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How to Teach Loose-Leash Walking

Originally published: 6/1/2006

Oh, my aching arm

Get your dog to walk without pulling! But how? We are masters at allowing our dogs to drag us down the street. The most asked question at obedience classes and private consultations is "how can I get my dog not to pull on his leash?"

Loose-leash walking

As far as dogs and leashes are concerned, we want to arrange things so that loose leashes "pay off" and tight leashes don't.

Historically trainers encouraged folks to act like a tree the moment their dog began to pull on the leash. This method does work nicely with puppies, but it just doesn't work for the adolescent or older dog who has learned to pull you around.

The following method requires first, that all or most reinforcement will come from behind you and second, that you will toss the food to the ground—not far—so the dog has to look for it.

Let's play

Loose-leash walking is going to begin as a game. Here are a few simple steps you will train BEFORE you do any walking with your dog:

  1. Put your dog's leash on and just stand still. When your dog releases the tension on the leash, click and show him the treat in your hand. Let him see you place the treat on the ground by the outside of your left foot. Once he's eaten the treat, move to the end of the range of the leash so it is taut and stand quietly. When he moves to release the tension, click. Show him the treat and place it by your left foot. You don't care about eye contact. What you are teaching is that releasing the leash tension gets clicked and treated. Do this a number of times.
  2. Continue to stand now that your dog is not pulling. Now you will click for eye contact. After the click, treat by your left foot. Remember after he has finished eating the treat to move to the end of the leash.
    Click here for video
    Click here for video on
    loose-leash walking
    Click and treat three times for looking at you while on a loose leash.
  3. Again, just standing with your dog on a loose leash, looking at you, toss your treats right past your dog's nose to about three feet away. When dog eats the treats and comes back to you looking for more, click and treat by placing the food by the outside of your left foot. Move and repeat.
  4. Again toss the treat right past your dog's nose. When your dog finishes eating it and turns around to come back to you, you turn your back and start walking. (Just take a few steps in the beginning.) When you dog catches up to you, but before he gets past your pant leg, click and treat. Repeat.

Note: Make sure when you toss the food it goes right past the dog's nose. This is the warm-up. Now that you have the dog following you for a few steps it is time to start walking and reinforcing behind or next to you.

Training on the move

Your dog is on leash. You turn away from him and start walking. Your dog follows. As the dog catches up to you and is coming up next to you—maybe even makes eye contact—mark (click) and drop the treat next to your left foot. Don't keep moving and be sure the first few times that you let the dog know that you have food in your hand. Once he's finished his treat, start again. Show him the treat and then turn and take a few steps away from him, walk till he catches up, drop the treat next to you or a little behind.

Note: Dropping food next to your side or a little behind helps the dog to stay close to you. It prevents the dog from anticipating and forging ahead. So drop the food behind you or you can even let the dog take it out of your hand behind your back. Don't drop the food so far away that the dog has to drag you to get it.

Start again. Begin to walk in such a way that the dog is at an angle beside you or is behind you. As the dog catches up, drop the food behind you (or next to your pant leg). Once the dog has eaten the food and is coming back toward you, start walking away from him again. Try for more steps before dropping. Timing is everything! Don't let the dog get in front of you. If he does, pivot away, wait till he catches up BUT is next to you or slightly behind you (or his nose is at your pant seam), and drop the food.

Now it's your job to increase the number of steps before dropping the food behind you. Never drop food if your dog has gotten in front of you. Work towards walking more steps before rewarding. You can vary this and reinforce while he is next to you if you wish, or toss the treat way behind you so the dog has to hunt for it and then reinforce him for catching back up to you.

Keep it up

As your dog gets better and you can now walk quite a distance without forging and pulling, don't fail to reward intermittently. For your dog to walk without pulling he has to believe (because you rewarded him) that there is a better chance of good things near you than in the wide world. Use the long line if you have to control your dog and are not taking a walk. Remember, if you never let the leash get tight, your dog won't learn that he can pull you. What he doesn't know won't hurt him or you!

