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!