One of the most common issues dog owners encounter daily is being pulled by their dogs while on a leash. Ideally, your dog should be walking beside you with a loose leash - but it’s not as easy as it looks! Today, I’m going to show you how you can train your dog to walk on a loose leash beside you. This will not only make your walks much more enjoyable, but will even help strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Sunflower walk

Getting Started

Ideally, you should begin training in a distraction free environment, such as your home or backyard. This will ensure that you have your dog’s full attention and will eliminate any distractions that may cause them to pull on the leash. If you train them at the dog park, they may just want to play with the other dogs and won’t be focused on your commands!

Positioning Your Dog

It is best to position your dog parallel to your leg and use the same side consistently while teaching. Do not switch sides until the dog is perfect on one side. It is critical that the correct positioning is being rewarded because that will be marked as the desired behavior going forward.

Additionally, there should not be tension on the leash during this exercise. If there is tension, this will result in something called opposition reflex - this is your dog’s natural instinct to resist pressure. If you try to pull your dog closer to you, they will automatically pull in the opposite direction. Since this is what we’re trying to avoid, make sure the leash is loose at all times and redirect their attention toward you with praise, rather than putting pressure on the leash.

Let’s Start Walking!

To get your dog to walk alongside you, he/she must associate staying beside you with getting a treat. You can switch to rewarding your dog with a toy or ball only after the dog knows the behavior completely. When your dog is walking beside you properly (in the correct position as mentioned earlier and not pulling), that is the moment that he/she is to be rewarded verbally with “good boy/girl” as well as with a treat. Each dog values different types of treats, so it is important to train them using a high value treat for optimal attention.

Patrick Hendry - A walk in the grass

Keeping Your Dog Motivated

Keeping your dog eager and motivated to learn is especially important. Make sure you are really rewarding the correct position and always praise your dog as much as possible. Even if you just take three to five successful steps with your dog on a loose leash beside you, those steps should be rewarded immediately.

I highly recommend doing this exercise after your dog has exerted some energy. As dog owners know all too well, when a dog sees their leash come out, they know they’re about to go on a walk and get SUPER excited and even a little wild! If you release some of that energy prior, then your walk will be much more relaxed and they will be less likely to pull the leash during training.

Next Steps

Once your dog has mastered walking beside you with a loose leash in a distraction-less environment, you’re ready to move onto other environments. Bring your dog on walks in places that you know have distractions such as other dogs, kids, noises, etc. It’ll take some practice, but over time, your dog will learn to ignore these stimulants and keep their focus on you and where they’re positioned during your walk. If your dog does start pulling, pivot in the opposite direction - this tells your dog that pulling will prevent them from going in the direction they want to explore! Right after the pivot, try to have a successful couple of steps so that your dog remains engaged with you and eager to learn.

This skill has different levels, so don’t expect fast results! Your dog is full of energy and excitement right before a walk and is used to pulling you right out the door once his leash is on. That is when his level of obedience is put to the test! Does he walk beside you with a loose leash during a time when he normally did not? Does he walk beside you with a loose leash around other dogs? Once your dog masters walking beside you with a loose leash in a distraction-less environment, you can take it to the next level and heighten the level of distractions until he/she walks beside you under any circumstance.

- Or Nessim