It’s OK To Loose Lead Walk

While I am an advocate for off lead walking there are times when you will need, or want to put your dog on lead. Walking with your dog on lead should be enjoyable time spent with your dog. Allow your dog to stop and smell things, walking for your dog is as much about physical exercise, as it is about mental stimulation. Your dog will me more tired and relaxed at home if you can allow them to use their brains, and an easy way of doing this is to let them sniff.

In the past, dogs were mainly kept as ‘working dogs’, often these dogs spent their days hunting with their owners. The idea was that you kept your gun in your right hand, and your dog on your left. Typically, these dogs performed a job and spent considerable time with their owners, getting lots of exercise while working. Working dogs would often walk by their owners side, but then be released to run or scent for their quarry.

Nowadays we mostly keep dogs as pets, it seems crazy to me to expect a pet dog to walk on your left side during the entire walk. Your dog has probably been waiting for you to come home all day, and when they finally get out for a walk they have to ignore all the lovely smells and sights and walk by their owners side like a robot the whole way. You don’t need to walk your pet dog on you left side for the whole walk. It’s boring, boring for you, and boring for them.

Allow your dog the space to be able to switch sides, walk behind, or in front of you. If you keep the lead too tight your dog is going to pull the whole way, they have no choice. Hold the lead in one hand only and relax and enjoy your walk. Yes, there should be rules and boundaries, you need to work these out for your particular situation. What works for me, may not be ideal for you- you are the one who lives with your dog, and knows them best.

When I walk a dog on lead I expect that they will not pull excessively (this is subjective, and needs to be determined by you). I also expect that when I ask my dog to ‘heel’ he will walk at heel. These rules mean that my dog gets the freedom he needs, but when I want him close, he will be, until I release him.

All to often, we try and control our dogs to the point of our voices becoming white noise in the background, and they ignore everything we say. When people want their dogs to walk on their left usually they constantly ask their dogs to ‘heel’, or use the lead to stop their dogs moving away, sometimes even a combination of both! This does not teach your dog anything about loose lead walking and it’s no fun for your dog or for you.

If your dog pulls on the lead it’s probably because they are really excited to get out! Spend time training loose lead walking by stopping each time your dog pulls on the lead. Don’t pull back, but stand your ground, and when they release the tension on the lead (by sitting or coming back to you) you can move forward. This way they will be reinforced for walking on a loose lead. Yes, it takes time and patience and if it is important to you, you will practice it.

To make loose lead walking easier to train, practice it at the off lead park, after your dog has had a run off lead, and with minimal distractions. It will work if your are consistent, after all you have trained your dog to pull by continuing to walk with them while they are pulling, reinforcing the pulling. You might also like to ‘work’ your dog in the yard with some tricks or obedience before you take them out. Make sure they are relaxed before you step out the door for your walk.

When I see a dog walking on a loose lead with their owner it looks relaxing and enjoyable. I do not see a control or dominance issue. You dont need your dog at your side all the time, but when you ask for it, they should comply, and you can set them up to comply willingly.


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2 Responses to It’s OK To Loose Lead Walk

  1. Diana says:

    This theory is similar to one I read years ago advocated at that time by a very well known trainer – Carol Lee Benjamin. I have dobermans – and they are natural pullers – in fact, they make great sled dogs.

    Anyway, for several years, I allowed my dog to walk “forward” and “range” on lead because like you, at that time I felt it was overly restrictive to keep them in check. The short answer is: I found this approach to be destructive and confusing for the dog. Allowing a dog to walk near the end of the lead leaves the handler helpless to control the dog should it decide to suddenly lunge forward. Food is not an attraction for a doberman that sees a squirrel – or another dog. Dog will choose squirrel first – and come back for food later. My greatest fear is to meet up with a 95 lb woman walking a 120lb bull mastiff using this “theory”.

    The flip side of this is: I do not believe a dog should walk in a rigid “heel” position which forces the dog to walk with his head and body wrapped around the handlers leg. This is unnatural and uncomfortable for the dog and it conflicts with a dogs instincts. Its frustrating that some obedience trainers encourage this – I’m glad you don’t.

    After many years of trying different techniques, what I have found works best is to condition your dog to always walk at your side on lead on a loose lead. This is conditioning – the dog will naturally fall into a pattern and the conflict of pulling on lead ends. The dog learns “heel” is one position and the drama stops.

    As far as boredom, that is why dogs need work. Tracking and agility are excellent outlets for a dog – and for these activities, I use a different lead, a different collar and a different command.

    • katarina says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this article. A dog that is going to chase a squirrel is going to do so if it is ‘ranging’ or in a loose lead heel position. I would argue that it would be as dangerous for the dog to lunge from the loose heel position than from the ‘ranging’ position because the dog has much more momentum going forward with a slack lead.

      You are right, a dog that out-weighs its owner can be a risk. However, what I am advocating is that if a strong, sharp ‘heel’ behaviour is conditioned in all pet dogs it will significantly reduce the risk of a dog lunging. This is the reason I published ‘It’s OK to Loose Lead Walk’ at the same time as ‘Heel…. For a Little While’. Sharp heeling- where your dog is watching you and wrapped around your leg, requires lots of practice, and if done well, a dog should be able to do this as they are walking past anything. This kind of heeling requires owners to be vigilant about the environment they are walking their dog in, and to practice with likely environmental distractions (like squirrels) from the beginning.

      The question then becomes, what word/signal do you use when you must have your dog close and watching you when you walk past something that they are likely to lunge for?

      You are right, tracking and agility are great outlets for a dog, and I would encourage every dog owner to look in to such activities. However, these activities take considerable time and commitment, especially tracking, and for the average pet dog owner, finding the time to walk their dog daily can be enough of a stretch. Lots of people come to me not realising, or able to, walk their dog daily, that’s what I want to start with.

      Once again, thanks for the comment. If what you are doing works for you and your dog, then keep doing it.

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