Loose Leash Walking: Putting an End to Leash Pulling

Loose Leash Walking: Putting an End to Leash Pulling

About a month ago, I walked Lola for the first time in almost two years on a regular collar. Without being pulled. I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to say that.

As many of you are aware, a while back we switched to a trainer who uses all positive reinforcement and clicker training. And our experiences couldn’t be better.

In the few short weeks that we had been working with Linda Legare CPDT-KA-KPCTP, we made more progress than we did in several months at the first training facility we took Lola to when she was a pup.

Instead of punishing unwanted behaviors (i.e. pulling), we built positive associations with desired behaviors. We learned to be patient and consistent. We began to teach our dogs what we wanted them to do and rewarding them when doing so.

When we are outside, there are a squirrels, cars, birds, people…distractions. We had to increase the treat value whenever we were outside. For us, this meant using beef liver or chicken (hot dogs and lunchmeat are also great options). If I were to bring kibble or something ‘boring’, Lola would’ve never been willing to work for those – so that was part of figuring out what makes Lola tick.

We first worked on reinforcing Lola being next to our side and making eye contact. Whenever she would do so we would click and treat. We began building this focus inside our house and then brought her out in the yard and so forth.

When the walks began, we started out in the boring part of the neighborhood. We walked the opposite way from her favorite ‘run-crazy, play-disc-and-ball’ park. After all, we wanted to set her up to succeed.

We also only worked on strict heeling for about 5 minutes of the walk. We didn’t want to burn her out and as long as she wasn’t pulling on the leash, let’s face it, we were happy.

Loose Leash Walking: Putting an End to Leash Pulling

Possibly the most important thing we changed: we stopped allowing her to pull us. This was likely the hardest part, as easy as it truly is.

Lola walks on my left side – so to set up our walk position, I held the leash and clicker in my right hand (sometimes even put my wrist through the leash handle) and treats in my left (closest to her).

She then chose whether to keep the leash loose or walk out to the end of her leash with full tension on. I left the leash alone. I did not pull her back, I did not yank on it. Instead, I did my hardest to keep her attention. Patience is key here. This meant a short time between each command (combined with a lot of coaxing noises coming from my mouth, ha). Walk a couple steps, stop and sit, walk a few more steps, stop and sit. This kept her on her toes and thinking, about me, about what to do. Whenever she made eye contact > click, treat. Whenever she was in the correct heel position > click, treat. Whenever she sat next to my side > click, treat. In the beginning, it was a lot of click, treat, click, treat, click, treat. Note to self, bring a lot of tiny treats.

When she broke her concentration (which happened a lot) and ran to the end of her leash (also happened a lot), I stopped dead in my tracks and didn’t budge. The moment she broke the tension in the leash and turned back towards me > click, treat. This took longer than desired in some cases. And sometimes, she didn’t turn back to look at me on her own. In those instances, I looked next to my side where she should have been and said outloud, “Where is Lola? Come, Lola” and directed her to the correct position. Once she was there, we started all over again. Sometimes (quite often) we didn’t make it very far on our walks, but in reality – we did. We were taking baby steps that would soon prove their worth.

Once we started getting better and building focus, we began the walk on her harness (the Freedom Harness) and about one-third of the way into the walk, I would switch and clip the leash onto her regular, flat collar. The first few times it didn’t go so well. She immediately pulled to the end of her leash and my reaction was the same – stop. She looked back and turned towards me – yes!! Click, treat. I then began coaxing her along and maintaining eye contact for several strides and kept clicking and treating every time. Before I knew it, we had just walked at least 50 feet with her not pulling! I was beyond thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, we would be able to walk on the leash like a team one day!

Stop jerking the leash. Since switching trainers and methods, we had to nix this bad habit ourselves. Instead of ‘popping’ the leash if she didn’t do as we requested, we instead reward her for the good. The progress we made in just two months was mind blowing.

And as I mentioned before, another one of the most helpful tips was to use a shorter chain of commands. Walk a few steps and sit. Walk a few more steps – sit. Walk one step – sit. Keep your dog on their toes and thinking. This really worked great if Lola was having a hard time focusing on me. We weren’t making it anywhere in record time, but that wasn’t exactly our intentions.

This video below was from a recent walk we took together. I’m sooo proud of her.

Does your dog pull? Have you been able to make progress? I truly encourage you to find a trainer in your area and begin using clicker-training. Truly putting the time and effort in and setting a goal for you and your dog will make a world of difference. I used to get so frustrated with Lola and myself and would never make it more than a few days of trying a new method, but trust me, you can do it – we did!  Persistence, patience, and repetition.

Try not to get frustrated and only work on your walking for about 10 minutes at a time – and remember, even a few seconds of your dog focusing on you is improvement! If you notice yourself getting irritated, just stop and come back to it later. Good luck!


