Loose Leash Walking (LLW for short) means exactly that – walk on a loose leash. It is differentiated from the older term, “heeling,” in that it lacks the requirement that the dog walk exactly next to the handler’s left side. This new term and expectation work fine for me, since most people don’t care if their dog heels; they just want to have a peaceful walk!
There are a variety of methods for accomplishing LLW but the basic idea is the same. If the dog cooperates by keeping a loose leash, something that the dog wants will happen (cookies, the chance to proceed forwards, etc.) and if the dog does not keep the leash loose, then either something undesirable happens (moving the dog away from what it wants) or nothing happens; the dog neither moves forwards nor away (the handler stands still). Since most dogs want to go forwards, standing still falls in the category of “undesirable” for almost all dogs.
Now, if you’re potty training a puppy, or if you simply need to get from point “a” to point “b” without messing around, then I’d strongly encourage you to have a method for managing your dog while you train your LLW. Because realistically, when your puppy has to go potty you need to get your puppy outside – fast! This is not the time for penalty yards.
“Managing your dog” means to deal with the practical aspects of a situation when you cannot or will not address the underlying training issue. An obvious example is keeping your dog on leash before you have a reliable recall. The leash will not teach your dog to come when called when he is off leash, but it will prevent your dog from running off while you work on it. There’s nothing wrong with good management while you work on your trained skills!
Management methods for not getting dragged around while you train LLW include front clip (no pull) harnesses and head halters. You will also find pressure collars such as prong or choke chains that accomplish the same thing (management). There are some notable concerns with the use of pressure collars, in particular for dogs that struggle with fear or aggression, so I’d recommend a front clip/no pull type of harness for management while you work on the training aspects of loose leash walking. For now – combine management (head halter/harness) with training (remainder of this blog).
There are a few well regarded methods for training LLW. Let’s look at a few:
One method for training LLW is called “Silky Leash” and comes from Grisha Stewart of Ahisma Dog Training in Seattle. I like her emphasis on training in environments where the dog can succeed before heading into the world.
A second method comes from the Kikopup youtube channel and Emily Larlham.
This video gives a variety of options to help communicate what you want to your dog and includes the idea of penalty yards (backing up) and turning and going the other direction. Emily uses a clicker in her video.
A third method of LLW is the “300 peck method.” If you don’t want to use a clicker, just say “good” or “yes” or…just leave it out altogether. Your dog will figure it out. This video is by Casey Lomonaco and describes the 300 peck method.
And our final video is by Nancy Yamin of Muttsbetter.com. Nancy calls this the “Run, Walk, Stop” method.
And Finally, Kikopup offers a nice problem solving video for dogs that snag the treat, walking nicely, and then hit the end of the line.
Good luck! The name of the game with LLW is persistence. You mean it. You will not proceed forward if your dog is pulling. Before you head out the door, make a decision if this is a walk that you will manage pulling or a walk where you will train the skill of LLW.
Once you feel good about your LLW, don’t get complacent! SLOWLY increase the challenge level for your dog. Start in your house! Can your dog LLW through your house, even when there are other people there? Other dogs? Low value food on the counters? High value food on the counters? The trick to reliability is to add distractions, over time, and set your training up so that your dog will experience success.
Remember, your dog has to learn what you want. Stay calm, positive and patient. Just like a human child, they will get there but there are no shortcuts to training.
Dog Trainer Challenge:
If you’re a pet dog trainer trainer hosting classes, your students might love the challenge of an obstacle course. Set up a few (contained) distractions and encourage your students to work their way from station to station. Raise or lower the challenge level by varying the quality of the distraction (crackers or meat?). You can also vary how close the team walks to the distraction (1 foot away or 20?), and how many reinforcers you allow the students to use with their dog as they navigate the course (none or 10?). For even more challenge, set up two teams and have them race through the courses side by side – any evidence of a tight leash means that team has to go again!