New Horizons Veterinary Behavior Solutions

300 Somonauk St.
Park Forest, IL 60466



Creative Commons Photo by Dave Fayram

We need to think of the leash as an emergency brake, not  power steering!


1. BEHAVIOR PRECEDES LEARNING Dogs “do” a behavior before they “learn” it. A dog first pulls on a leash before he actually learns that it works for him to get you to follow. Don’t let it work for him, and he won’t learn to do it. Reinforce him for walking beside you instead. In other words, stop moving when he pulls and start moving when he is beside you. That’s the way to use these concepts in everyday life!

2.  DOGS ARE SITUATIONAL It would be great if once you teach your dog not to pull on the leash when you walk him around your backyard, you could then take him to the park and he would behave just as well. Unfortunately, dogs are ‘situational’, or context specific learners. Just because they “know” to do a behavior in one situation, they don’t automatically transfer it to the next situation. Dogs must first learn how to walk loosly on a leash (or to sit or whatever) in a quiet area with no distractions. It takes a lot of repetition and proofing over time for behaviors to begin to “generalize." In other words, we have to train in a lot of different situations and settings before we can expect our dogs to listen to us any place we take them.

3.  REINFORCEMENTS MUST BE USED IN A WAY TO MAXIMIZE LEARNING Reinforcers must be something significant to the dog, that the dog interprets as a reward, and encourages the dog to perform the behavior again. In order to work well, reinforcers must occur immediately after the behavior occurs, and be contingent upon the behavior actually occurring.The easiest reinforcer to start with is an absolutely delectable food treat.


One of the first things we want to teach dogs to do is to walk on a loose leash by our side. One of the simplest ways to teach your dog this is to NOT move forward any time your dog pulls.  Simply stop and freeze. Do not move forward until your dog returns back to you and loosens the lead. It may seem you will never get anywhere with this technique.  But if you do this repeatedly, your dog will quickly discover that the "go forward" switch is turned on when ever he loosens the slack on the lead. This explanation is a bit over simplified so we will provide more thorough and detailed examples on how to train this below.

We do not even like to use the word "obedience training" any more.  We want our dogs to "choose" to walk loosely on the leash.  Most owner's want to use the leash to "control" their dog.  This is the wrong reason to use a leash.  The leash is there to protect the dog and keep it safe.  But we do not want to use it to "control" the dog. 

It boils down to a matter of teaching the dog self control.   We want the dog to learn how to control itself rather than using the leash to "force" control.  By teaching the dog to control itself on a loose leash we have started to condition the dog to make wise choices and exhibit self control.  These lessons will become invaluable for the rest of the dog's life.

A great way to start teaching self control prior to starting leash walking is to use the Learn to Earn or Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) Program.  This starts by teaching your dog to say please by sitting. 

Creative Commons Photo by Jonathan Deamer

Before we begin the actual leash training, let's talk a little about equipment for leash walking.  Obviously we need a leash.  The most popular leash we see is the retractable leash!  

A RETRACTABLE LEASH IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR LOOSE LEASH WALKING.  It actually inhibits loose leash walking. A retractable leash rewards a dog for pulling and moving forward, the exact opposite of what we want! 

We recommend starting with a light weight woven mesh leash or leather leash that is about 6 feet long, and JUST SAY NO to the retractable leash!

Retractable Leashes: Are they a no-go?!  A good overview of the problems of rectractable leashes from some Veterinary Behavior Specialists.

Another leash option is to use a hands free leash or teather looped about your waist.  Here is a great explanation on how this method works from the Karen Pryor's Look Ma, No Hands!!

Next we need to choose a collar or harness.  Unfortunately popular options suggested by many trainers are choke or prong collars.  We recommend to JUST SAY NO to those options. 

Would you put this on your neck?  Prong Collars DO NOT TEACH and SHOULD NOT be used to teach Loose Leash Walking!


We recommend using a front clip harness such as the Wiggles, Wags & Whiskers Freedom No Pull Harness or the   Easy Walk Harness or simple flat leather or nylon mesh collar.

