Dog Training

5 Common Loose Leash Dog Walking Mistakes

December 28, 2021

There’s no denying that getting dragged on walks can ruin all enjoyment. Leash pulling is one of the most common issues I’m asked to help with as a dog trainer. Training your dog will take time & effort, but here are 5 common loose leash mistakes to avoid!

(If you want a step-by-step guide to getting your dog to walk nicely on leash, read this article)

5 common loose leash dog walking mistakes:

1. Progressing too quickly

Many people feel that if their dog can walk nicely on leash in unstimulating environments then it means they can walk nicely everywhere.

Not true!

The example I often give clients is saying their ABC’s.

If I texted you right now and asked you to recite the ABC’s in your head, you could likely do it, right? When you’re not overwhelmed or distracted the ABC’s are quite simple.

Now what if I put you on a stage in front of 10,000 people and asked you to say your ABC’s into a microphone?

You’d likely get so overwhelmed that you’d forget how to speak. I know I would!

You KNOW your ABC’s, but where & how you’re being asked to execute the task changes your ability to complete it.

Context matters!

Dogs are no different. Having your dog walk nicely next to you on boring concrete with no sounds, smells, or distractions around them is dramatically different than walking down a busy road or past another dog.

Start in environments where your dog CAN be successful, reward the behavior you like, and progress the distractions slowly.

2. Walking too slowly

I often notice that as people try to teach loose leash walking, they walk delicately like they’re holding a cup of tea they don’t want to spill.

Don’t do that!

One of the reasons dog pull in the first place is that we naturally walk much slower than they do.

Imagine taking a turtle for a walk and you can understand why dogs struggle to match our slow pace (we’re the turtle).

If you slow down even further during training because you don’t want to “break the heel” or get the dog too excited it’s even harder for your dog to match your slowed pace.

Walking really slowly will hinder your training, not help it.

Walk the pace you naturally like to walk, and reward your dog for matching it.

Common loose leash walking mistake: confusing perfect heel for loose leash walking

3. Confusing a perfect heel with loose leash walking

It’s still common for people to believe that their dog should walk in a perfect heel at all times otherwise they aren’t “being good on leash”.

Nooooo.

Dog walks are often the only time your dog gets to leave the yard daily. Let them sniff and have fun!

Imagine yourself: Let’s say you’re only allowed to to leave the house once a day for an hour. During that hour you cannot interact with the external world in any way. How frustrated would you start to feel?

It’s not fair or reasonable to expect your dog to heel perfectly for every minute of the walk.

Do I think they dogs should pull on leash? No! That’s why loose leash walking is my expectation.

Give your dog the leash length without tension to wander, sniff, and be a dog!

Remember, the walk should be enjoyable for them as well. It’s likely their favourite part of the day.

Heeling is absolutely an important skill to maintain. It’s great for busy or less safe environments. The other times? I suggest just loose leash walking.

4. Using a retractable leash.

This one actually makes me cringe.

Retractable leashes require force exerted on them in order to extend. That means the dog HAS to pull to get more length. They reinforce that pulling = more freedom!

There’s many reasons why I dislike retractable leashes, but the main reason is that the reinforce the behavior you’re trying to fix!

When you understand leash pressure it becomes obvious why retractable leashes don’t make sense for training.

5. Phasing out treats too quickly (or ever)

It continues to baffle me how strong of aversion people have to using treats during training.

Why is it socially acceptable to use an aversive “training” tool such as a prong collar for the length of the dogs life, but not treats?! It’s common to think that rewards need to be minimized while pain & intimidation are fine to keep? It makes no sense to me.

Every species likes to getting a reward for effort. Think of yourself:

Maybe you have been at your job long enough that you are good at it. Should the paychecks stop then? Why should you continue to get rewards when you know what you’re doing?

We’d all quickly quit our careers if there was no paycheck (ie reward) in it for us. So why should your dog work for “free”?

I do believe in giving treats lavishly at the beginning of training and sloooowllly decreasing the amount provided.

Why phase them out entirely though?

Treats are a way of telling your dog that they’re doing a good job. They also reinforce that that behavior will happen again.

Use them!

Are you guilty of making any of these common loose leash dog walking mistakes?

Is there anything else I should add to the list?

As always: I’m grateful for comments, shares, and feedback!

Happy Training 🙂

5 common mistakes while training loose leash walking

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5 Common Loose Leash Dog Walking Mistakes

About the author:

Stephanie Rombough, DBTMc, is a force-free dog trainer in Edmonton, Alberta. She owns Happy Hounds Dog Training, offering private in-person or virtual dog training services. 

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My mission at Happy Hounds is to help owners train their dogs using positive, force-free methods. A trained dog is less likely to end up in a shelter, and a dog trained with positive methods is more likely to be confident & happy. Everyone wins!


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