Photo of a black dog during leash training

Leash Training for Dogs 101

I strongly believe in TRAINING a dog to stop pulling on leash rather than relying on a device; be it a collar, harness or other equipment. I do not recommend prong or choke collars, they take away from our connection with our dogs and I believe that training is all about connection.  I would also like to add that it’s important to separate training from walking. If you plan to do an “exercise” walk while training, please don’t. Training shouldn't have any expectations of distance, this will only create frustration for you and your dog.
There are several methods you can use to teach your dog to stop pulling on leash. I will cover three here. Personally, I just like a nice, loose leash but some want their dog beside them at times so if that’s you, #3 will be your best choice. I encourage you to try everything and decide what you like.
Before you begin remember:

  • It is IMPOSSIBLE for your dog to “pull on leash” if you follow them. Physically impossible. Every step you take when your dog pulls is rewarding and reinforcing the behavior. So, if you want them to stop pulling, you’ve got to change your behavior so they will too. This will take some time and perseverance.

  • If you make a firm commitment to teaching your dog to stop pulling on leash, it will happen. It has to. Every do learns differently so the amount of time it takes will depend on your dog, your timing, your rewards and your commitment.

  • Do not plan on “exercise walks” to also be “training time”, I guarantee you will get frustrated. If you can’t train, put your dog in a harness or a different collar and go about your walk. When you train them, use a specific (different) collar or harness, one that will remind BOTH of you that you are “training”.  
  • Practice as often as possible.

  • Start in a distraction free area (large living room, hallway). After practicing for about a week move to a QUIET outdoor area (backyard or empty parking lot). Once you have it down in a quiet area, move to your regular neighborhood area(s) but be extra patient because your dog will try to go back to their “old ways” when they are in a familiar place.

  • Stay strong and patient! You’ve got this.

To start leash training. Have some of your dog’s favorite treats ready but please note: Let’s make the reward the WALK, not the treats. We will use the treats to reinforce the dog’s position but they should see or work to the food. Keep them out of sight in a pouch or pocket and only use them as recommended below.
When I say “reward” I mean verbal praise AND treats.  This is called “pairing”. The goal is to say the praise while offering the treat so we “load” the praise. This way, we can taper out the treats and the word still has good meaning to the dog going forward.
Let’s begin…
I use three methods for teaching loose leash walking - I suggest you try all three and choose one to use consistently.
1.  Turn around. When your dog pulls on leash say “uh oh’ and turn around. Take a few steps and say “good dog” the MOMENT they are beside you (they will naturally have to get beside you because you just turned around).  Reward them with a treat when you say good dog. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you are turning around constantly try to walk faster and be SURE you are catching all of the moments your dog is in the right place. You cannot over reward your dog being next to you, let them know how much you like it and they will do more!
2.  Back step. When your dog pulls on leash or get further ahead then you want take two to three steps backward (but don’t turn around). Watch your footing, you will be facing forward but moving backwards. Keep the leash anchored and steady against your body so you aren’t using it to pull your dog back. Anchoring it makes the dog have to follow you. When they arrive at you, proceed forward again. Here the walk is the reward. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Reward your dog for all of the steps you take WITHOUT them pulling or being ahead of you.
3.  Bring back: When your dog pulls on leash say their name and start walking backwards. Bend over slightly to “lure” them towards you. (You will now be face to face). Once they come all the way to you, turn your body around clockwise (RIGHT) and they will end up in the perfect heel position on your left. Don’t turn RIGHT until they have connected with your (I prefer eye contact but that might be too much for your dog – try it and see). Next, take a step and reward them QUICKLY by saying “good heel” and treat (taper treat later). Feel free to continue feeding treats to keep them there, for several steps for the first week or two. Try holding a treat by your side and “luring” them for a while too (keep them interested but don’t give it to them for several steps). If they go ahead or pull repeat, repeat, repeat. This means you may have to walk backwards for several steps so be sure you have clearance behind you. Every time you turn around, your dog will be in heel position and the more you reward that, the longer they will stay there.
Having trouble? Work on building eye contact and name response with your dog, this will come in handy during leash training. If they pull, say “watch me” (once trained) or their name to get their attention and to stop pulling.
Have fun and use loads of happy, verbal praise and delicious treats at first. Walks should be fun for both of you. This training will be worth it, stick to it and watch your dog start to naturally get into place and try to please you.

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