Leash Walking Q&A:

Leash Walking Q&A:

Walking in partnership with your dog. This is an excellent way to describe the paradigm of leash walking. Many times it is a question of doing the appropriate dance steps in concert with the dog. IE: Are you walking fast enough, are you not stopping for intense pulling, are you “working the dog” so the dog is attentive? Are you getting tangled up? As in many dog training context the dog walk is full of distractions, hence why it is many times a challenge. A partnership is intrinsically a more cooperative way to view leash walking as opposed to the militaristic view of old school leash walking.

 How to get a dog to stop pulling on leash, can it be done?  Yes and no. I often counsel people about leash manners and let them know “All dogs pull and dogs pull all the time”. It really does boil down to a matter of degrees of pulling and focusing on the dog. When dogs are on the leash they are prevented from checking out the world at their own pace. Remember dogs are genetically predisposed to investigate things. This need to check things out is especially true of doggie smells and other dogs.  Be patient and define reasonable criteria for your dog. Some people have been given the ridiculous notion that dogs should not smell on a walk! This is ludicrous. Imagine being told you could only look at water when you’re thirsty? Allowing dogs to smell on the walk will provide mental stimulation, which will alleviate stress, and it put you on the dog’s team. Using the smell as a reward is also a built in reward for listening to sit/wait cues and for loose lead behavior. Adjusting your pace with the dogs as well as having solid leash mechanics can be a really big help in the training of leash walking.                    

 1 – Pulling equals stopping. If the dog is out of control pulling at the end of the leash, just stop. Stand still; gently shorten the leash a bit. Leave enough room for the dog to sit comfortably. As soon as the dog looks back or up at you, or sits as long as the leash is slack allow movement forward. I say forward because many dogs that pull will move in any manner of direction to expend energy. This is why the leash needs to be shortened, so the dog cannot go about investigating in a 4 – 6 foot circumference, or whatever length leash they are on.

Make sure you are rewarding the leash manners you want! This movement forward in a calm manner is the reward. So you may have to try the stop start method, which admittedly is sometime arduous, patience is required for this, as is a reasonable amount of pulling.

A dog getting to go check out that smell is a happy dog and in time will equate pulling to stopping and settling down means getting to go on with the walk. (You define your criteria for calm, as all dogs are different due to context, amount of exercise and history with leash walking).

 If your dog is pulling towards people to greet whether they have a dog friend or it is just some people your pooch is friendly with; stop! Ask the dog for a sit or a look or a touch by sticking your hand out as a target. When your dog does the thing you ask, allow the greeting to take place. Use what the dog wants as a reward; it is pulling towards something, so use it to your advantage. Make the greeting contingent upon something. You can build your duration of waiting as your dog becomes better at it. Keep it short and always remind people to stop attention if the dog is of the jump to greet variety.

2- Paying for steps by your side. Many times after a dog has sufficiently sent and received pee mails and so forth the dog relaxes and is consequently walking rather nicely. If the dog is a bit out front on a loose lead call the dogs name and position yourself so the dog is beside you, then treat. Count 4 steps and feed. Repeat for a block or two. Try this each time during the middle part of the walk when your dog is more relaxed or anytime you are getting loose leash behavior.

When your dog starts to turn his attention to you on the 4/5th step move to 6 steps once they get that sequence move to 8 steps then make it random. This feeding for steps or staying next to you increases the behavior of walking next to you.

Use a portion of your dogs’ meal time kibble or some special goodies to really make a strong positive association to lose leash walking by your side. You can start to fade the food for steps or really space the rewards out as you see your dog walking by your side more frequently.

3- Pay for “check in’s”. When your dog looks back and gives you attention on a walk mark it with a marker word such as YES and pay with a food reward. This increases the probability that your dog will check in, i.e.: looks back at you and then the leash goes slack. Also any time you need your dogs’ attention use the cue “look” or “leave it” and “touch” with a hand held out palm facing out as a target. Mark and pay for these behaviors. These attention getters can get you out of jams and refocus your dog!

Do you incorporate heeling? By all means! I believe heal training began with the military and soldiers carrying a gun on one side, so the dog had to be on the opposite side and in times of military formation there had to be no straying from the handler’s side. However companion canines are not in the military. The primary job of dogs on a walk is to fulfill their olfactory senses, so sniffing on a walk is essential. When there are crowds of people or perhaps a jogger coming towards you or you need to get home for an important call, are all examples of times to use the heal position. Any time you need your dog to be by your side for courteous owner behavior, safety or expediting the walk you can use heal. Teaching your dog to follow a food lure or empty hand lure is also a valuable skill for both the dog and the human, as it can really expedite matter in a hurry. Use the follow for food lure method as a way to train a heal. Shorten the lead, have food in the opposite hand and pay for each step – practice this in the backyard or in an open field.

