Don't Be a Drag! (Loose Leash Walking)
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
It's no wonder dogs are always forging ahead. We walk too slowly, we don't smell the stinky stuff, and our walks tend to be boring and predictable. Dogs want to run and circle and then stop and sniff, lingering over the latest news left in urine markings and paw print trails by other dogs and wild animals. Walks are really for sniffing, not for exercise, and it's good to let your dog stop and smell all the things he is interested in. However, it's no fun to be dragged around by your dog and it can even be dangerous if you have a strong dog who might pull you over.
Here are some tips and tricks to make walking easier.
First, invest in a front clip harness. There are lots of options on other pages in my blog but I tend to choose the Freedom No Pull or Ruffwear Front Range. Clip to the ring on the chest, not the one between the shoulder blades. Hold the leash properly, like this, and keep your elbow straight and soft with knuckles pointing down, not with your elbow bent and hand raised up high.
Then, start practicing indoors, where distractions are low. I love the loose leash walking series by Helix Fairweather, shown here. Be sure to watch all three videos. I often teach what I call the Belly Button Game to clients, too, and we can also use that game to prep for polite walking since it teaches the dog to move when you move and sit when you stop.
Once your dog understands the concept of staying with you on leash, we have to learn to handle approaching distractions. My favorite method for this work is called "engage /disengage" and this article has a fantastic explanation and infographic to review. Use stinky cheese or meat as the reward.
After you get the hang of this game, take your practice to a low distraction place, or at least lower than the average street where you might walk. A big empty parking lot works and a home improvement store during non-peak hours is a good option, too. Watch out for the bird seed aisle - lots of rodents and birds are usually hiding there and they might be too distracting! You can also practice the engage/disengage game in a parking lot of a shopping center with a pet supply store. Just park far enough from the door that your dog can notice dogs walking in but not react to them so much that he can't look away.
This is a skill that takes lots of practice! Don't underestimate the amount of practice you might need. Whenever your dog pulls, stop moving. As soon as your dog relaxes the leash again, move immediately. Do not feed, though, or you may find your dog figures out that pull/release equals stinky cheese! If you find that your dog is pulling every time you go outside, you haven't practiced enough in lower distraction environments yet.