Supporting Insanity – Loose Leash Woes

This post is part of a series wherein struggling pet owners submit pleas for help to the expertise of blogland. Everyone’s experiences are unique. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments. What you think common sense may be revolutionary for someone else. You never know what may resonate and keep another animal out of a shelter. My hope is that together we can help good pet people feel a little less alone.

A few days ago I received an email from the writer of the very first question submitted to this blog. Kayla* and her feisty rescue dog, Poppy, are doing much better since May but are sill having some major issues with loose-leash walking. It’s such a common problem and one I am sure many of you are working with as well.

Here is her most recent letter:

I am not sure if we are allowed to ask for advice twice but I am stuck and desperate for advice about my walking situation. My dog, Pearl, seems very similar to Shiva and watching all the progress you have made with her is always encouraging (although I wish I could transplant you to the States to help me in person!). We have made A LOT of progress with Pearl calming down and not being a bouncy ball on four paws. My biggest biggest issue right now is walking. Aside from leash reactivity issues, Pearl is a puller. She lunges at other dogs, squirrels, rabbits, but she pulls the whole time we walk.

We have tried pinch collars, gentle leaders, easy walk harnesses, we have tried “be a tree” techniques and clicker and treat techniques. She ignores praise, she ignores corrections, because OMG the outside is just SO INTERESTING. We have tried turning and going the other way anytime she starts to pull, but we end up walking in circles forever. She is a high energy dog and we NEED to go for long walks every day, usually three times a day, to “take the edge off.” She jumps over the fence in our yard (another training issue we are working on) and we’ve stopped going to our local dog park for a variety of reasons, so walks are really her main source of exercise for the time being.

I am happy to try techniques that build loose leash walking in the house or one step at a time (she does well in the house since there isn’t so much going on), but I still need to find a way to keep taking longer walks in the meantime, if that makes sense. And I don’t care much if she heels, I am fine letting her sniff and zig zag around, as long as she doesn’t pull. I feel like I should start with loose leash walking and progress to heeling, although if that is the wrong way to think about it feel free to correct me!

P.S. The only place we can go for agility classes where we live teaches using pinch collars/e-collars. Is that usual? They seem very positive as far as the rest of their training philosophy, focusing on praise rather than correction and trying to make it fun for the dog, etc. We really want to do agility and think she would love it, but I am hesitant (especially as when we used a pinch collar in the past its rubbed her neck and caused red marks- although she doesn’t seem to mind or react to it really at all, which is why it wasn’t effective). She is NOT a fearful dog or anything, just a high energy dog with a high prey drive (I think).

If you have any recommendations for Kayla, please share them below. The more resources, the better! Words of encouragement or commiseration are also very welcome.

*Names have been changed

If you have a question you would like answered, fill out the contact form and I will post it up as soon as I can. All submissions will remain anonymous.

13 thoughts on “Supporting Insanity – Loose Leash Woes

  1. As an owner of a bloodhound I struggled with this daily and still struggle with it on occasion. Fred pulls , he puts his nose to the ground and pulls to get at what he is scenting. Its very hard to walk a hound getting them to focus on loose leash walking instead of smelling!

    1. Can you start off with a jog? its amazing how Fred lets the smelling go when we are moving at a fast pace – he seems happier cause im at the speed he wants. When we walk I slow him down. If so jog/walk/jog walk

    2. Can you go to a local closed in tennis court area? there are no other dogs and let your dog run around and burn off that energy in a safe closed enviroment and then try walking – maybe your dog will be tired.

    3. my favorite and go to is where I walk a fast pace and we take like 15 steps and I turn quickly and walk the other way and I do that again after 15 steps back and forth in front of the house and it seems to keep his mind busy and he forgets about loose leash walking.

    4. If you dog has no underlying health issues put a backpack on your dog and slowly increase the weight with water bottles in it (make sure the weight is even on both sides). This helped fred a ton!

    5. TAKE A DEEP BREATH! It will get better but the more frustrated and annoyed you get the worse it is. Some days I just have to turn around and take Fred home cause my patience cant deal with it 🙂

    Best of luck!


