Skip to Content

10 Loose Leash Walking Tips to Stop Pulling in its Tracks

10 Loose Leash Walking Tips to Stop Pulling in its Tracks

When I worked with my trainer, Kindred Dog PDX, I learned a ton of super helpful loose leash walking tips that have changed the way I think about dog walks that made a huge difference in my outings with Sitka.

If you’ve ever had a dog that has pulled during walks (and let’s face it, that’s probably most of us because dogs don’t know how to walk out of the box), then you know full well just how unpleasant the outings can be.

I have been dragged down hills by dogs, tripped over dogs, and have hurt my back at sudden lunges.

After several weeks of dedicated work, Sitka is great on leash and I know how to manage him in various situations.

Teaching a dog to walk nicely on a leash requires patience and commitment. It is a monotonous process that involves redefining what it means to walk with your dog.

As tedious as the process is, it is temporary and the end result will make you swell with pride.

What is Loose Leash Walking?

Loose leash walking means that your dog is walking by your side and not pulling on the leash at any time during your walk. So many owners expect dogs to just know how to walk on leash out of the box, but unfortunately, that is not the case.

There are so many stimuli luring them in all sorts of directions like, dogs, noises, people, smells, marking opportunities, etc. Teaching loose leash walking not only makes walks more enjoyable, but also serves as a platform for building and eliminating many other essential skills and behaviors, such as:

Characteristics of loose leash walking include:

  • No leash tension
  • The leash is in a “J” shape
  • Your dog is walking by your side
  • Your dog doesn’t sniff or mark constantly, except on command
  • Your dog ignores other stimulus like dogs, noises, and people

How long does it take to leash train a dog?

This all depends on how dedicated and how consistent you are with the training. I’ve been working with Sitka for about two months and we can go on normal walks for the most part.

We’re still working on leash reactivity to other dogs and loud vehicles, as well as distractions by other furry creatures like cats and bunnies, but the majority of our walks are pretty perfect.

This came after thrice daily 20-min walks, spaced out throughout the day. In between walks, Sitka was either in his kennel or in “place” on his cot. 

Trust me when I tell you that these walks were plenty to tire him out for the day. We didn’t run. We didn’t hike. We didn’t play with other dogs. We did these three very mentally challenging walks daily and he was pooped.

Focusing on ignoring other distractions and following the handler’s lead is very mentally draining. Think about when you drive in bad weather versus a sunny day. By the time you reach your destination, you are socked.

Going out equipped with the right tools will ensure a higher success rate for loose leash walking.

Loose Leash Walking Tools

For a successful outing, you’ll want to bring along a few essential tools on every walk. You won’t always look super fashionable, but you’ll have the best trained dog on the trail.

Treat Pouch

This is where you will store the goods. I prefer those with waist belt because I don’t always have a waist band to which I can attach them. I haven’t yet found my perfect treat pouch, but any of the following are good enough:

  • Hurtta Bounty Bag – I like that I can stick my entire hand in the pouch and easily reach treats. It also fits a few other accessories like poop bag and keys. The downside is that it doesn’t close fully and the rim at the top sometimes cuts my cuticles.
  • Ruffwear Treat Trader – This bag is quite a bit smaller than I prefer, but my hand fits in just fine and the materials are high quality. I like the magnetic closure that seals fully shut when not in use. There is not much room for anything besides treats.

Treats

Rather than use treats alone, take your dog’s meal and pour it into your training pouch. You can mix in a few high-value treats to keep your dog anticipating something extra special coming along.

Rather than feed your dog their meals in their bowl, feed them throughout the day during your training sessions. This will make them more eager to please.

If you feed raw, you can get a Goo Toob and fill it with their meals. Just squeeze out a small amount as a treat.

Collars

I personally use a prong and e-collar to train Sitka.

I find these tools allow me to better communicate with him, opposed to a traditional flat collar or relying on treats alone.

These are the brands I use, as recommended by my trainer:

Herm Sprenger – Get them directly from your trainer or from Herm Sprenger. Amazon has been known to sell phonies and I would not recommend the risk.

