18 Loose Leash Walking Tips – How to Train Your Dog
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If you’re a dog owner, both of you probably look forward to going on your daily walks.
It’s not just good exercise, it’s an excellent opportunity to bond with your four-legged friend, too.
For many owners, the only thing better than spending this special time with their pup is doing loose leash walking.
The only drawback is that this method takes a bit of training.
Fortunately, we’ve put together a list of all the best tips you need to teach your dog how to loose leash walk in record time.
Ready to emBARK on this kind of training?
Then, let’s take a look at what it takes.
What Is Loose Leash Walking?
Let’s start with a simple definition.
Loose leash walking is when a dog walks by your side without pulling on the leash. The dog leash should be loose enough that it remains slack if the dog walks a few paces ahead or to the side of you.
Loose leash walking is different from the "heel" cue used in obedience trials. In loose leash walking, the distance between the dog and you doesn't matter, but it does matter if the dog is pulling on the leash. In the "heel" cue, the dog must walk very close to you and focus on you completely.
Teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash can be challenging, but it's an important skill for dogs to learn. It can make taking your dog in public places much easier.
How Long Does It Take to Train Loose Leash Walking?
Every dog is different.
Even dogs with the same owners have completely different dispositions, which means they’ll learn differently, too.
So, some dogs will pick up on loose leash walking right away.
Others may need a bit – maybe even a lot – more time.
As long as you treat it as a priority and train with your pup every day for at least 10 minutes, it’s reasonable to expect that your four-legged friend will be loose leash walking within 4-6 weeks.
But again, every dog is unique. It could take twice as long before your dog can reliably loose leash walk, especially if they still have plenty of puppy energy.
After that, you may need to rethink your approach. Review the list of training tips below to see if you can’t find some ways to tweak your training regimen to better suit your unique dog.
5 Loose Leash Walking Essentials to Train Your Dog
Training your dog to walk with a "loose leash" will be a lot easier if you make sure you have the following essentials before you start.
1. A Good Leash
First things first, you need a leash to walk your dog
When training your dog to loose leash walk, choosing the right leash is essential. The most commonly used leash for loose leash training is a standard flat leash made from nylon or leather. Here are some considerations for selecting the right leash:
- Length: A leash that is about 4 to 6 feet long is ideal for loose leash walking. This length provides enough space for your dog to move around a bit without giving them too much freedom to pull or wander too far.
- Material: Nylon and leather are both good choices for leash material. Nylon is durable, easy to clean, and comes in various colors and designs. Leather is strong and long-lasting but may require more maintenance.
- Width: Choose a leash that is at least 1 inch wide. Wider leashes are easier to hold and grip, making it more comfortable for you.
- Handle: Look for a leash with a comfortable handle that feels good in your hand. Some leashes have padded or cushioned handles for added comfort during long walks.
- Attachment: Ensure the leash has a sturdy metal clasp or clip to attach to your dog's collar or harness. Avoid flimsy or plastic clips that could break easily.
- Reflective or Bright Colors: If you plan to walk your dog in low-light conditions, consider a leash with reflective strips or bright colors to improve visibility.
Hands-free dog leashes can be a great choice, but only if they come with straps that give you ample room to hold it during training.
Here’s the hands-free dog leash we’ve designed:
You probably shouldn’t use retractable leashes for this type of training. They practically incentivize the kind of pulling you’re trying to completely avoid and don't provide consistent control over your pup’s movements.
While not necessarily a requirement, consider the benefits of using a harness when training your dog instead of a conventional collar.
Here are six popular reasons to make the switch, especially if you plan to start this type of training in the near future.
- Reduced Strain on Neck and Throat: Traditional collars can put pressure on a dog's neck and throat when they pull or lunge, potentially leading to injuries or discomfort. A harness distributes the force more evenly across the dog's chest and back, reducing the risk of injury and making walks more comfortable.
- Better Control: Harnesses provide better control over your dog's movements. When your dog starts to pull, the harness distributes the force across their body rather than allowing them to exert all their strength through their neck. This makes it easier for you to redirect their attention and guide them back to a loose leash position.
