Loose Lead Walking

making the most of your dog walks

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When out walking your dog, it’s wonderful to have the option of walking your four-legged friend on and off the lead. Our recent national UK dog walking survey showed that for many, pulling on the lead is such a problem that it actually puts them off dog walking altogether.

Dr. Carri Westgarth, dog walking expert and Lecturer in human animal interaction at the University of Liverpool, shares her advice on how loose lead walking can help.

1. Use a front-fastening headcollar 

There are many harnesses and headcollars on the market that can help with pulling, but they’re not a magic wand. They still require you to train your dog, they just make the training process easier. The best tools are headcollars or harnesses that attach at the front and give you a power steering effect to direct the dog during training. Collars that tighten around a dog’s neck can actually teach the dog to pull to get away from the pain, so avoid these. Also avoid harnesses where the leash attaches at the back, as this just gives dogs even more strength to pull through their shoulders. 

2. Use a loose lead 

It takes two to pull, and many owners make the mistake of having a tight lead that forces the dog to pull against it. Start with your dog on either your right or left side (you choose but be consistent) and the lead not too long or short but just loose enough. You are aiming to walk with your dog at your side, not in front. 

3. Walk forward

Many owners try to use treats as a reward for walking on the lead, and these can be used on occasion, but the real reward is you walking forwards where the dog wants to go. When the dog is at your side, you walk. As soon as the dog creeps in front, and before he hits the end of a lead and has been rewarded for pulling for even a second, you must stop walking and encourage him back to your side. From my observations, where many owners go wrong is they wait too long when the dog is back at their side before they walk forward again. Perhaps they take a few seconds to praise the dog, get a treat out of their pocket and give it to him, or ask him to sit. What happens is a back and forth yo-yo effect. In order for the dog to learn that being in that position caused the walking forward, it has to happen quickly, so as soon as your dog is at your side again, don’t hesitate with praise, and then swiftly walk forward.

4. Have two leads

This takes a lot of practice and can be difficult to integrate into real life. Sometimes you just need to get on and do the walk, and don’t have time for all the back and forth of a training session. A top tip is to have two kinds of leads for walking, one where your dog can pull a bit (not dragging you but not perfect walking either) and another for perfect walking. When you have time, use the lead where no pulling is ever rewarded. When you need a quick walk, use the other. Perhaps you teach your dog to never pull when he’s on the headcollar but you are more relaxed on a collar and long lead. Perhaps your dog should never pull when on a collar and short lead but can pull a bit when wearing a harness. The choice is yours as to whatever works for you. Over time, as your dog gets better at loose lead walking, you will be able to spend less time on the pulling set up and more time on the non-pull setup, until your dog is eventually walking well all the time.

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