How to Train Your Dog to Walk Nicely on the Lead.
Does your dog pull you around like a steam train? You’d be surprised to know that pulling on the lead is a very common dog behaviour.
Indeed, dogs are not naturally born knowing how to walk nicely alongside us with a lead on them, and this means that going out on a walk with their dogs can be a real struggle for many people. If you feel stressed, frustrated, hopeless and tired about your dog’s lead manners, you are not alone.
The good news is that with some guidance and support, you can teach your dog to walk nicely on the lead and make the whole experience much more pleasant and fun for both.
In this blog post, I’ll walk you through some necessary things to consider when embarking on your loose lead walking training with your dog.
Why Do Dogs Pull on the Lead?
Dogs pull on their lead for a wide variety of different reasons. Generally speaking, pulling might occur because:
It usually works.
Dogs keep repeating behaviours that work to get them something they want. As pulling gets them places, why should they stop? Dogs that pull on their lead are not being naughty. They just don’t know what we expect from them, and it’s our job to calmly and kindly teach them how we want them to behave when out and about.
The outside world can be highly stimulating, particularly for young dogs, such as puppies and adolescents. Pulling on the lead is expected if your dog is overly excited overall. In this case, you might need to reduce arousal and give your dog an appropriate outlet for their energy to ensure their basic needs are met before you leave the house and before starting any formal loose lead walking training.
There will be times when your dog will lose focus and get distracted by things in their environment. Sometimes these distractions will cause your dog to become frustrated, worried or overly excited. It might only take a matter of moments for your dog to go from seeming calm and relaxed to pulling, barking, and bouncing around on their lead. In these cases, it’s essential to learn and understand your dog’s triggers to manage these situations better and prevent them from getting worked up. Being prepared and knowing what to watch out for and how to respond to these challenging situations can help you set your dog up for success.
What Do You Want Your Dog to Do?
It’s very easy to focus on what we don’t want our dogs to do, and that’s normal. But if we’re going to create significant change and improvement, we also need to consider what we want our dogs to do instead.
So say your dog is pulling like a steam train to the park. What do you want them to do instead? This will help you create an appropriate training plan.
Loose lead walking doesn’t need to mean walking at heel: some people are happy enough for their dogs to be in their proximity without tension in the lead, and that’s completely ok. For others, their goals might be having their dogs walking right alongside them, and that is ok too. As long as you know what you’d like your dog to do, then you can proceed to create a training plan that takes your goals and expectations into account.
What's the Best Walking Equipment?
There are a lot of myths around what pieces of equipment we should use to teach our dogs to walk nicely on the lead. The truth is that there is no magic piece of equipment that can substitute training. All this said, some tools are better and safer than others, and some other tools are dangerous and have several potential downfalls.
Pieces of equipment to avoid.
Avoid anything that will likely cause pain and discomfort, including choke chains, choke collars, prong collars, restraining harnesses (the list is not exclusive!). These types of tools are designed to cause pain to deter your dog from pulling on the lead. This can have physical consequences (for example, they might damage your dog’s trachea) and lead to behavioural problems down the line as well. Let’s say that your dog sees another dog at a distance, and they start to pull to go and say hello. If they feel pain when that happens, there’s a risk of associating said pain with the sight of the other dog, leading to reactive behaviours towards other dogs.
I also advise against using extendable leads as they are not fit for training purposes and don’t give you any control over your dog’s behaviour.
Pieces of equipment to get.
My personal preference is for a flat collar, a flat 2-meter training lead with multiple clips, and a flat H-shaped harness with two attachment points.
By law, your dog must wear a collar with an ID tag engraved or attached indicating your contact details. These details must include your name and your complete address. Although not mandatory, you might want to add your phone number too.
These days, collars come in a wide variety of shapes and materials to meet the needs of dogs of different shapes and sizes, so do have a good look around to make sure you choose something appropriate for your own dog.
Think about your lead as a safety belt rather than a steering wheel. Although we don’t want to pull our dogs around using the lead, we want something strong, safe, and comfortable for them and for us to hold on to. There are many different leads on the market, and you need to choose something appropriate for your dog’s age and size. I like training leads with multiple attachment points, as you can increase and decrease the length depending on the situation, and you can clip them on both the front and back clip of your dog’s harness for better stability. I also recommend choosing longer leads, as the shorter the lead, the more likely your dog will pull. Conversely, the longer the lead, the more likely you and your dog will succeed.
You’ll want to choose something safe and comfortable for your dog to wear. H shaped harnesses with multiple clips and multiple points of attachment are one of the most versatile and comfortable options, as they can be fitted without going over your dog’s head and can their length can be adjusted on each strap. Several great brands are available on the market, including padded options that can provide some dogs with some extra comfort. My favourites include T-Touch, Perfect Fit, Red Dingo, and Haquihana, but it’s not to say that there are no other brilliant brands out there or that these particular ones will suit all dogs.