E-Collar Technologies EZ-900 Educator – Again, I recommend purchasing directly from the source, not from Amazon.

I do not recommend nor advise the use of an e-collar or prong collar without the guidance of a professional trainer. Here are some tips on choosing a reputable dog trainer.

If you do not wish to use a prong and e-collar at this point, use what you are comfortable with, however I do not recommend the use of:

Harnesses – I do not find that they allow effective communication between handler and dog. They are also designed for pulling, (yes, even the “no pull” harnesses) and this is the exact behavior we are trying to combat.

Gentle Leader/Face Harness – We used one with Sora and while it does prevent pulling, it doesn’t actually teach your dog how to walk nicely on a leash. She hated it and would hide when we got it out.

Retractable Leash – Very few dog owners know how to properly use a retractable leash. They can be dangerous, do not enable management of your dog, and confuse your dog due to the different lengths.

Clicker

Clickers can work really well to mark behaviors. Just like using the word “yes,” they give your dog a signal that they did what you want. They’re cheap and you can get them at any pet store.

Biothane Leash

I love biothane leashes. They are lightweight, waterproof, mudproof, they don’t cause abrasions or burns, they are easy to grab. Every time I have to use a back up leash for training walks, I am reminded of how much better a biothane leash is. I love them so much, I put together an entire post dedicated to my favorite ones.

Loose leash walking means that your dog is focusing on you, even when there are other distractions.
There is a guy working on his car (that you can’t see in the photo). I want Sitka focused on me, even when there are distractions.

Loose Leash Walking Tips from My Professional Trainer

Loose leash walking was one of those skills that I was never really able to master with my dogs. After working with my trainer, I learned about the importance of taking very slow baby steps to get to where we wanted.

It’s excruciating at times because you want nothing more than to go for a hike or a run or a walk with a friend and you just have to say no because your dog isn’t there yet.

With practice and by incorporating these tips, you will get there. The more you work together, the faster the progress will happen.

Go on Structured Walks

Structured walks changed everything for Sitka and me. These walks serve a purpose more than just to get some exercise. They require a lot of thinking on the dog’s part and full attention from the handler. I guarantee your dog will be tired after this mentally exhausting exercise.

How does a structured walk differ from a regular dog walk? In a lot of ways, I quickly learned.

During a structured walk, your dog’s job is to walk, plain and simple. No sniffing, no greetings, no potty.

Allow your dog a few minutes to go potty at the start of the walk and if they don’t go then, then it’s back to structured walking. No marking. No sniffing. No stopping to look at other dogs or distractions. No greeting people or other dogs. You are simply walking.

You’re not walking and chatting with a friend.

You’re not talking on the phone.

You’re not listening to a podcast.

You are walking your dog. Period.

The point of a structured dog walk is to provide leadership for your dog and teach them to follow you. While the walk may seem restrictive, dogs love structure and thrive with boundaries.

Start Indoors

During my month-long training classes, we never once set foot outdoors during a lesson with Sitka. Starting training indoors gives your dog the opportunity to practice walking on a leash with minimal distractions. There are no other people, dogs, noises, cars, or smells to compete for your dog’s attention.

Take note of when your dog becomes excited as you move around the house. Is it when you go toward the front door? The garage? These are the locations you need to practice walking in your home. Teach your dog that just because you open the door, it doesn’t mean that you’re going for a walk or that they are allowed to whine or throw a tantrum.

Until your dog is ready to greet the outdoor world, save the outdoors for potty and structured playtime in the backyard only. 

Go by time, not by route

This was hands down the most important lesson I learned from my experience working with my trainer. By shifting the idea of what I considered to be a dog walk, I didn’t allow Sitka the opportunity to pull, react to other dogs or people, or be distracted by noises.

Instead of heading out for our usual morning route, I set a timer for 20 minutes and we would walk out the front door. Our walks were dictated by changing directions if Sitka pulled, walking back and forth in front of distractions, and avoiding other dogs.

