Top 5 loose-leash walking mistakes

The following are the five most common mistakes I see people making while walking their dogs, assuming a goal is to stop the dog from pulling.

Of course, I have made all of these mistakes as well. Many times.

Mistake #1: Walking in a straight line.

Most of us want to walk in a somewhat straight path to get to a certain destination or to complete a certain “route.”

However, when you’re training your dog to heel or walk on a loose leash, this makes it way too tempting for him to pull forward in an attempt to get to some random scent or object as fast as possible.

Loose leash walking mistakes

Solution (or at least a tip): Mix it up.

Talk to your dog in a happy voice and walk in all sorts of random patterns.

Zig-zag. Walk around trees. Randomly turn around. Walk in tight circles. Walk in huge circles (like in an obedience class). Speed up. Slow down. Whatever.

Do this while popping treats at your dog’s face when he looks at you. At the very least, change up your route every day so it’s not so predictable.

Mistake #2: Walking too slowly.

Dogs are generally much faster than us. We move at a painfully slow pace, so when they’re barging ahead, they’re generally not doing so to be “dominant.” They’re just being dogs.

Solution: Jog, walk faster or run with your dog for at least part of the time.

I agree that dogs should learn to walk at our pace. But while they’re still learning, we can make it easier by walking faster.

Lloyd the vizsla

Mistake #3: Tightly gripping the leash.

Most dogs will naturally pull harder if the leash is tight. It’s a natural reaction as they try to free themselves from the tension, right?

Solution: Instead of holding the leash as tight as possible, hold it loosely. Don’t wrap it around your hand or wrist. Hold it really loosely, like with two fingers in your left hand with the slack held loosely in your right. When your dog pulls, simply turn and walk the other way.

Mistake #4: Not using the right treats.

And I mean treats! Not dry Milkbones, but hot dogs, real hamburger, pieces of chicken, etc.

(It doesn’t hurt to train your dog when he’s a little hungry, either.)

Top 5 Loose-Leash Walking Mistakes

Mistake #5: Getting frustrated with that damn dog!

It’s super frustrating when a dog is pulling and making those awful choking and wheezing sounds. It’s also embarrassing!

I’ve been there and I remember feeling like people were judging me for being unable to control my dog.

Solution: Stay positive, and don’t worry what others think.

Most people don’t really care how someone else’s dog is or isn’t walking. And if they do? So what!

If you find yourself getting frustrated often, I highly suggest buying a training collar that will give you more control. Walking your dog should be fun, not stressful.

I suggest a prong collar, a Gentle Leader or a no-pull harness.

For me, having the right collar makes all the difference and helps me keep my sanity, especially while the dog is still learning.


Other tips that can help:

Stop moving if the dog pulls.

Blog reader Margaret P. said she can’t walk very fast due to arthritis in her knees. She found that to stop her dog from pulling it worked to stop dead in her tracks, refusing to go any further.

“Generally she comes back to my side and looks up at me at which time I start to walk forward again. She has learned that in order to keep moving, she must be close to my side and not pulling me. It took awhile, but she got the message.”

Common Loose-Leash walking mistakes

Using your other dog as a teacher.

Karen B. said she taught her boxer mix to walk nicely on a leash by using her older dog to help the new guy gain confidence. While her boxer mix was scared to walk on concrete at first, he eventually learned to walk nicely.

“Now that he’s older, he’s running 3 to 5 miles every other day with me. He loves it.”

I would also suggest:

– Making sure the dog gets off-leash play at least a few times per week to burn energy.

– Using a dog backpack to help burn some energy and give him something to focus on other than pulling.

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Do you have any tips to teach a dog to stop pulling?

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37 thoughts on “Top 5 loose-leash walking mistakes”

  1. I am guilty of all of these. For me it was very hard to accept that Neeko, the puppy who learned everything so easily and quickly, could not learn to loose leash walk.

  2. I recently purchased a Lupine no-pull harness for my basenjis, and it is like having 2 new dogs! They are 7 and 9, respectively, and have never not pulled on walks. My 7-year-old girl walks on it like a dream, and my 9-year-old is not perfect, but better. I wouldn’t necessarily say I would use this if they were still showing because basenjis have a very forward-reaching gait, and the harness is pretty restrictive in the shoulder, but my girl doesn’t pull on it at.all. It’s a dream come true and our walks are now so much fun. My boy might never get any better than this, but with 2 dogs that require a lot of exercise, I can’t be happier! Your suggestion of turning in the other direction when they start to pull is very good! I’ve made myself dizzy doing it, but it does work. Also, keep training walks brief, 10-20 minutes max, even shorter if you get frustrated. And also keep that training period focused on the training. They shouldn’t be sniffing and wandering around during that time, but walking with attention to you. I let my dogs sniff and run when we get to the park or a trail, and there aren’t any other people or dogs around, and then they get to run on the flexi. But on the street and around people and dogs, they are on the static lead at my side, head up. I also give the sniffing/searching a command – “Leave it,” when it is no allowed, and “go ahead” when it is, and lots of praise for good/attentive walking, “good walking!” or when they were showing it was “good gait” so they would know to walk and not run/break gait in the ring. Dogs can learn lots of words, just be consistent and reward good behavior, and keep it short and simple until they get it! 🙂 If you are frustrated, it’s been too long. It’s not worth it to try to train a dog when you are frustrated. It won’t work.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That is so interesting! I’ve never had a clear way to tell my dog when he can walk without pulling but that he doesn’t have to be in a formal heel position. I usually just tell him “OK” which is his release word for anything. I can tell, he’s sometimes unsure whether or not he’s supposed to be heeling.

