Many dog owners are desperate to know how to teach their dog loose leash walking, as there is nothing more frustrating than a dog that takes YOU for a walk!
How easy or hard it is to train your dog on loose leash walking depends on a few factors. If your dog is still a puppy then you can immediately begin with great results, encouraging them to walk next to you and using ‘positive reinforcement’ ie: rewarding your dog with treats, praise, (whatever ‘reward’ will best motivate your dog at that time) when it is walking nice and calmly with you and without pulling on the lead.
We can also apply this technique and use of positive reinforcement with older dogs that may already tend to pull by ensuring we mark and reward it when they are walking nice and calmly on the lead, so that it is this desired behaviour that we begin to see with more frequency and intensity.
However, to un-train an older dog from pulling on its lead, when it is the pulling that has been continuously reinforced in the past, it does take a big commitment by the handler to address with consistency.
The best way to go is back to basics training on loose leash walking. One way to do it, and one I go to all the time, is to simply stop when your dog pulls, call or lure them back to you and reward them when they begin walking next to you. And, if they pull to the end of the leash again, immediately STOP and repeat, and repeat…and repeat.
If you keep doing this your dog WILL learn that pulling on lead = getting no where and walking next to you on a loose leash = reward ie: moving forward, praise and maybe even a treat!
Then there is the Zig Zag technique which encourages your dog to focus on you, rather than forging ahead on your walks. You can read more about HERE.
However, I do understand that owners can lose patience with this and give up, so there are some collars and harnesses that can help you with your loose leash walking training. When their pulling is blocked, and your dog begins to offer the more appropriate behaviour, then for those of you that need some extra tools in your training tool box like this, you can then use the positive reinforcement techniques to help strengthen that response and form the new habit of relaxed walking.
Collars and harness to assist with loose leash walking
Harnesses and collars should always be used in the correct manner and in-line with the intentions of its design; this is vital not only to ensure successful training outcomes but also to preserve the welfare of the dog.
There are a number of harnesses and collars on the market that create an aversive response when the dog starts pulling, by tightening or applying pressure around the dog’s legs, face or neck, and then release that pressure when the dog stops pulling (ie: give a ‘correction’). These include correction “check” chains (commonly referred to as ‘choker’ chains), head collars and no- pull harnesses.
There is a lot of debate around the use of check chains, and a lot of things that can go wrong with using them, unless you are an experienced trainer that knows how and when to use them appropriately. So, here at PoochesHQ, we would recommend that the general dog owner doesn’t simply use one of these to stop their dog pulling on the lead.
Even using the halti or no-pull harnesses require experience and proper fitting, so please do speak to a trainer before opting for one of these if you haven’t bothered putting in the hard yards with your loose leash walking training as they must be used in the correct manner and in-line with the intentions of its design. This is vital not only to ensure successful training outcomes but also to preserve the welfare of the dog.
It is important to speak to a trainer or expert fitter before choosing a collar or harness that applies pressure so they can advise you on when and how to use these, or ideally, other less aversive alternatives. You will also need to consider the age, breed, size, temperament and more to ensure you are making the right decision for your dog.
Here are some general considerations for the use of different harnesses and collars to stop a dog from pulling on its lead.
Martingale Collars are also known as Double Action Slip Collars and there are many different types. These do make use of the aversive correction function (tightening when the dog pulls), but limits the tightening action so it doesn’t put full pressure on the throat like a check chain.
Head Collars including the Halti, Gentle Leader and Infin8 fits around the dog’s neck and muzzle with the lead clipped to the metal ring (generally located either at / under the dog’s chin or at the back of the dog’s neck).
These are designed to allow you to control the dog’s head and therefore, its speed and direction. Head collars work on the same premise as a horse halter – ‘’guide the head and the body will follow’’. It is really important if you choose to use a head collar that you use a gentle guiding action and not a sharp pop or pull the dog roughly, and you also need to ensure they are fitted correctly so they do not ride up into the dog’s eye. These types of collars are quite aversive for dogs and are not generally welcomed by the dog, so again, make sure you enlist the support of an expert fitter or trainer should you go down this path.
Standard harnesses can actually encourage the dog to pull on the lead, as it spreads the pressure across the chest and makes it easier for them to lean in and pull, so it is not be an effective training aid for dogs with pre-existing behaviour or obedience related problems. They may be useful for small dogs, dogs with short faces or for dogs that have had neck injuries.
No-Pull Harnesses fall into two categories; those that rely on a tightening action to correct pulling on the lead and those that connect to the dog’s chest (front attaching harnesses) that redirect the dog’s forward motion but don’t actually tighten.
Harnesses with a tightening action are designed to tighten behind the dog’s legs when they pull on lead, with the pressure to be released when the dog is walking on a loose lead. Care should be taken to ensure harnesses don’t chafe dogs with sensitive skin or thin coats. As harnesses with a tightening action increase friction and apply pressure to the dog they are applying an aversive ‘correction’, so care does need to be taken.
Ultimately though, all of these harnesses and collars are providing a band-aid solution to dealing with a dog pulling on its lead, so it is important we use positive reinforcement at the same time to reward and therefore strengthening the desired behaviour of a dog walking on a loose lead without pulling, so we can move them on to a comfortable and well fitted flat collar.
Good quality leather or plastic coated PVC buckle up collars are recommended for a wide variety of dog training purposes as they are both safe and versatile. They can be adjusted to suit dogs of all shapes and sizes and the wider the strap, the more evenly the pressure is distributed across the dog’s throat.
Use of a comfortable flat collar and a dog that doesn’t pull on its lead should be our goal, so if you don’t feel confident on achieving this on your own, then seek out the services of a qualified and experienced trainer.
Again, further tips on teaching your dog loose leash walking through the ‘stop’ and ‘zig zag’ techniques can be found HERE.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area, is a sought after pet expert speaker and Author of Eat, Play, Love (Your Dog).