teaching loose lead walking

Is walking your dog a pure joy? 8 steps to a loose lead

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So is walking your dog a pure joy? Or do you find yourself putting it off until you are racked with guilt and feel you just have to take her out?

I absolutely, really and truly, know just how you feel! My dogs didn’t always walk like angels on a loose lead. I can clearly remember the times I stopped and realised with embarrassment that I had been shouting at them when they were pulling. I guess they thought I was encouraging them to go faster! 

So I decided to do something about it. Not yelling or cursing at them - they’re only being dogs.

Like with almost every dog problem, it was me who had to change!

That was when I learnt the secret

It may seem counter-intuitive, but pulling on your dog’s lead is actually making her worse. It takes two to tango, and if you pull, she’ll pull.

So, what’s the answer to this pulling question?

Believe it or not, it’s for you to stop pulling.

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The reason dogs pull is because someone once followed them. Think about that one. From the moment you got your little puppy you let her tow you about on the lead wherever she wanted to go. I know - you thought you were being kind. But it wasn’t all that kind, as it taught your puppy something you didn’t like and wanted to change as soon as she got a bit of meat on her. 

A common scenario is this: 

      The puppy pulls to the end of the lead. The owner’s arm floats up. 

      Yay! Puppy has gained another yard! 

      Then the puppy pulls harder and the owner takes a few steps               behind her. 

      Success! Got another three yards! 

So what has this puppy just learnt? Got it. She’s learned that if she pulls you will follow. 

DRUM ROLL ….. So from now on you are never going to follow your dog again.

“But,” I hear you cry, “if I stop pulling she just pulls more!”

There is something called the opposition reflex. If you’re standing next to me and I pull your arm, you’ll pull back. You have to, in order to stay upright. If I pull harder, you’ll resist more strongly, and if I suddenly let go - you’ll probably fall over! 

You can see from this that pulling harder is not the answer.

8 steps to a loose lead

• To start off you need a proper lead - a six-foot one or longer. If you have a short lead your dog cannot help but pull on it as soon as she moves an inch from your side.  This is even more exaggerated with a small dog who’s already at the full length of the lead just keeping his feet on the floor. So to achieve a loose lead you need one long enough to be loose. It should droop down in a nice floppy loop between you.

“Best tip for me on loose lead walking was about the length of the lead! Thank you.” Annabel and her Border Collie Lily

Young Wilfred is proud to walk beside his owner on a loose lead

Young Wilfred is proud to walk beside his owner on a loose lead

• And when you’re holding that lead, you keep your hand close to you. Tuck your thumb into your belt if you find your arm floating up in the air.

• You start out with your dog. She pulls to the end of the lead. You stop. You tuck in that thumb and keep your hand close to you. And wait. At some stage, she will stop pulling and look at you, wondering why you haven’t followed her as you are meant to.

• As soon as she looks at you, you cheerfully say “This way!” and head off in the opposite direction. Now she’ll walk with you a couple of steps, and probably (if this has been her habit) surge forward to the end of the lead.

• Guess what? Repeat Step 1.

• You may walk these five yards quite a few times until your dog realises that something is new and different. She should by now be looking at you and wondering what on earth is happening. Fortunately dogs are very flexible and tend to take life as it comes. So if you’re consistent, she’ll accept that this is the new modus operandi and go along with it. 

• It’s important that you don’t have to get any particular place in a hurry while you work on this. You need to think happy thoughts and be enormously patient. You may think your dog will stand straining at the end of the lead for ever - but in fact, sometime between now and next Christmas, she’ll relax and look back at you. (In fact it’s only usually a few seconds - it just feels like forever.)

• If you have two dogs, you need to walk them separately while you fix this.

Does this seem over-simple to you? Can it possibly be that easy? Just go out now with your dog on a (long) lead and stand still. See what happens. See how long it takes her to realise that pulling is absolutely fruitless. (If your dog is big and you are not, wrap an arm round a convenient lamppost or tree so that you have no fear of being pulled over.)

This is just the beginning. 

The first step is to stop the fight for possession of the lead. View your lead as your gentle connection with your dog. Like walking arm-in-arm with a friend.

So here’s the change you have to make

You need to change your perception of the lead as a controlling device and start seeing it as a connection between you and your dog.

You are no longer having adversarial walks, but companionable ones.

Try it then come back to me: what do you think? Let’s get your dog jogging nicely along beside you so that walks become a pleasure again, not a battleground.

A complete program

Although your attitude to the lead is your starting-point, you’ll do well to follow a complete step-by-step (haha!) program to develop loose lead walking with your dog. You’ll find it here at www.brilliantfamilydog.com/books

or just head over to Amazon, download it, and start straight away!


There’s lots more you can do to build your relationship with your dog, and you’ll be reading that soon. As ever, the ways I suggest will all be force-free and pleasant for both of you. 

Don't go without checking out my new online Dog Training Course teaching new dog owners to achieve lasting results through six weeks of dog-friendly coaching - daily video lessons!