  2. Kari had some great tips. My last dog was a hound mix and it is hard to defeat the lure of smells.

    One other thing we did was teach Shadow to focus more on us. We began in the house by saying her name in a happy voice. If she looked up at us, I tossed her a piece of cheese.

    When she was 100% in the house, we moved out to the porch and rewarded her for looking at me every time I called her name.

    We eventually started the same thing on our walks. The key is to catch her while she has a prayer of hearing you. If I waited too long, Shadow was off in sniffer land and didn’t even hear me.

    Eventually we were able to prevent her from going entirely off the rails in paying attention elsewhere and it helped a lot with the pulling. I’d often change directions just after tossing her a piece of cheese.

    With Honey, we’ve relied on paying fun games while walking. It’s easy to forget that we walk our dogs to give them exercise and stimulation and not to make it around a certain path.

    I pick up pine cones and play fetch mid-walk. We play tug with a stick. Or I’ll lay down on the sidewalk and wait for her to jump on me.

    It’s unorthodox but it helps her remember we’re walking together.

    And, if you can do it, return inside the house and end the walk the instant Poppy begins to pull. If she’s a smart girl, she’ll get the message.

    Of course, this is one of the hardest things to work on. You might want to consider quitting your job so you have time to do all this work. 🙂


  3. Having two dogs that pull and have never gotten the concept of loose leash walking I can’t contribute much.

    These two ladies above me have some very sound advice. I notice Delilah doesn’t pull as much if I have run her before hand. I take them up to the field and let them run around like crazy. She loose leash walks with me out of the park.

    If you can start off with a high energy activity you may have more success with her being a bit calmer.


  4. I agree with others who have suggested trying to burn more energy than a walk will allow.

    Our dogs used to pull. With time, patience and consistent training, it has gone away, (except at hunt tests when the lure of the test just seems to be much too much). At tests they do much better off lead, (where they tend to stay at heel), than on lead, (where they still want to pull on occasion).

    One thing when we are walking, I insist they stay at heel with me so they understand that they cannot pull. They seem to stay under control that way. If I allow them to sniff, the temptation to pull to the next thing seems just too much. I will also say to them, “quit pulling” so they get that correction if they tend to forget. I will also tell them “good heel” when they are walking in the correct position. I try at all times to be consistent with my corrections and praise.

    We don’t train agility (we train hunt tests) but we do train with an e-collar. It is a useful tool that allows us to give a specific correction at a distance, (right at the moment the dog is making the mistake). The thing with e-collar, you have to understand how to use it and what it can and can’t do for you. It is not for every dog, (such as soft dogs). If the dog does not understand what you are asking it to do, or you have not fully trained the item, then an e-collar correction is not helpful, (and can set you back). Anyone wanting to use one really needs to find a reliable trainer to introduce it to the dog and to the handler. To the extent that agility is done off lead, I guess I could see that an e-collar might be an effective tool. However as I say, we don’t train agility. I can tell you that when our doggies see the collars come out they start jumping with joy because it means either training or hunting to them, (they don’t much care which it is…they love both).

    Good luck.


    • Having experience I can second much of what 2BD said about e-collars. For our dogs the e-collar has become an extension of the leash and is an off leash way to communicate with them, it’s not so much used at a correction level, but a way to follow through with a reminder if they are choosing to blow us off.
      I have two hunting dogs (a Lab and a Vizsla) so it happens, they both are high prey drive and hunt focused when exploring so I needed something that would register with them even in hunt mode to recall them in. They too love their collars and see them as a means of getting to go hunt or explore. I have seen/heard of dogs ruined by e-collars, but usually it was due to human error and not knowing how to “Condition” a dog to the collar. I will also say that leash walking is our foundation for eventually transferring to the e-collar for off leash situations. We rarely use the e-collar for leash walking as it really should be left for distance work. But if you don’t have that contact/communication point on the neck going with the dog they will not understand, and when a dog is not clear on what you want then adding anything remotely electronic stimulating will NOT help.
      As far as e-collars and agility, that sort of confuses me. Agility is something that you pretty much always want to keep happy and fun. Even with my often stubborn independent vizsla girl, I would never use an e-collar while agility training. She simply should not need it. It CAN help you build a stronger recall outside of an agility area so that in the agility training she responds better overall as you have had a method of reinforcing the recall in other places. Hope that makes sense, overall I would be a little leery of someone who uses an e-collar in agility, I have never heard of that, and can’t see how it would fit based on the agility training I have done with my own dog.

