Training

Loose Leash Walking: How To Train Your Dog to Walk Politely

December 2, 2021

Do walks with your pup feel more like a game of tug-of-war than a relaxing stroll? Many pet parents spend their walks dragging their dogs away from hydrants—or being dragged away themselves! If this sounds like you, don't fret! With some training, your dog will be walking politely on a leash in no time. Here's some training advice to help you and your pup master loose leash walking:

The Importance of Polite Walking Behavior

Regular walks are an important part of your dog's routine, providing exercise, potty breaks, and mental stimulation. Plus, the world is full of exciting smells to explore and follow! But, getting dragged down the street by your dog is unpleasant—and can even be dangerous. Your dog can pull you over, sprain your shoulder, or even pull the leash from your hand and escape. Let’s face it, it’s embarrassing to be seen with your out-of-control dog! If walks are a chore, chances are you’ll avoid them. That leads to a dog with excess energy, making them more likely to act up in the house or yard. Plus, if your pup rarely gets out in the world, they will be even harder to handle when you do leave the house because everything will either be distracting or overwhelming.

Teaching your dog to walk nicely will solve these problems. However, you don’t have to teach your dog to heel to enjoy a daily stroll. Heeling, where your dog stays glued to your left side, is wonderful for maneuvering through crowds or competing in obedience. But, it doesn’t give your dog the chance to explore and use their powerful nose. A more practical skill is loose leash walking, where the leash hangs between you and your dog in the shape of a J. In other words, it doesn’t matter where your dog is walking, as long as there’s no tension in the leash.

Start With Minimal Distractions

To teach your dog to walk with a loose leash, you need to show them that walking near you is worth their while. That requires two elements: rewarding them for being close and not rewarding them when the leash is taut. Before you ever clip on the leash, reward your dog whenever they choose to be near you. Start in the house where there are fewer distractions and offer them plenty of praise and treats to show them how wonderful it is to stay by your side.

Once your dog starts hanging around, you’re ready to play the “follow me” game. Clip on the leash and walk your dog around the living room, offering frequent, high-value rewards at your side. As your dog picks up on the game, change your speed and direction at random. When your dog catches up, offer a treat as you keep walking. Soon your dog will stick to you like glue.

Take Your Training Outside

Once your pup is walking well in the house, it’s time to add distractions. Start with as few as you can. For instance, you might opt for the backyard over the dog park. There will be many sights and smells competing for your dog’s attention, so keep your walks short and don’t be stingy with the treats. There will be time to scale back later. For now, be as generous as you can, and if you need to, encourage your dog to walk close to you whether that’s with toys, leg pats, or kissy noises.

Now it’s time to consider the second element–not rewarding a taut leash. Dogs pull to get to something good, and if you let them get there, you’ve rewarded the pulling behavior. That means you can never let your dog walk when the leash is tight. Even if you’re late for an appointment, you must wait for a loose leash before allowing your dog to move ahead.

Hopefully, after all your work playing the follow me game, pulling will be infrequent. If it happens, here’s what to do:

As soon as your dog gets to the end of the leash, stop moving. Stand still and wait for them to return. As soon as they look back at you or come to your side, praise them and offer a reward as you start to walk again. In fact, walking again is part of the reward! You can also change directions frequently to keep your dog focused on you rather than the environment. A great final reward is offering sniff breaks. Every 10 steps or so, stop and let your dog sniff around a bit to show them that they’ll still have the opportunity to explore when following your lead.

The better your dog gets at walking politely, the less you will need to offer treats. Instead, you can let walking be its own reward. But, don’t stop giving treats altogether. If your dog gets treats at random, you will become their very own slot machine and they’ll be hooked on keeping a loose leash.

Walking Cues to Teach Your Pup

It can be helpful to teach your dog a cue that means, “we’re about to start walking.” Something as simple as “let’s go” or “time to walk” will let your dog know what’s expected. Simply say the cue right before you take your first step. After enough repetitions, your dog will know you’re ready to get moving. You can use it when you’re changing directions, at the end of a sniff break, or when you’re finished chatting with a neighbor.

Two other useful cues for walks are “watch me” and “leave it.” “Watch me” tells your dog to look at you, and you can easily teach it with a food lure held between your eyes. You can use the cue to get your dog’s attention away from distractions so they’re more likely to hear your “let’s go” cue. “Leave it” tells your dog to leave something alone. This is an important cue to train for safety. After all, you don’t want your pup to eat rotting garbage in the park! But it can also tell them to not pay attention to something right now. For example, if your dog is focused on a dog down the street but you want to go in the other direction, a “leave it” followed by “let’s go” can tell your dog it’s time to move on.

Now that you know how to teach your dog to walk politely, we hope you feel ready to get out and enjoy daily strolls with your pup. Stay patient and consistent, and in no time, you’ll have the rest of the neighborhood asking for your secret!

Stephanie Gibeault

MSc, CPDT

Stephanie Gibeault is a freelance writer and certified professional dog trainer with a Master of Science in animal behavior. She is passionate about combining her love of animals with her writing skills to educate and entertain. When she’s not at her keyboard, you can find her tap dancing, taking photographs, or tweeting (@GibeaultWrites).

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