When I realized what the topic for this month’s Positive Pet Training blog hop was, “Loose Leash Walking”, I had to stop and think a minute. I hadn’t really had my mind on that subject lately, and you know why? I was so pleased to realize it was because this is a training subject Luke and I have pretty well mastered!
I think it’s safe to say that every dog we’ve ever had has been a leash puller, so to finally have a dog who does not is very exciting for me! No wonder it’s been easy and enjoyable to walk almost every day now.
Disclaimer/Disclosure: I am not a trainer, but I am simply sharing some training tools that have worked for us personally. This post contains affiliate links* to products that we enjoy, and we may receive a small commission if you order through those links.
Now, I had to think: how did this happen without me even consciously realizing it, and what could I credit it to? I came up with a few ideas that I hope might help anyone who still struggles with this.
How We Trained Loose Leash Walking
Training Luke to “heel”. I won’t go into the details of how we did this in this post, but we started that process at least three years ago, and then continued to work on it more and more over time. You can read the details of how we used a clicker and treats to train Luke to heel in our post “Clicker Training – A Positive Experience “Heel” & More”.
Almost daily walks. I think because we now walk most days, it is becoming more routine and not simply exciting for Luke. He’s still excited, but he calms down and gets into his rhythm more quickly.
For a fearful dog like Luke, sticking to familiar trails and locations also keeps him calmer. The truth is, Luke and I are BOTH shy, and walking on our own trails on our land works for us. We add new trails and routes sometimes so it’s not completely stagnant and boring; and we go different directions. Our trails are in the woods, so there are new smells for Luke every day. I see Luke being so much more confident when he knows where he is. He doesn’t like it when we go a different way and I see him hesitate; so that’s why we only do that on occasion. In turn, I’M more relaxed because I don’t have to worry about running into other people I’d rather not talk to, Luke would be afraid of, or dogs who I don’t know how he’ll react to.
I know most people are more social than we are, and enjoy going different places, and being social. If you and your dog are social, I would simply suggest sticking to similar routes at first if you’re in the process of training, so there are less distractions.
I’ve been slack lately (and I’m glad I had to write this post because it reminded me), but continuing to train Luke’s commands as we go, and making sure he pays attention to me by occasionally practicing cues keeps it all fresh. I do that by stopping him for a treat and making him “watch me”, sometimes switching directions to be sure he follows and listens to me when I say “this way”; and stopping for a photo and a treat.
Letting him do what he wants within reason on a walk. A couple other bloggers suggested to me that I sometimes let Luke choose which way we go when we’re walking. I started doing that a lot, and I really think it helped to make him more confident. If he wants to stop and sniff things, I let him. If he wants to walk faster, I speed up a little too. But if I need to go a certain way because of time constraints? He’s right with me and he is very in tune with me….I sometimes think he reads my mind about which way we want to go; but I imagine he just reads my body language.
The only time we might have an issue is if he gets on the scent of something or sees wildlife and wants to pull me off the trail. Those are the times I don’t let him have his way since I don’t want to go “bushwhacking” through the woods. Getting him to pay attention to me in those situations can be challenging and I get out the treats or squeaker if I need to.
As sad as it makes me to say it, I think being an only dog makes Luke happy, and he enjoys our walks with just him and me (though we love if the Dadz joins us). If you’re training, it’s much easier to have just one dog too. If you have multiple dogs and have the time, you might want to consider solo walks while you work on this. Even when Cricket was still with us, I took both dogs for solo walks when I could. They had different walking styles and it made them happy to get to do it their way.
Have the correct equipment! We use a Front Range harness* and a 6 foot Nifti SafeLatch leash. I’m excited that Nifti SafeLatch will be coming out with a hands-free leash attachment in the near future (watch for our review)! Hands-free can be a great tool when you’re training with clickers and treats. Chest clip harnesses are recommended for dogs that pull (and the Front Range harness gives that option), but I’ve never liked them. We did have good luck with a head collar with our late beagle Kobi though. I’ve never liked walking my dogs on just a collar because I don’t like the strain it puts on their neck, especially if they do pull. Leashes are your choice but keeping it to a shorter length gives you more control – no retractable leashes!
When doing a little research for this post I read the advice that talking to your dog will keep them in tune with you and help them to walk better. I talk to Luke ALL the time when we’re walking (part of the reason is because I want to make sure any wildlife out there knows we’re coming!). I do believe that could be a factor in keeping him focused on me.
What NOT To Do
There have been things I’ve tried along the way that did not work for us:
Many trainers advise that when your dog pulls, you stop and wait for them to give slack on the leash, and don’t proceed until they do. I didn’t see that advised quite as much in my recent research, which is a good thing! Anyone who advises that probably never had a hound dog or hound dog mix. When I tried that with either of my beagles, they just stood still with tension on the leash and wouldn’t move. They had far more patience than I did, and I never won that battle!
What I do wish I’d known at the time is that if I had treats with me, I could have used that to get them to come back to me. So, while I don’t advise just standing still, getting your dog to come back to you for a treat can be a great tool. You can also use that opportunity to reverse direction which is also often advised. Again, that never worked for me without using treats and/or a clicker. I think the key is to get them to remember you’re with them. Our beagles often got so focused on smells, or just wanting to GO (that was Cricket), I think they forgot I was there.
Do not become complacent (like I sometimes do). Keep practicing and training, reinforcing what you’ve taught your dog. I think that Luke and I are really in tune with each other, and that’s key to making our walks more enjoyable. While we might have a glitch here and there, I really do feel good about his loose leash walking. It’s a great feeling to cross something else off our training list!
How does your dog walk on a leash – is it something you want or need to work on?
We are pleased to be co-hosting the Positive Pet Training blog hop with Tenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is “Loose Leash Walking”, however, you may share any positive pet training story, whether it’s on our theme or not!