Loose leash walking with your dog can be great quality time spent together. It is great for your health and the health of your pup. Treats, toys and certain things in the environment can be very effective tools in keeping your dog walking on a loose leash.
Most dogs pull on the leash because they want to investigate the world around them. They want to run, sniff and chase things while we want them to walk at a slow steady pace down the boring sidewalk. Up to now you have probably been allowing your dog to drag you from one fabulous scent to another, making pulling a rewarding experience for the dog. We want your dog to realize that she will get to sniff some good stuff and maybe even run a little but only if she walks by your side on a loose leash. So instead of being rewarded for pulling on the leash, your dog will now be rewarded for walking on a loose leash.
Begin by walking around your home a little, whenever your dog walks next to you say “yes”, provide treats and praise. She will soon decide that near you is very rewarding. Now we give the action a name, like “let’s go!”, “walk” or “heel”. As your dog moves with you say the word, say “yes” and reward with a treat. Slowly add distractions in the environment until you feel confident she will follow you. Put her leash on and hold on to the very end of it, the walking should be just the same.
If your dog gets very excited with the leash then desensitize by picking up the leash several times a day and then putting it down again. Then clip it on your pup and have her wear it around the house for a bit. Soon your dog will get the idea that the leash is not always indicative of an outing and will be able to calmly sit for you to clip it on. Once you can walk her on a loose leash around your home you are ready for the great outdoors.
Begin in your yard in the same manner, every time she is near you say “yes” and treat. Your yard is not as interesting as a real walk so she should soon pay attention. Whenever she gets to the end of the leash just stop and wait for her to turn to you, when she does, guide her back to heel position, say “yes” and start walking, this should give you three or four steps in which you can reward her for being close to you.
At this point you can start going out into the street for short walks. Make sure you have lots of treats, you can also bring one of your dog’s favorite squeaky toys and squeak it and let her play with it when she is walking by your side. Make sure you are NOT using the toy to get her attention as this is rewarding the opposite of what we want. Changing directions is also a fantastic way to keep your dog focused on you, instead of walking down in a straight line, meander about. Every time you change direction say “let’s go” and as your dog moves in that direction click or say “yes” and treat before she gets a chance to get ahead of you. It is important to hold on with gentle hands, if your hands are pulling then your dog will counteract by pulling as well. A way to remind you not to hold on tight is to wiggle your fingers.
We also like to teach a “go sniff” cue. Instead of fighting the environment and being dragged to that tree where all the neighbor dogs leave their liquid news, you can have her walk nicely to it and use it as a reward. Get her attention about 5 ft from the tree and when you do, encourage her to “go sniff” and quickly move towards it so she doesn’t feel any pressure on the leash. After a few seconds get her attention back and say, “lets go” and continue on your way.
Remember to praise your dog throughout and realize that you can encourage loose leash walking with your voice and kissy sounds.