      I formerly trained with the pinch collars with my Vizsla and other client dogs, again due to her high prey drive she would not listen to a slip nylon let alone a flat collar. This tool allowed me to get more from her with less pulling. Pinch collars can also injure a dog if not used properly, the concept behind them is a “tension/release” pattern, letting the dog simply pull with it on hoping it will stop will not work. It will simply cause the red rubs and irritation areas, and make your dog even more tuff to the tool, especially if not sized properly either. Otherwise when used properly I found them very effective, and now I don’t use it with Luna at all as she has matured down to other “softer” collars.

      An exercise we did with puppies might help. Basically when we were about to head out on a walk we did some “tuning in.” (with a 6 foot leash)Basically you find an open area and you let your dog go where it wants, and then turn opposite direction and let the dog sort of correct itself when it reaches the end of the leash. Then it will go off in another direction and you go the opposite again… eventually she will start to realize the pattern and begin to watch. Then shorted the leash by half and do the same thing for a while till she gets even more savy and aware. Pay attention to this and begin to coordinate your turns so that you end up getting her on your left side before she fully gets out in front of you. And before you know it if you can be quicker than her she will be walking loose leash with you. This should set you up well for your walk. She will be more responsive and aware overall of where you are, and more open to communications from you about pulling. I hope that makes sense, I really should do a video of this as it’s a great trick for puppies especially who are too young to learn “heel”
      Good luck, I know many struggle with this so don’t fret. It’s one of the biggest things most dogs will learn besides a recall.


  5. Can she Loose Leash Walk (LLW) IN the house with you 100% of the time? If not, then how can you expect her to LLW outside where all the exciting stuff is. So start practicing LLW inside the house to start build the behavior in low distractions. There are a million ways to teach it … you can use hand targeting, you can heavily reward position, you can do pivot work, you can do any number of things. Like a tree is a RE-active training tool and in my experience (you react to her position), that alone is not effective (it can be a helpful piece of the puzzle though), be PRO-active teach her what you want and expect. Also, remember that dog trainers wear pants for a reason…. for the seams! When you are rewarding kayla, do not give the treat to her if she’s moved out of position, offer the reward where you’d like her to be which is right off the seam of your pants 🙂

    In my training classes I have started using the following method as the foundation of LLW and I’ve had a lot of success. It starts with using a VERY high rate of reinforcement (clicking and treating frequently) as a way to build focus. You could start playing the game in a garage or backyard or other slightly less distracting outdoor area so you can be successful. Once you have a pup who will follow you around facing you outside you can move on to working the LLW, it really is a beautiful transition… here’s the video Helix Fairweather’s LLW through high rate of reinforcement . In two sessions I was able to take a 80lb shar-pei/boxer/lab from pulling his owners over to actually paying attention to his handlers while outside practicing… I really do love this method. You tell the dog what you want (follow me around) and then you slowly raise the criteria. To have them walking next to you.

    There are 3 videos in the sequence regarding the training and i’d watch them all to see how to transition the “follow me” game to actual LLW. I play the follow me game a lot with dogs who are very distracted when outisde… i start playing it INSIDE the home near the door…. then with the door open…. then on the porch/landing/steps… then right off the front area…etc.

    I don’t move on from jsut the “follow me” game until the dog is reliably following me around and focusing on me in the highly distracting environment 95% of the time. That way, when i DO start pivoting and working the dog on my side, i know I already have good focus.

