Making Sense of Loose Leash Walking

For those of you with dogs that really enjoy walking and exploring novel environments, dogs, and/or people, we know the struggle behind taking your excited dog outside without any loose leash walking foundations. So how do you enjoy this walk if your dog tugs and pulls on the leash? We’ll go ahead and break down why dogs pull on the leash and what you can do to help set you (and your dog) up for success so that you can enjoy that walk you’ve always wanted with your dog!

As a note, if your dog displays any behavior that might indicate to you that your dog is uncomfortable, nervous, or reactive on walks (hyper-vigilant, over aroused, head lowered, hesitant to explore, barking, growling, or lunging on leash, walking on tips of the toes or bouncy type movements), let’s get you started in a program to first address the discomfort that is causing those behaviors before we start here. For dogs that are nervous, shoot us an email or see our free resources section to get started in a counter conditioning program. As always, we’re happy to help you navigate and get you in a program that is best for you and your dog.

Why do dogs pull on the leash?

Most logically, they’re having fun! Most often on walks dogs are thinking about exploring the world around them and excited to get out and explore!

They are reinforced for pulling – when they pull we keep walking! The more they pull the more (and faster) we walk!

Most dogs naturally walk faster than humans – four legs are faster than 2! So even when they’re walking in their normal stride, it’s still a step or two ahead of ours.

Walking in straight lines doesn’t come naturally to dogs – loose dogs tend to weave around following their nose to the most interesting scents

Helpful tools

Front clip harnesses– Though there are many that we love, our favorite is the 2Hounds Freedom Harness. This harness clips to the front of the chest and helps redirect the dog, should they get too far ahead, without any harsh correction and without causing pain or damage to the neck area. We also like the Sensation or Easy Walk Harness.

Treat pouch – so you can store your poop bags, cell phone, and easily access treats while on your walk for behavior you like!

Yummy treats – Remember that we’re competing with some pretty high value distractions (squirrels, birds, people, other dogs) so you want to make sure you’re prepared with a food that your dog likes and enjoys working for! Boiled chicken or cheese always makes for a yummy, cost-effective snack.

Training tips

Start in your house with your dog on leash training these base behaviors. Once your dog is excelling in the house you can start training in more distracting environments such as in the back yard, drive way and in front of your house. Remember that each new environment the dog needs some time to warm up and practice those behaviors before you try using your loose leash walk in the real world. Set yourself and your dog up for success by always bringing treats to locations or areas where you know your dog will be easily distracted (such as walking in a busy place, downtown area, going to the vet office, etc.).

Capture attention: Teach your dog to check in with you and reward your dog for checking in on walks or in public. If they look in your direction, capture it and treat!

Reward for position: Click and treat when your dog is walking by your knee

Practice turning with your dog: Start walking forward then turn, calling you dog with you, when they start to turn with you click and treat

Reward your dog for giving into leash pressure: If your dog starts to pull, stop and wait for them to stop pulling, click and treat when they stop pulling, then begin walking again.

The joys of sniff breaks!

Walks are so enriching for dogs because they get to sniff all the messages the neighborhood doggies have left for them (think of this like reading the newspaper or checking your social media every day).

Put sniffing on cue: After a few minutes of loose leash walking, say “go sniff” and encourage your dog to sniff a fire hydrant or tree! This rewards them for loose leash walking and gives you both an opportunity to take a break and smell the flowers (literally).

When a dog stops to sniff something on a walk, try to take some time to give your dog a moment to “read the paragraph of smells” his neighborhood buddy left, before saying “okay, lets go!” and starting to walk, encouraging the dog to come with using your voice.


“You shouldn’t let your dog stop to sniff”: smelling is the dogs primary way of gathering information from the environment and enriches their walks! So don’t worry, #letthemsniff

Dogs pull because they want to be in charge – most dogs spend most of their day in the house with only what we provide to them to play with and do. Going on walks is often the most fun they have in their day and they pull because they are excited and eager to see the world with you!

“Your dog shouldn’t walk in front of you because it makes them anxious”: dogs may become anxious if they are always straining at the end of the leash, but being in front of you does not cause anxiety

So go get started in training and remember to reward approximations. Practice and patience is key here!

Author: Laura Maihofer, CPDT-KA


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