- Prevents Tracheal Damage: Some breeds, particularly small and toy breeds, are prone to tracheal collapse or damage from pulling on a collar. A harness can help prevent such issues by avoiding pressure on the trachea.
- Training Aid: Certain harness designs, such as front-clip or no-pull harnesses, are specifically designed to assist in loose leash training. These harnesses discourage pulling by redirecting the dog's forward motion when they pull, making it easier to teach them proper leash manners.
- Comfort: Many dogs find harnesses more comfortable than collars, especially if they have thick fur or sensitive necks. A well-fitting harness should not chafe or cause discomfort.
- Added Security: Some harnesses come with additional features like reflective strips or pockets for carrying small items, which can enhance safety and convenience during walks.
Here are a few different types of harnesses to choose from:
Aside from all the benefits we listed a moment ago, another big one is that these dog harnesses are extremely affordable.
3. A Dog Clicker
This is another accessory that is extremely helpful when training your dog to loose leash walk and yet you don’t need to spend a fortune on it.
A clicker is a small, handheld device that makes a clicking sound when pressed. It is often used as a marker signal in positive reinforcement training. So, when your dog is walking on a loose leash and not pulling, you can click the moment they achieve this behavior.
Clicker training is often used in conjunction with positive reinforcement, where the click signals that a reward is coming. In the case of loose leash walking, the reward could be a treat, praise, or even access to continue walking.
This marks the behavior as correct and lets your dog know that a reward (usually a treat) is coming. The clicker's precise timing helps your dog associate the click with the exact moment they did the right thing, which can accelerate the learning process.
Here's why some trainers choose to use a clicker for loose leash walking training:
- Precision and Consistency: Clickers provide a consistent and precise marker signal that tells your dog exactly when they've done the desired behavior. This can be especially helpful for timing, as it's difficult to communicate exact moments of good behavior with your voice alone.
- Clear Communication: Clickers create a distinct and unique sound that dogs can quickly associate with a positive outcome (usually a treat). This clear communication helps dogs understand which behaviors are being rewarded.
- Reduced Verbal Clutter: Using a clicker allows you to avoid overloading your dog with verbal commands and praise. This can help your dog focus better on the specific behavior you're trying to reinforce.
Here are three clickers you can use for this type of training:
4. Favorite Treats
Clickers aren’t the only way to incentivize good training, though. Your dog will definitely enjoy it a lot more – and learn a lot faster – if your efforts are accompanied by a few of their favorite treats.
Treats can be a highly effective and positive way to train your dog in loose leash walking. Treats are a form of positive reinforcement, which means you're rewarding your dog for exhibiting the desired behavior (walking on a loose leash).
Here are some tips for using treats in loose leash walking training:
- Choose High-Value Treats: Use treats that are especially enticing to your dog, such as small pieces of cooked chicken, cheese, or commercial dog training treats. High-value treats can be more motivating.
- Frequent Rewards: Initially, reward your dog frequently for walking on a loose leash. As your dog becomes more skilled at loose leash walking, you can gradually reduce the frequency of treats.
- Random Rewards: Once your dog has learned the behavior, start to vary the timing of treats. Sometimes reward them after a few steps, and other times after longer stretches of walking without pulling.
And instead of relying solely on treats, transfer one of your dog's daily meals into your treat pouch (more on that next). You can incorporate a few enticing rewards to keep your dog excited about the possibility of something unique.
Rather than serving your dog meals from their dish, distribute them gradually throughout your training sessions throughout the day. This approach will boost their motivation to cooperate with you.
5. Treat Pouch
Treat pouches will make it much easier to carry treats with you during loose leash training. Carrying treats in a treat pouch or a pocket during walks also make it easy to reward your dog quickly. Paw Lifestyles makes a great training pouch that comes with a built-in pickup bag dispenser.
6. Patience and Consistency
Finally, patience and consistency are vital in loose leash training your dog because it's a learned skill that takes time.
