Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 7, 2019

Mastering On-Leash Dog Walking for Off-Leash Security

Posted at 10:36AM - Comments: (15)

The secret of walking your dogs on-leash (and off-).

dogs on leash

Taking a rare leashed walk around my neighborhood with Woody and Odin.

One thing I don’t do very much of is walking my dogs on leash. I am super lucky; I live in an area with any number of safe, interesting places to walk my dogs off-leash – and there is almost no one else around! In the past few weeks, I have gone out for a dog walk with two different friends for a total of five walks, and we saw one other person on the trails once – and it was another friend of mine! With one of my former foster dogs!

However, I actually credit all this time OFF-leash with my dogs’ good ON-leash behavior. I’ll explain how in a moment.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, for two reasons.

I’ve been teaching my foster puppy, Odin, to walk nicely on leash. Usually, when I raise foster pups, I keep them just long enough to be healthy enough to return to the shelter for spay/neuter surgery and to be adopted; I rarely have a foster pup past the age of three months. Odin is over five months old now, more than ready to be learning “big dog” life skills, and since he’s still here, we’re working on those skills now. Also, if and when I find the perfect family to adopt him, at this point, I want to make sure he’s got a great training foundation and will fit in anyone’s home seamlessly.

But I have also been helping a friend at her training center lately, taking on some puppy kindergarten teaching duties. And of course, THE number one thing the students in puppy classes struggle with is walking their puppies on leash without pulling.

dogs love the chuck-it

Anyone who holds the Chuck-It has Woody's rapt attention.

We teach them to be conscious about when the leash is tight or loose, and to “stand like a tree” when the puppies pull, with “no bungee cord arms,” making sure the pups cannot pull to their humans in order to reach things they want. We teach them to notice and reinforce their pups for staying close to them and NOT pulling, so the pups learn that if they want to get places and reach things, they need to stay close to their humans – THEN they can go farther and faster. These tactics work – I know they do; I am seeing it with Odin – if they are applied consistently and frequently.

But if I had to share my absolute number one tip for teaching a dog to walk on leash? I’d have to say it’s the reward of getting to walk with me OFF-leash, in a space where they can run and get their zoomies out. I carry great treats (and in Woody’s case, an even higher-value reinforce, his Planet Dog Squeak ball), and reward them generously with treats and play, praise, and petting when they check in, respond to my cues of “WAIT,” “OFF,” “SIT,” and “HERE!”

off leash dog walking

Woody, Otto, Odin and a friend's daughter; we all took an off-leash, rainy day walk together recently.

As long as they are responsive to my cues, they get to stay off leash. If they aren’t so responsive, the leash goes on and we work on the same stuff. They get treats and praise and the opportunity to play with a toy, but the BIG prize for perfect, sharp responses is getting the leash unclipped, so they can run off-leash some more. It seems to work!

If your dog has great leash manners, share what worked for you. Do you have a “secret weapon” for teaching your dog to behave well on leash? What made the breakthrough in training? Or is walking nicely on leash still a struggle for you and your dog?

Comments (15)

I think your observation and advice are great but I have a toy poodle and no fenced yard. Off leash work and play are restricted to my house. He's only 20 weeks old and goes regularly to puppy play sessions but I have not yet taken him to a dog park. Even so, when I do get him to a dog park I can't imagine trying to leash walk him through a dog park! Any ideas? Thanks.

Posted by: Joey's mom | March 10, 2019 1:58 PM    Report this comment

What about distractions? I live in a neighborhood with many birds, squirrels, chipmunks, geese, and etc. Young sporting dog still learning after 7months to walk outside on a leash. She's a very birdie Springer. She's good in class, attitude and attention span good...just easily distracted.. She'll mature I know, takes time. I find a harness and plenty of treats help when we go for walks. She is almost 1 yr. old, I imported her from Italy, so she didn't come to me until she was over 4 months. All my other dogs had their CGC way before 1 year.

Posted by: Bogeys mom | March 9, 2019 5:23 AM    Report this comment

I am on my 5th Lab and I have never been able to have a good leash walker - unless they get tired on their walks. I have been to puppy classes, obedience classes. Everyone has a different method and I've tried them all. My dog who is now 2 was "trained" by starting out on a walk, stopping without saying a word when he started to drag me, and waiting until he looked back at me. Calling him back and starting again only to stop a second later. I try this to this day. I don't have a place to walk off lead with my dogs. I try every time they're on a leash.

Posted by: Eden | March 8, 2019 10:31 AM    Report this comment

My beagle Grace was a yo-yo on leash and I was always angry at her. The usual type of training didn't work as she wasn't even paying attention to me. What totally changed our lives and relationship was the book "When Pigs Fly" by Jane Killion (which I saw advertised on WDJ). Clicker training plus understanding her instincts and needs made the difference. She can now be great on leash--or do some pulling. I think the idea about different kits for different circumstances is great--that would help solve the problem of when she can explore on 15' line and when "heel" is required on 6' leash.

Posted by: Maggie%26Grace | March 8, 2019 10:16 AM    Report this comment

I'm trying to learn how to manage my own Golden Retriever (a rescue going on 5 years) and help a friend who has a younger reactive-on-a-leash rescue with this. I found an article called How to Get Your Dog to Stop Barking and Lunging on Leash by a trainer named Jolanta Benal to have helpful advice. It's based on one of the resources from WholeDog Journal, Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Aggressive Dog. You can search for the article or buy the short guide, Feisty Fido, by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., and Karen London, Ph.D.