  3. Great tips! Loose leash walking is so hard from some dogs(ie: Kaya)! Kaya has a very “me first” kind of dog so I’ve always walked her and Norman on either side of me. He doesn’t give shit but she always thinks she’s racing him if they’re walking side by side so I avoid it if I can.

    When working on her heel she always wanted to get in front of me, then it was game over so I got in the habit of swerving in front of her any time I’d see her creep forward, then shove a treat in her mouth as she walked behind me for a few steps. I think a lot of people accidentally lure their dogs forward offering treats.

    I also taught her a “back” command for when she did get out in front. I actually think she loves it as she now leaps backwards when I say it. It was a lot of work but she’s the kind of dog who just wants to pull harder once she feels leash pressure so I didn’t want to rely on that.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I guess I do a lot of “cutting dogs off” if they try to cut me off, kind of like you said you do with Kaya. Or sometimes if I see they’re going to sneak ahead, I just swing around and do a U-turn, turning into them to push them back. It works well.

      I taught Ace back up and it’s one of the most useful things I ever taught him!

      1. The back up command! Early re-training with Zu The Hound uncovered an extreme aversion to the back up command. So that day’s session was one hour of backing all over the field. It’s one topic that’s never needed repeating *chuckle*

      2. I try to walk 2 dogs at the same time. One is 6 yr.old male Sheltie & the other one is a 5 yr. old female Chow-Chow. She’s close to his size. He could walk without a leash but not her. I’m not sure about only using 2 fingers on their leashes. I also have a bag in my hand for cleaning up after them. Please I need help/a solution for my dogs & not enough hands for them at the same time for taking a walk. THX—Mary.

  4. These are really great tips! I’ve always wanted to train my dog to walk off leash, but often that seems nearly impossible. I imagine the first step is to have your dog be an excellent on-leash walker! I’ve never thought of zigzagging, but that makes a ton of sense! Very interesting!

  5. We had a great trainer this summer, and her advice was if your dog isn’t doing what you want him to do, switch it up. It could mean your pace, it could mean your direction, it could mean stopping (this is where I’ve had the best success), but do whatever you need to do to snap his attention back on to you. We would go to the parks and weave in and out of the trees. It was neat to see the dogs learn to pay attention to what side of the tree they were supposed to walk on. The trick is to use a loose leash–give him the full length–so that he has a chance to get tangled and make a mistake (talk about having people judge you!). This speaks to my clarification on the hold the leash loosely point. It’s not just about the grip of your hands. It’s about the length of leash you give your dog. I’ve observed that if you only give him half the leash, it’s likely he’s going to pull. Give him the full 6 feet, and you might have no issue. I realize sometimes sidewalks aren’t six feet wide, but start with the full leash and work up to walking closer together.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great tips! Thank you. I definitely have a tendency to hold the leash too tight and to not give much length in the leash. I was handling a rescue dog at an adoption event a few weeks ago who pulled like crazy, but as soon as I gave her some slack, she walked nicely at my side. I had to image someone had taught her to do that, and here I was making her behavior worse!

  6. Having the right harness/collar/leash is pretty important, I agree. As far as #4 goes I had a bit of a problem with Laika – even with meat or any highly regarded treat she would spit them right out when we were first learning to walk on a loose leash. She was already too stimulated to focus so we had to start our training indoors – then into the backyard – then only in the neighborhood, etc. She’s by far been the most challenging of my dogs when it comes to loose leash walking but I’m proud to say she does a damn good job now. (unless there’s a garbage truck or horse) Great tips – and yes it’s extremely important to stay positive. Training takes time – really long sessions won’t do any good especially for young puppies – gotta stay consistent and stop the training when they lose interest/get bored.

  7. Some great tips here – I’ve committed and used many of them. Jack has been a great help in getting Maggie to walk better. She’s still not great but better than she was.