There are important benefits to walking your dog—dog walkers live longer!

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Slow Dog

I have a basset hound who is turning 3 this year.  My husband and I have had her since she was 8 weeks old and have not had many problems with her on the leash.  The one problem we have is her walking with us.  She doesn't pull ahead; it's more like I am pulling her.  Being a scent hound her nose is always to the ground when we walk.  I will all of a sudden be jerked back because she has stopped to smell something or eat something.  I have just started clicker training and she is doing really well with what I want her to do.  How can I use this to walk her?  Would it be the same as if she were pulling ahead of me?

Rachel

 

Laurie Luck's picture

Slow Dog

Hi Rachel,

Scent hounds do sometimes offer the opposite of pulling ahead on the leash because they are doing what they've been bred to do -- smell! While this is a natural, normal behavior, it does make walk-time a bit cumbersome. I'd teach a "let's go" cue that means we're going to move ahead now. We do want the dog to be able to nsniff -- that's a big part of a dog's day, especially a scent hound. Denying the dog the joy of sniffing would make the walks a lot less fun for your dog. But teaching a "let's go" lets you both have what you want: a walk with sniffing time, and a walk with walking time!

I'd start by clicking and treating the dog whenever she's moving forward and relatively close to you. Encourage her with happy, peppy talk! You'll be clicking and treating a lot, so you'll want to cut back on meals to ensure the dog is still getting the same number of calories each day. In addition to clicking when she's moving, yocan teach a "let's go" behavior (and cue). From a stopped position, get your dog's attention (she's looking up at you), and take a step or two forward in a happy, energetic fashion. Click the instant she moves forward! Continue this until you're ready to bet me that when you call get her attention and take those two steps forwad that she'll take a step, as well. At that point, you can start to call this "let's go," (or whatever you'd like to call it.) Simply say "let's go," then take your steps forward. Click and treat her movement with you. As she gets better at this, you'll add another step or two in before you click and treat. Before long, she'll be moving along nicely with you. And when she does stop for a sniff, go ahead and let her get a good noseful, then use your "let's go" cue to tell her that the two of you are about to move forward. 

Thanks,
Laurie

--
Laurie Luck
For Clickertraining.com
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
See my profile and contact information at
http://karenpryoracademy.com/Luck_Laurie

Helpful Tip!

Hi everyone,

I found that using my dog's kibble is amazing for this exercise...but if your dog is anything like mine (and couldn't care less about his kibble), this is tough. So what I do, is grill a hot dog and put it into a baggie with my dog's kibble (one or two meal portion) and leave it overnight. In the morning, I remove the hot dog and voila! the kibble smells and tastes like grilled hot dog! We have high value, low-calorie treats!

Works like a charm.

This is an excellent article on loose-leash walking. I love it!

dog pulls and lunges on back legs

hello i have a cross between a red setter and an alsation hes is of medium build, when we walk him he walks on his back legs and wont stay by us and is always pulling, we train him in the garden on a leash and he is perfect but as soon as we get out the front door he turns into a different dog altogether, he is not aggressive but highly excitable and i have seen people cross the road if they see us coming, he has even pulled us into the road in front of a moving car, we need help he is missing out on his walks because we just cant control him, can you suggest anything.

Laurie Luck's picture

dog pulls and lunges on back legs

It sounds like your dog hasn't generalized his walking skills from the backyard to other places. That's ok, it can be done with a little bit of practice, some great treats, and your clicker

First, I'd suggest you get an Easy Walk Harness or a Gentle Leader so you can reduce your dog's pulling -- and so you can stay safe! These are management tools - they won't teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash, but they'll stop him from pulling so much until you can teach him the loose leash walking behavior you want. 