Dogs may have ingrained pulling habits, requiring consistent effort to change. Progress can be non-linear, with occasional setbacks. Being patient helps you maintain a positive, calm demeanor during training, as frustration can hinder your dog's learning. Positive reinforcement, a cornerstone of loose leash training, takes time to take effect.
Patience builds trust, strengthens your bond, and adapts training to your dog's unique pace, age, and temperament.
Consistency and celebrating small wins are key, making patience essential for successful leash training.
18 Loose Leash Training Tips
Alright, now that you know what it takes to teach your dog loose leash walking, let’s cover HOW to train them with these 20 essential tips.
1. Teach the Walking Position
To begin, instruct your dog on the preferred walking position, omitting the leash. Leashes can distract some dogs. Movement may incite excitement or nervousness. So, for a successful start, initiate leash-free training. Display tempting, high-value treats to your dog. Reward your dog by your side with these delectable treats, then commence walking.
When your dog draws near, mark the closeness and reward at your side, ensuring the treat stays accessible on all fours. Consistency in reward placement encourages your dog to stay close during walks. Practice this, gradually increasing the walking distance before rewarding. Leash-free training expedites leash walking proficiency. Afterward, introduce the leash in a quiet setting, following the training steps once more.
2. Start Your Training Inside
Start training indoors offers your dog a distraction-free setting to refine leash walking skills. The absence of people, dogs, noises, vehicles, and odors minimizes competition for your dog's attention.
Observe when your dog gets excited inside the house. Is it when you head to the front door or the garage? These spots should be your indoor training zones. Instill the idea that opening the door doesn't automatically lead to a walk, and tantrums are unacceptable.
Reserve outdoor excursions for potty breaks and organized playtime in the backyard until your dog is prepared for outdoor encounters.
3. Don't Depend Too Much on Using the Leash
Avoid depending solely on the leash for control. Instead, emphasize positive reinforcement, using treats and praise to reward desired behavior.
Be consistent in your expectations and use the right equipment, like a harness. Engage your dog with toys and games during walks to keep their attention. If your dog pulls, stop and wait for them to return to your side before resuming. Patience is key, as loose leash walking takes time to master. Seek professional help if needed. By combining these strategies, you can teach your dog to walk calmly and comfortably by your side.
4. Give Treats for Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact keeps your dog engaged with you, making it challenging for them to pull.
So, use your clicker to emphasize eye contact when practicing loose leash walking. Inside your home, where pulling is less common, click and treat every time your dog looks at you. Extend this technique to outdoor walks.
5. Take Walks for the Sole Purpose of Loose Leash Walking
Structuring your walks solely around loose leash training will be transformative for both you and your dog. They serve a more profound purpose than mere exercise, demanding mental engagement from your dog and unwavering focus from you. These walks guarantee your dog will be mentally fatigued afterward.
During this type of structured walk, your dog's only job is to walk—no sniffing, no greetings, no bathroom breaks.
Your dog gets a few minutes for potty at the outset. If they don’t go, it's back to structured walking. No marking, sniffing, or distractions. No stopping to greet others. Your purpose is simply to walk your dog.
Structured walks instill leadership and teach your dog to follow you. While they may appear limiting, dogs thrive with boundaries and adore the structure.
6. Measure Walks by Time
By redefining the concept of your dog’s normal walk, you’ll eliminate your furry friend’s chances to pull, react to people or other dogs, or get distracted by external sounds. You don’t have to “complete your walk” by taking the normal path no matter what your dog does. Your walk is now for a specific amount of time – an approach that becomes even more powerful when you combine it with our last tip.
Instead of your usual route, set a timer for 20 minutes (or whatever makes sense) and focus these walks around changing directions if your dog pulls on the leash, pacing in front of distractions, and avoiding other dogs.
This will prove tough at first. For 20 minutes, just stroll back and forth along the same street, path, or route. As your dog gets better, you can explore bustling street with all kinds of diversions but still continue walking up and down, back and forth.
To train your pup around other dogs, head to the dog park. This approach ensures success that wouldn't have been attainable otherwise.
