Thursday, August 20, 2009

Loose Leash Walking and Anti-Pulling Equipment

Walking your dog is not just about exercise - it's an essential part of training and bonding with your dog. It should be fun for both you and your dog, and something you should do every day! Walking with you will give your dog a sense of purpose and a chance to be mentally focused. It will also allow him or her to see you as his trusted partner. Unlike their owners, pet dogs spend most of their time at home or in the yard. Most dogs will jump at any chance to explore the world outside their home!

Below are some guidelines to make your daily walks a positive experience:

It's nice to use anti-pulling equipment instead of a neck collar so that your dog doesn't choke himself or potentially damage his trachea.  Please see a list of recommended tools on my other blog page Anti-Pulling Equipment for Dog Walking.

Loose leash walking is one of the hardest things to train in most dogs. But if you put the effort into it,  you will find that both you and your dog are a lot less frustrated on a leashed walk. A dog that pulls hard on a leash is more difficult to train when issues like leash reactivity or over-excitement towards distractions enter the picture.

You can use one of various methods to teach him to keep the leash loose, such as Red Light Green Light and the Penalty Yard.

Here's a video showing Penalty Yard to a goal.

Click here for another video on Loose Leash Walking.

If your dog simply has too much energy, try playing fetch or let him run off leash for a while before going on a leashed walk.

Discourage excessive sniffing and urine marking, or else use them as rewards. If your dog constantly tries to pull you towards things he wants to smell or pee on, there are a few ways to work on it.

One way is to set your dog up for success and swing wide of the known distractions (such as bushes and mailbox posts), and then use them as "life rewards" after he's walked nicely for a while. For instance, if your dog walks politely on leash for an entire block, you can walk him over to the side of the road to smell or pee on the bush.  What if he pulls you towards the bush?  You can stop, wait for him to stop pulling, wait for him to look at you, and then grant him the reward of sniffing the bush. 

With practice, your dog will start to "ask" politely (i.e. look at you) for things that he wants rather than dragging you towards whatever he wants.

Another way to deal with the situation, if your dog is not a really bad puller, is to just keep walking. Pretend like you didn’t even notice that he wants to stop and smell something.  With repetition your dog will most likely stop trying to pull you towards the side of the road because it never works.

Discourage over-excitement when greeting other dogs and people during walks. Some dogs are very enthusiastic and will pull you towards or bark at another dog or person that he wants to meet. I've met many dog owners who were physically injured because their dogs pulled them so hard! Instead of giving in to your dog's demands (which will only reinforce the behavior), wait for him to be calm and give you eye contact, even if it's just for a second, and then reward him for it by allowing him to meet the other dog or person (when appropriate).  It's usually a good idea to keep the greetings short (2-3 seconds) so the dog doesn't escalate to excitement again and start jumping on the other person or play-wrestling with the other dog.  After a couple of seconds of greeting/sniffing, say "Let's Go!" enthusiastically, walk away and reward your dog for coming with you.

This method (of waiting for the right behavior and rewarding it) tends to work a lot better than telling your dog to be calm or to Sit.  Most dogs will not listen to commands when they're very excited.  But they will eventually calm down if you just wait.  The idea is to show your dog that his actions have consequences - by staying calm, he gets to meet other dogs. With practice, it will become a default behavior, meaning your dog will automatically remain calm when greeting other dogs and people.

For dogs that are reactive towards barking dogs behind fences, redirect your dog’s attention as soon as he looks in that direction or his ears perk up. Prevention is always easier than intervention. To redirect his attention towards you, you can snap your fingers, clap, whistle, etc. (but try not to repeat your dog's name over and over again). Praise or treat him as soon as he looks at you. You may have to start this exercise by leaving a large distance between your dog and the barking dog behind the fence, so that you won't be asking your dog to do more than he is capable of.  

If you absolutely can't get your dog's attention with a sound, it probably means that you are too close to the other dog.  If you find yourself in this situation, gently redirect him with the leash before he reacts, without jerking on the leash.  As your dog improves, gradually decrease the distance between the dogs. If your dog has a full-blown fear of other dogs, I would recommend avoiding neighborhoods with lots of barky dogs, until you've had a chance to modify his fear.

NOTE: If your dog is reactive on leash, I highly recommend working with a qualified trainer. Please see my website's Training page for recommendations on trainers.


It’s nice to reward dogs for good behavior by letting them go off leash at the end of a walk, if there is a safe and legal place to do this. If you can't let him off leash safely, you can use a long line or retractable leash.  It gets boring for a dog to be on a short leash all the time. It also gets boring for them to walk the same route day after day, so mix up your routes whenever possible. In addition to exercise, dogs need socialization with other dogs too, so get together with friends' dogs in a park or someone's yard.

Happy Dog Walking!

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