What do I do?!
This is a common complaint I hear from almost everyone first beginning their training journey with me.
Loose leash walking is the biggest skill my clients seem to want and struggle to get.
It seems elusive and confusing.
While it may be daunting and overwhelming at first glance, when you break it down, loose leash walking is easy and can be trained through simple, fun games!
Here are the six key things I teach all my clients for a great loose leash walk and some games to play for each!
Most dogs have a conflicting view on their name. We usually use our dogs name for both good things and bad things, like a bath or scolding for chewing the couch.
In order to work well on leash, we want our dogs to know their name as something super positive and exciting. That way, you can get their attention at any time in order to call them to heel to pass a dog or leave the nasty chicken bone alone.
Teaching name recognition is super easy. All you have to do is say their name in different vocal tones (think of all the different ways you say your dog's name), and then drop a treat for them to eat. We aren't looking for any sort of behavior. Just name, then drop a treat.
Start inside with low distractions, and slowly move your way outside. Remember to follow their name with a treat outside of training sessions too!
Even though your dog will be on leash, you want to be able to call them close to you to avoid danger, avoid other dogs and people, and more.
One of the ways I used recall just recently was when I spotted a cactus on my walk. My dogs were on a long leash and could've easily stepped on it. I used a recall to get them close to me in order to pass the cactus safely.
On leash, recall is pretty simple and a great time to practice.
I could write an entire book on how to train a reliable recall, but to sum it up, you'll want to condition your recall word to mean extra special treats (I even use one stinky treat ONLY for recall). You can do that the same way as you worked on their name, but make sure to feed the reward from your hand so that they know to come to you for the reward.
If you want to learn more about recall, we have an entire workshop just for you included in our Pack membership.
This is one aspect of leash walking that many force free trainers shy away from. I can understand why - it's usually used to condition tools like a prong collar that many dogs find aversive.
However, I have found it to be incredibly useful without those tools and have found an easy way to teach it with little pressure being placed on the dog.
This allows for our dogs to feel the pressure from the leash when they pull and immediately come back to us, loosening the leash and avoiding strain on us!
When I'm training leash pressure, I simply straighten the leash out into a line instead of actually placing pressure on the dog's harness. Then I use a lure to make the leash back into a "J" shape. Eventually, I fade the lure and work it into real life situations.
I call it power steering.
Walks are inevitably FULL of distractions. Dogs, people, squirrels, cars, interesting scents, you name it.
In order to keep the leash loose, your dog needs to know what to do when they see (or smell) these distractions!
My favorite method to train a good distraction toolkit is Control Unleashed - a system created by Leslie McDevitt.
Two of my favorite games from this method are the Look at That game and whiplash turns!
Here is a great example of the whiplash turn game with my dog, Quimby. To practice with distractions, you would just place the distraction near where I am placing the first treat on the ground.
The game follows like this:
I like to have sniffing on cue so that I can easily tell my dog when they can sniff and be free. Most of my walks are spent sniffing, so this is a very important aspect for me.
I like to be able to call my dog to come closer in order to pass other dogs and people, but the walk is primarily for my dog. Because of this, I like to give them as much freedom as I possibly can, and that includes a lot of sniffing!
Teaching sniffing on cue is actually really really easy.
All you have to do is pick a cue word that you'd like to use (I use "go sniff"), and practice using the cue word and tossing a treat into the grass or a smell heavy area. Then continue walking as usual, keeping rewards minimal or low value so that your dog feels more inclined to explore and decompress.
Reorienting to you is crucial for navigating tight spaces, doorways, apartment complexes, and even getting out of the car for a walk.
This may be a new concept for you, and that's okay!
All it means is that when your dog passes through a threshold into a new space (out of the car, out of the door, out of the hallway, etc), their first response is to look at you for next steps.
This is an incredible skill to have to keep your pup from getting TOO excited and pulling you at the beginning of your walk and can also help acclimate them to the new area!
The great news is, you can teach this with the same game we played before - whiplash turns.
Here's a great video of working on reorienting after exiting a crate outdoors (a common scenario for sport dogs):
All of these things combined will add up to a beautiful loose leash walk for you and your dog.
I use them all daily, and I teach everyone who needs a nice loose leash walk all six of these skills.
Do you think you could use a little more support in teaching all of these and piecing it together?
Let's get you that loose leash walk of your dreams!