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Teaching Loose Leash Walking – Its All About the Reward!

Teaching Loose Leash Walking – Its All About the Reward!

Teaching Loose Leash Walking – It’s All About the Reward!

I’ll admit it – I’m a lazy leash trainer. When it comes to that whole “loose leash walking” thing, I tend to gloss over it in favor of the fun tricks and commands my dogs already know. I mean, who needs perfect heel position when you’ve got a killer “bang, you’re dead” trick, right? Well, turns out I should have been paying a little more attention.

You see, I have this exuberant border collie named Maggie. She came to me practically trained as a sled dog, all about that constant forward momentum. Loose leash walking? Yeah, not really her forte. And to be honest, it wasn’t exactly my forte either. I’d get frustrated, she’d get frustrated, and before you knew it we were both ready to throw in the towel on these walks altogether.

That is, until I realized I was approaching it all wrong. Maggie didn’t need to be trained to walk nicely on a leash – she needed to be taught it like a circus trick. And you know what? It worked like a charm.

The Circus Trick Approach

The key, as it turns out, is to stop thinking of loose leash walking as just another basic obedience behavior. Instead, we need to approach it the way we would any other complex trick – with plenty of planning, tiny incremental steps, and a whole lot of positive reinforcement.

You see, from Maggie’s perspective, walking calmly by my side makes about as much sense as a human walking at the “speed of death” and ignoring everything interesting. It’s just not natural for a dog. But teach her the steps, reward the heck out of each one, and suddenly it becomes a fun game she’s eager to play.

Setting the Stage for Success

The first step is to make sure you’ve got the right equipment. I’m a big fan of front-clipping body harnesses like the SENSE-ation Harness or Easy Walker. These give you more control over your dog’s movements and prevent them from just barreling ahead.

Next, you’ll want to decide how you’re going to reinforce this new “trick.” Food is always my go-to, since it’s highly motivating and easy to deliver in small bits. I started Maggie out with dried beef bits, but you can use whatever your dog goes crazy for. Just make sure it’s something you can easily carry around in your pocket without it turning into a mushy mess.

Finally, you need to be aware of how challenging this will be for your dog. Think of it like a competition for their attention – you and the environment are competing, and you need to know your competitor well. Always start in the easiest environment possible, and gradually work your way up to more distracting situations.

The Training Process

Okay, now that we’ve got the foundations laid, it’s time to get to work. The first step is to simply walk around in erratic circles in a low-distraction area, rewarding Maggie every time she’s walking nicely by your side. Don’t even say a word – just keep those treats flowing whenever she’s in the right position.

Once she’s got that down, you can start adding in a cue like “with me” or “let’s walk.” The key is to reinforce generously at first, then gradually increase the duration and difficulty as she starts to nail it.

For example, maybe you start by rewarding every 2-4 steps, then work your way up to 12-15 steps before the next treat. Or you could start in a quiet room, then gradually move outside, into a park, down a busy sidewalk – always making sure to keep the difficulty level just within your dog’s capabilities.

And don’t forget to mix it up! Vary your pace, change directions, throw in some figure-8s. The more interesting you can make it, the more engaged Maggie will stay.

Loose Leash Walking is All About Connection

Here’s the thing about loose leash walking – it’s not really about control at all. It’s about building a strong connection between you and your dog, so that they choose to stay by your side not because they have to, but because that’s where all the good stuff happens.

That’s why I love using a long line to start. It allows Maggie to explore and sniff to her heart’s content, while still keeping that connection alive. If she starts to wander off, I just stop walking until she turns her attention back to me. The moment she does, we’re off again, with lots of praise and maybe even a few extra treats.

And you know what? It works. Maggie went from being a pulling maniac to a model canine citizen, all because I finally realized that loose leash walking isn’t about control – it’s about collaboration. It’s about finding ways to make that walk together fun and rewarding for both of us.

So if you’re struggling with a dog who just can’t seem to master the art of loose leash walking, don’t give up. Approach it like a circus trick, set your dog up for success, and watch the magic happen. Before you know it, you’ll be strolling through the neighborhood like the dynamic duo you were always meant to be.

And who knows, maybe you’ll even get inspired to teach Maggie a few more tricks along the way. After all, a little sled dog-turned-circus performer makes for a pretty impressive walking partner, don’t you think?

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