Loose Lead Walking

The reason so many dogs pull on their leads and drag their long-suffering owners along the street is because those owners have inadvertently taught their dogs that pulling is the way to move forward.

Think about what happens when a dog reaches the end of its lead. The owner pulls back, the dog braces itself and the owner relents a little, still walking forwards. The dog lunges forward again, the owner tugs again. He is learning that pulling will result in walking forwards and the cycle continues.

There are many ways to train dogs to walk to heel and the method I favour avoids any tugging or throttling of the animal. Your dog will learn that tension on the lead means he should stop and return to you rather than pulling against you.

As with all heel training this technique requires patience and persistence but it nearly always works very well.

Ask your dog to sit next to you in the position you would like him to walk. Lure him there with a treat if necessary but don’t pull him there with the lead.

Take a step forward. If your dog leaps ahead of you, stop and call him back to the heel position. Treat him if necessary to keep him there but don’t pull on the lead. There is no point setting off if your dog is not waiting by your side.

With your dog loosely held on a lead start to walk ahead and when your dog starts to move ahead of you weave to the left or right to keep him in place, or change direction, maybe even through 180 degrees, keeping his attention by using encouraging language, rewarding with ‘Good’ when he reaches the right position. If necessary you can let him know you have a treat in your hand.

If he continues to go too far ahead and reaches the end of the lead, stop. Do not pull back on the lead; just stand still. After a second or two click your tongue or slap your thigh to gain your dog’s attention. When he looks towards you, reward him with the marker word ‘Good’ or other marker and call him to you. As he starts to approach you, turn away and walk off in a different direction with him following you. When he is in the correct heel position say ‘Heel’ and praise him with a ‘Good’.

Reward him periodically, but only when he is walking in the correct position, saying the word ‘Heel’. Eventually he will learn that where you want him to be is next to you. Practise this exercise in a quiet place to begin with but later in noisier and/or more distracting environments.

When you do this make sure your dog is still facing forwards when he’s beside you. It takes an age to go anywhere at first but your dog will eventually reach the position where, if he feels tension on the lead he will stop automatically. When he does this you can encourage him to return to your side and move off in another direction as he approaches, which will help him to get into the correct position beside you.

You will find that, as your dog is responding to walking without pulling on the lead, he will eventually walk quite happily beside you without a lead at all.

Check out my Loose Lead Walking the F.I.D.O. way video for a demonstration of this technique