Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash will eliminate leash-pulling during walks, which is safer for your dog and more enjoyable for you.
This technique is not a perfect “heel,” which keeps your dog strictly by your side, but instead allows your pet room to sniff and explore as long as it leaves some slack in its leash. As you loose leash train your dog, have some tasty treats handy to reward it along the way.
Choose a Leash and Collar
You will need a 6-foot leash and a collar. If your dog is in the habit of pulling, it may be able to easily slip out of a regular flat buckle collar. In this case, a martingale collar is a good option. This collar is ideal for training a dog to walk on a loose leash. It looks like a regular flat collar but has an extra loop that pulls tight when your dog pulls. This keeps dogs from slipping out of the collar. However, the martingale collar has a stopping point and will not close too tightly the way a choke chain does.
Give the Command
Choose a word or phrase that lets your dog know what is expected of it. Since this is not a formal “heel,” something like “with me” or “let’s go” works well. Start out on your walk with your dog at your side, give the cue word or phrase, and begin walking.
Stop and Go
When your dog pulls at the end of the leash, stop immediately and do not budge. Never allow your dog to move forward when it is pulling or lunging. This way, you are teaching your dog that the only way to get where it wants to go is by leaving some slack in the leash.
As soon as there is some slack in the leash, you can begin again. Give your dog the command “with me” and start moving forward.
If your dog seems relentless about pulling on the leash even when you stop, try changing directions instead. You may find yourself turning in circles at first, but soon your dog will learn that it’s not going anywhere if it pulls. It will learn to pay attention to you to figure out which way to go.
Make It Rewarding
Once you step out of your house, you have a lot of competition for your dog’s attention. You have to make staying close to you more rewarding and fun than running off to explore all the sights and smells of your neighborhood. For this, you can use treats, praise, and a happy tone of voice.
To start, any time your dog turns and looks at you, praise it and offer a treat. This is also a good time to use a clicker if you have decided to try clicker training. When your dog’s attention turns to you, click and treat. In this way, you are teaching your dog that it is rewarding to pay attention to you. You can also speak to your dog in a high, happy tone to keep its attention on you.
You may need to use a lot of treats in the beginning to get your dog’s attention. Keep your hand by your side and give it treats continuously, as long as it is walking near you with some slack in the leash. As your dog gets the idea of what you expect, you can slowly phase out the treats by waiting longer between treats.
Problems and Proofing Behavior
Leash training can take time; you will probably not have your dog walking on a loose leash the first time.
There may be times when you simply cannot get your dog’s attention. It might find what’s going on elsewhere more interesting than your treats or happy talk, and stopping and starting may not be enough to distract it from whatever is holding its attention. In this case, it’s best to move away from the distraction. Walk in the opposite direction, saying “let’s go.” There’s no need to pull your dog; simply walk away while holding the leash. Your dog will have no choice but to follow. Once it is walking with you, offer a treat and plenty of praise.
To “proof” your dog’s ability to walk on a loose leash, take frequent short walks, varying your routine and direction. Once your dog is comfortable with your local neighborhood, practice loose-leash walking in locations where distractions are likely. Be consistent and positive. In time, your dog will learn how to walk properly on the leash.