3 Essential Tips for a Perfect Loose Leash Walk

Jun 25, 2024

Picture this:

It’s a warm sunny day. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, and the flowers are blooming. All you want to do is get outside.

You grab your dog’s leash, and they bounce up to you, waiting calmly while you put on their gear.

You open the door, give your dog a cue, and as they walk outside, they immediately wait at your side for the next directions.

You lock the door and head off on your walk together.

Your dog gets to sniff anything and everything, and the leash is light and easy to hold.

You see dogs passing by, and yours just looks up and then resumes sniffing, sometimes looking up at you with happiness.

You pass by your neighbor, who shouts, “Your dog is beautiful!” as you walk past at your pace while your pup is quietly sniffing near you.

You see a squirrel up ahead, so you call your dog, and they immediately fall into position next to you while you pass by the squirrel’s tree. 

You feed a treat and continue on your walk.

No sore arm, no skid marks on your knees, no rug burn from the leash - just a nice, quiet walk.

I want that….

And I’m guessing you do too! 

So here are my top 3 tips to make that happen as a professional dog trainer and canine behavior consultant.

Meet Your Dog’s Needs Before Training

Can you imagine what would happen if you were asked to make burgers for 20 people after not having breakfast OR lunch?

You wouldn’t be so easy to motivate, would you?

The same goes for our dogs.

Our dogs need ample time to sniff, run, play, and do all the dog things before we can ask them to walk nicely on a leash. Otherwise, you’ll be fighting a losing battle with them and their pulls! 

Here are some ideas on how to meet these needs BEFORE loose leash training:

  • Find a safe off leash area to let your dog run and play (Sniffspot is amazing for this)
  • Take your dog swimming
  • Play a few rounds of fetch in the yard before setting off on your leash walk
  • Play some nosework games at home before your walk
  • Use an enrichment toy to stimulate your pup's brain with their meals 

Sometimes, just meeting the needs is enough to stop the pulling altogether! Most dogs can’t get enough exercise and enrichment just through walks and need a bit more.

Focus on Rewarding the Good

Rewarding the good things you see is imperative for continuing to see those good things! 

Just remember that if you are in a new area, or even just an outdoor area, you will likely need some better treats. Think boiled chicken, cheese, and hot dogs kind of good! 

You should be rewarding all throughout your walk for a loose leash, checking in with you, responding to their name, responding to a recall cue, and any time a distraction appears. That way, bad habits are never created and you get to see more of what you like.

Many trainers will recommend using corrective collars or correcting the behavior themselves. This technically does work, but it only works due to discomfort and anxiety. AND you can experience a backslide in skills when those devices are removed. 

Rewards work because they are amazing! And they last

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather reward my dog and experience those feelings rather than frustrating my dog and I both with focusing on the negatives.

Listen to the Emotions

Does your dog bark or lunge like crazy on walks when anyone appears? This is information to you! 

Does your dog seem to tuck their tail and stay low to the ground in new places? This is information too! 

If your dog is acting differently outside your home, there may be underlying emotions that you need to work on first.

Imagine if every time you went to drive your car, you saw a spider (or other scary thing for you) on your steering wheel. You wouldn’t enjoy driving very much, would you?

Do you think you’d be able to solve a math problem after seeing the spider race across the dashboard?

It’s the same for your dog. If they are anxious or nervous about dogs, people, new places, sounds, or other things, they are going to have a difficult time learning to walk nicely on a leash.

The important thing in these situations is to address those emotions first through slow and positive conditioning with a behavior consultant. 

You can search for one in your area here, or reach out to me! I’m happy to help - reactive and anxious dogs are my specialty.

It’s important to remember that dogs aren’t naturally born with the ability to slowly and calmly walk in a straight line. Dogs naturally arc, curve, speed up, and slow down in their free environments. 

So loose leash walking really is teaching them a new skill and confining them to human ideals.

Because of this, we need to be understanding and compassionate in our training and making sure all their needs are met first, rewarding them for the good things we like, and listening to their feelings. 

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