Leash Training for Dogs

How to Train Your Dog to Walk on a Loose Leash

Young Woman With Dog In Street
Cavan Images/Taxi/Getty Images

As a dog owner, it's frustrating to walk your dog if he is pulling on the leash. Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash will eliminate leash-pulling during walks. It is not a perfect "heel" which keeps your dog strictly by your side. Instead, it allows your dog room to sniff and explore the neighborhood as long as he leaves some slack in his leash. In other words, your dog won't be pulling your arm out of its socket as he lunges forward to get to where he wants to go. Instead, he will have to follow your lead in order to be allowed the freedom to see the sights.

How to Get Started with Dog Leash Training

You will need a 6-foot leash and a collar. If your dog is in the habit of pulling, he may be able to easily slip out of a regular flat buckle collar. In this case, a martingale collar is a good option. This collar is ideal for training a dog to walk on a loose leash. It looks like a regular flat collar but has an extra loop that pulls tight when your dog pulls. This will keep him from slipping out of the collar. However, the martingale collar has a stopping point and will not close too tightly the way a choke chain does.

You should also have some tasty treats handy to reward your dog along the way.

Give the Command

Choose a word or phrase that lets your dog know what is expected of him. Since this is not a formal "heel," something like "with me" or "let's go" works well. Start out on your walk with your dog at your side, give the cue word or phrase, and begin walking.

Stop and Go

When your dog pulls at the end of the leash, stop immediately and do not budge. Never allow your dog to move forward when he is pulling or lunging. This way, you are teaching him that the only way for him to get to where he wants to go is by leaving some slack in the leash.

As soon as there is some slack in the leash, you can begin again. Give your dog the command "with me" and start moving forward.

If your dog seems relentless about pulling even when you stop, try changing directions instead. You may find yourself turning in circles at first, but soon your dog will learn that he's not going anywhere if he pulls. He will learn to pay attention to you to figure out which way to go.

Make It Rewarding

Once you step out of your house, you have a lot of competition for your dog's attention. You have to make staying close to you more rewarding and fun than running off to explore all the sights and smells of your neighborhood. For this, you can use treats, praise, and a happy tone of voice.

To start, any time your dog turns and looks at you, tell him "good boy" and give him a treat. This is also a good time to use a clicker if you have decided to try clicker training. When your dog's attention turns to you, click and treat. In this way, you are teaching your dog that it is rewarding to pay attention to you. You can also speak to your dog in a high, happy tone to keep his attention on you.

You may need to use a lot of treats in the beginning to get your dog's attention. Keep your hand by your side and give him treats continuously, as long as he is walking near you with some slack in the leash. As he gets the idea of what you expect from him, you can slowly phase out the treats by waiting longer intervals in between giving them out.

Troubleshooting

There may be times when you simply cannot get your dog's attention. He might find what's going on around him more interesting than your treats or happy talk, and stopping and starting may not be enough to distract him from whatever is holding his attention. In this case, it's best to move away from the distraction. Walk in the opposite direction, saying "let's go." There's no need to pull him, simply walk away while holding the leash. Your dog will have no choice but to follow.

Once he is walking with you, offer him a treat and plenty of praise. Remember that this process can take time; you will probably not have your dog walking on a loose leash the first time. Take frequent short walks. Be consistent and positive. In time, your dog will learn how to walk properly on the leash.