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How to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash

Dear John,

I have an annoying walking problem with my 3 year old Jack Russell. She has been to puppy obedience school and passed. No matter the collar she will give up the opportunity to breath just to pull. She has figured out that if she makes her neck rigid she can still pull. It is at the point where the walk is not enjoyable so any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.


Hi Ron,

Most of the time dogs like yours are a byproduct of bad dog training advice so maybe your dog’s choking problem originated with someone that taught you how to handle your end of the leash.

Too many dog trainers teach heel using what I call the “show and tell” approach. They “show” you how to do it in each class and then at the end of each class “tell” you to go home and practice. The next day off goes the responsible dog owner to do their “homework” where they usually don’t get more than half a block before they have to contend with a passing person, dog, squirrel, cat, bicyclist etc. and the owner finding that no amount of verbal cajoling, threatening, treat tossing, toy flinging can compare to the proximity of the distraction, wraps the leash around their hands three or four times and digs in their heels. Over time many dog owners just cross the street, avoid certain routes and overall go on fewer walks.

Show and tell heel training is like giving me 6 weeks of skating lessons and at the end of each class telling me I must go practice and play with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe another team might be a better example as 6 weeks of lessons might actually get me a fair amount of ice time but you get the gist.

Using show and tell, dogs can learn worse than nothing. They can easily learn their owners get tense and wound up around distractions. Some might feel like their owners are egging them on. The distractions pass before a dog can learn much more than maybe they should try harder the next time. Some eventually become leash aggressive around certain distractions. I find that most dog owners taught the “show and tell” method, when asked at best say that yes, their dog walks on a loose leash . . . except or unless.

If you want a dog to walk on a loose leash don’t confuse walks with exercise. They’re different, so separate them. First prove to yourself that your dog can walk on a loose leash in your back yard and even if it takes weeks, only when she can do it properly for 3 days in a row do you expose her to another environment and/or distraction. Look for the same results in front of your house and when she can do it properly 3 days in a row, position yourself near some dog park and when you can walk loose leash around the fence 3 consecutive days in a row, go find a park with a bike/pedestrian path and practice near by. Keep picking and isolating the distractions you’re likely to encounter on a neighbourhood/campground/summer festival walk. That’s the way the pros teach a loose leash walk. Baby steps, not leaps and bounds.

This link is to a video on how to start a dog’s loose leash education in a back yard. Get that right for 3 consecutive days, repeat in the front yard and so on.


John Wade

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