7. Keep Your Walks to Circles
To start, stick with walking in circles with your dogs to keep things simple. If you feel any pulls from your dog, turn around and walk with them in the opposite direction. These won’t lead to overly long walks, but again, you’re limiting your attempts to a specific amount of time at the very beginning.
In the meantime, steadfastly avoid rewarding pulling by persisting in your dog's desired direction. This fosters focus on you and synchronizes your dog's movements with yours. These structured walks assert human leadership, not canine direction.
As time progresses, transition to regular walks with your dog or try out the Figure Eight approach.
8. Figure Eight Walk
Once your dog can reliably walk in circles without pulling, you can advance to trying the Figure Eight.
Walking in figure-eight patterns encourages your dog to refine their turning abilities while maintaining a loose leash. Throughout the walk, reward your dog by your side whenever the leash remains slack.
Begin by placing two objects in a quiet area, like your garden or local streets, to serve as markers for your walk.
While navigating figure eights, you can practice turning toward and away from your dog. If they follow your lead, mark and reward them by your side.
If your dog attempts to pull ahead or lag behind, halt your movement and guide them back to your side before proceeding.
As your dog improves, incorporate obstacles from your walks, such as planters, trees, or bike racks. This not only hones their walking skills but also fosters their confidence in navigating novel situations and ignoring moving objects.
9. Pull the Leash to Teach Your Dog Not to Pull First
Dogs instinctively move with, not against, pressure. To teach them to walk in harmony with you, consider instructing them in pressure-release techniques.
When your dog pulls, halt and gently pull the leash in the opposite direction, applying tension until it's taut.
Avoid pulling your dog.
Instead, create some resistance. When your dog complies, use your clicker, provide your pup with a treat, or otherwise reward their behavior.
Repeat this process whenever pulling begins.
Pro tip: Keep the leash angle relatively low, aiming for around a 45° angle or, ideally, closer to perpendicular to your dog. The goal is to guide them in your chosen direction.
10. Use Direction Changes to Build Focus
As your dog becomes more comfortable with the training, it’s time to evolve to improve your dog’s attentiveness even more. Start to make your regular walks more unpredictable and use excitement to alter your direction.
This technique not only cultivates excellent leash focus but also lays the groundwork for a reliable recall.
During your walk, introduce variation. Abruptly shift your trajectory and move in a different direction.
As your dog notices your absence at their side, they'll search for you and eagerly approach. Capture this moment of connection and reward them when they draw near.
Initiate this practice with a standard leash and progress to a longline. Once your dog has a dependable recall, you can advance to off-leash training.
Infuse fun into your walks, keeping your dog engaged and guessing how quickly they can catch up with you.
After introducing this technique in a quiet setting, expand your training to diverse environments with heightened distractions. This ensures your dog can apply their newfound skill anywhere you go.
11. Vary the Speed of Your Walk
Varying your pace during structured walks serves as a litmus test for your dog's true attentiveness to you. When training, stay by my side during runs, accelerating to our running speed. When you decelerate, expect your dog to mirror my pace precisely.
Conversely, we occasionally embark on leisurely strolls, deliberately slow.
This approach may prove challenging to your dog – especially if they’re naturally high-energy dog – to contemplate our stride and prioritize walking together. Consider reducing your pace when encountering "frightening" elements once I'm confident he can handle them.
12. Learn to Listen to Your Dog
Far too often, we teach our dogs to grasp our language without reciprocating the effort to understand theirs—a somewhat unfair situation!
Dogs convey themselves through diverse means: body language and vocalizations. As their human, it's your duty to decipher these expressions, a key to diffusing undesirable conduct over time.
During your walks, watch for the following cues:
- Intense gaze
- Erect ears and alert head
- Whining tugging on the leash
- Rapid panting
- Exhales or huffing
Learn how your pup interprets each signal, allowing me to preempt unwanted situations or behaviors by altering his mindset the moment he communicates.
13. Take Your Pup Loose Leash Walking in New Areas
Once your dog has honed their loose leash walking abilities, it's time to venture beyond your home turf.
