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Sniff Sniff & Chillax

Updated: 3 days ago

Rethinking Dog Walks and Loose Leash Walking

Have you considered why you walk your dog? Is it for exercise for yourself, for them, or for both of you? Is it to tire them out? Is it because you’re supposed to? Is it so you can spend time together and build a relationship? Is it so they can explore the world outside of your home and yard? Then, check out this video on the dog’s nose!

Often new dog parents take for granted that puppies are not born knowing that a collar and leash will be attached to them and how to walk without tugging! Likewise, older dogs may not know what you expect due to a lack of training and consistency.

Why Do Dogs Pull On Leash?

A dog’s innate response to pressure on them, like that from the leash, is to go in the opposite direction, known as opposition reflex. So if you pull on your dog to get him where you want, he will pull in the opposite direction. He will possibly learn that we get where we want to go by tugging to get there. That is how you end up with tugging frustration for both of you. The point is to set your dog up for success!

Teach your dog to release leash pressure and then work on rewarding while walking with a loose leash. This would be taking a step or two and treating (a great illustration at the end of this blog). I prefer to feed with a trough hand while walking and feeding at your knee, always in the same place. This may look slightly different at first, depending on your dog.

how to deliver a treat to a dog
Image Credit: Sarah Owings & Lili Chin

Puppy Walks

Puppies do need special consideration for their growing joints. Sarah Stremming has a great article called Just Walk (pg 43) in the Growing Up FDSA e-Book that I highly recommend. There are other great articles in this e-book as well! They are geared towards sports dogs, but even pet dogs will benefit from the mindset and training!

puppy walks, sniffari, dog mental engagement, dog walking, loose leash walking,
Image Credit: The Puppy Care Company

For puppies, a decompression walk, as mentioned in Sara’s article, is best while

working on leash skills around the home for just a few minutes a couple of times a day will get them ready for longer walks when their body is ready. Some dogs will not do well when you immediately put on a long line, so you must first train the long line.

Loose Leash Walking

For any dog, you will start loose leash walking in a low distraction environment like inside your home. Low distraction means no kids running around, people coming in and out of the house, big commotion, etc. Once they are successful, you can add indoor distractions or go to a low-distraction outdoor location like the backyard when neighbors might be inside.

As your dog ages, the walk is ideally a mix of exercises and letting your dog explore the world, a decompression walk. Tension-free from both of you! Keep in mind if your dog is only exercising, they increase their stamina requiring more and more exercise to become “tired.”

Your mindset also has to be one that you are ok with following your dog so that he can explore, but also have limits and ways to move him along. For example, a “let’s go,” or a nose touch can aid in helping your dog move along from distractions if necessary. These are all things to be taught indoors first!

Harnesses do not cause pulling, Loose leash walking is a learned skill.
Image Credit: Do No Harm Dog Training Facebook group

Harness vs. Collar

Collars are hard on the neck, a sensitive part of the dog’s body.


Harnesses that promise to do so restrict range of motion, and when you take your dog for a walk, you want them to have full range of motion so that they can extend and move their body as intended. Y-shaped harnesses where the front sits at the chest bone ais ideal! For dogs that get very stressed with a harness going over their head, I suggest one that clips around the neck and chest like the PetSafe 3-in-1.

illustration of Wrong and Correct fitting dog harness
Image Credit: Lori Stevens & Lili Chin

Correct fitting dog harness
Image Credit: Dr. Zink & Alpine Outfitters

Hints For Training Loose Leash Walking:

  • #1 Rule is WATCH YOUR DOG!

  • Is your dog aware that you are on the other end of the leash? (Have you played the Eye Contact Game?)

  • Are you rewarding voluntary eye contact and keeping a loose leash?

  • Walking in a straight line - is your enemy!

  • Having a set route in mind - is your enemy!

  • “But I have to walk my dog/puppy to get him tired!” Not really! Mental exercise like training, including loose leash walking, will tire your dog quickly without building that physical exercise stamina!

  • Ten minutes of “get your dog thinking” training is equivalent to a 30-minute walk.

Change things up by hopping in the car and driving 5 minutes to a different part of the neighborhood where you might not normally walk! There will be some new pee-mail to reply to and receive!

The Sophisticated Dog & Lili Chin have a great illustration of how to get started!

Need some help?

Teaching your dog to walk politely part 1
Image Credit: The Sophisticated Dog & Lili Chin

More techniques for teaching dog leash skills
Image Credit: The Sophisticated Dog & Lili Chin

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