10 Loose-Leash Dog Walking Tips
Walking your dog is important: you both get exercise and mental stimulation — and it's lots of fun! It's a lot less fun if your furry friend drags you the entire way, though. Here are some dog walking tips and strategies to tame even the most excitable wannabe sled dog.
1. Be a Tree
One of the best strategies among all dog walking tips is that when your pup pulls the leash taut, you stop moving. Wait until she relaxes the leash on her own before you start walking again.
This takes patience, especially at first. The first few times you pretend to be a tree, your canine companion will keep pulling where she wants to go. Soon enough, she will get irritated by the lack of progress and turn around to look at you and see what the holdup is. When she does this and loosens the leash, tell her she's a good girl and start moving. Prepare to stop if she hits the end of the leash again.
This method puts the responsibility of maintaining a loose leash on your dog.
It's her job to keep track of where you are and keep that leash slack.
When she does, she's rewarded by getting to explore more. You also can praise her and give her treats when she looks toward you and walks without pulling.
This approach is not a quick fix, but it is one of the best for long-term results and teaching loose leash walking.
2. Reward Good Behavior
This works for more than the "Be a Tree" method described above. Praise your dog and give her treats when she walks by your side. If your pup prefers toys, you can carry a small tug or squeaky and let her play a little when she's being good. Balls aren't a great choice — your pooch is bound to drop the ball, watch it roll away, and then chase it. Most likely, she'll pull on the leash in the process.
3. Choose the Right Leash
A standard, non-mechanical leash offers the best option for teaching pullers proper walking etiquette. With these leashes, it's very clear to your pup when there's pressure on the leash versus when it's slack. This makes it easier for your furry friend to figure out that a loose leash means a happy human.
The mechanism that winds up retractable leashes means they always exert a little pressure on the pup. These leashes are great for walking a small, well-behaved pooch in an open outdoor space. However, they can add a layer of confusion when you're trying to teach a puller not to pull. Stick to the standard leash until your dog has mastered walking on a loose leash.
The optimal leash length depends on where you are. A 6-foot leash is great for most situations but consider a shorter one for crowded areas. You might also want a long leash to give your pup some extra distance to bounce around in an open field.
4. Keep the Collar High
Before going on a walk, adjust your canine companion's collar so it sits high up on her neck behind her ears and jaw. This will give you better steering control and make pulling less satisfying for her. If the collar is low on her neck, you'll have to work against all those thick neck muscles. Plus, when it's low, she can lean down and put her whole body into it. This will work with any collar, whether it's a standard buckle, martingale, or slip collar.
A well-fitting collar is a great idea, but remember that it's never OK to pull a dog by her neck. If you and puppers continue to pull against each other, especially early in loose-leash training, consider using a harness instead of a collar until she catches on.
5. Teach Your Dog to Not Go Ahead
Most pups are less likely to pull if they stay beside or just behind you. Carry tasty treats in your hand or pocket and give her the reward when she is close to you. If she starts to forge ahead, block her with your leg or call her back to your side. Or, be a tree. Use the verbal cue "with me" for this behavior. It means you want your pup to stay close, but she doesn't have to be totally focused on you. She's free to look around and sniff.
6. Turn Around
If your dog pulls, turn around and walk the other way. She will get confused by the sudden change in direction and pay more attention to your new path.
Try not to make your turns too sudden because you don't want to jerk your furry friend by the neck. This is also not a great method if you, yourself, get dizzy easily. An excited pup may need frequent turns.
7. Consider a Head Halter
Head halters can be a great way to deter pulling and prevent you from getting knocked over. Head halters for dogs look similar to halters for horses. They usually have a strap that goes around the back of the head and one that goes over the muzzle. When the pup pulls, her head gets bent back toward you.
Introduce a head halter gradually so that it is a positive experience for your canine companion. Use lots of treats, and only put the halter on for short periods of time at first. Keep your pup moving so she doesn't try to paw it off.
If your dog tends to lunge at high speed, do not use a head halter. She could injure her neck if her head gets jerked back hard.
8. Plan Your Walks
If your pup pulls more around other dogs or when the school bus goes by, avoid those distractions at first. Get her comfortable walking on a loose leash away from temptations, such as in a secluded park or other green space. Then, increase the challenge. Don't forget treats to reward her for making good choices. It's also important to remember that you are pet partners, and that your learning how to train your dog is as important as her learning how to loose-leash walk.
9. Teach "Watch Me"
The "watch me" skill teaches your furry friend to make eye contact with you when you want to get her attention. This is helpful when something might excite her, like another dog up ahead.
Sit in front of your pup and put treats in your closed fists. She will try to get the treat — don't let her. When she looks up at your face for help, praise and reward her. Repeat until she looks at you instead of licking at your hands. At this point, start saying "watch me" before she looks at you. Practice this exercise standing still and while walking.
10. Stay Calm
It is easy to get frustrated by your pulling dog. We've all been there. But your furry friend isn't pulling out of spite; she doesn't understand what you want her to do. Yelling at her will only confuse her more. Take a deep breath, count to 10, and wait until she releases the tension on the leash. Then, tell her how perfect she is and give that adorable nose a smooch.