How to Leash Train Your Dog Using the Loose Leash Method
I’m currently re-fostering Dude, a yellow lab mix that has become the sunshine in my life. He is a loving and intelligent 2-year-old, intent on pleasing and having fun. He’s been with Dogs 2nd Chance for about a year now and while he was very well-cared for, he hadn’t had the opportunity to experience formal obedience training or individual care and attention. This is common for rescue dogs considering the overpopulation of pets in the south and the filled-to-the-brim rescue groups and shelters.
The solution to that problem is more fosters, but that isn’t what this post is about so I digress; however, if I just gave you an aha! moment, click here to learn how you can also foster a rescue dog.
If you’ve read my previous post about Dude not wanting to come inside then you know that learning how to walk on a leash is a HUGE improvement for this pup. His confidence levels have increased tenfold in the last week; he has mastered the command sit, is no longer “head shy”, has built up confidence with meeting strangers and is now ruling the roost.
Now that he is comfortable in our home, we decided to move forward with his training. Dude’s biggest hurdle was walking on a leash. The first time we took him out on a leash was the equivalent of putting a 5-year-old behind the wheel of a car and telling him to drive. He had no clue what to do with this blue cloth thing attached to his neck other than to pull it and to pull it hard.
This is Dude after 10 minutes of Loose Leash Training:
As you can see, he is walking calmly by my side while the leash is dangling loosely. My grip is soft on the handle but clutched just enough to grab tightly if the need arises.
Dude learned how to walk on a leash without the use of a choke collar, correction collar, shock collar or any other type of force training.
To understand how to train your dog using the Loose Leash Method, it’s important that you first understand these three concepts:
1. Positive Reinforcement Training
In short, Positive Reinforcement Training is based on the idea that an action that is positively rewarded will be repeated. For dogs, a reward is praise or a treat; therefore, when your dog does what you want him to do, you reward with either praise or a treat. This encourages a positive and healthy relationship with your dog where he will want to please you because it’s rewarding, not out of fear or pain.
2. Associative Learning
Dogs don’t really understand when they’ve done something wrong or right, they only understand the association between what they’ve done and what happens afterwards.
Toto pees in the bedroom. Mom comes running in yelling, screaming, rubs Toto’s face in the urine and then sends him outside.
I needed to pee, and oh, it felt so relieving to do it! But Mommy yelled at me and sent me outside so I guess peeing in front of her is bad. Next time, I’ll pee where she can’t see me.
Toto pees in the house. Mommy sighs, cleans it up, ignores Toto and then takes him outside. When Toto pees outside, Mommy gives him a treat and praises him, every single time.
When I peed inside, Mommy ignored me. When I peed outside, she gives me treats and praise; therefore, I will do it outside because it’s more fun!
You seem skeptical. Try it, you’d be surprised how quickly it works.
Note: It will go even faster if you stay one step ahead of the game and take your dog outside frequently so he never even has the chance to learn how to pee inside.
So how does this tie into leash training?
Simple. First of all, when your dog pulls on the leash, you shouldn’t pull back.
Think about it. If someone grabbed your arm and pulled you, what would your reaction be? To pull back away from them!
Secondly, when you yank back and yell at your dog, he/she is only learning that walking beside you is unpleasant. Just like Toto learned that peeing in front of his Mom is unpleasant. Your dog is not understanding what you are asking of him, just that he doesn’t like what happens afterwards.
Your dog needs to learn that walking beside you is MUCH more fun than pulling you down the street. Just like Toto learned that peeing outside is much more fun than peeing inside.
I mean, can you really blame them? All the smells, sights, sounds and people, and you’re walking way to slow for them to enjoy it all. I mean, whose walk is it anyway?
With positive reinforcement training and associative learning, walking beside you has to be more rewarding than all those sights, sounds and smells up ahead.
3. Loose Leash Training
Loose Leash Training combines positive reinforcement and associative learning techniques.
You are going to teach your dog that walking beside you is more fun than walking ahead of you and that when the leash is loose he gets to walk.
Basically, if the leash is loose then your dog is allowed to move forward towards the sounds, sights and smells he wants. If the leash is being pulled or is tight, he doesn’t get to move another inch.
Your dog will learn to associate a loose leash with moving forward and that being beside you is rewarding.
This is going to take time and patience. Be prepared to not even make it to the end of your drive way on the first go around.
Ready? Here we go!
