Loose leash walking is perhaps one of the most important “quality of life” skills a dog can learn, since a dog that walks nicely is much more likely to get taken along when their people head out and about in the world.
But there are almost as many different ways to teach loose leash walking as there are types of dogs.
This post is a round up of some of my favorite ways to begin to teach a dog loose leash walking.
Connect The Dots
One of the games I learned in Hannah Branigan’s Lifeskills class (and the method I’m using with my own dog) is Connect the Dots.
Often when teaching I tell people that the secret to teaching a dog how to work where you want them is treat delivery — treats should come early and often, and should be delivered to the place where you want the dog to be (even if they’re not there yet).
But no matter how many times you say “reward every step!” people never do — this game helps them reward more often by providing a visual reminder.
How to Play
Set up a row of cones, with the cones spaced about a step apart. Tell your class to stop and reward at every cone. Remind them to deliver their treat with the hand that’s on the same side as their dog (if their dog is on their left, us the left hand; if their dog is on the right, use the right hand).
As your students improve you can start to remove cones randomly — I like to have my class form 2 lines and take turns walking up the row and back.
Once each student has gone twice, I begin removing cones until the dogs are walking nicely for several steps between cookies!
We’ve shared the “Think Chick” method before. This method seeks to counteract a dog’s natural opposition reflex by teaching them to move toward tension on the leash to release it instead of against it!
How to Play
Have your students shorten their leash until approximately 2-3 feet of leash remains between them and their dogs, then apply light pressure to the leash. The idea is to use as little pressure as possible — this way you begin to teach the dog to turn toward light pressure, so they learn not to pull.
When the dog moves toward the pressure, have them mark it and reward! Then repeat. Be sure to do this by lighting pull the leash right, then left, then in other directions.
The “Follow Me” Method
Most students can get their dogs to walk nicely toward them while backing up — so why not use this to teach them to walk on a loose leash?
How to Play
Students should begin by walking backward, talking to their dogs and rewarding with cookies when their dogs follow them on a loose leash. For most, this will be fairly simple — the hardest part will be being coordinated enough to walk backward.
Once they’ve got their dogs following them nicely, holding their leash in their left hand, instruct them to turn to their left, pivoting on their heel so that their dog winds up on their left (or, if they walk their dog on the right, holding the leash in their right hand and turning right).
When they’ve finished turning their dog should be in a perfect heel position. Tell them to stop and give their dog a cookie in this position then turn back to their right, so they are in front of their dogs once more.
Repeat this until everyone is pivoting smoothly.
Once they’ve accomplished that, it’s time to begin to add some actual walking to the picture — when they pivot, have them add in one step, then treat, then pivot back in front of their dog. Next they should add 2 steps, then pivot back in front of their dogs.
Continue to build this, until they can go across the room with a beautiful loose leash!
Photo credit: Leanne Brownlee of her dog, Annabelle