A quiet park walk in central Copenhagen

Walking Nicely On-Leash

Walking a dog on a loose leash is one of the harder skills for people to learn. Yes, people! People pull on the leash as much as dogs do. The leash is a brake and not a steering wheel.

You're out for a walk with your dog when suddenly, the leash breaks.
Do you still have your dog? 

The key to teaching your dog to walk nicely with you is to make the leash irrelevant. Your dog wouldn't pull on a leash if there was no leash to pull on. 

 

Leashes are a safety tool for "just in case" and to comply with leash laws. We definitely need them. But, our job is to make them as unnoticeable as possible. Teach your dog to stay connected with you so that if the leash evaporates, you still have your dog.

LEASH HANDLING SKILLS

The way you handle your dog's leash can have a huge impact on your dog's behavior. Tension on the leash can cause tension in the dog which can lead to a bunch of issues like growling and lunging at other dogs, pulling harder on a walk, or completely shutting down.

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Keep your leash arm close to your body. 

It keeps your center of gravity balanced. Holding your arm out in front of you puts you off-balance, making it easier for your dog to pull you down. Also, if your arm is out in front of you it means the leash is tight.

Don't use the leash to "steer" your dog. 

Don't use the leash to pull your dog over to something or turn them a certain way. If you pull on the leash, their reflex is to pull back so it teaches them to pull on the leash.

Fold, don't wrap.

Wrapping the leash around your hand makes it too rigid. It's a good way to get pulled off your feet or have fingers broken. Instead, fold the extra leash accordion style in the palm of your hand. The "Leash Lock" method is a secure way to hold the leash while maintaining control.

Leash Lock
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Shorten the leash. Don't tighten it. 

Instead of tightening up on the leash to keep your dog from getting into another dog's space, hold the leash closer to your dog's collar. Basically, make the leash too short for them to go anywhere.

Keep your leash arm relaxed.

Hold your arm as you would if there were no leash. If you've made the leash short by holding it closer to your dog's collar, the leash will stop them from getting into trouble. You don't need to "hold them" by the leash.

Make the leash smile.

If there is no tension on the leash, it will hang down in the shape of a smile or a "J". If you need to pull your dog to keep them out of trouble, release the tension quickly. Check that you aren't holding constant tension on the leash.

Step-By-Step

LEVEL 1

Your dog learns that it pays off to move together with you

  1. Start inside your home with your dog on a leash.

  2. Hold the leash with the "leash lock" and arms in a natural position. The goal is to not "use" the leash at all. It's only there for safety and compliance with leash laws.

  3. Stand facing your dog, toe-to-toe.

  4. Take a couple of steps backwards so that your dog walks toward you, then turn to face the same direction as your dog and take another step.

  5. Feed your dog a treat for standing next to you. Give them the treat next to your leg and not out in front of you. Feed them in the position you want them to be in, which is beside you.

  6. Continue taking 1-3 steps and feeding your dog in position beside you until you run out of space.

  7. Repeat steps 3-6.

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking next to you consistently and not crossing in front of you, behind you, or between your legs. They understand the treat is for being beside you and not in front of you or behind you.

LEVEL 2

Generalize to different locations with no or few distractions

  1. Repeat Level 1 in different rooms inside your home.

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking next to you consistently and not crossing in front of you, behind you, or between your legs. They understand the treat is for being beside you and not in front of you or behind you.

LEVEL 3

Slowly add distractions

  1. Repeat Level 1 in the back yard or other least exciting place outside of your home.

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking next to you consistently and not crossing in front of you, behind you, or between your legs. They understand the treat is for being beside you and not in front of you or behind you.

LEVEL 4

Pay attention because you might change direction at any time

  1. Set up 3 cones or objects approximately 5' apart outside.

  2. Hold the leash with the "leash lock" and arms in a natural position. The goal is to not "use" the leash at all. It's only there for safety and compliance with leash laws.

  3. Ask your dog to "Sit" next to you at the first cone.

  4. Cue your dog to "Let's Go" and start walking. 

  5. Walk in a circle around all 3 cones until you are back where you started.

  6. Stop and ask your dog to "Sit" next to you. Give a treat.

  7. Cue your dog to "Let's Go" and start walking.

  8. Walk in a circle around only the first 2 cones until you are back where you started.

  9. Stop and ask your dog to "Sit" next to you. Give a treat.

  10. Cue your dog to "Let's Go" and start walking.

  11. Walk in a circle around only the fist cone until you are back where you started. 

  12. Stop and ask your dog to "Sit" next to you. Give a treat.

  13. Repeat the steps in the opposite direction.

  14. Move the cones to a different location and repeat. 

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking naturally beside you with no tension in the leash. They sit next to you when you stop and wait for the cue to begin again.

