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Unlock Loose Leash Walking: 6 Proven Tips for Better Walks with Your Dog | PK9 Dog Gear Australia - PK9 Gear

Unlock Loose Leash Walking: 6 Proven Tips for Better Walks with Your Dog | PK9 Dog Gear Australia

Unlock Loose Leash Walking: 6 Proven Tips for Better Walks with Your Dog | PK9 Dog Gear Australia

As a professional dog trainer, struggles with loose leash walking is one of the most common issues that we come across. It could be that your dog is dragging you from pillar to post, as they sniff to their hearts content whilst you are left clinging on for dear life. Perhaps they have almost sent you flying as they dart out in front of you in order to greet another dog or person on the opposite side of the street? Maybe you have even decided to stop walking your pup all together to avoid the unpleasant experience, leading to feelings of guilt, and a dog who spends the majority of its time in the backyard rather than out enjoying time with its family.

If you are reading this blog, it is likely that at least one of these scenarios are all too familiar. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and with patience, consistency and a lot of practice you and your dog will be well on your way to living the loose leash life!

 Whether you have a brand new puppy and would like to set them up on the right track, an older dog who has had many years of practising less than polite leash manners, and anything in between, these 6 top tips are sure to help you on your way, and in no time at all, loose leash walking will become a pleasure rather than a chore. 

So, lets get started! 

Build value in you rather than the environment

In order for our dogs to pay us a little more attention out on walks, and less time with their noses buried into the grass or dragging us over to every single dog or person they see in an attempt to ‘say hello’, it is important that we first begin to address the kind of relationship we have with our dogs. Do they see you as someone they can look to in times of uncertainty or are they much more likely to react first and ask questions later? Do they enjoy interacting with you or do you suddenly seem to become non-existent in the presence of other dogs and no amount of begging them for their attention appears to be working?  

One easy way to begin changing this relationship between you and your dog is to begin hand feeding your dogs regular meals through training rather than feeding them directly from a bowl. Next time brekkie comes around, resist the urge to put that food bowl down and instead pop their food into a treat pouch and head out for your morning walk instead. Every time your dog does something you like, weather this be pay you eye contact, stays next to you rather than walking ahead, stops when you stop or ignores the dog barking across the street, be ready to reward them! As a general rule, the more often we reward for behaviour we like to see in our dogs, the more likely they will be to repeat that behaviour in the future.

Look at switching up your dogs equipment

There are many fancy harnesses, leashes and tools on the market which claim to ‘fix loose leash walking’ however this is simply not true. Yes there are certain tools which can give you a little bit of extra help along the way but it is never a replacement for getting your reps in and actively training your dog to walk nicely next to you.
It is also important to remember that one piece of equipment which may be suitable for one dog, may be completely unsuitable for your dog and that is ok. As always we want to train the dog in front of us and take into account their individual needs when selecting any gear for your dogs. 

Usually when working with a new dog and their owner who is struggling with their loose leash walking, one of the first things I do will be to assess what equipment they are currently using and if  it is helping, hindering or just not working out for them.

From there we are in a better position to start actively teaching the loose leash walking foundations. Generally, I do not like harnesses to teach loose leash walking as they give minimal control to the handler and allow dogs to pull forwards with all their weight behind them (think Huskies pulling sleds!) However, this is not to say that I cannot use a harness in the future when the dog has a good understanding of what we are asking of them. I believe that good loose leash walking should not be completely dependant on one piece of equipment and can then be generalised to other pieces (or even off leash) as the dog and owner progresses and if it is safe to do so. 

If in doubt, always consult with a professional dog trainer who can help you choose what gear will be the most appropriate for you and your dog. It is so important that we educate ourselves about the equipment we are using rather than we just stick it on our dog and hope for the best!

Check out PK9 Gear for all types of equipment or pick up a custom piece made specifically for you!

Consider the environment your training your dog in

Whenever we teach our dogs a new skill, ideally we want to be doing this in an environment which has the lowest distraction possible. For most people, this would be their backyard, maybe in their living room, but usually a place where the dog is familiar and spends a lot of their time. My recommendation would be to start teaching the loose leash walk here, then progressing to outside onto your driveway, around your block, and progressing to areas with more distractions such as grass, other dogs, people etc. 