- Cloth Standard Leash (not the retractable leash or chain leash)
- High Reward Treat (pieces of meat or cut up hot dogs- it should be something that will gulp down quickly)
- Rewards (or objects of desire) when walking a dog are treats, a bush, another dog, the person walking on the other end of the street, that fire hydrant and the smelly spot by the mailbox. Use all of these things as a reward for your dog. If he walks calmly beside you and the leash is loose, then he gets to go check those places out.
Give your dog the sit command and attach the leash to his collar. Give him a treat and praise.
Stand beside him and do not move forward until he remains seated patiently. When you are ready, say HEEL and move towards the door.
As soon as your dog lurches ahead of you (which he will), say “ack, ack”, and then stand as still as a tree and do not move.
Don’t even blink! Just kidding, you can blink.
Once your dog realizes you aren’t going anywhere, he will either turn towards you or look at you. If he makes any movement that indicates he is tuning into you for even a second, pull out a treat and hold it out to him and say come. He should come towards you for the treat which places him (relatively) back into the heel position.
Once there, say heel and move forward again.
Repeat this every time he lurches ahead of you and the leash goes tight. Only move forward when the leash is loose and he is near you. Don’t obsess over whether or not he is perfectly placed at your side like an AKC Championship dog, baby steps, people.
If he isn’t responding to your TREE stance, you can also BACKPEDAL. When he lurches forward, say “ack, ack” and start walking in the opposite direction. When he inevitably has to follow you and reaches your side again, then turn around and walk towards the door. Repeat this circle dance until the leash is loose as you walk towards the door.
Warning: You may become dizzy.
Your dog will learn that if the leash is tight he either doesn’t get to move forward or goes farther away from his object of desire (in this case, the door), but if the leash is loose he gets closer.
Once you reach the door, have your dog sit again. You should always, in every circumstance, be the first to enter or leave your house. This shows your dog that you are the leader. Repeat the above steps until your dog waits calmly while you exit the door.
Now that your outside you can show the neighborhood how talented you are at pretending to be a tree and dancing in circles!
Perform the Tree or Backpedal maneuvers through out your entire walk. It may be tiring, you may become impatient, you may never make it to the end of the driveway, but if you persist your dog WILL learn that he only gets to move forward if he is walking beside you.
- You only move forward if the leash is loose and your dog is near your side.
- When your dog moves ahead of you and the leash is tight, say “ack, ack”, and stand still OR start walking in the opposite direction. Only turn back around when he is back by your side and the leash is loose again.
- Give your dog treats whenever he is successfully walking beside you or allow him to sniff a mailbox.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below!
Meet Dude, our new foster pup. Dude is a yellow lab mix that was found in an abandoned neighborhood in Millington, Tenn. as a young lad. For the past year, he lived with Lin, one our rescue volunteers, but Midas (our Mastiff) decided he needed a new friend after Monkee left, and asked Dude to come stay with us for awhile. Dude was hesitant at first, but thought Midas seemed pretty cool so he agreed.
You normally would have seen a Castaway Profile on this guy already, but before we could even tuck him into bed on the first night, he received an adoption form! This weekend he will be sleeping over at his potential new family’s house so cross your fingers that it’s a perfect match and he will be there to stay!
The reason I’m writing about Dude is because even in just the three days he has been with us, he’s already taught me something new…patience.
Everyone has various levels of patience, some more than others. For myself, patience has never been a particular virtue of mine, I move quick and I expect everyone to move quickly with me…In the words of Margaret Thatcher,
I’m extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.
Dude, on the other hand, was intent on me learning some patience, and so he decided to pretend to be afraid of the house so I could get in some practice.
The first day we brought Dude home, we weren’t able to get him to come inside for even just a second. Thankfully, it was a beautiful spring day so we propped open our back screen door hoping he would eventually enter inside when he was ready.
That was not the case.
After an hour or so, we realized we were going to have to do something if we planned on eating, or sleeping, or doing anything that day. Even though our yard is well fenced in, there’s always that looming foster parent fear of your protege sneaking out, and we were glued to the windows watching his every sniff and tail wag.
For rescue dogs, being afraid to come inside a home is a common problem. After weeks, months, or even years of living outside or fending for yourself, four enclosed walls with tons of big, looming things inside can seem a little intimidating. As they peek into your home, they may not see an escape route, in case things get a little hairy, so they prefer the comfort of the open air and plenty of room to run.
If your foster dog or new adoption experiences this, just remember to be patient, calm, and follow these steps.
Step 1: Prop or lock your door open so your pup can learn that if he comes inside, he won’t be stuck there forever. Go on about your day for at least 30 minutes allowing the pup to check out the door, sniff inside, and test the waters. Don’t make kissy noises, talk to him, or encourage him. In this case, acting like nothing new is going on will give him the space he needs to check out the situation.
