Loose Leash Walking

Loose leash walking - not as simple as it sounds! Teaching your pet to walk without pulling can be very difficult because there are so many different components involved and so many competing reinforcers.

I’m going to talk about dogs in this post, but these techniques that I’ll be talking about can be used with many other animals as well.

So why do dogs pull on leash? Well, it’s mostly because they have places to go and humans are so, so slooowwww! There are things to sniff and things to eat and things to chase, and the leash is a restriction that prevents your pet from enjoying all the fun stuff they could be doing if they weren’t attached to you.

So how do you get your dog to walk on a loose lead and stop all the pulling? Read on to find out!

Name recognition and attention sound

For some dogs, the second they walk outside, you cease to exist!. There are so many interesting things in the environment, competing for their attention!

To successfully train anything outside, you need your dog’s attention. To get their attention, they need to have a history of good things happening when they pay attention to you. This is why I always begin training inside, where there are few distractions and I can quickly build a reinforcement history, in a place where the dog can be successful. Before going outside, I want the dog to be reliably responding to their name and an “attention” sound inside the house. This way, when we walk outside, we have a foundation behavior to build from.

Reinforce the right answer

It sounds so simple, to reinforce the right answer, but it can actually be one of the most difficult parts of training for most people. When our dogs are walking on a loose leash, we tend to relax and get comfortable and distracted, because, well, our dog is being ‘good’. The problem is, if you’re not reinforcing your pet for walking on a loose lead, I guarantee that the environment will be reinforcing them for pulling!

Red light, green light

If you’ve ever played this game as a child, then you know that red light means stop and green light means go. So, the red light is your dog pulling and the green light is a loose lead.

The reason why most people struggle with this protocol is that when their dog starts to pull and they stop walking, they wait for the dog to come back to them. This creates a yo-yo effect where the dog runs back to them for a treat and then runs right back out to the end of the lead.

The key to this protocol is to use forward movement as your reinforcer for a loose lead. After all, forward movement is your pet’s ultimate goal! So, when they pull, you stop immediately to avoid reinforcing the pulling but the second that your dog even so much as shifts their weight enough to loosen the lead, you walk forward again, reinforcing the loose lead.

Direction changes

For this technique, you’ll change the direction you’re walking frequently, encouraging your dog to pay more attention to you because they never know which way you’re going to go. This is where responding to their name or attention sound becomes important.

To make this work, you’ll use your attention sound or your dog's name to get their attention before they hit the end of the lead. This way you can let them know that you’re changing direction, instead of letting them hit the end of the lead and possibly injuring there neck before they realize you’re going the other way.

Once they catch up to you going in the new direction, you can reinforce the moments that they are beside you with food or a game of tug.

Reinforcement isn’t always food!

Food is a great reinforcer and easy to use but it’s not the only reinforcer available. For some dogs, a game of tug or a brief sprint may be a great way to reinforce walking next to you.

Don’t stop there!

These are just some of the protocols I use but there are many more. The more games you play with your pet to keep them engaged and by your side, the more successful your walks will be! Need more help with your walks? Check out our loose leash walking program here: www.essentialanimaltraining.com/no-pull-walking