, since there are distractions to each other, and keep the training sessions short, like 5-10 minutes at a time. Practice with your dog multiple times per day, every day. Give her time to decompress and relax after each training session, and be aware if she is showing signs of stress.
Dog walking becomes a dream when you and your dog master Loose-leash walking. Good luck!
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