Leash Skills

Learning to walk on a leash is a critical skill. Even if you live somewhere your dog can be free, there are times they need to be leashed.  

My criteria for good leash skills are a dog who can walk without pulling and stay on one side or the other without impeding my movement. Like any training, success depends on thorough and consistent practice and clear communication.

Dogs who already pull hard.
This is a great exercise for any dog who already has a strong (pun intended!) history of reward for pulling – getting where they want to go!

1. With your dog on leash, show them a treat and drop it right beside your foot on the side you want your dog on.
2. Wait for your dog to look up at you, then drop another treat. If they pull, just stand still and wait – they will eventually turn back to you.
3. After they finish that treat, drop another treat beside your foot. At this point your dog will either put pressure on the leash (repeat step 2); or stand without pressure waiting for treats (go to step 4).
4. Continue to put a treat beside your foot every time your dog turns to you. After 10-15 repetitions without pulling, continue to step 5.
5. Drop 3-5 treats beside your foot, take 2 steps away and wait for your dog to finish the treats and come toward you. Repeat this step until your dog has stopped pulling and is coming to you every time.
6. Start walking without stopping and feed a treat from your hand every few steps. Feed the treat right beside your leg.
7. Any pulling, stop moving and go back to step 2.

If you can’t get past step 2, find somewhere quieter to train.  

Loose leash walking – basic training.
Using a verbal marker (or a clicker) can make things much clearer for your dog.  

It marks the moment your dog is doing the behaviour you want – like taking a snapshot of that moment and showing it to your dog. A verbal marker can be “Yes!” or “Good!” or any single syllable word.  When you mark or click, always follow with a treat.

1. Start with your dog on leash with you and give several treats, one after another, releasing them right beside your leg.  Treats given in that position will encourage your dog to remain close.
2. If the leash is loose, take 2 steps, mark (“Yes!) and treat beside your leg.
3. Repeat step 2, gradually increasing the steps you walk between treats. 
4. If your dog pulls, stop moving and call them back.  Wait for a moment to ensure the leash remains loose, then go back to step 2. 

Don’t give your dog a treat after they pull and come back or you will begin teaching a “yo-yo” behaviour – pull, come back, get a treat – repeat step 2 instead.

When your dog is walking well, you can treat less but praise often. Moving on and having opportunities to sniff can maintain leash skills. However, I recommend continuing to use treats occasionally, especially passing by other dogs.

For more leash training including tips for puppies and small dogs, video examples and equipment choices, visit dogpartners. ca/loose_leash_walking.