One of the most popular items to work on in dog training is loose leash walking (llw). No one wants to be dragged around by their best friend from tree to tree. You would think it's just something a dog should KNOW, but it's not. In fact, being tied to a tether is something dogs have to get used to, because its just not natural.
Before beginning your journey of loose leash walking, you first have to desensitize your dog to being on a leash if they are not already. This is a very common practice with puppies. Bringing the leash out and click/treating when the dog interacts or sees the leash is a great place to start, as you're beginning to associate a tether with good things. If your dog was a stray that you adopted, there's a good chance your dog may have never been introduced to a tether as a puppy, so this is also great to work on with adults as well.
Soon you can begin to bring the leash closer to your dog's collar/harness and click/treat for your dog allowing you to do so. Eventually we would like to clip it to the collar/harness. And so at this point, we have to begin teaching our dog that as long as there is slack in the leash, he will get good things.
(There are many different techniques that can be used to teach loose leash walking, this is just one of them!)
- The left side is the good side! We don't want to constantly be tripped by our dogs crossing in front of us to go sniff over there or see this twig right here. We would generally like our dogs to stick to a certain side of the walkway while we stick to ours. You can teach your dog that the left (or right) side is the side to be on. We generally pick the left side because when teaching the sport of obedience, it is all performed on the left side, so it's just easier for people to remember. So how do we teach our dogs that the left side is the place to be?
It is up to you if you would like to start with your dog leashed or not. If you are afraid that juggling a clicker, leash, treats, and your dog will be too much, eliminate the leash for now. Begin inside your house, where there are not a lot of distractions. Let your dog wander around you a bit, and if they happen to cross your left side, go ahead and click/treat. Feed your dog the treats from your left hand, keeping the clicker in your right hand. It may take a few tries, but eventually you should be seeing your dog moving to your left side in hopes of a treat, and then eventually staying there.
When your dog is consistently moving to your left side, try turning to your right. If your dog takes a tiny step with you, click the instant they step with you. The important thing to remember now is to click as your dog is moving (but clicking while your dog is stationary on your left side will never be harmful). We want your dog to understand that moving as we move is what we are reinforcing, making sure they aren't forging ahead of us.
Once your dog is comfortable moving in a circle with you, try to take one step forward. Did your dog move along your left side with you? Click/treat as you're moving! Stay with one step for awhile, make sure your dog has the hang of it. You can introduce a cue before you take your step. I tend to use 'Let's Go!', then step, click/treat. Use the cue before you take a step whenever practicing loose leash walking.
I am going to stop here, and show a video of Megan and Kevin, one of my students, in the beginning stages of loose leash walking. Megan and Kevin have accomplished their loose leash walking inside and are bringing it outside. There are many more distractions outside than inside, so we have to lower the criteria a lot in order for Kevin to be successful. Remember, we always want our dogs to be successful. If they are not, then we moved too quickly and should go back a step until they are.
Monica Callahan BS KPA-CTP