Step 2: After he’s established that the door is going to remain open for exit and entry, place a pile of high reward treats right inside the entrance of the house then walk away again. A high reward treat is anything that the dog will really want to work for: bits of meat, hot dogs, his favorite snack, etc. We repeated this step a few times to help Dude gain the confidence to reach inside and eat the treats.
If you have other dogs in the house that are treat greedy like ours, consider placing your other dog in another room so he doesn’t snatch up all the yummies before the new dog does.
Step 3: Take some more treats (if you haven’t figured it out, you’re going to need lots of treats), and this time create a trail from the front door to a few feet inside the house. Walk away again and go about as normal. As your dog builds up more courage to go farther into the house, replenish and lengthen the line of treats.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I emphasized patience. Well, in writing this seems simple, but you’re working at your dog’s pace, not yours. This process took about three hours for us. Be patient..they will get it, and it will be a wonderful moment for both of you.
Step 4: Once your dog is getting all four paws inside the house and just past the door, position a friend or yourself near the door. Dude became more hesitant when he realized we were close to the door so we had to encourage him to come in again with us sitting very still for about 30 minutes in one spot.
Step 5: Once the dog has safely entered inside and he’s focused on the treats, slowly close the door behind him. Note: slowly…and quietly. You don’t want to frighten them with a slamming door, unless, of course you’re ready to start back at square one.
Step 6: Now that he is safely inside, shower him with love, treats, and praise. Show him all the wonderful things about the house and how great it is being inside! Let him inspect all the rooms, follow you around, and play with you. DO NOT place him in a kennel during this time. If you do this, he will associate coming inside with kennel time, and that is not a positive association. Kenneling can be practiced after he has learned how to come inside.
We had Dude stay inside for about 2 hours and then let him out again. We had to re-repeat the steps above for the 2nd time around, but it took only 15 minutes to encourage him to come inside. Later on in the night, we attached a short leash on him and let him out. When we were ready for him to come inside, we gently grabbed the leash and guided him in.
Why didn’t you just put him on a leash in the first place, says over eager student raising hand.
Because your dog should learn that your home is a safe place and he won’t be forced to come inside unwillingly and in an unpleasant way.
Putting a leash on him first may result in you just dragging him in, which is bad and damaging to the relationship. He/She should have time to build up their own confidence so you don’t have to get into the habit of always putting a leash on him when he goes out. He needs to know he can also do it alone.
We are now on Day Three of Dude living with us and he comes in and out of our house like it’s no big deal. His confidence levels are up and he has made himself right at home on our couch.
Have you ever had a situation similar to Dude’s, if so, how did you handle it?
When it’s raining cats and dogs outside these games will keep your big, furry friend exercised mentally and physically without all the muddy mess.
Normally, my mastiff, Midas, is perfectly content sleeping next to me on the couch all day, but it’s usually on the rainiest and muddiest of days that he decides he wants to play. Occasionally, I’ll oblige..hey, if he wants to get wet and muddy, who am I to stop him? But, most of the time, I’m not in the mood to clean up the disaster that follows him back in.
In order to curb the boredom and entertain him inside, I did some research online, but most of the suggested “rainy day” games are for nimble, agillic pups that can weave through homemade obstacle courses. If you own a large breed dog then you know they just aren’t cut out for those games.
However, it didn’t take too long to come up with a few of my own fun activities that successfully nip the whining and boredom in the bud. Some of these might take a little practice with your own pup, but before long, you’ll have some go-to tricks that will rival the Cat and The Hat’s own rainy day entertainment…without all the mess.
1. Hide ‘n Go Seek
This is our household favorite, and it’s easy to teach!
- First, grab some of your dog’s favorite toys or treats. We used cut-up hot dogs to keep his attention, and to give him a reward he really wants.
- Take your dog to one room of the house (we use the bedroom) and give the sit-stay or down-stay command. If you have a friend that can help you, have the friend either hold the dog’s collar or stand beside him to make sure he doesn’t move until you’re ready. If you’re alone, make sure your dog understands the stay command before trying out this game.
- Find a hiding place! For the first time, hide just outside of your dog’s sight so they don’t give up too easily before they catch on to the game. You can increase the level of difficulty of your hiding places after a few successful rounds.
- If you have a friend, instruct them to say “Go find!”. We say, “Go Find, Mommy!”, but you can use any command to indicate that the dog may now go look for you. If you’re alone, call out your dog’s name or say “Find!”.