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40 Replies to “Loose Leash Walking: Putting an End to Leash Pulling”

  1. Way to go! Loose leash walking is so much better than pulling!

    Dottie is 9 years old and seems to think that she’s a sled dog. So I have to stay on top of her constantly with yummy treats and praise so she walks well. It’s a lot of work but much better than being pulled down the street!

    1. Hi Emily, I always joke that Lola would be a great sled dog, haha. But I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made, but I also have to remember to constantly practice otherwise she’ll try to revert. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. Oh my gosh, she is so cute in that video. I have to admit, I have very little patience and I do get frustrated when a dog pulls. The hardest part for me is when we just have to walk for the sake of exercise. When you really need to exercise the dog, you can’t be stopping all the time. I guess that’s part of the reason why I run with dogs. They are usually able to stay at my side more naturally when I pick up the pace.

    I lucked out with Ace. He was pretty easy to train to heel since he’s pretty laid back. Don’t get me wrong, though. He still pulls when he’s excited! (sigh). I trained at a facility where we used leash pops combined with lots of treats and verbal praise. The super slight leash pops seemed to work for him since he’s so sensitive. I like the positive reinforcement techniques, though, and may try the clicker approach when I get my next dog. I’m glad it’s worked well for you and Lola!

    1. Hi Lindsay! Thank you :)…I totally understand the whole “we have places to be, let’s get a move on!”. So I had to buckle down and find the patience, knowing that we weren’t going to get anywhere. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. That’s awesome! Norman is super easy to walk either in a heel or loose leash but Kaya is all or nothing. She’s awesome at heel(like Lola in the video) but if I give her some slack, she always finds her way to the end of the leash and pulling so I know how challenging it is! Luckily most of her time is spent off leash. It’s funny that she is so easy to walk off leash, she clearly just wants that extra 10 feet that a leash(or my arm) won’t allow. She really has no drive towards distractions except her own free will:)

  4. When we adopted Cookie, walking her was like flying a kite. She has improved so much since. Though we still have work to do around bunnies and squirrels. But I don’t even really blame her for wanting to chase after them.

    1. Haha, don’t we all!? Dog ownership and training is a never-ending work in progress, but a fun one at that!

  5. This is such a great success story and wonderful tips for a very common dog training problem. Thanks for sharing and for joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. My experience has been that the more positively a dog is trained the better their focus and, well, as you learned, everything is easier from there, even the dreaded leash pull.

    1. Thanks so much, Bethany. Yes, I honestly was never sure if the leash pulling thing would end – but it has proved to me that with the right techniques and persistence, we can do it!

  6. Way to go! Both our pups are perfect leash walkers, we worked hard on teaching “heel” as soon as we got them.

    One thing we did that helps us, was to stop whenever they passed the position that they were supposed to maintain. Focus is definitely the key! When we walk our goal is to have our feet first (we are the pack leaders) and their shoulders in line with our hips, if they pass us we stop, regain eye contact, have them move back, and then proceed again. What’s great about the eye contact is that now, almost everytime we stop they immediately look at us for direction. 🙂

    Once we got “heel” down we taught out boy to pull in a harness for urban joring! This is rollerblading with puppy power, the dogs and my husband love it!
    Good job!

    1. Hi Aavery,
      yes – focus is soo important. That’s awesome that you and your pups are on top of it! It’s always difficult having a puller (and frustrating!).
      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Fantastic explanation of your progress!! I have to agree, this is a hard one with an extremely motivated, fast, energetic dog. We’ve managed to do good on pretty much any walk unless I have the disc. That’s Mort’s biggest downfall – that disc – *knowing* it’s with us and knowing at some point he’ll get to chase it.

    And the sad thing is, he totally knows I want him to walk by my side when I ask him “to my side” – he’ll back up, and walk there for a bit, and … then … oh … my… gosh… she… hasTheDiscIBetterWalkFasterOhMyGodThisIsTheBestICan’tWait! The only thing that will motivate him is that disc and moving towards one of the spots we play with it. Food? Nope. Other toys? Nope. Other tricks? Nope. Walk in a different direction or back towards the house? Insanity. Total one track mind with that one toy/activity 🙂

    Anyway, it can be tough stuff. Sounds like you and Lola are doing great!

    1. HAH! Yeah, we can totally relate there. If that disc is in hand (or we are at flyball) – forget it! But that drive is perfect for the sport, so I guess they have an excuse, lol. In fact, if I just hold the disc next to my side, she’ll start spinning, jumping, etc. I’m sure Mort gets the same way! Ahh, gotta love ’em. Thanks for the comment, Jen.

      1. Totally! That’s sort of one of the tough decisions with a sport dog, because you don’t want to break that intense drive, or make them confused, because it’s so good for the sport! Some of the stuff around freestyle disc (vaulting, feeling comfortable jumping off body parts) can be even more awkward for some training endeavors. We’re working hard on context, when and what is acceptable – can be challenging at times 🙂

    1. Haha, it can be sooo frustrating! I could only work on it for about 10 minutes at a time in the beginning otherwise I would begin to get too flustered. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Great article Sarah, and talk about progress! Switching trainers looks like it made a huge difference. Some pitties just need that extra effort that comes with patience and positivity, not negativity.
    Will you be able to replace the treats with praise eventually? That’s one thing we worry about with training, is that we’ll end up giving our dogs too many calories because of all the treats it takes!