In the beginning, we barely made it to the next block. For 20 minutes, we would simply walk back and forth and back and forth on the same street. Other days, we made it to the nearby busy street with lots of distractions and would just walk up and down and back and forth.

If I wanted to train Sitka around other dogs at a park, we’d get in the car and drive there, even if it was just a few blocks away. We never would have made it otherwise.

As my trainer put it, we were still getting a walk in, it just wasn’t based on a specific destination.

Walking back and forth down the same street will help your dog walk nicely on  leash.
Since there are two big distractions here — the woman with her dog and the kid on the bike, I opted to turn around in the direction away from the stimuli.

Walk in Circles

We spent a lot of our first weeks learning to walk nicely on a leash going in circles or figure 8 motions. This is because any time Sitka would put pressure on the leash, I would turn around. This is the reason that during our first training walks, we barely made it off our street.

I also do these just to change things up and make sure he’s with me. I’ll do a sudden right or left pivot with the goal of keeping him at my heel through the turn. Think of it like a dance.

Over time, you’ll be able to go on normal walks with your dog, but until then, be very diligent about not rewarding pulling by continuing in the direction your dog wishes to go.

This teaches your dog to focus on you and coordinate their movements with ours. The human leads the way, not the dog during these structured walks. 

Teach Pressure-Release

Dogs naturally want to move with rather than against pressure, so one way to teach them to move with you is to teach them to move with the pressure. I have been most successful teaching pressure-release using a Herm Sprenger Prong Collar (the only brand any good balanced trainer will recommend), but it is possible with a flat or martingale collar, it just may take longer.

When your dog pulls, stop, and gently pull the leash in the opposition direction, stopping once the leash is taut. You don’t want to actually pull your dog, just add some tension. When they give into the pressure, release, mark with “yes” or a clicker, and reward.

You’ll want to do this every single time they start to pull.

Tip: Don’t pull the leash up, rather aim for a 45° angle at most, or ideally closer to perpendicular to your do. Remember, you’re trying to lead them in the direction you want to go.

Change Paces

Varying your speed during structured walks demonstrates whether or not your dog is truly focused on you. Most of the time, we go about our walk at a normal pace. However, since I want Sitka to run at my side on trails, I pick up the pace to our running speed. When I slow down, I want him slowing at the same rate as I am.

Similarly, we often go on painfully slow walks. I do this because Sitka is a go-go-go dog. Slowing down forces him to really think about our movement and focus on walking together. I also slow down when we walk past “scary” things once I see that he can handle it. 

Learning to read your dog's body language is key for a successful dog walk.
You can tell that Sitka is interested in the dog off to the left of the photo. His head is perked up, his stance is strong, and his tail is up. I am pulling up on the leash to remind him to focus on me.

Learn to Read Your Dog

Dogs speak dog and humans speak whatever language they speak. Too often, we teach our dogs to understand our language without even bothering to understand theirs. It’s pretty unfair of us!

Dogs communicate in many different ways, including through body language and sounds and it is your job as their human to learn what different expressions mean. This is how you will learn to diffuse any unwanted behaviors over time.

With Sitka, I look for the following during our walks:

  • Staring
  • Ears and head perked
  • Whining
  • Pulling
  • Panting
  • “Whale” noises
  • Huffing

I know what each of these signals means with him and therefore know how to mitigate any unwanted situations or behaviors by changing his state of mind before he reaches threshold the second I see him communicate.

Put a little stress on your dog

If you follow me on Instagram, then you know very well that Monday is Garbage Day and that we go hang out with the garbage trucks every week. Sitka hates the sound of the trucks, so we have been working on desensitization by practicing “place” and recall commands while the trucks are doing their thing.

We also walk along busy roads with loud trucks and cars. We walk back and forth in front of neighbors who are pressure washing their driveways. I make him sit next to the mail truck while the driver is loading the mailbox. We walk past other dogs. 

Like with humans, the only way to get over a fear is to face it. The key is working within their threshold. If they flip out, then you’ve gone too far. You have to work with your dog over time. We’ve been hanging out with the garbage truck for months.

