Have you taken your dog for a walk, only to have your shoulder dislocated as they chase after a squirrel? Do you sometimes feel like you’re in your own version of the Iditarod with your pup? We’re here to help! Today, we’ll cover a few simple tips to help you and your dog get in step!

Necessary Equipment

In order to teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash, you’ll need a few things. We recommend a martingale collar, 6’ biothane leash, treat pouch, and a tasty treat that your pup really likes. A martingale collar is humane, and does not hurt the dog in any way. We recommend biothane leashes because they’re easier on our hands than nylon, waterproof, and easy to keep clean. Tasty treats are more appealing to your pup than their regular kibble, which will make training easier and more enjoyable!

Do not use a retractable leash, head halter, anti-pull harness, choke chain, or front-clip harness. Retractable leashes do not afford you the necessary control, and harnesses can cause the dog to pull. Head halters can cause injury to their neck, while choke chains can (as the name implies) choke the dog. Front-clip or anti-pull harnesses restrict the dog’s natural movement, which can cause chronic injuries with repeated use.

Start With Engagement

As with all dog training, engagement is the first step. If your dog isn’t focused on you, they won’t listen to your commands, and they’ll be all over the place. When teaching engagement, we like to start inside in a low-distraction environment, such as your kitchen or living room. Put your treat pouch on, and put the collar and leash on your dog. Holding the leash, mark and reward whenever they look at you. When your pup is consistently focusing on you, hold the food at your left side, at waist height. Your pup will instinctively follow their nose, and will move into a heel position. Once they’re in position, mark and reward. For continued focus, hold the treat under your chin when the dog is at your side, and again, mark and reward.

Step By Step

Once your dog is consistently focusing on you when stationary, it’s time to add a couple of steps. From a heel position, step off with your left foot while giving the heel command. Your leash should be loose, and you should be consistently rewarding the dog when they have their shoulder by your left leg. If they start to move ahead of you, calmly turn the other direction. Eventually, they’ll get the idea that they’re rewarded when they stay next to you.

Taking It Outside

Once you and your pup have the basics of heel down inside, it’s time to graduate to the outside world! Again, start by standing still and rewarding engagement. If they sniff the ground or strain toward something, don’t move. The second they turn back toward you, mark, reward, and even take a step or two back! Make yourself exciting! Take a short walk around the block. If you end up going back and forth in front of your house because your dog is pulling, and you’re walking in the opposite direction to correct them, that’s okay! They’ll eventually understand.

Additional Thoughts

Each training session should be about 5-10 minutes, and should always end on a good note. If you’re frustrated with a lack of progress, that emotion will travel down the leash. Take a step back and work on something that your pup already knows, then end the session.

When training or out in public, we strongly recommend that you discourage other people or dogs from saying hello. This is because your dog should be focused on you, and if you tell them that it’s okay to go say hi to other people and dogs, they’ll be confused, and you’ll lose all of that hard-won focus you’ve been working on! Ideally, if a dog is not focusing on their owner (ie if you’re standing and chatting with someone), they should be neutral to their environment.

If you have questions (or if you’d like to set up a virtual training session), get in touch! We’d love to help you and your pup enjoy walks again!