Guest blog: Loose lead walking – skills for life

I have spent almost 40 years working with, and training, dogs of all breeds, shapes, and sizes, from all backgrounds. This includes puppies from breeders, rescue pups, golden oldies, teenage delinquents, foreign rescues, and much-loved rescues from the U.K. They have all come with varying degrees of ‘pulling power’.

I have owned 23 dogs and now live with 9 ‘quirky’ rescue dogs. Being a mere 5 ft 3”, and would like to say a mere 8 stone but that would be such a lie, I do have to deal with my own spinal issues. My dogs have ranged from an Irish Wolfhound to a Dachshund and everything in-between. My dogs do not pull, my Husky cross may occasionally saunter at a pace, but that is acceptable!

Pulling on the lead is one of the main issues that pops up time and time again with private training and behaviour clients. It can also be a reason that dogs end up in rescue, directly or indirectly, and it is an area where we can make a massive improvement. Don’t be the body on the end of the lead that is just pulled in a mindless way, we can do so much better!

Dogs that walk well on the lead are a pleasure to walk. They will go to more places with their people and are less likely to have ‘reactivity issues’ towards things whilst out and about. This is because they are exposed to more of the world, as they are nice to walk with. We owe it to our canine friends to teach them what we want them to do rather than just expect them to know what we want.

The best way to do this is through positive reward-based training. It’s ethically and scientifically proven to be a better choice, and we all learn best when we are enjoying it. Dogs are no exception. We just need time, patience, and consistency. Punishment has no place in my training. Let’s be the change and make the world of learning better for all dogs.

Over the years I have tried and tested many methods for teaching loose lead walking and have narrowed it down to the fundamentals that I will happily share with you all. It is important that your dog has some foundation training in place before you start. We call these elements core connection training. It sets them and you up to succeed, win, win.

Core Connection Training has 3 elements:

Name response– Your dog will look at you when you call their name in under 3 seconds.

Marker word– You use a novel word, “Good!”, “Yes!”, “Pasty!”, (only in Cornwall) or a clicker. The dog knows a treat follows the marker word within 3-4 secs and will orientate towards you on the marker word cue.

Free check-in– Your dog will give you voluntary eye contact without being prompted.

I call this method of teaching loose lead walking the ‘HULA HOOP GAME’ and there’s nothing for the dog not to love about this training. Enjoy…….

Lead Handling Skills

An important aspect to ‘loose lead walking’ is the lead handling skills of the person on the other end of the lead. A lot of dogs that become ‘reactive’ (barking and lunging at other dogs, people, traffic etc.) can be emphasised by the inappropriate lead skills of the person attached to the other end.

There is NO QUICK FIX (despite various marketing of tools that will allegedly stop dogs pulling) it takes time, which is why most dogs pull. A dog’s natural gait is at least four times faster than us humans.

Dogs don’t pull – We get pulled because we are just too SLOW!

Dogs are designed to be free roaming, that way they have more control over their environment, helping them feel safe to escape perceived threats. When walking on the pavement we put our beloved pets on a lead to keep them safe. This is all alien to dogs and something we need to teach them to accept in a positive and ethical way.

So, let’s look at the best way to handle the lead so our pets feel safe, comfortable, and most importantly, calm.

We would recommend a 2m/6ft double-ended Halti Training Lead. These leads have two clips, and you can vary the length or attach to two points on a dog’s harness or harness and collar.

We would always suggest a comfortable well fitting, static harness, that DOES NOT tighten when a dog pulls. One with two lead attachment points is best for walking a dog that tends to pull on lead, and essential if using a ‘long line’. Long lines need to be clipped onto the back of a static harness, not to a collar and never to a head collar. A harness DOES NOT encourage a dog to pull, LACK OF TRAINING does. A harness disperses pressure if your dog pulls and is less likely to cause severe and permanent damage to your dog’s neck. A pulling dog on a slip lead, choke chain or regular collar can cause serious neck damage. Related pain from strangulation and the damage caused can lead to or intensify behavioural problems in dogs.