We therefore need to lower our expectations for our dogs when out in unfamiliar, busy or challenging environments and ask ourselves ‘is my dog ready for this yet?’. Whilst teaching a loose leash walk, our aim is for our dog to understand that staying by our side is the ideal position to be and one of the ways to teach this is through walking ‘drills’ which gradually get more challenging as the dogs understanding increases. 

Be aware of reward placement

What is reward placement? Reward placement is the delivery of a reward and how this can both positively and negatively affect our dogs and their training.  Many people begin by rewarding their dog ACROSS their body, however what this does, is encourage our dogs to wrap around our leg and cut in front of us to allow them to receive the reward. 

Instead, practice walking with your dog on your left hand side, your treat pouch on your left hip, holding your leash in you right hand and feeding directly from your left hand in line with your left leg. This really helps our dogs understand that staying in line with your left leg is the best place to be rather than zig zagging, cutting in front of you, or lagging behind. 

a dog walking nicely

Introduce a walking command, marker word, and release word

You might be reading this and thinking, wow Abi, well when does my dog get to be a dog? Do they always have to be walking next to me? Am I really not allowed to permit them to sniff anymore? The answer to those things are as follows, sometimes, nope, and of course they can sniff! 

However, that being said, it is important that we communicate to our dogs exactly when all of these things are allowed, and when they should be following our lead and walking politely by our side. 

Giving our dog a particular word to tell them when they should be loose leash walking is a great way to introduce this line of communication. You can use any word you like but some of our favourites are ‘heel’, ‘close’ and ‘slowly’. This tells our dog that when they hear this word, they are to walk politely next to us. 

I then will introduce 2 different marker words to the dog. A reward marker ‘yes’ which is followed up by a food reward to tell them that whatever they did at that exact moment, was correct. In this case, it may be that they paid me eye contact, they stopped when I stopped, they kept slack in the leash and caught up to me when changing direction. All of these moments I want to ensure that my dog knows they’ve done a great job and they should continue. 

The final marker I like to introduce is a release word. Typically we use the word ‘free’ but you could easily say ‘break’, ‘release’ or even ‘party!’. This is the signal to your dog that they have completed the task and are now free to do as they please. Weather this is sniffing, going to the toilet,  or simply having a break between walking reps. 

Repetition repetition repetition

Your dog didn’t learn to pull like a freight train in 2 minutes, it learnt to do so by many many repetitions of doing so. It is therefore important to remember that teaching them that there is an alternative behaviour rather than what they are currently doing is going to take time, patience and understanding. 

If you have a young puppy, they are just beginning their journey to become the best behaved dog they can be, and as such you have the opportunity to teach them from the moment you bring them home how you’d like them to behave on leash. Puppies only have small attention spans so keep your expectations low, and training sessions short. Ideally you are looking at 5 minutes a few times a day. These short sessions will add up to big results if you are consistent!

Now I can hear some of you say, “But Abi, my dog is 5 years old and has never learned to walk nicely on a leash. Does this mean he can’t do it???”  Never fear, all is not lost and contrary to popular belief, you can indeed, teach an old dog, new tricks. Keep in mind that your older dog has had a lot of time practising pulling on leash and as such you can expect to put in a decent amount of repetitions in order to counteract this old behaviour and build value in the new one. If you replace your usual trips to the dog park with 2x 20 minute sessions a day, whilst following the rest of these tips, I am positive you will see an improvement sooner than you think!

In conclusion, dedicating the time to teach your dog or puppy the all important skill of loose leash walking is well worth the time and effort in order to reap the rewards!  After all, if your dog walks are currently a stressful experience, you are much less likely to want to take your dog out at all! This means that sadly for some dogs, they do not get to experience as much of the world with their families than what would be possible if they had learned this important life skill.

Remember that time, patience, consistency, and clear communication is the way forward and be sure to break your training sessions up into bite sized chunks which are fun and engaging for your dog.

Creating a solid loose leash walk isn’t just about stopping your dog from pulling, it also is a fantastic way to engage both their body and mind, helps to address other behavioural issues such as reactivity, and is a way you can further strengthen your bond together.

Need more advice? Book in with one of our trainers for a dog training plan tailored to you and your dog. Book dog training

Would you like to book in but are out of our service area? Pk9 online is for you! Full to the brim of useful videos to guide you from basic puppy training to more advanced skills and full access to online support from our team of experienced trainers.

Blog written by Dog Trainer Abi

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