Loose Leash Walking
Loose leash walking, the bane of most pet owners and even many dog trainer’s existence. It can be one of the most difficult behaviors to teach because there are so many different components involved and so many competing reinforcers.
In this blog, I’m going to talk mostly about dogs but really, all animals have a tendency to pull when attached to a leash or lead line or tether or whatever it’s called for your species.
So why do dogs pull on leash? Well, it’s mostly because they have places to go and humans are so, so slooowwww. There are things to sniff and things to eat and things to chase, and the leash is a restriction that prevents your dog from enjoying all the fun stuff they could be doing if they weren’t attached to you.
So how do you get your dog to walk on a loose lead and stop pulling? The following are a few of the protocols I use successfully to train dogs and many of the other animal species I work with.
Name recognition and attention sound
For some dogs, the second you walk outside, you cease to exist for the dog. There are so many interesting things in the environment, competing for your dogs attention!
To successfully train anything outside, you first need to be able to get your dogs attention. This is why I always begin training inside where there are few distractions. Before going outside, I want the dog to be reliably responding to their name and an “attention” sound inside the house.
Reinforcing the right answer
It sounds so simple, reinforcing the right answer, but it’s actually the most difficult part of training for many of my clients. When their dog is walking on a loose leash, people tend to relax and get comfortable and distracted, forgetting to reinforce this behavior and if f you’re not reinforcing your dog for walking on a loose lead, I guarantee that the environment will be reinforcing your dog for pulling!
Red light, green light
If you’ve ever played this game as a child, then you know that red light means stop and green light means go. So, the red light is your dog pulling and the green light is a loose lead.
The reason why most people struggle with this protocol is that when their dog starts pulling and they stop walking, they wait for the dog to come back to them. This creates a yo-yo effect where the dog runs back to you for a treat and then runs right back out to the end of the lead.
The key to this protocol is to use forward movement as your reinforcement for a loose lead. After all, forward movement is your dog’s ultimate goal. So when your dog pulls, you stop immediately to avoid reinforcing the pulling. The second that your dog even so much as shifts their weight enough to loosen the lead, you walk forward again, reinforcing the loose lead.
For this technique, you’ll change the direction you’re walking frequently, encouraging your dog to pay more attention to you because they never know which way you’re going to go. This is where responding to their name or attention sound becomes important.
To make this work, you’ll use your attention sound or your dog's name to get their attention before they hit the end of the lead. This way you can let them know that you’re changing direction, instead of letting them hit the end of the lead and possibly injuring there neck before they realize you’re going the other way.
Once they catch up to you going in the new direction, you can reinforce the moments that they are beside you with food or a game of tug.
Most dogs like fast movement, so you can reinforce your dog’s loose leash walking by moving faster. For example, if your dog is walking nicely next to you on a loose lead, you can speed up and even jog with him to make the walk more fun and reinforce walking nicely next to you.
Another possibility is if you are approaching something that your dog likes to sniff and he is walking on a loose lead, you can quickly jog your dog over to this favourite sniffing spot, once again reinforcing the loose lead.
Reinforcement isn’t always food!
Food is a great reinforcer and easy to use but it’s not the only reinforcer available. for some dogs, a game of tug or a brief sprint may be a great way to reinforce walking next to you.
If your dog has a long history of reinforcement for certain behaviors like sitting or targeting your hand, you can also use these behaviors to reinforce walking with you.
Don’t stop there!
These are just some of the protocols I use but there are many more. The more games you play with your pet to keep them engaged and by your side, the more successful your walks will be.