Have you put a cue to the behavior in the back yard? What I mean is: what do you call that loose leash walking behavior? We need a word so you can then tell your dog what will earn him his reinforcer (a pea-sized piece of chicken, steak, salmon, sardine, etc.). You want that reinforcer to be something spectacular - don't be stingy here. The higher the value of the reinforcer, the more likely your dog will pay attention and try to find out what behavior is earning him this delicious goodie!

Another idea to implement as well: (Don't feed your dog his dinner before you do this.) Take him outside through the front door and simply sit on the porch. Don't talk to him, yell at him or jiggle the leash. Just wait. He'll probably jump, whine, maybe even bark. Just ignore these. Have your clicker ready and CLICK the moment his head turns in your direction. I don't care why his head turned, I just care that it turns. Immediately give him a piece of that delicious treat. Wait again. Click every time his head swivels in your direction (and of course, immediately treat). After 10 or 15 minutes, I'll bet your dog will be looking at you more often and barking, jumping, lunging less. Great! Offer your dog another treat and then take him indoors for a bit. 

If you repeat this process, your dog will soon be looking at you as soon as you go out the front door. Once you've reached that level of success, you can stand up and repeat the process. Once he can stand calmly and look at you while you're on your feet, give him the cue for loose leash walking and click when you take your first step (before he gets the chance to race to the end of the leash). Immediately offer him the piece of goodie right beside you. Gradually, you'll be able to add more steps and eventually you'll be doing your regular walks with an attentive and loose leash walker. 

Hope this helps!

Laurie

Laurie Luck
For Clickertraining.com
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
See my profile and contact information at
http://karenpryoracademy.com/Luck_Laurie

Overweight puller

Here's my problem: I've been doing this exercise now for months, and it's going great. Except for one "small" problem. The more I use the clicker, the more food she gets and the fatter she becomes. And as our leash-training is still a work in progress, I can't expect her to walk nicely on a leash for two hours, which is what she needs if she is to get enough exercise. What do you recommend? Working two hours into my daily plan, but breaking it up into smaller pieces (not very practical), or trying to take her to the dog park (A half an hour's drive away) every day so that she can run around and get some exercise?

We go hiking every weekend, but that just doesn't seem to be enough. I know I'm feeding the right amount, I just have to give her some more exercise.

Any suggestions?

Anna, Reykjavik, Iceland

 

Laurie Luck's picture

Overweight puller

Hi Anna,

Your dog is eating too many calories if she's gaining weight. I'd use smaller treats if possible. Also, if you've taken her on a long walk and have used a lot of treats, have her skip her meal. She's already earned her calories through training, there's no need to give her more calories. 

Hope this helps,

Laurie

 

Laurie Luck
For Clickertraining.com
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
See my profile and contact information at
http://karenpryoracademy.com/Luck_Laurie

 

We trained our beagle, Ziggy,

We trained our beagle, Ziggy, using dried apple pieces and chopped carrots, which are much healthier than commercial treats. Granted, she's a beagle and will happily gobble up anything remotely edible you're willing to give her.

I've also been doing what Jeannine is suggesting with our coonhound mix, Tag, and it seems to be going well.

overweight puller

I would try to use part, or better yet all of her daily ration as her food rewards for walking and any other behaviors that you want to reinforce throughout the day. Doing this will strengthen your relationship with her, will help you remember to reward good behaviors, and will keep her from getting 'extra' calories. Good for you to notice she is putting on some extra weight and wanting to take it off and keep it under control!

Good luck with your pooch~~Jeannine

GoodLifeDogTraining.com

Loose Leash and chewing

I have a 4 month old lab who starts chewing on the leash as soon as it is attached. I have tried the stop all motion, wait for her to release the leash then I click and reward. It's not working. She walks very well at my side for awhile (if I can get her to stop chewing the leash long enough to get started) but after several steps she puts the leash in her mouth and if she doesn't chew it, she holds it there. I again stop, wait, click, praise. I have even noticed she will chew the lead, then stop and check to see if I will reward her for stopping!!! Whose the trainer here?

