Walking with a Loose Leash

©2020 by Jerry D. Patillo
Phoenix Behavior Consulting

Click here for a short video (4:27) on loose-leash walking.


Many of you are probably already experiencing the problem of your puppy pulling on leash. As with most behavior problems, this does not simply go away with age. In fact, the older and larger your puppy gets, the worse it becomes. To allow your puppy to pull actually tells your puppy that pulling is acceptable. Many owners inadvertently teach their puppies the fine art of pulling. How? By yanking and pulling their puppies back while continuing to walk. Instead of teaching them not to pull, owners teach them to pull harder. They inadvertently reward their puppies since the walk continues. It gets to sniff, and its obedient owner — you — follows right along behind!

You will begin to teach your puppy how to walk nicely on leash by introducing “Let’s Go.” Let’s Go means walk with me without pulling. You will teach your puppy to sand nicely first while on lead. Along with several treats, hold the leash with both hands against your body. Any time your puppy is calm, looking at you, and not pulling, click! and then treat.* It will eventually notice that paying attention to you brings about rewards.

When a behavior is reinforced, it is typically repeated. When it is not reinforced, the behavior usually is extinguished or doesn’t increase in strength. Therefore, not rewarding your puppy will encourage it to look for a reward elsewhere, such as the ground, another dog, another person, etc. If your puppy begins to pull forward, take a few steps backward. Do not pull back with your arm. What’s the difference? If you pull back with your arm and then release the tension on the leash, then you’re the one making the leash loose. If you step backward, then your dog will usually walk toward you faster than you’re backing up. So, it’s your dog that’s making the leash loose. We want your puppy to learn to make the leash loose on its own.

Anchor your hands holding the leash securely against your body and wait. Tension may remain on the leash for a while. Continue to brace yourself in this position until your puppy slackens its pull. As soon as it looks back at you, click! and then treat next to your side, not out in front of you. You want your puppy to learn that at your side is a great place to be, not out in front of your feet. If your puppy continues to pull and refuses to slacken the lead, say nothing. Wait it out until your puppy releases the tension on the lead. If your puppy is very strong, you can tether it temporarily. (Connect your puppy on a leash to a hook firmly attached to a wall baseboard in your house or connect it to a very heavy piece of furniture.) Whenever your puppy’s collar is loose, click! and then treat.

Once your puppy stands nicely by your side, you are ready to walk. Begin by saying your puppy’s name and then “Let’s go.” Begin walking. As stated above, Let’s Go means walk along with me. You should say it before your puppy starts walking forward. Watch your puppy. As long as it walks nicely without pulling, the walk continues. Click! and then treat from time to time as your puppy keeps the leash loose. The moment your puppy begins to pull, the leash becomes tight, immediately shift gears and start walking backward away from your destination. As soon as your puppy makes the leash loose, click! and then treat as you start walking toward your destination again. You don’t want your puppy to come all the way back to you. Otherwise, it may learn to come to you, grab a treat, and then pull again. Your puppy will quickly learn that when its collar is tight, you no longer follow it. Instead, the walk is temporarily discontinued. Walks continue only when it feels as if there is no puppy at the end of the leash. Continue to repeat the above steps each time you feel your puppy pulling. Your patience and consistency will eventually pay off. Your inconsistency will kill you (figuratively speaking).

Future dog walker in training.