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Train Your Dog for Perfect Loose Leash Walking

Getting your pooch to trot calmly down the street is well within your grasp. Just follow our tips and techniques for the well-mannered dog.

 |  Jun 26th 2012  |   1 Contribution


Last week I shared five tips to help improve your dog's leash manners. As promised, I'm back to share more tips to help in your quest for the Holy Grail of doggy manners: a walk that brings you home with your shoulders intact!

It's really important to be fully present with your dog when heading out for a training walk. Here are a few establishing operations you and your dog should do before leaving for a walk.

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Pit Bull Tug of War by Shutterstock.com.

Prepare Yourself

  • Ditch the electronics. You should not be texting, chatting on your phone, or rocking out to your favorite iTunes playlist. If you want your dog to have any chance of giving you his full attention, you must be prepared to do the same. It's fine to carry a phone for emergencies, but let incoming calls and texts go to voicemail until you get home.
  • Practice when you're in a good mood, unless you're a great faker. If you have had a frustrating, stressful, overwhelming day, or feel as though you have little patience on a given day, explore other exercise options until you are in a "happy place" to practice loose leash walking again.
  • Leave the kids at home. While older children may be fine to accompany you on a walk, younger children may need your full attention to keep them safe or may easily be knocked over by a dog-in-training.
  • Leave the other dogs at home. If you have several dogs, each will need to be taught appropriate leash manners before you begin training them together. Hey, I never said that several dogs were easier than one!
  • Have treats ready to go. I like to cut a variety of treats into single serving pouches while watching a movie, then throw all the baggies in the freezer so I can easily grab one and run when needed.

Prepare Your Dog

  • Remember last week's advice: Tire your dog out first! If you have a very high-energy dog, you may want to use other types of play or exercise to drain some excess energy before embarking on your walk.
  • Teach your dog to like the equipment you are using. Whether you are using a head halter or front-clip harness, spend a bit of time in advance of your training to acclimate him to the new equipment.
  • The walk starts when you put on your sneakers. Pulling on a leash is primarily an impulse control issue, and it is always easier to acquire focus in the house and maintain it than it is to get it back once you've lost it. If your dog starts jumping on you, simply stop moving, wait for your dog to sit or lie down, and resume putting your shoes on, picking up the keys, etc. Train your dog to sit and wait for release while you clip on the leash and open the door. Also train him to give you "default focus" when you walk out, so he doesn't launch into automatically scanning the environment.

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Dog smells something by Shutterstock.com.

Loose Leash Techniques

Because these can take a long time to explain and relatively little time to show, I'm sharing some video of my favorite loose-leash walking training techniques. I shared an intro to loose-leash walking last week, and here is part two, which features some tips for reinforcing small dogs; how to hold your leash, clicker, and treats; and introduces Karen Pryor's "Connect the Dots" exercise. 

This is only one of the techniques I use. I know at least a dozen ways to build new leash walking skills, my choice of which to use in a given situation depends on the dog.

Silky Leash Method

Seattle trainer Grisha Stewart is one of my favorite trainers, and her video, Silky Leash, is where I almost always start with dogs who are strong pullers and have been getting away with such naughties for a long time.

Because dogs and humans both have an opposition reflex, they both unconsciously move in ways to resist pressure. It's the dog-training "Pushmi-Pullyu" effect, and results in a veritable tug-of-war. Silky Leash teaches dogs to yield to pressure and move into pressure on their leashes.

Learn more about Silky Leash in Grisha's blog. This technique works really well for dogs who are the opposite of pullers -- the ones who plant their butts on the ground while outside and refuse to walk.

Polite Walking Method

This may be my favorite method for teaching loose leash walking. It's especially great for dogs that launch into "auto-scan" mode because it lets the dog focus on the handler.

I have had great success with this technique, and combine it with Silky Leash for later parts of training: The dog approaches the end of the leash, the handler slowly backs away until the dog is moving into the handler's body, then the handler steps into heel and resumes walking. It's brilliant! This video came from Helix Fairweather, Karen Pryor Academy faculty member, who is one of the best trainers I know when it comes to breaking behaviors into small, achievable pieces.

Emily Larlham's Methods

Part of the job description for Dog Behavior Nerd Social Networking Addict requires that you are familiar with Emily Larlham's great training work on YouTube, which offers dozens of great positive reinforcement videos to dog nerds around the world. But perhaps you aren't like me (yet) --so you're in for a treat! We're happy to introduce you to Emily with this great video.

If your dog is distracted by new scents on a walk, this video will show you how to use sniffing as a reward, while also preventing the dog from reinforcing himself for pulling you over to check out a new smell.

I hope these videos will help get you and your dog on the right track. If you have any favorite LLW videos of your own you'd like to share, please do so in the comments. Until then, happy training! 

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