There are many different ways to approach the issue of leash pulling in dogs. The "loose leash" technique is similar to teaching your dog to "heel," but it is not as restrictive on the dog. The goal is to have your dog walk beside you or close to you while allowing them to have some freedom to sniff and explore. The dog should have the length of the leash to maneuver but should not ever pull forward or backward. This compromise will enable both you and your dog to enjoy your time walking outside together.
Remember that the most important feature of all dog training is using lots of positive reinforcement. Pats, encouraging words, and treats are all great ways to reward your dog when they exhibit the desired behaviors.
Choose the Best Leash and Collar for Your Dog
Dogs should always be walked on a leash for their safety and yours. For this technique, a six-foot leash will be an adequate length to keep your dog under control and also allow them some freedom of movement. You'll want to do a little research on whether a collar or harness is best for your dog; there are pros and cons of both and many options in each category depending on your dog's breed, personality, or health conditions. Choke chains and prong collars should never be used on dogs. Severe neck, tracheal, and esophageal injuries may occur.
Teach Your Dog a Cue
Start by thinking of a word or phrase that you can use to signal your dog that it's time to walk next to you. This word or phrase should be used in the same cadence and tone every time you speak it to your dog. Consistency will enable your dog to know what is expected of them. Some ideas are "with me" or "let's go." Start out on your walk with your dog at your side, give the cue word or phrase, and begin walking.
Each individual dog is different and will learn best in different ways. Below are two of the most common methods for training your dog to walk on a loose leash, including the "stop and go" method and the "turn around" method. Feel free to try out both to see which clicks better for you and your dog.
Stop and Go Method
Now the learning really begins. If your dog begins to pull at the end of the leash, your response is to stop immediately and stand still. You should never allow your dog to move forward when they are pulling on the leash. The message you are trying to send to your dog is that they cannot continue on their walks and go where they wish if they pull on the leash.
You will begin walking again when your dog stops pulling at the leash. As you start walking, give the verbal command again so that the dog begins to associate it with walking on a slack leash.
Turn Around Method
Some dogs may take some time before they understand what you are asking them to do. If your dog ignores the fact that you have stopped and continues pulling at the leash, try changing directions instead. When your dog continues pulling, turn and go their other way. This is not the direction your dog wishes to go and will disappoint them. It will also teach your dog to be more in-tune with you throughout the walk because they will be looking to you for guidance on where to go next.
If they simply change directions and start pulling that way, stop and turn again. This may result in you turning in circles at first, but soon your dog will learn that they cannot go where they want if they pull on the leash. Patience and perseverance are vital in making this technique successful.
Make It Rewarding and Fun
Dogs do best when they are motivated by positive reinforcement. There are many distractions and fun things to go explore and smell outside. These temptations will make keeping your dog's attention focused on you even more difficult. Your goal is to make staying close to you more rewarding and fun than running off to explore all the sights and smells of your neighborhood. To accomplish this, try using verbal praise, pats, and treats. Dogs aim to please their owners and are also often food motivated.
When you first begin training your dog to walk on a loose leash, you may need to use a lot of treats to get your dog's attention. To reinforce the behavior you want, you can put some aromatic treats in your hand and let your hand fall to your side. When your dog is near you and not pulling on the leash, they may have a treat. This will help to reinforce the idea that staying by your side means food is coming their way.
Common Problems to Avoid
Training a dog takes patience and time. Consistency is key, and it may take time for your dog to realize what you are asking them to do. Do not get discouraged if, at first, it seems your dog is not listening; with time and positive reinforcement, they will figure it out.
If treats alone are not enticing enough to keep your dog close to you and not pulling on the leash at first, remember to stop, and if needed, turn around and go the opposite direction. Use your verbal command to tell your dog what you are asking them to do. Never pull on your dog or chastise them if they do not do what you ask. This negative reinforcement will only make the situation worse.
Make sure that you conduct training sessions in different areas and at different times. But in the training phase, it is essential always to maintain control of your dog and to start in environments that are as calm and non-distracting as possible, like your living room, then your backyard, then the front sidewalk, and so on. As you and your dog work together and become more confident in your training, you can incorporate more challenging types of environments.