Loose Leash Walking – What is it, and why is it important?
Many people have difficulties walking their dogs, for they cannot stop them from pulling. Teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash or “heel” not only makes the walk more enjoyable for you and your furry friend, but helps you strengthen your relationship and how your dog you are a capable leader. Instictly, dogs have a “pecking order” within the pack, and when we come in, we must place ourselves at the top of this, in order to have a better relationship with our canine pals. This is not to be mistaken with an “alpha role.” While dogs do have some sort of hierarchy within their pack, they do not get to the top through aggression or dominance. The method shown here teaches you to be a calm and assertive pack leader in a gentle manner your dog will instantly respond to. Loose leash walking is also different to the traditional “heel” which involves the dog being at your left side, their shoulder at your knee at all times. Loose leash walking means giving your dog a boundary or “bubble” around you. My bubble is a foot on either side of me and behind me, and stops at my knees. This way, I can keep my dog’s nose at my knee, but she is allowed a bit of space on either side or behind, but not enough to drag back or pull me to the grass. It is good to teach the dog to walk on both sides of you, and I like to teach the “switch” cue so I can have them change sides if I need to. I also like to teach my dogs to have their nose at my knee as it helps them to see where I am going without the risk of me running into them if I change direction. I do use the term “heel” to teach a dog to come back to my side, which most helpful for off leash work.
When we let a dog lead us on the walk, we are telling the dog that they are above us in the pack, as they are leading us. This can lead to other problems later on, for in their minds they are required to lead the pack, and many dogs are not fit for this role. It also means that the dog is most likely pulling on the leash, something which everyone can agree takes the joy out of walking our furry friends. In order to teach the dog that we can lead them correctly, we must teach them to willingly stay by our side. Teaching a dog loose leash walking is easier than it seems. There are four main rules to remember:
1. Remember to keep the leash loose. When teaching loose leash walking, it is imperative the leash does stay loose at all times. If the dog pulls and the leash goes tight, we can stop or give a small gentle correction, then instantly let the leash loose when the dog is back at our side.
2. Stop, and change direction. Stopping when your dog starts to get ahead and then stepping off before them is a very useful technique, as it actually makes the dog focus on what is happening. Saying “heel” or similar when you are stepping off will reinforce that the dog needs to stay at your side. Also useful is turning and walking in the direction you came from, if they are consistently pulling (such as on the way to the park). When the dog is walking well in the opposite direction, calmly praise then
3. Walk with confidence. Dogs communicate through body language, so by walking at a good pace with our shoulders back and head up will let your dog know that you are the confident leader he desires.
4. Allow the dog to stop and sniff only when asked to. When we walk, the dog should be kept walking at a brisk pace, and only be allowed to stop and sniff when we have released them to do so. This goes the same for “going potty.” It is important that we ask the dog to eliminate and stop on command, in order to reinforce our role as pack leader. A dog that is allowed to stop and sniff at will, does not see us as worthy to lead them.
Personally, I prefer the harness, as the leash attaches to the chest of the dog, giving us more strength, and it does not put pressure on the trachea, a common concern with dogs that pull against their collars. The harness is also designed to gently move the dog slightly off balance, so they stop and come into us. It is a very effective way to teach your dog to loose leash walk, and is easy on your arms, as well as your dog’s throat.
The martingale collar is also an effective training tool. Similar design to a choke chain, except the chain only covers half of the collar, and when pulled tightens the nylon strap around the dog’s neck, only to an adjusted point. The collar works by giving a quick tug and release on chain, which tells the dog that he has made a mistake, and then is rewarded with the loose collar when the mistake is corrected. The stop and turn technique should also be used with this collar. Martingales also come in a full-nylon variety, however many dogs react to the sound of the chain more than the slight pressure around their neck. For dogs that lunge frequently, and also very small breeds with delicate necks, a harness may be a better option. For dogs with very wide necks, a wide full-nylon variety is also available.
It is recommended to seek professional advice when teaching your dog to loose leash walk, as it can sometimes be more challenging than it sounds! If you have any questions regarding your own dog’s walk, feel free to contact me for advice.