Posted by: DogLuver | March 8, 2019 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Most of the time, my dog Snow would prefer not to walk at all. She pulls back, not forward. Or simply stands still, sometimes in the pouring rain; won't go forward and won't go back. Sometimes I can tempt her with treats to get her started and praise her when she starts to move, but once she gets started, all she cares about is getting back home. She's 14 years old and has been this way all her life. I've taken her to training classes and even the trainers couldn't get her to budge. Sessions with a behaviorist were to no avail. If anyone has suggestions, I'd be interested!

Posted by: muriel33 | March 8, 2019 3:21 AM    Report this comment

We adopted an approximately one-year-old pup last month. We haven't gone for a lot of walks yet, but are working on going every day. She is a very high-energy terrier mix (we think..waiting for DNA results!) Don't think she had much training before ending up in the shelter as a stray. She pulled a lot on her first walks using her collar - but she walks much better now that she wears a halter.

Posted by: Rainy's Mom | March 7, 2019 7:16 PM    Report this comment

I have a Yorkie that hates other dogs and barks and lunges for them on leash. I have had German Shepards cross the street for fear of him. All I can do is pick him up and not let him get near. He has been bitten, thrown in the air by other dogs due to his behavior. We were kicked out of doggie training because he is hysterical around other dogs and nasty. What can I do? Karen M. March 7, 2019

Posted by: Casey's Mom | March 7, 2019 5:17 PM    Report this comment

Wow, I'm impressed with the comments that seem to have it so easy! On-leash behavior has been absolutely the hardest thing for us. We've had progress but there's still ways to go. Especially when we encounter unfamiliar, reactive dogs when he's on leash.

We have not found that off leash training translates to on leash. Off leash our dog is happy, go lucky and either totally ignores other dogs or greets them politely and quickly gets uninterested and keeps moving along. On leash, however, it's another story! It can range from intense staring, pulling, barking, to even lunging especially when the other dog is reacting first. Any tips or ideas for helping translate his off leash reaction to an on leash one? I would appreciate it!!

I will say the best thing that we've discovered is the emergency u-turn command. We used the instructions in this article to train it and it has been such a help to get us quickly out of situations: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/21_9/features/Teach-Your-Dog-to-Walk-Away_21904-1.html

Posted by: stephanieY | March 7, 2019 3:31 PM    Report this comment

I am a beautiful female stuffy 9 years old surrended nealry more than 3 months ago regadring howling. I have put radio or TV on bu it does not seems to take away all the anxiety of being left on her although she has improved enormously since the radio is left on which ws the habit I found our from the previous owner . Indi has done so so well from what the ex owner that had some anxiety to leave Indi intereacting with other dogs . i have another dog Pinto and they get on so so well . If the anxiety was passed on from the previous owner to the dog ( she did rescue the pup at a very oung age from an envirorment that had potential of been armful . I leave stimulating toys with treats in them but the howlng is still from time to time happening . I am recording the time when I am not home because my neighbour is getting quiet distressed . I know the howling is not constant but can get trigger by strange noise sometimes. It is a stressful situation and deteriorating interation with my next door neighbour because Indi might sometimes wake up his toodlers . I have to vouche that Indi has had a huge huge improvement with the radio or TV on . but still not satisfactory for my neighbour .
Thank you

Posted by: Indipinto | March 7, 2019 3:06 PM    Report this comment

Have you ever done an article on bilious vomiting syndrome? My dog vomits at least once weekly. She is on zonisimide and Kepra for her epilepsy but we don't think that's what's causing the problem. Our vet suggested changing her food but because of her epilepsy that's simple. He also suggested an endoscopy but again, she would have to be anesthetized and that my be dangerous because of her epilepsy. Any past articles or assistance would be much appreciated. We are really upset for Cali, our dog.

Posted by: mark@thd bark | March 7, 2019 2:17 PM    Report this comment

I have an 11-yr old Whippet who has never been well trained (my fault!). However, she is very smart and most of the time responds to commands. She is excellent off-trail -- never is out of our sight and comes back to us.
On leash, if we are in the great outdoors, she has to be upfront and wants to run. But if if crowded public places, she is great.

Posted by: RosaleeP | March 7, 2019 1:49 PM    Report this comment

Love your article on leash training. I too lived in an area where I was fortunate to be able to walk my three Great Danes off leash. If for some reason there was a time where we needed the leash and we did a few times all I had to do is call to them for leash time and they were at my side. We did use the leash when out in busy city areas walking. It just made people feel safer around my dogs.

Posted by: Peanut33 | March 7, 2019 12:48 PM    Report this comment

I think there are many good ways to teach loose leash walking, the issue is the human being consistent.

One of the best tips I ever got was from Sue Ailsby, who said real life happens. There will be times when you just have to walk the dog for exercise or get the dog to the car without following your perfectly consistent LLW protocol. Or other people will need to walk the dog before you have finished the LLW training.

So she suggested having two very different types of kit, like a harness versus a flat collar, or two different harnesses that feel different to the dog. Use one of these only when you are training LLW, and for those times be 100% consistent that pulling will never get your dog where he/she wants to go. Never. But use the other kit for all those other times when you just need to walk the dog before you have finished the LLW training.

Most dogs are really good at understanding that different rules apply to the different equipment and this gives you the opportunity to take your time and teach about LLW using whatever method you want to use without spoiling it with those “real life happens“ situations.

I have used this tip now with four different dogs, including my nephew’s dog who just comes to visit when he’s traveling, and it has been super helpful.

Posted by: Robin J.. | March 7, 2019 12:35 PM    Report this comment

I have taught my various dogs to walk beautifully on leash by using the clicker. Dog gets in position (sometimes accidentally) with his nose level with my left knee: click and treat. It has been super easy!

Posted by: Sarah H. | March 7, 2019 11:57 AM    Report this comment

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