This is a simple technique for walking your Labrador on a loose leash.
Everywhere you go, you will see dogs on leads. Some of those dogs are trotting happily along at their owner’s side.
Others have a rather different style.
You will see their owners, hurrying along with one arm stretched out in front a bit like superman (the resemblance ends there).
The outstretched arm grips an outstretched lead, and at the end of it is a dog fighting for air.
Front feet scrabbling at the pavement, this dog is intent on choking himself!
He is completely oblivious to his owner, and completely focused on straining at the end of the lead. Sound familiar?
One way to help resolve this unpleasant situation, is to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash. And that is what we are going to look at in this article.
You may have heard of the ‘waiting for a loose lead’ technique, where you just stand still and refuse to move forwards while the lead is tight.
This can take a very long time with a determined puller. So with our adaption of this method, we’re going to speed things up a bit with some food, and a few sneaky tricks!
Equipment for loose leash walking
You’ll need a longish leash – six to eight feet is fine. Not one of those extending leads.
Make sure the leash is attached to a body harness or flat collar, not a slip lead or choke chain.
A harness is much safer for a strong pulling dog
You’ll need some food rewards in an easily accessible container – a wide mouthed treat bag or large pocket is ideal.
Food isn’t cheating by the way, its an important aid in creating the right habits. Later on, your dog will not need frequent feeding to maintain his loose lead, but to begin with generosity is the key
An event marker
This is a helpful aid in the training process. An event marker simply marks the moment in time when your dog did the thing you wanted him to do.
It is a communication tool and it consists of a distinctive word or sound. I suggest you use the word ‘YES’ as your marker – if you are used to a clicker then by all means use it.
Where to train your dog
Find an open space outdoors where you won’t be distracted. If you have to drive your dog to a deserted car park or quiet street so be it.
You won’t get anywhere if there are distractions to begin with.
A hard surface (tarmac or paved is ideal) is helpful as it enables the dog to quickly find and pick up the treats.
How often to train your dog
Set aside at least ten minutes for this training and do it at least twice a day. Three or four times a day is even better.
Try not to miss a day, at least for the first week
The Loose Leash Training Exercise
Take your dog to your chosen training location and attach the lead to his collar or harness
Step 1: Start Set off walking forwards
Step 2: Stop As soon as your dog to gets to the end of the leash (this may be almost immediately), stand still
Step 3: Wait Now wait for the dog to give you some attention. At some point your dog will get bored with straining at the end of his leash and turn to see what is causing the hold up (see below for what to do if this doesn’t happen).
Step 4: Turn As soon as you have your dog’s attention, turn around and face the direction you have just come from, look over your shoulder and encourage your dog to come to your side, drop a treat just behind you for him to collect as he reaches you.
Start walking forwards (Step 1 again) as soon as he has gathered his treat from the ground.
The dog will probably then charge past you to the end of the leash. You know what to do. STOP walking. Make like a tree. Pause, gather your thoughts. Rinse and repeat the steps from 1 through 4.
What if the dog won’t turn and look at me?
After waiting a moment, it is OK to attract the dog’s attention. Make a little kissy noise with your mouth for example. As soon as he looks at you drop a little food on the ground then turn away from him.
The idea is that when he eats the food he will be in the right position just behind you, and that this position will become attractive to him.
If you cannot attract your dog’s attention, you need to work on this separately. Start associating a kissy noise with food, at home, in the garden, and elsewhere. Then try this exercise again
What if my dog won’t come towards me?
If your dog won’t come towards you to collect the food you dropped on the ground behind you, think about how you are motivating your dog. Your rewards may need to be upgraded to something more attractive and smelly.
Make sure you don’t train the dog just after he has eaten a big meal. He should be hungry and eager to eat.
Making progress with loose leash walking
The first few sessions will be a bit boring. There will be waiting, and hanging about. Hang on in there, you need to be determined. Just focus on the fact that you have simply had enough of letting your dog drag you around.
It may take three or four sessions before the dog figures out there is no point in charging past you, starts to pay you more attention, and watch where you are walking.
Increasing loose leash distances
At this point, you’ll find you can begin to walk further in each direction.
You haven’t won yet, your dog may still rush ahead from time to time. He’ll just wait until you’ve gone a few more steps before zooming to the end of the lead.
But these occasions will become fewer and further between. And you will be able to walk longer distances and get to where you want to go, without stopping and changing direction every two seconds.
All you have to do is stand firm when your dog gets it wrong, and reward him when he gets it right. You can do this. It takes a little patience, but you can do it.
Introducing distractions to loose leash walking
Just like any other skill you teach your dog, you need to start in a distraction free area. But there comes a point, when the dog has really grasped what you are teaching him, when you need to introduce some distractions into your training.
Dogs eventually have to learn to walk past other dogs, people and the neighbourhood cat, without charging about like lunatics.
Don’t expect this to happen by accident. You’ll need to teach your dog to walk past things he finds exciting, without breaking the new loose leash rules. This is called ‘proofing’.
It helps to start with any distractions at a distance and to set up training exercises where it is easy for the dog to win because you have some control over the other participants. You can do this with friends or at a training club.
Here are some articles to help you
Write it down
At the end of each session, I suggest you make a note of how you got on. It’s easy to forget just how far you have come when you are training, especially at times when progress is slow.
And after a few days, you’ll find it helpful to see how much progress you are making.
Rewarding good behaviour
As your dog gets better at walking on a loose lead, it becomes tempting to forget the rewards altogether.
This is a sure way to see your efforts undone.
Always carry a few treats on you when you are out with your dog. Reward him from time to time when he is being good. He deserves it.
Just remember to feed him ‘at your heel’ either by dropping the food just behind you, or giving it to him from your hand.
Managing the untrained dog
This is a simple exercise designed to help people who are struggling with a dog that pulls them around on a lead.
It will only work if you stop ‘rewarding’ your dog for pulling.
During the time period that you are teaching this new skill to your dog, it is better if you don’t ever allow your dog to move forwards while his lead is taut.
This is because every forward movement your dog makes on the end of a tight leash is a reward for him an reinforces the pulling behaviour.
There are various ways to tackle this
- You can drive your dog to his exercise area
- You can stop exercising the dog outside of your own garden whilst you train him to walk to heel
- You can use an anti-pull device whilst you are not training him
There is a lot more information to help you with this in our core article How to stop your dog pulling on the lead
If you want to do some obedience training with your dog and / or to teach your dog some more precise heelwork skills, then you should head over to our article on Teaching Your Dog to Walk To Heel
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