Carefully select the locations for your training progressions, prioritizing your dog's success over speed.
Upon arrival at the training site, allow your dog time to ease into the new environment before commencing training.
Start with a brief walk where you let your pup do some sniffing upon arrival, letting your dog lead the way with their nose. This exploration grants your dog the chance to familiarize themselves with the surroundings and relax a bit.
This practice settles excited dogs and bolsters the confidence of more reserved ones.
When you observe your dog's body language becoming more relaxed and their movements calmer, assess if they're prepared for stage two: focusing on you.
Now, employ the loose leash training mastered at home in tranquil settings.
Improving your dog's walking skills and focus while outdoors can be achieved by rewarding them for checking in voluntarily.
Whenever your dog looks at you without prompting, promptly mark and reward them with something they adore.
Regular voluntary check-ins during your walks strengthen the connection between you and your dog, facilitating seamless changes in direction or curb stops. Your dog becomes attuned to your movements, with less distraction from their surroundings.
The objective is periodic check-ins, not constant eye contact.
Following practice in various locations, you can gradually reduce the need for rewards with each check-in and instead offer verbal praise as you continue your walk together.
14. Master “Stop and Be Still”
One of the most important aspects of loose leash walking you must understand is that leash pulling often rewards the dog because their pulling results in reaching their desired destination.
However, you can shift this dynamic by altering the consequences.
Each time your dog pulls, promptly halt and stand motionless until the leash slackens. Your dog may either take a step back or turn toward you to regain your attention. Once the leash is comfortably loose, continue your walk. Repeat as required.
15. The Reverse Direction Tactic
If you're seeking a faster alternative, consider the reverse direction technique.
When your dog pulls, employ a “let’s go” command, pivot away from them, and stride in the opposite direction without leash jerking.
You can sidestep tugging by using an animated voice to engage your dog and regain his attention.
As they follow you and the leash slackens, turn back and continue your journey.
This approach might entail a few turns, but your vocal cues and body language will establish that pulling doesn't lead to forward progress. Walking calmly by your side or slightly ahead on a loose leash becomes the path to your dog's desired destination.
Additionally, you can reinforce your dog's choice to walk alongside you by rewarding him with motivation whenever he stays by your side.
16. Introduce Some Variety
Once your dog is attentive to your commands, add an extra layer of unpredictability to the mix. This keeps your dog on their toes, listening closely since they never know what your next move might be.
Rather than merely turning away from your dog with the 'let’s go' command, switch it up by turning toward them. You can make a complete circle or trace a figure-eight pattern. These variations are sure to capture your dog's focus.
Don't overlook the importance of praising your dog for compliance. The better you make them feel when they walk beside you, the more inclined they'll be to choose that behavior.
17. Consistency Is Key
It's not uncommon for people to invest substantial sums in dog trainers and then wonder why their dogs don't exhibit the same behavior at home.
And usually this discrepancy arises because owners tend to be more permissive and gentle with their dogs than the trainers were.
Though I'm not immune to making mistakes, I earnestly strive for consistency during our walks. This entails discouraging pulling, lunging, sniffing, and marking each time they occur. I insist on a seated position at my side when we halt, without fail, and that he remains beside me while walking or running.
Maintaining consistency is paramount. Without it, your dog becomes confused, unsure of your expectations. Any necessary corrections ultimately fall on your shoulders, not theirs.
18. Stick with It
Lastly – similar to consistency and patience – dedication is essential to teaching your dog how to loose leash walk.
It can be extremely tempting to break your process, though, especially after you get past the one-month mark.
You’ll want to take your pup to their favorite trail or path and let your expectations drop to just get a good old-fashioned walk in. We all know how hard it can be to say “no” to our favorite four-legged friends, too.
But you have to stay strong.
Once you’ve decided to start training your dog, stick to it. Commit and don’t deviate from your plan until your pup reliably behaves the way you want.
Will it be tough?
But it’ll definitely be worth it in the long (loose leash) run.