Tips to teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash

One of the most common problems dog owners experience is that their dog pulls on the leash.

While the key to loose-leash walking is training, using the right equipment is essential too. Choosing and using suitable equipment helps prevent the dog from practicing pulling on the leash and from accidentally creating negative associations with situations.

In general, harnesses are comfortable for dogs, and many encourage pulling. We use harnesses to capture cart horses' power and for dogs who participate in pulling sports like cani-cross, skijoring, and bike-joring.

For everyday walking, this can be uncomfortable or, if the dog suddenly pulls, even dangerous for the handler.

Some harnesses have a second ring on the dog's chest. Attaching one end of the training leash to this ring discourages pulling without pain or discomfort to the dog. Training leads are leashes with a clip on each end of the leash to attach to the two rings on the harnesses.

Headcollars are also effective. Many dogs need to get used to wearing head collars, and pairing the head collar with something the dog likes helps accomplish this. I prefer the harnesses to a head collar because if the dog catapults forward, the pressure and weight are not on the neck but on the chest, so safer for the dog. A head collar with the leash attachment at the back of the head is designed to be a safe headcollar and effectively controls the pulling.

Note situations where your dog pulls and avoid them for now. You can use them as training opportunities later as your dog gets more skilled.

Examples of times dogs often pull and are inadvertently rewarded for pulling are:

  • when approaching a favorite person or dog and being greeted when they have arrived

  • pulling to get into the favorite dog daycare and released for playtime when they arrive

  • pulling to investigate an exciting odor

The first step to training a dog to walk on a leash without pulling is to reward the dog every time he turns his attention to or comes near the owner. I like to start this in an area with few distractions (a backyard is often a good choice). Pick rewards the dog loves.

Start by making an attention-getting noise. An "attention-getting noise" is a gentle, friendly noise you make to get the attention of your dog. It can be a clicking, a kissy noise, or a soft whistle. Most dogs are naturally interested when they hear the kissy noise and associate it with good things.

Choose a "marker" word. A "marker" is a word you use to indicate to the dog what the dog is doing when you say the marker is what you want the dog to do, keep doing or repeat. The dog quickly associates the marker word with a delicious or fun reward.

"Yes" is the word I use to mark the behavior of the dog. For example, I call my dog, my dog turns to look at me and starts to come to me, and I say "yes" to let the dog know that's what I am looking for, and then I reward the dog when he arrives. Or I am working with my dog walking on a loose leash and, when the dog is walking next to me, I say "yes" and provide the treat. With the leash attached, have fun with the dog using toys he loves. Turn away from the dog frequently and reward the dog for following you.

Keep training periods short (3 minutes) and end on success.

Once the dog stays close to you on and off-leash in the yard, try it on-leash on a quiet street.

Reward the dog for paying attention to you (with good treats or by playing with the dog with a toy) while he is walking with you. Turn often to keep the dog focussed on you and stop walking if he starts to pull. Move forward when the leash is slack. Once the dog has mastered this, you are ready for the next step. For more tips, please visit

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