ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Walking on a Loose Leash

This is one of the most difficult things you will teach your dog. The fact is that whenever you have the dog attached to the leash and the leash is in your hand(s) the dog's attention should be, at least in part, on you. ALWAYS! This is a very difficult thing for many dogs because the environment is SO attractive. There are sights and sounds and scents witch act as magnets to draw your dog's attention away from you. Your dog needs to learn that you are leading and it is following, not the opposite!

We will approach this educational process from many directions.


  1. Walk your dog on a given route and count the number of times the leash becomes tight. Record the number.
  2. Practice the techniques suggested below.
  3. At regular intervals (about once/week), walk the same route and count the number of times the leash becomes tight. Tight leash: If there is ANY pressure on the leash, it is "tight"… don't accept gentle pulling as OK because your dog has no way to distinguish what level is "OK." The leash is EITHER tight or loose!

    **Imagine a full cup of water in your hand that holds the leash. If there is enough pressure to spill 1 drop of the water- the leash is tight**

General Rules:

  • Hold your leash with both hands at your waist very securely.
  • Watch your dog and react to its behavior. You can not react effectively if you are not paying attention to what your dog is doing.
  • Be patient. This will take time, don't expect rapid results….
  • It does work but you and your dog need to practice! If your dog does not seem to be "getting it" practice in an area of less distraction for 3 - 5 days. Then gradually work up to more distracting environments.
  • You should never pull on the leash. Do not guide/steer your dog by the leash. Do not drag your dog with the leash.
  • Whenever your dog chooses to stop paying attention to you and pulls the leash tight you should simply stop and "be a tree." The dog has caused the tight leash, not you. Do not actively seek your dog's attention during training…. Wait for him/her to GIVE attention to you.
  • Build on Success - Once you can find a bit of success build on it Use a Head Halter - If your dog is stronger than you, you need "power steering".


"Be a Tree"

  1. This works the easiest with young puppies but will also work with older dogs. Start indoors with no distractions and a calm puppy. Hold the leash with both hands close to and in front of your body
  2. Take one step forward and if the puppy charges ahead just stop and wait. The puppy will be a little frustrated and may demonstrate it but just wait (silently). When the pup sits and/or looks at you say "Good Dog" and offer a treat.
  3. Take another step and if necessary, Be a Tree.
  4. Soon you will be able to take 2 successful steps, then 3 and gradually you will be able to walk all over the house with the leash loose.
  5. VERY SLOWLY introduce the puppy to slightly more distracting environments.

Use A Tree

  1. If your dog begins to pull hard and there is anything solid nearby which you can wrap your leash around, do so.
  2. If your dog often pulls hard, practice walking in an area where there are lots of things to secure the leash to (i.e. walk along a fence line and use the post tops).

The lesson is "Pulling does NOT work."

Off Leash Heeling

This MUST be done inside a fenced area.

  1. Hold a tasty treat in your left hand at your left pant seam. It is the lure we will use to encourage the dog to find the right place
  2. When your dog approaches to investigate mark the behavior ("Yes" or "Click") and let it take the treat.
  3. Turn away from the dog and do the same again…. The dog has to find your left side. As soon as it finds your left side it is rewarded and the rewarding place goes away so soon the dog is hurrying to catch up with you.
  4. Keeping the treat at your left side start to walk in big circles and "8's" around the yard and the moment the dog finds your left side, mark, treat, turn and walk away. Now it's a moving game.
  5. As the dog begins to find the treat more rapidly and accurately, take 1 to 2 steps with the dog at heel position before marking and treating.
  6. Very gradually increase the distance you walk before marking and treating.
  7. When you begin to have predictable success with the lure in place hold your empty hand in the target position, mark the heeling behavior and produce the treat from elsewhere on your body.

The lesson is "My person's left side is the BEST place to be."

About Turn Technique

  1. If you are walking and your dog begins to look away stop and do an about turn.
  2. If the leash becomes tight, "be a tree" until your dog realizes you have changed direction.

The lesson is "Keep an eye on my person, s/he's unpredictable."

Use a "release" word - Give permission

  1. When your dog starts to go toward something simply turn away and start walking with dog until attention comes back. When it does give the release command.
  2. Do this whenever you will let the dog leave your side.
  3. Instead of lunging harder to get things it wants the dog will pay MORE attention to get permission for things it wants. The important part is giving permission.

The lesson is "The more I pay attention, the more I get what I want."

Target a "Reward" with "penalty yards" (TM pending, Lana Horton) ("Mother May I" Game)

  1. This will ONLY work when the dog has a specific place it wants to go.
  2. Note where you start.
  3. Whenever the leash is tight, stop and back up to the start point.
  4. Wait, silently.
  5. The instant the leash is loose say "Good" and keep talking, telling your dog how wonderful it is!
  6. When the leash is slack (you are talking) AND your dog looks at you, start to walk
  7. Repeat steps 3 through 6 until you reach the desired destination.

Remember: loose lead = talk loose lead + look = walk. The lesson is "If I pull I find myself further away from what I want."

Training YOU

Change Things For Your Dog When You Don't Have Time To "Train"

**Whenever the leash is attached to the collar/halter you ARE "training"**

Every time your dog pulls and is successful, it is learning that pulling works! You do not want to teach your dog to pull on leash! If you need to walk your dog and don't have time, inclination, and/or patience to pay attention to his/her behavior on leash, change the situation for the dog.

Body Harness: using the leash and collar

  • Be sure the ring of your dog's collar with the buckle of the leash attached are on top of the neck pass the leash around the dog's chest and bring it under the buckle.
  • Keep it forward on the chest- just behind the front legs.
  • Use a commercial no pull body harness

The lesson is "When I can't pay attention to my dog - I don't want to undo all my training work!"

Don't "steer" your dog

IF you catch yourself applying tension to the leash out of habit tie the leash around your waist so your hands can not apply pressure. If you are steering there is no reason for your dog to pay attention to you… he has tactile information (all the time) where you want him to be, so there's no reason to keep an eye on you!

The lesson is "My dog must pay attention to where I'm going."

Head Halters for Dogs

Why they work:

  • Where the head goes, so goes the body. This is why halters are used on large animals (horses and cattle), it takes a fraction of the pressure to turn an animal's nose toward a chosen direction than it takes to turn the animal at the neck.
  • Dogs will automatically demonstrate and "opposition reflex" when they feel pressure on the neck or chest. In other words they will push forward against the pressure. They do not have the opposition reflex when the pressure is directed toward the bridge of the nose.
  • The bridge of the nose is a "dominance pressure point". A dominant dog will seize the submissive dog by the muzzle to emphasize its rank. You are gently expressing dominance.
  • The spot immediately between the eyes is a calming acupuncture pressure point so some dogs calm down just because you put the halter on.

Problems that can occur:

  • Dogs may object at first. This is a totally new sensation for most dogs and they will need to be taught to accept the head halter. Dominant dogs tend to object the most.
  • There is danger to your dog if you jerk on the lead attached to a head halter. NEVER use a head halter on a dog with any neck or spinal injury. Consult your veterinarian.
  • There is danger if a dog is left unattended with the head halter on. There is too much risk of objects being tangled in the halter.
  • People who have never seen a halter before will assume it is a muzzle. Many will ask, "Is that a muzzle? Does he bite?" You will get many questions from the general public.

Laura Van Dyne
copyright 1999 Laura Van Dyne


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