  8. These are all good tips. The one that worked for me is having tasty treats. With boring treats, Haley would stay at my side just long enough to get a treat, then back to pulling. If you don’t mind looking a little silly during the training process, changing directions and stopping works pretty well.

  9. I have a dilemma:
    My GSP still doesn’t “get” loose leash walking. We run daily (sometimes twice), off-leash stuff on the weekends, time in the yard with 2 other dogs every other day, I use a prong collar, and I’ve used every treat I can think of (tried hot dog pieces last time).

    When I stop, she stops and scoots til she is in the “perfect” heel position watching me and waiting for me to step forward, but as soon as we start going, she pulls like crazy. I can get her to heel while we are moving, kind of, for about 2 seconds…

    I think the problem is that I have a hard time getting her attention, the prong collar keeps her from REALLY pulling, but she doesn’t even pay attention to HOT DOGS. hot dogs. For real, I’ve never had a dog with this little food motivation. She’s always looking for a squirrel or bird. She ignores pretty much everything else. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh. My parents have a springer, and she is another dog who is always wanting to move ahead in search of squirrels and whatever it is she thinks she is “tracking.”

      I wonder if you worked on “heel” in extremely easy environments and used highly valued treats in those situations, you could eventually progress to more challenging environments. I know that’s not ideal, because she’ll go right back to pulling on your walks/runs. But maybe if you made a point to practice a formal heel in the house, in the backyard, in a boring parking lot or wherever it might be, she would catch on. Probably just for a few minutes at a time and really reward her.

      Another thing we used to do in obedience was an exercise where the instructor would tell us “forward” and then “halt” almost instantly after, so we would take a step or two and then stop and our dogs were supposed to sit at our sides. Then he’d repeat this four or five times, so the dogs would take a step or two with us and then stop. It helped the dogs learn to pay attention.

    2. Is your dog toy motivated? Some dogs just aren’t food motivated. I saw that in training classes. They would impliment squeaky toys or a ball for the sake of reward/focus

  10. These are really great tips, I could work on the first two.
    One walk, Matilda was being really pull, and it was driving me nuts.
    Then I remembered that we had just gotten home – she had been alone and pent up in the house for a while, so no wonder she was so eager to get ahead. I start running, that’s all she needed!

  11. Sandy Weinstein

    i cant stand it when you are in a crowd or with lots of other dogs and people have the retractable leashes or they let their leashes so loose that the dogs get all tangled up and you end up tripping. i also dont like to see people with the leashes attached to the collars and they are constantly pulling on the dogs. this action can hurt the neck or injure the dog. i have tried some of the things that you stated to Jessica and they do work. i also stop and turn around and the dog will stop and look at you and wait. i am usually walking with either 2 or 3 dogs. so it can be a problem sometimes b/c they all want to go in different directions. i usually have a double leash on the 2 younger girls. the older gal when she could walk better would just follow along. the 2 younger girls have gotten much better as they have gotten older.

  12. A prong collar? Physical punishment is never productive. Would you use a device like this on your toddler? If not your child, why your dog? I’m outa here. Cant trust your advice anymore.

  13. Great tips, Lindsay. Every dog is different so trying a variety of tools/methods works well. I have also found that adding doggie backpacks help a lot to reduce pulling and having the dog focus more on me.

    One of my pet sitting clients had a Pit Bull Terrier they never walked because he pulled so much. I suggested using a prong collar in combination with a dog backpack after having played ball with him in the backyard for 10 minutes to get some of that initial pent-up energy out, and what do you know, he was very manageable on our walks. We were able to replace the prong collar with a sling collar after several days.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great tips! That’s actually what I did with Ace back in the day. Backpack and a prong collar + fetch beforehand. It worked well!

  14. Ruffwear Front Range Harness
    Ruffwear Martingale Collar
    When I first got the Harness my Dakotah almost put it on himself. Then after a couple of wearings… he did NOT want it on again. In fact he runs away when I go near it. The only way I can get it on him is through trickery which I really don’t want to do. I will loose his trust.

    I have since switched to the Martingale -but- I don’t like it IF he pulls for another dog or a rabbit or just a sudden new odor. Any idea as to why he would develop such an aversion to the harness?? I’ve read of a lot of other blogs with dogs with the same problem. Is it cause we get to much control with the harnesses or what??

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      My guess is they don’t like having something over/around their bodies as it makes them feel “submissive” like when another dog stands over them. But that’s just a guess. The reason I say so is my dog Ace really shuts down when I put his dog vest on him. He acts afraid of the thing. Like, if it’s on the ground he’ll tip toe around it. If it’s on the seat of the car, he won’t jump into the car!

