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Leash Training for Dogs

How to Train Your Dog to Walk on a Loose Leash

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Photo of Dalmatian on Leash
Photo by Scott Barbour / Getty Images

Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash stops him from pulling during walks. It is not a perfect "heel" which keeps your dog strictly by your side. 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.



Getting Started

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. Martingale collars are another option. These collars are ideal for training a dog to walk on a loose leash. They look like regular flat collars, but have an extra loop that pulls tight when your dog pulls to keep him from slipping out. You should also have some treats handy.

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 command, 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.

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 then 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 at your side and give him treats continuously, as long as he is walking near you with 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 just 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, you can wait until he lets up a little on the leash, give him the command again, and turn and walk in the opposite direction. Your dog will have no choice but to follow. If he tries to step out in front of you, cut him off and keep walking. Your dog will soon learn to pay attention to you to figure out which way to go.
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