Loose lead walking – Treating it right

Loose lead walking - Treating it right

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Loose lead walking – Treating it right

Loose lead walking is a pain for so many owners, so firstly remember that you are absolutely not alone. I have helped so many clients go from stressed out, arm stretching walks to enjoyable strolls with their dogs and here are my top tips on how!

First biggest mistake I see I have this advice for:

When you teach your dog loose lead walking don’t teach it with treats or toys in your hand! Teach loose lead walking with rewards in a pocket or pouch on the opposite side to your dog. 

Before starting, the first thing that you need to ask yourself is “what does my dog really find rewarding?”. Is it:

– Food rewards/treats
– Toys/Play
– Praise/Fuss
– Environmental rewards such as a release to go sniff
– Anything else

Now pick what they love most and use that whilst you teach.

Next let’s talk about how you can now use it most effectively during training.

Dog with treat held above nose
Longhaired Weimaraner Faith at Discover Dogs

What do you want?

This should be the next thing that you think about before you start training your loose lead walking.

What do you want from your puppy or dog?

If you have no idea what you want, then will your puppy or dog know what you expect of them? 

Be Clear in your expectations, 
for instance:

  1. Are you training to teach your dog that loose lead walking means walk right by your side?
  2. or are you training loose lead walking to just mean walk next to me on a loose lead and don’t pull?
  3. or perhaps to you, it means, walk wherever you want (including out in front) just don’t actually pull on the lead?

What you expect should change the way that you train loose lead walking.

How you train your loose lead walking should centre around helping your dog to understand not just how you want them to walk with you but exactly where you want them to be when they walk with you.

Where to reward your dog?

Now you know where you want your dog to be, you will need to make sure that, that is where your dog receives their reward!

For instance:

  1. Training your dog to walk right by your side – Reward needs to be delivered right there, at your side, exactly in the position that you expect them to be.
  2. Training your dog to just walk next to you anywhere generally around you – then reward anywhere within that target zone, imagine a circle that is the area around you that you feel is acceptable, reward in that target area every time.
  3. Teaching your dog to walk wherever it wants on lead but just not to actually pull – then reward every time the lead goes slack, even a little and even if it has only happened by accident, you can also reward when they look back at you as this will cause a slack lead but will also encourage them to look back more and connect with you more. This example now leads me onto the next important thing about loose lead walking…..

How to reward?

This next one I always see on FB/online videos where someone is trying to show an example of some great loose lead walking. Videos of dogs with treats on noses (this could also be with trainers or owners using toy rewards and having them on display to their dog or in their hands).

There are a few reasons why, in nearly all circumstances, I personally don’t recommend this method and here they are:

  1. Your reward should be exactly that, rewards not bribes, if you are showing your dog the treat or toy for loose lead walking you are inevitably bribing, not rewarding them, for the right thing.
  2. In these circumstances of dogs being taught to walk with a treat on their nose  you can see that they are not learning, because you can clearly see they are literally not thinking of anything but the sole focus they have on their reward, this makes good learning impossible.
  3.  If you are working with treats on noses, you create more work for yourself when you want to remove the treat from the nose and still maintain the lovely loose lead walking and I have many clients who come to me from other schools and their issue is exactly this, “how do I get my dog to do this with no treat on their nose?!”
  4. If you take the scenario above where you just want your dog not to pull but to enjoy the freedom of their lead then how will you treat that appropriately when they are out in front of you?
Juno Its Your Choice

So I guess you are now wondering "but how do I bridge the gap?"

With a magic word! 

Literally, that simple.

You need a word that you will use only when your dog has done something correctly and only when you are going to follow the word with a reward (and without fail, you need to reward following using your word or you break your dogs trust in you and in it).

It is a magic word that is also a promise to your dog!

Lets look at the loose lead walking, scenario 1 from above. You want your dog to walk right by your side. 

  • When they are right where you want them to be, you simply say your magic word (for me I use “YES” said in a really excited tone).
  • You then take a treat from your treat pocket/pouch or a toy from your reward pocket and you reach over to the side you want your dog to walk on (which is exactly where they were when you said your magic word) and feed or play starts in that exact position (for play they can move out after, it just starts in that right spot).
  • After rewarding you start again.
  • When you first start to train this, your reward word and rewards must be used frequently and by that I mean every few seconds so your dog can learn that your word is MAGIC and a reward will follow.

A few extra top tips

  • Use a word to let your dog know that you are starting a loose lead training session. I recommend “Lets go”.
  • Teach in small sections and in between use the word “relax” to let your dog know the training is finished and they can do what they want for a while.
  • Start teaching when there are no/little distractions, like the garden and gradually progress to more exciting places.
  • If you get stuck, get in touch! I’m always happy to help you.

Still not sure why it matters where you reward?

Here is a really simple example of why it matters where you reward your dog.

I have three Longhaired Weimaraners. When I cook they stay in the lounge, I don’t ask them to stay in the lounge and I don’t ‘make’ them stay in the lounge, there is no instruction or command given by me they take their cue from seeing me do the kind of things that mean that I am preparing food.

How did I work this wizardry?

Whenever they were in the kitchen waiting nicely, or did something good whilst there, I “marked” (i.e. I said my excited YES) the fact they had done something good but I gave them their reward in the room next to the Kitchen (lounge/sitting room in my case). This way they soon decided on their own that the best place to be was the lounge/sitting room and not the kitchen. Easy peasy, no fuss training, happy me and happy dogs!

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article is not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Nina Fotara T/as Confident Canine disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.