      1. Well he doesn’t really shut down when the Harness is on him. After it is on he will run around the house, in and out the doggie door and act really hyper. BUT I can hook up the leash and he will walk nicely with me. It is mainly just getting it on him in the first place. The main reason I wanted the harness in the first place was to keep him from choking himself when he “had to pull” because of another dog, a cat, or a rabbit. But he is getting better with the Martingale collar. Guess I’ll have to be happy with that. Thanks for the reply and I am sorry that you are having a similar problem with Ace. Submissive…. I’ll have to check into that. Submissive?? — Control?? Same thing??

  15. I use a head leader for my 100# mastiff mix, works like a charm. He gets so excited to play, he forgets his manners sometimes.

  16. I went from using a pronged collar because that is what the first trainer I had for my dog trained with. I was not comfortable with it. However, I did learn a lot about training myself and my pup. The biggest lesson I learned was repetition. So I spent about 15 minutes 3 times a day on training (does not include walking on or off a leash). Covers sit, stay, PLACE, etc.
    The second pup joins the family and he has lots of fears and anxieties. With him I worked with a different trainer. She fully believes in making training fun and enjoyable whether treats are used or not. I sure like that approach so much better and not as frustrating to me or the pup.
    One of the first things both dogs were taught is PLACE. When out of control in the house or barking to much or counter surfing or begging for scraps while we are eating they are sent to PLACE and praised for doing so. It took a lot of patience on my part and lots of making the dog go back to PLACE many times before it was understood that release is when I give the release command with lots of praise.
    Now it takes my pointing towards the doggie bed (which is PLACE) and the older dog knows to go there. The pup is learning but not quite to that point yet. But I try to make it fun. I make sure there is a toy on the doggie bed and they can move around but cannot come off the bed.

    With the anxiety ridden pup it is about thresholds. Short distances and lots of repeats. Stopping until he looks up at me, zigzagging, turning, etc. I am using them all. He is doing pretty good when the older dog is along but alone is impossible and way out of his threshold zone. Even when the older dog is along the distance is limited in the number of blocks before Sydney starts freaking out and gets into extreme pulling. So we head back home using the various techniques I mentioned above and others have mentioned. It is going to be a very slow process and take lots of patience. The pup is teaching me patience as he becomes more confident.

    I learn a lot from the rest of you and appreciate the time it can take to submit a comment.

  17. Sandy Weinstein

    i dont mind a loose leash, unless you are in a crowd. i hate it when people dont pay attention and their dog gets all tangled up with your dog/dogs. i also get really pissed when people have the retractable leashes and they let their dog wonder. those things are very dangerous. they can cut you, and cause a big mess. the only time i really have loose leashes is when we are running in the fields.

  18. When walking,my dog is too easily distracted by squirrels,other dogs & people. He spots a person as far as a block away & he automatically pulls towards them. With other dogs he mostly whines & will occasionally bark but not normally unless they bark 1st. It’s difficult to keep a loose grip on a pulling dog.I adopted him from a shelter about a year ago & I don’t think he was ever properly socialized with other dogs.The problem is that I don’t have access to other dogs on a regular basis for him to learn manners & I can’t take him to a dog park.It would probably be over stimulation & he might act out & obviously that can’t happen.

  19. All of the above and most importantly: BE PATIENT. I have Hounds, they are notorious for a very long puppyhood; it may take 3-5 years before they relinquish some, or enough of their breed brain to comply with you. What can I say, I love a challenge. Anyway, rushing a mammal inot bing “your perfect idea” is and can be a horror show. Patience and being consistent and unemotional are key in training a dog of any breed to do anything and everything. I speak from experience of 70 years. Nothing rushed is worth having.

  20. I used a Halti head collar with my Malinois on walks. No pulling at all – control the head, control the dog. I also bring “walk” treats. These are special treats only for walks. It helps her stay focused on me and not distractions. Fortunately, my Mal is food and toy motivated so we don’t have too many issues with training.

  21. Great article, thank you. I would like to add that I use and recommend the Transitional Leash by K9Lifeline. It is a type of head halter, but it has the leash part coming off the BACK of the dog’s head-not under the dogs jaw like a Gentle Leader. I’ve found this is more effective and often more accepted by the dog than other head halters. I no longer recommend the “no pull” harnesses, as they have been found to cause joint and muscle damage because they restrict the movement of the dog. The dog backpack is a great idea, be sure to get one that positions the weight over the dog’s shoulders, not the dog’s back. I use half full bottles of water in each side of the pack, the sloshing water keeps the dog’s attention better as he has to concentrate on his balance with the sloshing water, and not worry so much about his surroundings.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I agree that no-pull harnesses are not ideal, just as head halters and all types of collars are not ideal. I guess we all just have to pick what’s best for our own dogs in each circumstance. I mix it up a lot with the types of collars and harnesses I use for different situations with my extremely excitable strong puller.

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