Does anyone have any ideas

Someone once suggested to me

Someone once suggested to me to give the puppy something else to hold like a stick. That way she can have the security of having something in her mouth and not chew on her lead. Hopefully, she will eventually grow out of it.

When my lab mix was a puppy

When my lab mix was a puppy (she's going on 13 now) she used to do something similar. She would hold the leash in her mouth and sort of walk herself. You'd think it was so that she could pull without hurting her neck, but she never really pulled on walks. Always walked right next to you unless there was a squirrel nearby (I know, I'll never have another like her.)

Leashes/Collars suitable for LLW?

Hello all!

What kinds of leashes/collars are suitable for LLW: Standard (around the neck), harness (around the body), face-type harness/head harness (around the chest, behind front legs, around muzzle)? I'm more interested in those suitable for small/toy dogs (Papillon-sized). Also, what should the leash/collar be made of (nylon, leather . . . )?

Thanks very much!
~Tim ^_^

runamuk's picture

Getting Started

Rick Kimball

Indy Dog & Disc Club Demo Director

I downloaded the Click Flick for Loose Leash Walking and it is working great for me.

I am training my 11 month old Aussie Dugan.

We started out in the garage dropping the treats on the floor and taking just one step. Then were able to get 2 steps in. It was going pretty good until it was time to leave the garage and go into that very exciting area, the front yard and the outside world. Getting to this point took 3 sessions just a few minutes each.

It took about 8 sessions to just to exit the garage door onto the driveway. But we did it! With lots of short sessions we are now up to a loop of about 3 square blocks. I try to make sure that I have allot of treats for the return trip back home. He seems to know when we have made the turn and heading toward home. He would make many attempts to rush ahead. I had to go back to one step, then, eye contact, then cnt.

I found that once we got to going around the block that at first it helped to go later at night when there are few people out and about. Gradually we worked up to during the day on the week end when there are more folks out and about and some with dogs.

Thanks for the great lesson! I have passed this on to several of my dog training friends

Sanja Miklin's picture

LLW and many distractions

I, too, have a big problem in my walks when there are any kinds of distractions around, even some new scents or things on a street. When there are birds, cats, dogs or anything moving on the street, she goes into frenzy. I know I should teach some self control before expecting her not to pull near these distractions, but it's nearly impossible since just being restricted by the leash builds up the excitement/stress even more and it's even hard for her to concentrate. So I’m in a closed circle of some kind. it's hard to teach her LLW because she's so excited and it's hard to learn her to be less excited since she can't LLW.
She is also in either of two states: calm or very excited and it’s hard to slowly build up distractions because everything outside of our yard is a big distraction. She sometimes calms down when there is nothing happening and she's very tired. When she's calm, she walks perfectly. When she's excited the behavior falls apart.
When she's excited she has very big problems with keeping attention and accepting treats.
I had some success with using life rewards though: like, you heel for three steps and you can go and play but that heeling is too 'jumpy' and she's too distracted for that to be a behavior I want.
How do you LLW train a dog like that? My first dog is a very calm one, he was trained not to pull a long time ago when I still used corrections, was untrained when I stop using them and now pulls sometimes but it's easy to tell him just not to pull and he won't.
I had an idea about how to make walks calmer (it's one of the posts on my blog) but I’m not sure if it would work.
LLW is a very big thing for me since with Reeva, it's impossible just to walk her around and because of that (and her out of the blue aggression problem) I walk her less and less. I want to work on her aggression, but again, without nice walking, I find it very hard. It's all part of the big problem and I don't know where I should start solving it.
The thing is, I don't see LLW as just behaviour, like sit for example. I also don't see it as something that would indicate whether I'm a pack leader or not (something I’ve been told a long time ago). But if my dog's pulling me down the street, i would say something is definitely wrong with our relationship. Dog maybe doesn't trust me, doesn't rely on me. And I think that would make her life easier a bit and I dream of having calm and enjoyable walks with her but I can’t even imagine it happening.

Sanja Miklin

3/205

LPC UWC, Hong Kong

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