Choke chains, prong collars, and using force or hard leash "corrections" or jerks have NO place in teaching looose leash walking.  There are many much more positive and effective ways to teach walking politely on a leash.

Another Humane tool for teaching Loose Leash Walking is the Gentle Leader Head Halter invented by Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. R.K. Anderson.  If used properly it can be very useful for some dogs.  However learning to use it properly, and in a positive way, does take some time and instruction.  If you wish to use this tool we recommend you speak to us first so that we can help you decide if this head halter is right for your dog. 

To learn a bit more, start by watching this Gentle Leader Head Halter Instructional Video.  Before using a Gentle Leader Head Harness it is important to teach your dog to LOVE wearing it!  There is no better expert to teach you how to do this than the incredible Jean Donaldson.  Here is her video on Conditioning a Positive Emotional Response to the Gentle Leader


Below you will find several examples of Loose Leash Walking Training from outstanding veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and trainers

There are many styles and examples of doing this properly, but notice that all of these examples do not use force or punishment. For more help with training visit our Dog Training Webpage.  Many of the examples use a unique method called "clicker training".  For a brief introduction to this method please read this handout on CLICKER TRAINING

APDT Webinar on Loose Leash Walking Tired of having your arm yanked out?  WATCH THIS WEBINAR!  Many dog owners complain their dogs pull and wonder why.  After all, the poor dog is choking, and he is choking himself!  You'd think the dog would learn not to do that!  This webinar will delve into the reasons dogs pull on the leash, how your dog views the leash, and what your dog thinks of your role at the other end of the leash.  You'll learn simple strategies to teach your dog not to pull. 

How to Teach Loose Leash Walking Great advice about using a clicker to teach loose leash walking from Karen Pryor

Loose Leash Walking Part One  by Nan Arthur from Clicker

Loose Leash Walking Part Two

Video: Here's how to teach Loose Leash Manners-Part 1  from Laurie Luck, a Karen Pryor Academy Faculty Member

How To Fix Pulling On The Leash-Part 2  More from KPA Faculty member Laurie Luck

Leash Training the Adult Dog Great Tips from Veterinary Behavior Specialists, Dr. Lisa Radosta and Dr. Illana Reisner.

Overly Excited Greetings: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly  Also from Karen Pryor, how to keep that leash loose when things get exciting or stressful!

PositivePetzine Loose Leash Walking Video another great little video demonstrating using the clicker to teach loose leash walking.

Loose Leash Walking Video from Kikopup A nice demo with simple techniques

Pulling on Leash  From a Dog Star Daily webpost, Dr. Ian Dunbar describes a unique approach to prevent pulling on the leash problems. To teach  loose leash walking, he starts by working WITHOUT a leash teaching the dog to first follow his handler. Then he works on sits, downs, and stays to teach the dog to pay attention, concentrate, and have self control.  A leash is added later!

Dog Star Daily Blog Describing the Technique of Loose Leash Walking

Dog Star Daily Loose Leash Walking Video Part 1

Dog Star Daily Loose Leash Walking Video Part 2

Walking Nicely On Leash A video example from Dr. Sophia Yin.  A 6 month old puppy demonstrates loose leash walking and the importance of paying attention to her owner when there are distractions.

Training a Dog to Heel:  Jonsey Heels for a Toy another example from Sophia Yin.  Notices how she uses a hands free leash and how she does not move forward unless Jonesy keeps the leash slack. 

Running With Your Dog: How to Train Fido to Run at Your Side Dr. Sophia Yin teaches us how to  take Loose Leash Walking to the next level!

Polite Leash Walking Online Class  If you need help with loose leash walking and personal instruction but don't have time to go to a real time class, try this great online course by a Karen Pryor Certified Trainer, Andre Yea and Julie Polsuns, CPDT-KA.  Talented teachers and a great value at just $49.00!

 Below is a handy poster developed by trainer Irith Bloom and illustrated by Lili Chin that demonstrates using clicker training.