    Regarding the agility, PERSONALLY i would not train in a place that uses prongs and e-collars. Especially with agility. You cannot use either at a trial and it is VERY VERY common for dogs to know when they are on the prong/ecollar (when a punishment can happen) and when they aren’t, so you end up with a dog who is not reliable when off the training device. I’d keep checking around for a different place to take agility, if you have the money, I know Susan Garrett runs a variety of e-learning courses and she has some amazing agility videos available.


  6. Daisy has super high prey drive when she came to me too. She still does, but has learned leashes are for walking nice.

    Have you thought about biking with her? They have some attachments that will keep her form pulling you off the bike if that is a concern. I have found the faster you are moving-the less time the dog has to think about cat/squirrels/ect. (have her on a harness for jogging with the bike).

    I had to start training Daisy’s LLW inside the house. Just practicing having her next to me not pulling. I used treats and would reward when she was next to me. When we moved outside-I started at night (when squirrels were in bed). By then she knew being next to me was the reward spot. We started with about 5 steps. Then stop. If you try to take a whole walk with her-of course she won’t be able to do it. You have to work your way up.

    Also, learn to be super interesting to your dog. You might not be able to top a squirrel, but you might be able to be more interesting than the kid on the bike half a block away. Practice getting her attention and having her chase after you away from interesting things. Start will low interest items and work your way up.

    After we moved to daytime and she was walking pretty well I would give her the best reward (to her) at the end of the walks. I’d let her chase the squirrels! Of course, she was on a leash so I was chasing them too. LOL But I’d even get a 10 food training leash out of the car and let her go to town a few minutes. Always at the end of the walk though.

    In new or interesting areas or when we hike-Daisy wears a backpack. She seems to like the work and it really makes her focus. Her pulling is almost non existent. For walks in the neighborhood, working up to a proper weight might also help burn off energy faster.

    Don’t forget about mental energy! Even training silly tricks and getting your dog thinking and that can help make them tired.

    I don’t think that agility class sounds good at all. Agility is supposed to be fun, fun, go go! Those tools aren’t really used that way. Plus, you can’t use either of those in a match. And like the commenter above said-they use ecollars for hunting and the dogs get excited. But, you can’t use an ecollar for actual agility so whats the point?


  7. Just to clarify, you cannot use an e-collar at a hunt test either, but we still use it to train. It is a training tool, just like any training tool. Just like using treats, or a clicker, or a toy for training. You can’t use those in any type of obedience, or agility match either. But people still use them to train (we use them to train). The principles that apply to how and when you use treats, toys, or any other training tool and transition to not using them at an actual match or test also apply to e-collar. It is not true that dogs who are trained on e-collar will not perform without it. I have two who prove differently and there are many, many, many others. Used correctly it can be an effective training tool. As I said, anyone who doesn’t fully understand it should not use it (I find that it is one of the most misunderstood of all the training tools.)

    However, since we do not train agility, I will defer to those who do because I can imagine it is a different method to train. I know Anna trains both hunt test and agility so IMO she has some valuable advice on this point. 🙂


  8. I agree with earlier posters who said that you have to use a pinch collar correctly. If the dog has red marks on her neck, she’s just been dragging you along and hasn’t felt a correction. There has to be some slack to make that happen.

    There was mention of a fenced in back yard that the dog tried to climb out of. I’d think about going out there with her and playing some fetch or chase and take the edge off a bit before putting the collar on and taking a walk.


  9. Hi Kristine,

    I had a similar issue with one of my rescues who seemed to be hyperactive indoors but that increased many folds with all the stimulation he was getting from the outside.

    It took about 3 months but I finally got him to understand the stop, wait and sit commends. Each time he pulls now, I firmly commend him to stop, wait and sit and he obeys 80% of the time. When he doesn’t, I give the leash a little yank and stop moving which also forces him to stop.

    I then started teaching him to stay close by simply shortening the leash. He is starting to get it as long as there are no squirrels, cats, other dogs or birds to chase after.

    My other dog is the exact opposite. He likes to go out but all he wants to do is sniff and mark. I am the one who needs to constantly pull and drag and coax him to walk.

    Dog! We’ve to love them.



  10. Pingback: Is there a trick to teaching your dog how to heel without a leash? | How To Teach Your Dog

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