By putting some stress on Sitka during our walks, I show him that I will keep him safe from all of those scary things and that he doesn’t need to worry about them.

Here’s a tip: Make a list of all the things that stress your dog. Be very specific. Don’t just write “cars.” Write “motorcycles,” “garbage trucks,” “delivery vans.” Which are the worst offenders? Then go seek those opportunities to practice around those scary things.

Be Consistent

So many pay thousands of dollars for a dog trainer and then wonder why the dog doesn’t act the same way with their handlers at home. A lot of the time, this is because the owners are softer and more lenient with their dogs than the trainer was.

I make mistakes of course, but I try to be consistent as much as possible during our walks. This means I dissuade pulling, lunging, sniffing, and marking every time it happens. I make sure he sits at my heel when we stop every single time and that he stays by my side when we walk or run.

If you don’t maintain consistency, it confuses your dog. They won’t understand what you are looking for, so when you have to correct them, that’s on you, not them.

If You’re Not Willing to Train, Then Don’t Take Your Dog

Stay at home orders during the covid-19 pandemic ended up being one of the best things that could have happened to us in relation to dog training. Since our trails were closed and we were resigned to our neighborhood streets only, the temptation to take him hiking or trail running before he was ready was removed. 

We had no choice but to focus on training and we made serious strides in our loose leash walking skills as a result.

I asked my trainer if I could take Sitka to happy hour at a restaurant with friends. He said yes, as long as I am willing to work with him. Sitka and I made a few passes by the patio and I could see he wasn’t ready to enter, so he went back to the car.

I desperately wanted to go for a hike in between lessons, but that meant potentially walking back and forth along the first 100 meters of the trail so as not to regress with our training. I chose not to go.

I ran solo for the first few weeks because I wanted to run and not train my dog. So he stayed at home in his kennel.

If you are not willing or able to focus on your dog 100% during this training period, then don’t bring your dog. It will only cause frustration for the both of you.

What tips do you have for teaching loose leash walking?

How long did it take your dog to learn to walk nicely on leash?

Loose Leash Walking Tips from My Trainer

Rachel

Monday 25th of July 2022

Hi there! I came to read about the 180 turn and maybe find more tips. My trainer taught us this last week. Along with his place in the home and time in the kennel this type of training has been a game changer for us! But after just 4 days of this he already is not cooperating and yes I am being consistent. So he understands the pressure but ignores it. He will go along and follow my lead but when there’s something he really wants to get his nose into he completely ignores the leash pressure. And I stand there with it tight and he sniffs away. Then he looks at me and walks, like he knows but he got away with it. Only way to avoid this song and dance is to stay in the middle of the street where there are no smells. Which to me is ridiculous. But I am consistent with the pressure, and often times he will predict my turns and he will feel the pressure and turn with me all the while sniffing the ground. And if he sees another dog, and I am holding him tight at a 45 degree angle he doesn’t care. Still stands holding tight until the other dog passes. I do use an ecollar for some things. I do not use a prong collar. My dog is stubborn because he is a guardian dog bred for independence. Will he ever learn? Do you have any tips for me? I don’t see my trainer again for another week and a half. Thank you!

Jen Sotolongo

Tuesday 26th of July 2022

Hi Rachel! My first tip is to contact your trainer! Many trainers welcome questions from their clients in between sessions so they can troubleshoot any challenges the dog is facing. If that is not an option to you, it's tough to give precise tips without knowing your exact situation or what kind of training you've done in the past and are currently doing, but I would talk to your trainer about introducing a prong collar to your dog. That will go a long way on the walks and the pressure will have meaning to your dog once they are taught how to turn it off and on. I'd also reframe your thoughts about your dog being a "stubborn guardian dog" only because then that creates a story, which can cause frustration or limit progress simply because you focus on this idea of his breed. It may very well be the case that he is more challenging to train as a result of his breed, but taking the time to learn what motivates him and build your relationship will go a long way! I wish you the best of luck!

