Teaching Your Dog to Walk on a Loose Leash

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Goal: Teach your dog how to change their stride to stay close to you on a loose leash without pulling. It will take time, patience, and consistency.

What you need

  • Choose the walking equipment that works best for you and your dog.
  • Use a 6 foot leash. Don't use a retractable leash.
  • Have your dog's favorite treats with you.
  • Start your training in an environment with few distractions (e.g. indoors, on a quiet sidewalk or a driveway). Training sessions should be about 5-10 minutes long.

Before you begin

  • During the time you're working with your dog on leash etiquette, engage them in more play sessions during the day (especially before practicing) to burn excess energy.
  • Give your dog the chance to pee and poop before you start your walk.
  • Teach your dog to focus on you. More information about getting your dog's attention
  • Teach "let's go." With your dog on your left side, bring a treat toward their nose with your left hand. When they follow the treat, pivot to your right slowly, saying "let's go." If your dog follows, mark the behavior with a "yes" and give them the treat.

How to train your dog to walk on a loose leash

  • Hold the leash with both hands. If you walk your dog on your left side, place the handle of the leash around your right wrist, with the rest of the leash toward the floor. Pull the remaining part of the handle and leash up in between your thumb and side of your hand (in the crevice of your thumb). Make a 4-6 inch loop with the leash going upward and back down in the crevice of your thumb. Close your fist around the leash in the palm of your hand. Your right hand is your "anchor." Hold your right hand at your belly button.
  • In your left hand hold the remaining part of the leash at the distance from your dog that allows a slight J or U shape in the leash nearest your dog. Use left hand to control the length of the leash and to dispense treats.
  • Start practicing in a quiet place without distractions. Inside your home is ideal. Start with your dog on leash on one side of your body. Teach them to stay in step with you by reinforcing them when they're parallel with you, facing in the same direction, with their nose pointing straight ahead.
  • Stand with your dog at your side and a treat in your hand. You can use a word like "walk," "this way," or "with me," and move one step forward. When your dog catches up with you, praise and reward them in position at your side, and repeat.
  • "Give and go." Teach your dog that the only way you move forward is on a loose leash. The instant that they start forging ahead, crossing in front of you or moving toward a distraction, release the leash from the hand closest to them, turn abruptly and go in the opposite direction. Ask your dog to follow you with a "let's go" or "with me." Make sure to use the same phrase every time.
  • When your dog is back on your left side facing the same direction as you are, take the leash back with your left hand while simultaneously praising and rewarding them for keeping up with you. Once you're walking forward, be prepared for another "give and go" as soon as your dog starts to move ahead of you.

How to improve performance

  • Praise your dog and reward them whenever they're walking on a loose leash by your side. Loose leash means that there is slack in the lead and the leash is forming a letter "U" or "J".
  • Once your dog is walking well at your pace of walking, try to change things up by walking slower or faster and repeatedly rewarding for walking by your side.
  • In time, your dog will start gravitating towards where the treats are dispensed. Movement and a high rate of rewards for good behavior make loose leash walking more exciting for your dog.

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