Holding the Lead for Safety & Strength

Holding the lead for safety and strength – This is very much a case of Technique vs Torq! Even smaller people can use their core strength and stance to give them a greater advantage to holding onto stronger dogs and feeling in control.

‘Core’ strength and ‘walking stance’ will set you up best and must be focussed on even if your dog is happily sniffing or you are talking to someone. Make this stance something that becomes habit, and habits as we know will stick.

Law of leverage means it’s much easier to pull over something that is standing up tall with shallow roots. Be the opposite, ground yourself by standing with your feet around shoulder width apart and keep the hand that is holding the lead as close to your centre or core as possible. Imagine you have Velcro on your wrist and your bellybutton keep them attached at that point. If you feel holding the lead with one hand is not strong enough, clasp your second hand over the top of the lead hand and now you are anchored and much more difficult to topple!

We want the lead to always have as little tension as possible, this way the dog feels as it’s off lead. The lead should never be used to pull dogs about. We should use our body language and voice to gain focus from our dogs and teach them what we want them to do. We then keep it positive!

A happy lead is the ultimate goal - a lead that has a dip in it, so it looks like a smile :)


LOCATION: In a secure area with NO distractions, indoors, or in your garden.

  1. Imagine an invisible hula hoop around you, then walk around with your dog off lead. DO NOT call your dog to you. Be prepared to say a unique marker word, something like “GOOD!”, “YES” or use a clicker anytime your dog enters your invisible ‘hula hoop’ space, then reward the dog with a tasty treat. Continue to walk around in your secure area, where they are relaxed and comfortable. Let them choose to hang out close to you and then you use your marker word (say “GOOD!”) and reward their good choices. They need to work out what makes you say that magic word – “GOOD!” which then leads to tasty stuff being delivered. Your hula hoop can start large and get smaller as the dog learns the game. 
  2. Now attach a normal 2m/6ft training lead to your dog, and repeat as above. BUT… this time if the dog pulls, keep hold of the lead and just STOP. Stand still until the dog returns into your ‘hula hoop’ range, and when he does, say “GOOD!” and continue. Be unpredictable! Walk no more than 5 steps in any direction. Mark and reward all steps, where the dog makes a good choice to stay in your ‘hula hoop’ range. Remember to keep marking and rewarding the dog if he is now choosing to remain close to you. Keep your reward rate high to start with, the behaviour you feed into increases.
  3. Repeat above but vary the pace that you walk at, from a little sprint to teeny tiny steps. Mark and reward all good choices from the dog and vary the amount of paces you can walk now between marking and rewarding. Slowly start adding distractions by practicing in areas where there are a few more things going on. This is how to prove the new lead walking skills you have both learnt.


If these early stages are not working:

  • You are trying to work him somewhere too exciting, go somewhere even more boring.
  • Your treats need to be something of higher value (chicken, cheese, fish etc).
  • You have been training your dog for too long, have frequent breaks to both relax.

This training will have a big impact on your walks. You should not expect to cover the same amount of ground you would normally cover on your old walks, you are both learning new skills.

Give yourself a timescale to be out rather than a distance covered. Remember why you are doing this, to make your walks more enjoyable and safer for yourself and your dog. Allowing a dog to pull on lead can cause major health issues to both of you.

As you will be rewarding your dog more often than you usually would, cut down on his regular feeding from his food bowl, or take that out to use during training. To start off with, you will reward every couple of human steps, as you both progress through the training you will reward less often, but never stop rewarding totally. If you stop rewarding altogether, you dog may revert to its old behaviour.

If you find your dog is struggling at any stage, go back a step or two, as like us, we all need ‘refresher training’!

“You and your dog should have fun and enjoy training - keep it positive, rewarding and be consistent, it’s the key to all good successful training!”

Keran Gilmore – NAWT Cornwall.