    1. Hi Walter,
      Yes, the treats needed during walking has been reduced, dramatically. But really instead of giving my dog extra calories, I may just cut back on their food a little or even use their kibble for treats when training at home. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. I need to get back to this with both my dogs. It’s hard with Delilah, as soon as she sees me reaching into my treat bag, she sticks her nose there. It’s so, so hard to get a treat out with her!

  10. My dog, Habibi, and I are working on loose leash-walking and good manners in general,too. When I train with my pup and start to feel frustrated, I like to remind myself that I’m “training” myself, too ( as in how to become a better communicator with my pup and definitely developing more patience! lol). It’s evident that you’re putting a lot of love and effort into Lola. 🙂 This post was really encouraging! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Nina,
      isn’t that the truth – it’s just as much training for the handler! Good luck with Habibi!

  11. So happy to read the journey out of the dark side! Way to go for being open to new, more humane techniques! I think you’ll find that most living creatures will work harder AND happier to achieve a goal vs. to avoid something they dislike! 😀

    1. Thanks, Kelsie! I agree, just wish we had started sooner (but life is a learning experience!). Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  12. Hiya I have a Jack Russell who is keen to learn if not a bit (sometimes a lot) stubborn, he is walking better on a loose lead but we do need more work, the problem is I have to use a stick when walking which means I didn’t have a free hand so holding the lead, stick, clicker and treats is much harder if not at times impossible it also makes being quick with treats very hard, can anyone give me any tips to get over this problem please, I know I need training as much as Harry (my JRT) does if not more, I just am not sure what to do to make life easier and happier when walking for both of us
    Thanks for reading this
    Regards Claire

    1. Hi Claire,
      My suggestion would be to get a waist leash? You can then use the hand closest to the dog to hold the treats. A treat bag may also make it easier to hold the excess treats. Hope this helps! We use the Ruffwear waist leash.
      Thanks for the comment!

      1. I had my older dog, Comet walking really well on a loose leash until my younger dog, Haley came along. And they have both been in training, and are not bad if they are walked separately. But together, everything falls apart. The whole walk, they are just trying to get in front of each other. Ugh.

        1. Hi Jill, I feel your pain. Rio always wants to be the leader and walks 10x better if he’s in front of Lola. Luckily Lola doesn’t really mind either way. But yes, it’s such a pain.

  13. I have worked with trainers from our local humane society and they are big on positive reinforcement and on waiting for the dog to make the right choice. I have been amazed at how quickly my dogs respond. Even to working with one of my dogs who became reactive after being attacked by a dog who ran out it’s front door! She is getting less reactive and more confident! They have been such a wonderful support and the response from my dogs has been wonderful! But don’t we all respond better to positive reinforcement?

  14. I have a Boxer/Pit Mix and we’re working on loose leash walking. I know we need to have special training sessions where we just work on her walking by my side. But then I feel like when I want to walk her longer for exercise (or trying to get to the dog park) I’m not reinforcing what I’m teaching in her training sessions. Am I right to think I need to ALWAYS stop whenever she gets to the end of the leash and forgo the exercise walks for now?

    1. Hi Janine,

      As hard as it is (we’ve been there) – do not allow your dog to pull you INTO the park. We didn’t necessarily work on heeling or loose leash walking while making the short trek to the park area, but would take the extra minute to get up to the point where we could release her and let her run. There was a lot of stopping and asking her to sit, then walk a few steps, ask for a sit, etc. If she’s really focused on a ball or something, try to show her the ball to get her attention focused on you (and the ball) vs. pulling to get there. And as long as she’s NOT pulling to the end of her leash on the long walks (we did not ask for a heel or being right next to us 100% of the time while training), I’d say that is progress :).

      Hope this helps!

  15. Hi! My sweet boxer is almost too terrified to walk on a leash. She’s a rescue girl with some clear past-issues with cars. How can I reinforce to her walks are safe, and fun?

    1. Hi Lea, thanks for the comment. This also will take lots of time and patience. So is it the leash or the cars that she’s scared of? Either way, whatever you determine she is scared of, work up towards. Ex: if she’s scared of cars, start by going on walks in areas where there are no cars, then work up to a slightly less secluded area where you can walk up to a car, give her treats for even being around a car, etc. Take things very slow and just gradually introduce more :). Hope this helps 🙂

  16. Question for you! You recommended working on this a little bit at a time. What do you recommend for a dog that needs the walking exercise? Focus on the training for the first 10 minutes and then continue with him pulling for 50 minutes? Or let him pull for the first little bit of the walk, do the 10 minutes loose leash training and then continuing with him pulling on the walk? Or do I stop every time he’s at the end of his leash for the whole hour walk?

    Many thanks in advance!

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