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Teaching Your Dog to Love Walking on a Loose Leash

Many dog owners find teaching their dog to walk on a loose leash extremely challenging, and it can be downright dangerous if you have a large dog.

The risk of you being knocked down or dragged down the street by a big dog is real if the dog is not taught to walk on a leash properly.

So, teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash is crucial, especially for the owners of large dogs.

But, how do you teach your dog to walk on a loose leash and listen outdoors? Well, this is exactly what I am going to be teaching you today.

We all know teaching large dogs to walk on a loose leash is important, but what if I have a small dog?

Teaching dogs to walk on a loose leash is not just important for large dogs. In fact, small dogs can cause a lot of damage to themselves, their owners, and other people when they do not know how to walk well on a leash.

If you do not leash train small dogs, they may get tangled up with you, other people, and other dogs if you are not careful. This risk increases when using retractable leashes, as you could really hurt yourself and others with them.

For this reason, I always recommend using a standard leash when teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash just to be extra safe. This is for everyone, no matter how big or small their dog is. 

So far, teaching my dog to walk on a loose leash has been impossible. How do you do it?

Believe it or not, teaching dogs to walk on a loose leash is pretty simple once you know what to do. Here I have broken down this simple process into a few steps that are easy to follow.

Step 1: Start inside

I always recommend dog owners start by teaching their dogs to walk on a loose leash indoors, preferably in a narrow space like a hallway.

This is because there are fewer distractions indoors, allowing your dog to really stay as focused on the training as possible.

Meanwhile, teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash in a hallway gives them less space to move around and mess up in the beginning.

Here is a video showing how I typically start teaching dogs to walk on a loose leash.

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As you can see here, my dog and I are practicing loose-leash walking in a narrow hallway. I am luring her with a treat to walk in the way I would like her to.

You will want to do this with your dog as well in the beginning. It just ensures that they will walk by your side on a loose leash. When they have done well, give them the treat as a reward and start again.

Over time, you will want to fade out this lure after a few practices with it. Instead of luring your dog into loose-leash-walking the whole way, start walking without the lure slowly.

At this point, your dog should start walking by your side on a loose leash without the lure, and you can start rewarding your dog with treats from your pocket for walking well. 

Step 2: Give your dog some more room to move around

Next, you can give your dog some more space to move around. Now your dog will need to choose to walk on a loose leash themselves rather than having a wall block them from pulling.

I always recommend still sticking to a place where there aren’t too many distractions at this point. A larger room in your home or your backyard can be a great option for this stage in the training.

At this point, you should not need to lure your dog with treats to walk next to you. However, you still want to reward your dog with a treat for walking beside you on a loose leash.

You could even start giving your dog a signal before you walk, such as patting your thigh.

Practice this until your dog is not pulling on the leash or jumping up on you for the treat.

Having your treats in a treat pouch or in your pocket rather than in your hand can help prevent your dog from being overly fixated on the treat.

Once your dog is walking on a loose leash without a lure reliably in a low-distraction area, you can move on to step 3!

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Step 3: Try outside

Now, you should be able to practice this skill outside. It is best to choose a place with some distractions, but not ones that are likely to overwhelm your dog. A street or trail that you frequently walk should work just fine!

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The good news is that this step is pretty much the same process as in step 2. You are just applying this newly learned skill in the real world a bit. Remember to always be consistent when using hand signals and giving rewards.

Keep hand signals for loose leash walking the same throughout the whole process. It is also crucial you only reward your dog for walking on a loose leash and behaving as you want them to.

Try to prevent your dog from jumping up or lunging toward you to get a treat. Here is a short video describing what this part of the training process should look like.

As you can see from the above video, my dog is walking on a loose leash outdoors without me luring her. However, I still gave her a reward for walking well.

At this point in the process, walking with your dog should look like this. A good rule of thumb for giving rewards at this stage is to reward your dog for loose leash walking every few minutes or so. Remember, only reward your dog for not pulling!

Helpful Tip: Sometimes, very high-value rewards like cheese and pieces of meat work against us when teaching loose leash walking.

The extreme excitement that dogs experience when smelling these things could make them jump up on you and refuse to walk. If this is the case for your dog, try to use lower-value treats or toys as rewards.

Step 4: Practice around distractions

Next, you should be able to practice loose leash walking around an increasing number of distractions. It’s best to start off small, and slowly make the distractions more tempting over time.

For instance, most dogs will not be able to keep their cool and walk on a loose leash around distractions like squirrels and other dogs right after learning this skill.

You will want to work up to walking around these kinds of things whenever you can.

Whenever your dog does walk on a loose leash around a big distraction rewarding them with several treats and a lot of praise is a good idea.

This will really drive home the training and communication to your dog that walking on a loose leash is rewarding.