Indeed, dogs are all individuals, and what suits one dog might not work for another dog. A harness might be out of the question if your dog has spinal problems or skin sensitivity, whereas a collar might not be the best choice for brachycephalic breeds. If your dog is an escape artist, then you might want a double H harness with an extra strap for extra safety.
Be aware of your dog’s individual needs, and choose their walking equipment accordingly.
Five Things to Consider When Teaching Your Dog to Walk Without Pulling on the Lead.
Choose your environment wisely.
To increase the chances for you and your dog to get it right from the start, you want to choose your environment wisely. The best place to start training is a neutral location with no distractions and where your dog feels safe, comfortable, and able to focus. In the beginning, this place can even be your living room. Generally speaking, I always find that starting indoors can help set your dog up to succeed. If you have access to a private garden, that would be where you want to progress your training after you’ve mastered walking nicely on the lead inside your home. If not, choose a very quiet field, an empty parking lot, or any area with low distractions where you and your dog can both focus on the exercise without having to juggle too many things at the same time.
Use valuable rewards – and be generous with them when you start!
Using something your dog loves will help them learn that walking nicely on the lead can also be a rewarding and fun experience. Whether you use treats or toys (or any other type of reward that your dog likes), be very generous in rewarding your dog for getting it right when you start. In the beginning, you want to reward them for every correct step. Only when they get good at walking alongside you for a few steps can you aim to increase the number of steps between each reward. Be mindful that when you take your training to a more distracting environment, you might need to take a step back and increase the value and the number of rewards you’re using again.
Start with the position.
That’s the most important thing: you want to start right from the get-go by getting your dog in the right, default position. What this position is it’s entirely up to you. I like to walk my dog on the left-hand side, but you might prefer to do it on the right-hand side. I like my dog to be in line with my knee, but you might find it easier to have them slightly in front, slightly behind, or decide that anywhere is fine as long as the lead remains loose. Do what works for you and your dog best, but whatever you choose, make sure you are consistent and that everyone walking your dog does the same thing.
Once you are clear about this, you want to teach your dog to be and get back into the correct position to start with. For this, you can begin by luring your dog using a treat or scattering a few treats on the floor in the right spot, and then proceed to move around very slowly and keep rewarding your dog anytime they catch up with you on the right side. Once your dog has mastered the concept of getting into the correct position, you can then proceed to try to put a few steps in a straight line.
Progress slowly and go at your dog’s pace.
I can’t stress the importance of progressing slowly, step by step, and of always going at your dog’s pace. Your dog’s behaviour will dictate how quickly you’ll be able to move forward with your training and when to proceed to the next step, bringing in more distractions and training in more challenging environments. If your dog is struggling at any point, you will need to evaluate the situation and choose a strategy that will enable your dog to succeed again. Maybe you will need to get back to a previous stage or increase your distance from the distraction. If, for example, your dog loses their focus when there are dogs nearby, you need to move further away from the other dogs, and only when your dog can cope at a distance you can aim to start moving closer again.
Consistency is key when working on your dog’s loose lead walking skills, but who can realistically train 24/7? To make your life easier and ensure you are consistent in your training, you can switch between two different pieces of equipment, one for loose lead walking training and one for free time on the lead. So, for example, you can use the collar or the front clip of your dog’s harness to practise loose lead walking training and the back clip of your dog’s harness to allow them to move more freely when you are not training. When you clip the lead onto your dog’s collar (or the front clip of the harness), you need to be 100% consistent by rewarding them when they are in the correct position and preventing them from pulling as much as you can by delivering these rewards in the right place and at the right time. On the other hand, when you can’t or don’t want to do the training, you can clip the lead onto the back clip of your dog’s harness and allow them to pull without disrupting your training and your progress.
Patience and consistency will be your best allies in your loose lead walking training journey. Remember to start easy, train for a short period, and always set you and your dog up to succeed. Don’t be afraid to go back to a previous step if your dog needs it, and try to enjoy the process too.
Need Further Help?
To learn more about how to set your dog up to succeed and access extra content and bonus resources, get a copy of my Loose Lead Walking Training Guide.
I also run a dedicated loose lead walking course where I share in-depth and tailored training advice so that you can benefit from my guidance and support to achieve your specific goals.
See what my clients say:
“We needed help with loose lead walking for our sprocker spaniel puppy and Giulia did an amazing job! She delivered a well organised, thought through and clear training programme. We found the training very useful and we achieved amazing results! Giulia is very professional and knowledgeable, she will always go above and beyond to answer any questions even after the training. I would definitely recommend booking training with Giulia!”
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