Edward

Thursday 16th of June 2022

Thank you for the information…really nice. I do have one question: if you’re teaching initially by turning direction when he/she pulls, how do you then transition to teaching pressure release?

Jen Sotolongo

Thursday 16th of June 2022

So when the dog turns into you, that is the release of the pressure! The second they turn, you "push" the leash into them to release, mark, and reward. And then do it over and over until they understand to fluency!

Rosie

Tuesday 31st of May 2022

This was quite a sad read - so much poor information from someone who nothings about dogs or dog training. As she notes from other comments questioning her use of E collars, “thanks for commenting and giving me money and promoting my blog by commenting”, - shows you the character of a person promoting such a shameful way to create a relationship with an animal.

Please spend your time time looking at the science and at articles by dog trainers or\and people who know how to treat, create effective relationships with and of course train their animals. I could go into all the details of the issues in this article as a trained professional (learned helplessness, tracheal damage etc etc) , but I’ll let you be the judge on whether you want to have a dog that sits with you in the evening who loves and trusts you, or a dog that does the things you want because otherwise you’ll shock them, and trust me - they know who’s shocking them. Glad you were able to make an extra 2cents or whatever from my comment on the back who knows how many idiots following some of this advice and abusing their animals.

Jen Sotolongo

Tuesday 31st of May 2022

Hey Rosie. You know, the last time someone told me that I knew nothing about dogs, an editor from Falcon reached out to me asking if I wanted to write a book about hiking with dogs. It was published in 2021. I wonder what good fortune will happen to me this time! I believe in this training and have worked with numerous dog trainers, attended workshops, and studied the science (though I know you'll tell me my way isn't science). Because of all the misinformation and critics out there that shame us for using tools that help us effectively communicate with our dogs and offer them a freedom that they might never otherwise see, I share that information with open-minded dog owners who are looking for solutions for living their best lives with their dogs. You don't have to agree with it, but your way is not the only way to train a dog. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I typed this response while sitting next to my dog who loves and trusts me.

No One's Dog Rescue (Kelly Hall)

Wednesday 27th of April 2022

Hi Jen! I am kinda late to the party but really enjoyed reading this and all your posts. I have a dog rescue in Houston, TX and most days just need to get a walk in. But I have one super smart but super fearful dog that will never find a home without some good structure. Dogs are her trigger. She was taught place by a trainer and she uses that. But the thing that helped and continues to help her was teaching her 'eyes'. So when she gets stressed on a walk (by seeing a dog), we stop, sit, 'eyes' and leave it. 90% of the time, if I am not distracted, she will puff up but stay put and quiet. Her walks are so stressful she will not eat treats. But I will try the train for food technique. We are currently working on it and after reading this blog several times LOL, I have a better idea. Any other helpful ideas for teaching her LLW and thereby not focusing on the threat but me? Thanks a million!

Jen Sotolongo

Thursday 12th of May 2022

Hmm, for dogs like this, I would actually recommend using a slip lead or prong collar and doing 180-degree turns, rather than allowing her to stop and watch the other dogs. Movement is your friend and if this dog is fearful and reactive, then she needs a leader who will show her that nothing is going to happen when you see another dog, because you're not going to let anything happen. You're just going to keep walking, either ahead, on the other side of the street, or you're going to turn around. I'd start out by setting a timer and walking her in a very low distraction area doing 180 turns until she understands how to walk without pulling, then gradually increase distractions. Hope this helps!

Marti

Wednesday 20th of April 2022

This is so encouraging! My dog does not lunge at rabbits anymore, which makes my neck and shoulders happy! She is very eager the first ten minutes but I stay consistent. She does not mind the gentle leader once we get going though I use it only for head direction reminders ie. Wait and turn towards me. She still wears a body harness that clips to leash on front. She is far far more responsive to my corrections. Thank you for your articles and the webinar about impulse control too!

Jen Sotolongo

Thursday 21st of April 2022

So glad these tips have helped make for more pleasant walks and happier shoulders and backs!