LEVEL 5

Walking forward doesn't mean full speed ahead / Sit when we stop walking

  1. Set up 2 cones or objects roughly 10-15' apart outside.

  2. Hold the leash with the "leash lock" and arms in a natural position. The goal is to not "use" the leash at all. It's only there for safety and compliance with leash laws.

  3. Ask your dog to "Sit" next to you at the first cone.

  4. Cue your dog to "Let's Go" and start walking. 

  5. Walk in a straight line to the 2nd cone. Stop and ask your dog to "Sit" next to you. Give a treat.

  6. Repeat the steps to return to the 1st cone. 

  7. Repeat several times. Hint: practice long enough, and your dog is getting the walk they haven't been getting while being trained to walk on a loose leash!

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking naturally beside you with no tension in the leash. They sit next to you when you stop and wait for the cue to begin again.

LEVEL 6

Pay attention, you never know which way I'll go

  1. Set up an oval track with cones or objects 10-15' apart outside.

  2. Hold the leash with the "leash lock" and arms in a natural position. The goal is to not "use" the leash at all. It's only there for safety and compliance with leash laws.

  3. Ask your dog to "Sit" next to you at the first cone.

  4. Cue your dog to "Let's Go" and start walking. 

  5. Walk around the oval once or twice and then cue your dog to "Turn". Make an about turn to the right and continue walking. 

  6. Stop and ask your dog to "Sit" and reward with a treat every couple of time around the track.

  7. If your dog begins tightening the leash, do not take a step forward on a tight leash. Cue the "Turn" right before the leash tightens and reward your dog immediately with a treat after the about turn.​

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking naturally beside you with no tension in the leash. They sit next to you when you stop and wait for the cue to begin again.

LEVEL 7

Change walking speed to match yours

  1. Practice changes of pace ("slow", "fast", and "normal" and left about turns on the oval track.

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking naturally beside you with no tension in the leash. They sit next to you when you stop and wait for the cue to begin again.

LEVEL 8

Start working in real-world situations

  1. Start practicing loose leash walking on a real walk. Choose an area with minimal distractions. If your neighborhood has too much distraction (a lot of dogs, cats, kids playing, etc.), drive to a quieter park or walking trail. 

  2. Begin the walk as always, with the leash in "lock lock" hold and your dog in a Sit beside you. 

  3. Reward your dog several times with a treat for automatic check-ins. 

  4. Cue "Let's Go" and begin walking. Reward your dog for being beside you while you keep walking, frequently at first. Pick out landmarks such as trees, mailboxes, shadows on the road, etc. 

  5. As your dog gets better, spread out the treats gradually with each walk. 

  6. If the leash is about to tighten, cue "Turn" and  do an about turn. Reward your dog when they are next to you. About Turn again to go back in the direction you started in. 

Success Criteria

Your dog is walking naturally beside you with no tension in the leash. They sit next to you when you stop and wait for the cue to begin again.

LEVEL 9

Fade the treats

  1. Even when your dog gets to the point of not needing treats to keep a loose leash, "Always Bring Treats" when you take them for a walk.

  2. Give a treat to your dog when they do something really great. For example, they keep a loose leash even when a squirrel runs by or you pass another dog.

  3. Treats can be helpful if a loose dog runs toward you and your dog. Grab a handful and toss them in the dog's face so you and your dog can get out of dodge while the loose dog is busy with the treats.

  4. Give permission to sniff. Sniffing and "reading the pee mail" is wonderful enrichment for dogs. In places where it is safe, give your dog permission to "go sniff" and let them take the lead.. When you are ready for them to walk with you again, give the cue "Let's Go".

Success Criteria

Congratulations! Walking with your dog is an activity you enjoy together and not something unpleasant you dread.

DON'T ALLOW PULLING

By the time they get into obedience class, most dogs already have a habit of pulling. Habits get stronger the more we do them. They will never stop pulling on leash if they are practicing pulling on the leash every day

  1. Stop walks for now if they are not necessary.
    The extra training you are doing will make up for not getting the walks for a while. Play extra rounds of fetch or tug.
     

  2. If you must walk your dog because you don't have a fenced yard or need to take them to the vet, use good leash handling skills.
    If the leash gets tight, turn and walk in the opposite direction until your dog is next to you. Praise and treat for being next to you. Then turn back the way you were going.
     

  3. Make a commitment to not take a single step forward if the leash is tight.
    Every step your dog is allowed to take on a tight leash rewards them for pulling on leash and makes it harder to break the habit. It's "one more cigarette" for a person who is trying to quit.
     

  4. Practice the mechanics of loose leash walking inside your home first before going outside.
    We learn how to operate a car in a parking lot first before driving it in traffic. Teach your dog how to walk on a leash before asking them to use the skill in "traffic".