Is LLW attainable for most dogs? Yes, dog training is a mechanical skill based on timing and recognizing your dogs’ behavior accurately. In order to increase the probability for wanted behaviors, reward, to decrease unwanted behaviors implement humane consequences. Pulling equals stopping. Walking by your side equals food. Sit and wait for a second or two equals you will get to go to the tree and smell. It takes patience and it takes practice. Start as a puppy or as soon as you get your new dog, dogs discriminate very well, so the sooner you begin setting up the rules the easier it will be for you and the dog. 

Or is the concept too esoteric? Not at all, loose leash walking or heal is just another behavior you may need along the way as a dog owner. It all depends on criteria and context. The reward history and the consequence history is up to the humans, so the sooner we decide what we are paying for and what we are implementing humane consequences for the sooner we’ll see the consistency in our dogs we desire. This is true of any training. 

What about those dogs who simply stay by their owners side even without a leash? Lucky you! However there are leash laws in place for safety. Proofing a dog to stay in the face of prey, other dogs or people it may want to greet takes very dedicated practice as well as 100% situational awareness and rock solid timing and mechanics, usually reserved for professional dog trainers or above average dog owners. Please obey leash laws and only have your dog off leash in a fenced in dog safe area.

If you have a dog that stays by your side on leash and is happy go lucky about the affair you are blessed. The amount of dog owners dealing with leash manners issues is incalculable! The answer is not to have your dog off leash! That is a risky affair that puts your dog at risk of losing its life, being injured severely or being the cause for a car accident placing the lives of people in jeopardy. Even with a “velcro type dog”, you still may need some training in the areas of attention getting such as a look, leave it or touch. Anything can happen on a dog walk, so be prepared, and be safe and respectful to your community by keeping your dog on leash unless in a safe fenced in area.

 Thanks for asking just good quesions Kelly! My apologies for taking so much time with this!


Lovely article.  Really does see things from the dog's point of view so that humans have more chance of getting the results they want!



This is something I have been working through. Once I learned how to clicker train my dog to walk on a loose leash, I began to realize it only worked 100% if I really focused on it, and then my dog wouldn't have much time to investigate things. It felt wrong and was way too much work.

Then somehow I was able to drop the false fantasy of loose leash walking I came about the realization that my dog was not meant to walk on a loose leash at all times, but that I could effectively remove the annoying parts of pulling. Now we're at a point where he still pulls occasionally, but I understand why and don't need to be a task master about it. 

For instance, if my dog has been cooped up inside all day and just wants to get out and investigate, there will be some leash pulling, but it's mostly under control, and if it gets bad I stop for a second like you say, sort of like, "OK, that was a bit ridiculous, that's not going to work." 

After he gets enough smelling and peeing in, he calms down and is more reasonable.

But I found that like you say, if you reward a dog with the clicker and treat for walking at your side, when they are relaxed they start to gravitate toward doing that. For instance, after a little while investigating, Kody will start choosing to walk by my side hoping to get treats because he knows that's a "game" we play. Now, when he's calm he can do that for a long time now before I click and reward. That doesn't mean he's capable of that right out of the door, and that makes sense.

I also know that when we go to new places to expect leash pulling. He's excited to be smelling new things and to expect him to walk calmly is not realistic. 

I have found that training a dog is not about obedience, but about understanding and acceptance. Don't put your dog in a situation where he will want to pull and expect him not to pull, it's not fair to you or the dog. But if you want you dog to behave pretty well on your regular routes, that's realistic.

Having said that, one of the most destructive things to teaching dog training is that TV shows and some dog trainers use naturally calm dogs for demonstration. People (meaning me) get the idea that all dogs are supposed to be like this. There are dogs that are so calm they never want to pull. That's genetic, it's not trained. I can see that my dog is a natural barker and a puller, and I can accept it, and most of all, I can manage it, which is all I ever needed to do.