- When the dog finds you, shower them with praise, treats, and excitement! Make it fun so they learn that “finding you” is rewarding.
Benefits: Exercises the dog mentally and physically while also training them to use their nose to search you out. Reinforces the sit and stay command, and encourages dogs to come when called.
2. Treat in a Box
This one is wonderful if you’re in a particularly lazy (or busy!) mood, and your dog is anything but. It’s the same concept as any of the treat balls you can find at your local pet store, but for foster parents and multi-dog parents sometimes you aren’t keen to invest in toys that will eventually end up destroyed so a box is a great substitute.
- Grab a shoe box or any box you have no affinity for (we use shipping boxes from USPS).
- Fill the box with all of your dog’s favorite treats! I use a mixture of hot dog bites, training treats, pieces of lunch meat, and dog food.
- If you’re using a shoe box, cut an opening in the lid so that there is a way for the treats to fall out. The smaller the opening, the higher the level of difficulty (just don’t cut too small or your dog will give up–too big and it won’t be enough mental stimulation). If you’re using a shipping box, cut the two longer flaps so that when you close it up, there is an opening where the treats can fall out. See picture below:
- Place the box on the floor and let your dog have at it!
Benefits: Mental exercise that teaches your dog problem solving skills. As a bonus, your dog learns how to open up his own Christmas presents!
3. The Stair Master
Confession: We don’t use this game in our home because Midas is prone to hip dysplasia so please consider your dog’s breed before playing this game; however, it’s excellent indoor exercise for more limber breeds. I’ve also provided an alternative below.
- Easy peasy. Stand at the top of a flight of stairs with your dog. Toss the ball down the stairs and have your dog retrieve the ball and bring it back up. If you’re dog is like ours and doesn’t understand the concept of fetch, you can have another person stand at the bottom of the stairs to get the ball back and toss it back up.
Alternative: Ball in the Hall
Instead of tossing the ball down the stairs, we toss the ball down the hall….if that wasn’t already obvious in the title…
Benefits: Great physical exercise that can easily wear your dog out!
4. Criminal Bones
This game is similar to hide n’ go seek except instead of hiding yourself, you’re hiding a bone! Hey, maybe one day your dog will grow up to be a police K9…
- First, grab one of your dog’s most coveted bones. We use either a rawhide roll or bully stick.
- Let your dog smell the bone and get him very excited about it!
- Give the sit-stay or down-stay command.
- Hide the bone! For the first time, hide the bone in plain sight until he learns that in order to get the bone, he has to find it. You can increase the level of difficulty after a few tries.
- Give a release command. We simply say “Go find the bone!”. Use a very excited voice so your dog understands it’s a fun game.
- When your dog finds the bone, give him tons of praise and then let him enjoy his find! If you want the game to continue, let him gnaw on the bone for a bit as a reward, then take the bone back and restart the game.
Advanced Level: Once your dog masters this game, try hiding several pieces of his favorite treats around the house. We hide about 10 cut up hot dogs all around the house, and it keeps him mentally preoccupied for about 10-15 minutes.
Benefits: Mental and physical exercise that trains your dog to use his sense of smell to search, and also reinforces the sit-stay commands.
5. To the Window! To the Wall! Till the drool drops down his jowls…
This game combines a little of everything: training, exercise, and your own personal work out! There are two versions of this game, one for those pet parents who allow their dogs on the furniture (guilty!), and one for those who don’t.
- First, grab a handful of treats. Place a treat on the couch and have your dog jump up on it. We have a blanket on our couch that is Midas’s “place” so we use this spot to reinforce the command.
- Then run to your bedroom and place a treat on your bed so your dog quickly follows you and jumps up to find the treat. I give the command Cuddle time! so he learns that Cuddle Time means to come to bed with us.
- After your dog gets the treat, race to his doggie bed and drop another treat there. When we get here, I say Bed. Now he has learned 3 established places to go: Place (on the couch), Cuddle Time (our bed), and Bed (his dog bed).
- As your dog figures out that each new location will have a treat, increase your speed and alternate the order of the places you go so your dog is racing back and forth! Eventually, you can stand in one spot and command him to each area.
If your dog is not allowed on furniture, simply find 3-4 places in your house to have him race to!
Benefits: Mental and physical exercise while also teaching your dog to go to a place. This will come in handy when you need your dog to calm down or lay down. Just make sure you spend some time reinforcing the stay command once he is in his place so he learns the difference between “time-out” and play time.
If your pup is still bored after exhausting all of these games, consider getting him a furry friend by visiting our adoptable dogs list here!