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Six Top Tips for Loose Lead Walking Success

Before we start I want to take time to acknowledge how difficult loose lead walking is. It’s a really tough nut to crack-if it wasn’t then dog trainers the world over would be out of a job.

However, there are a variety of things that you can do to aid in the process and help your dog get a better understanding of why it’s much more fun to stay by your side rather than continually race on ahead.

First let’s look at why dogs pull;

Its INCREDIBLY rewarding. Pulling allows them to get to the exciting thing much quicker than if they wait for us slow humans.

The outside world is massively exciting. Pet dogs often spend the majority of their waking hours inside the four walls of their home. Often their once or twice daily walk is the only time out of the house in a 24-hour period. Covid aside, imagine if that was the same for you? In addition to this, a dog lives their life through its nose. They are incredibly powerful they have up to 300 million scent receptors whilst we have between 5-6 million. So its easy to see how scent can be distracting. Each time they go out they are collecting information from the environment around them. Their favourite lamppost gets inundated with personal pee mail daily-just think how much information there is for them to pick up from their last walk.

Dogs have four legs we have two. Put simply we are just much slower than they are. It’s not feasible nor sensible for us to run everywhere with them and so we must teach them to slow down.

Dogs don’t come pre-programmed knowing how to walk nicely on a lead. They are a completely different species to us and have a completely different agenda to us. Walks to them mean getting outside and being dogs, doing dog things and we are inherently boring-we don’t sniff bums, we don’t see the excitement in foraging for sticks-all we want is for them to walk nicely by our side. That all feels a bit dull.

Whenever we look at implementing a change in behaviour we need to ensure we first build really strong foundations. Once we have the foundations we start to layer things up. Always ensuring that the dog has a good understanding before moving on to the next layer.

Step one;

The first step to loose lead walking success is eye contact. Eye contact, I hear you say. What does my dog looking at me have to do with loose lead walking? Well, actually quite a lot. When a dog pulls forward they are focusing on the thing they want to get to putting all their weight in to it and going forward. Now imagine you are out for a run, you continually look forward so that you don’t trip, and you are focused on getting to your destination. If you start looking up at the sky or a building intermittently every few paces it becomes really hard for you to maintain that forward going motion, eventually you will probably trip. Now apply these thoughts to your loose lead walking. If we can encourage our dogs to keep looking up and checking in every few paces, then the same will happen. It’s important to begin with to do this in low distracting environments; around the home, in the garden. Once you have got consistency here you could take it outside to a more distracting environment.

Step two;

Now we have success stationary we can start implementing some movement. There are lots of brilliant training games out there but one of our favourites is drunk dog walking. It’s a really simple (and fun) way to get your dog to keep focusing on you

This is how to play:

1. Have treats in one hand and a lead in the other, hold both hands at your tummy button.
2. Step backwards away from your dog.
3. As they follow, reward, and then change direction.
4. Take a couple more steps and reward as they follow.
5. Repeat. Take no more than 2-3 steps in any direction before you reward and repeat.

Step three - Getting your dog into position

Probably one of the most difficult aspects of loose lead walking is getting your dog in the right position and keeping them there. I just want to mention the word “heel” before we go any further as it is often misused. Very often the word “heel” is used once the dog has gotten to the end of the lead and is pulling. We need to be using the word when the dog is in the correct position BEFORE they have the opportunity to pull. Common other words other than ‘Heel” include close and with me. So how do we get our dogs to stay in that position? Dogs learn by consequence, if a behaviour gets rewarded it’s going to get repeated. So, the more we reward when the dog is there the more likely you will see it again. If your dog is racing on ahead. Stop, pop a treat on their nose, draw them round in an arc and back in to position, reward and head off again. There is bound to be a lot of stop start with this in the beginning but keep going.

Step four - Practising without the lead

Why would you practise loose lead walking without a lead when that’s the exact thing you are trying to train? Simply because if we can get your dog to understand that being close to you is what gets paid, the lead then becomes a tool for control and management in an emergency situation. In addition to this when we are struggling with loose lead walking challenges holding the lead, treats, getting the marker and reward timing right can become overwhelming. If we lose the lead (if practical and safe to do so) it becomes much easier to get the timing of the rewards right. Lastly it is practising without the lead builds our confidence that our dog is staying by our side. Often when we are scared of the dog pulling we become tense, we hold the lead short and all of this travels down the lead. You can practise this around the home and garden, you can up the ante by putting chairs out to walk round, when you take it outside you could attach a long line and allow that to trail around one the floor, this gives you the opportunity to grab hold of the line if your dog does decide to tank off.

Step 5 - Putting it all together

So, you have the eye contact cracked, your dog is following you around and their position is now something an obedience champ would be proud of. So, lets take it out on the road. There are three things we need to be aware of when taking training into the outside world. Distance distraction and duration

Distance - How close to a trigger do you need to be before your dog loses focus? How far away do you need them to be for them to concentrate and focus? If dogs are their “thing” taking them to the local dog park to practise when you are just starting out probably isn’t going to be the best idea. But it’s a great goal to work towards.

Distraction? What distractions are in the environment that could potentially affect how your dog is training? Dogs, people, squirrels, livestock. If your ideal dog walk is to walk them calmly along a beach maybe don’t take them on a Sunday morning when the world and his dog are there. It will be too difficult for your dog to concentrate on you. Build up to that. Rome wasn’t built in a day. At a later date working around these distraction’s will be really helpful to proof the behaviour that you are trying to train…but baby steps to begin with will pay dividends in the end.

Duration - Although tempting to train until the cows come home, for hours on end. That isn’t feasible for you or for your dog. It can lead to frustration and boredom. Small, bitesize training sessions are much more beneficial for you both. Waiting for the kettle to boil, in an advert break, whilst waiting for the spin cycle on the washing machine are all good options. The other thing to think about when considering duration is how long you have between your reward delivery. If you have started pushing your dog to do more steps in between rewards. He will quickly tell you if the duration is too long because he will start pulling again. At this stage take it back a step. There is nothing wrong with increasing and decreasing the criteria in line with how your dog is learning.

Step 6 -What about when it goes wrong?

The more you allow your dog to pull the more they are going to do it. There are no quick, ethical fixes. Loose lead walking takes a long time. With patience and consistency, you can crack it. So as soon as your dog pulls, stop, wait for them, don’t be tempted to pop or yank on their collar, just wait. Once they look back, reward.

Although there is a lot of information online against the use of harnesses, mostly that they increase the likelihood of pulling (which is false and has been debunked) more importantly they protect the neck which house a variety of very important organs which if damaged are irreparable. Paired with a harness should be a double ended lead. So basically, one end should attach to the D ring on the front of the harness and the other end should attach to the D ring on the back of the harness. It then works like a set of reins. If your dog pulls forward you have two points of contact. This makes it much easier to turn your dog away from the trigger without hanging on to their neck.

If you are struggling reaching out for help and guidance from a qualified trainer is the best way to get yourself on to the path of success. Whilst it can be tempting to search through Google and TikTok both these platforms are unregulated and could turn a easily rectified problem in to one that costs you a lot of money.

Loose lead walking is something I am really passionate about and over the years my team and I have helped thousands of dogs and their guardians reach their loose lead walking dreams. This blog really only scratches the surface of what a huge subject it really is and the number of training games you can take part in to help. If you have found this blog interesting, you might find our downloadable pdf link helpful where we talk about a variety of training games. You can even opt to watch videos via our loose lead legends masterclass. Or join our free facebook group

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