I think one of the biggest changes in what is trained since I had dogs as a child is the shift from "Heel" to "loose lead" walking.  As Drayton says, being able to call a dog to heel for a short distance is extremely useful, and can be life saving, but it is too much to expect a dog to stay in that position for the whole walk.  There are several tricks I have  been taught in the various classes I go to that have really helped me.  Firstly, get a long enough lead - I have small dogs, and a standard 40 inch lead gives them no room for manoevre - a longer lead gives us both more chance of keeping it loose.  Secondly, don't pull back - if necessary tie the lead around your waist, to avoid this instinctive reaction.  Thirdly, when training a puppy or new dog, lead walking is just that - training, not exercising.  If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, or are walking to the park with an excited dog, try a harness instead.  The dog will suffer less harm from pulling, you will have more control, and you will not be accidentally rewarding pulling on the collar.  Finally try putting your hand holding the lead behind you in the small of your back - this positions the dog slightly behind you, and also makes it impossible for you to pull on the lead when he goes ahead.  I have found this one particularly useful when needing to walk several dogs on lead at once, when not all of them have quite got the idea yet!  All of these, of course, accompanied by making it fun and rewarding for the dog to be with you!

Great article, I can't wait to try out these tips on my next walk. I understand allowing a dog to smell and sniff. What about allowing the dog to mark their territory? I have a neutered male dog that would, if I let him, lift his leg on every single bush, plant, power pole, etc on our walks. Towards the end of a long walk- he will lift his leg and nothing will even come out. So, how much is too much? Are there any strategies to positively discourage this behavior. Any ideas are welcome! Thanks!

Hello Danya!

Great question about marking! My boy Mojo will mark till he is empty as well, here is what my fabulous trainer of a wife trained him to do.

This can also work if you are in a hurry and need to get moving.

When your dog is sniffing a spot to pee, say 1 – 2 – 3 OK, of your dog pees, great then say good boy etc..and keep walking if they do not pee on 3, say “OOPS” and start walking.

This is a bummer to the dog and usually he quickly learns that he’d better pee by the count of three or else he’ll not get his chance to send his “pee mail” as Dunbar calls it. (thanks Ian!)

Now a few things to keep in mind; Don’t count fast, you decide how long to stretch out the count but I usually go by the one one thousand tempo of counting seconds, I do alot of counting of seconds in my training so I’m pretty tight with my time frames of seconds. You decide what your tempo is...be kind. : )

Secondly, be aware if the dog is starting to pee, if they are let them do their thing, you don’t want pee all over the dog!

Lastly don’t abuse this, once the dog gets this; its a real blessing on rainy days or when you simply have to get home. Let me know how this works.

be well...

Drayton Michaels CTC www.pitbullguru.com www.urbandawgs.com



I find that people (or esp trainers?) tend to forget that walking in rigid formation is an unnatural act for dogs. Drayton has touched on this in the article and I dont think its stated often enough. When they pull ahead, stop to smell, whatever, they are simply being dogs. They dont mean any harm. Owners tend to see how  dogs and dog trainers are walking in unison and try to live up to the same standard. It reminds me of regular girls starving themselves to look like models. When they are unable to live up to the same standard they get frustrated which makes the situation even worse. Food for thought. 

dogandogs, you put that very well.

Cesar Millan has most of the world believing that if their dog doesn't walk right by their side at all times that their dog is being dominant over them and that they are bad owners. He has been very good at convincing almost everyone of this false idea.

I would like to suggest that this website put up a big front page story, something like,

"Why Cesar Millan is wrong about dog walking!"

"Why your dog actually doesn't have to walk by your side!"

or something.

Because even after I learned that Cesar Millan was bad and moved to positive training, I still thought my dog was supposed to walk right by my side... until I accomplished it. Only then did I realize it was completely unnatural and it made walking less fun for me and my dog. 

Now that Cesar Millan is finally being taken down a notch it's up to us to fix all the bad ideas he's so effectively put out into the world. 


I am fortunateenough to live in the country, with many and varied places to safely exercise my dogs off leash.  This means that they are only really walked on a leash in town - when I do insist on reasonable manners to avoid tripping other pedestrians up, and when we are out for a quick P&P break after dark, when they are on a long loose lead to ensure we all stay together.  I realised how much my lead walking of dogs has changed when a friend - old school dog owner - took one of mine ahead while I was shopping.  The complete confusion on the poor dog's face as she was dragged willy-nilly down the road was sad to see.  These days I use "with me" rather than "heel" - it describes the behaviour I want more accurately, and is much easier for the dogs to get right.  I love the description of walking together as a dance - just how it is when it all comes together. 

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