Is walking two dogs the same as walking one dog?

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Emphatically not! There are lots of reasons:

Going on a walk with one dog is a companionable affair. Just the one dog to consider. Just the one relationship. Just one speed. 

Add another and you have your attention split between two dogs. And the two dogs’ attention is split between you and each other. They will interact and react together. So immediately you have some unpredictability in the mix. And there’s great scope for the leads to tangle and for the dogs use you as a maypole.

Add to this the fact that you’ll need to set a pace to suit both dogs - not so easy with one old’un and one young’un. Or a big dog and a small dog. Perhaps you have one surging ahead and the other lagging behind. You have to pick up poo with what - your third hand? - while you try to stop the dogs stepping in it.

You have to decide which hand is holding which lead. You have to work out which lead is attached to which dog. And where do you put your treats?

And if one of your dogs is reactive to other dogs, then you are setting up a learning laboratory for your second dog.

Monkey see, monkey do. Reactivity is highly catching.

And it may result in a “redirected bite” when the frustrated dog lashes out at the first thing that gets in the way - the other dog? your leg? 

Remember that if you’re introducing a new puppy into the household along with your reactive dog you also need to be following a lot of other guidelines that you’ll find in this post.

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So it’s not as simple as just grabbing the leads and going! You have to put some thought into this. But a little simple planning goes a long way.

Start with individual dogs

The first essential is to work with one dog at a time. If your loose lead walking with one dog is not stellar, there’s no chance of it suddenly improving when you add another dog. 

Following a step-by-step program like the one you’ll find in Let’s Go! Enjoy Companionable Walks with your Brilliant Family Dog will quickly give you skills with your lead that you didn’t know existed (there’s an art to good lead-handling), and a relationship with your dog that you may have only dreamed of. 

So get that going first, with each dog. You can’t expect them to learn from each other! Well … they may learn from each other, but they may learn some things you’d rather they didn’t. And once they’ve learnt those things, it’s hard to unlearn them (though it can be done, of course). 

And while you’re doing all these solo walks you’re building a huge relationship with both dogs. If you build a relationship with your first dog, then toss another dog into the mix you’re never going to give that new dog the chance to interact with you individually on a walk.

Once you have got each dog knowing exactly where he should be when on a loose lead, you’re ready to put them together. 

I colour-code my dogs, so I know exactly which lead is connected to which dog at any time. This really does make life easier, so look at changing your dog-gear - at least the leads - so you can do this. 

Want to be able to loose lead walk your dog kindly and without frustration? Daily training videos will get you there!

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Who’s where?

You also need to establish which side you want each dog, so they don’t criss-cross in front of you, tripping you and each other up. Even if you’ve taught each dog to walk on, say, your left side in solo walks, once they have grasped the principles of keeping the lead loose and staying beside you it’s very easy to flip one to the other side so you have one on each side. Of course, you may prefer both on the same side, but this can lead to jostling and differences of opinion about whose nose should be an inch ahead of the other’s!

Then again some people like their multi-dogs to be out in front of them, like deerhounds. This is fine as long as there’s no tension on the lead. This can be a useful strategy if walking through crowds or narrow streets.

Your focus when on these early walks - well, any walks really - is on helping the dogs to keep the position you have taught them individually.

Using gentle hands on your drooping leads you’ll be able to connect with them without the need to yank or pull at the lead. Frequent rewards given to the dog who’s getting it right will quickly focus your other dog’s attention on how he can get this bounty too. A little competition can go a long way!

While there is no time when my dogs cannot earn a reward for doing something I like, when I have four in hand they may have to be content with a smile and a word of encouragement each time they check in with me. Delving in the pocket for treats with four leads to hold is not so quick! 

What should my dogs wear?

For preference I like to walk my dogs on a well-fitted non-aversive harness with two connection points and a double-ended lead. If you choose a lead with a “freedom” handle this is very easy to manage with one hand. See the video here to show you what I mean: www.goodfordogs.co.uk/products *

There are lots of gadgets about for stopping dogs pulling. Many of these are aversive - they work by hurting. And also many of them promise a quick fix. None of them, however kind, is a substitute for teaching your dog where you want him to be when walking!

So slapping on a headcollar without any prior desensitisation is likely to end up with a dog who is forever yanking the lead while he tries to scrabble the offending object off his nose. You can certainly use a non-tightening headcollar - if your dogs have been acclimatised to it first - and it can give you that extra bit of control you may need in extreme circumstances: e.g. walking four dogs across a showground full of excited dogs and activities. The headcollar also comes into its own to help with a reactive dog who has a tendency to lunge out at passers-by.

But I would not see it as an aid to get loose lead walking, and the lead would never be tight so that the dog is forced to pull into it.

So by all means enjoy walking your two or more dogs together! But be sure they know exactly what you want before you start, and remember to walk them individually too on a regular basis, to reinforce that bond that develops between you and your dog, one-on-one.


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