Loose Leash Walking

Age appropriate:  You can start introducing loose leash walking as soon as you get your puppy. We will provide you with a head collar to prevent pulling and help you provide a high rate of reinforcement to the pup to establish your expectations. 

Purpose: All guide dogs are expected to walk on a loose leash with their partner when they are not guiding. It is necessary to have a dog that is aware of collar pressure when teaching self-control and the foundations of guide dog training. For these reasons, we ask all of our puppy raisers to walk the pup on their left side on a loose leash in a flat collar or head collar.

Objective: The pup should walk by your side on a loose leash with a flat collar or head collar. There should not be tension or pressure on the dog's neck or head collar. The pup should be taught to alleviate the pressure if it's added through self-control and loose leash walking exercises. 

Please follow these guidelines when teaching loose leash walking:
  • The pup must be recently relieved and exercised to teach this behavior.
  • Put plenty of the pup's food in your treat pouch!
  • In the puppy raiser home, we want the pup to walk at your pace and be engaged with you.
  • The pup should not be sniffing the ground, scavenging, pulling, lunging, or leaping up when they are on leash.
  • If you do not have the time/focus/energy to work on loose leash walking in a flat collar, use the head collar. It's a great tool for you!
  • Start in a low distraction environment, like your home in a quiet room.
    • Tethering the pup and using Get SMART! during the first two weeks with you will help the pup learn this behavior quickly!
  • Hold the leash in a comfortable position with your hand on the leash in a position that keeps the pup close to you without tension on the leash.
    • Holding the leash closer to the pup's collar allows you to respond quickly if the pup adds tension to the leash.
    • Do not hold the end of the leash at the loop.
    • You should hold the leash close because it gives the pup a short range of movement. If you hold the end of the leash the pup has several feet to move before they feel tension.
  • Pre-load your hand with kibble
    • We want to deliver the food quickly to provide a high rate of reinforcement for the pup's loose leash walking.
  • Take one step forward and if the pup follows, say "NICE" and reward the pup with kibble.
    • The pup might get wiggly and out of position, just remember to reward at the left knee to maintain their memory of being rewarded there.
  • Continue taking one step at a time and offering reinforcement, one step at a time.
  • Once the pup has mastered walking one step at a time without lunging or adding tension on the leash, continuing adding 1-3 steps at a time between reinforcement.

Using the head collar:
  • The head collar is a tool that can prevent pulling, sniffing, scavenging, and makes the dog easier to control.
  • The pup should still walk on a loose leash in the head collar as well.
    • If the pup does pull in the head collar, follow the instructions to prevent pulling.
  • Use the head collar as a tool to allow loose leash walking in higher distraction environments before using a flat collar in those environments.
  • Use a high rate of food reinforcement for the loose leash to establish your expectations. It will make transitioning to the flat collar much easier!

Puppy raiser pointers:
  • Teaching this can be hard on your body, take frequent breaks and keep these sessions short!
    • You're going to be bending over a lot, so don't overexert yourself
  • Pre-loading your hand with kibble will keep the pup's focus on you, but don't allow jumping at your hand, or stepping in front of you.
    • Reinforcing the pup with food at your left knee will prevent those behaviors.
    • Keep your right hand neutral, at your side, even when it has kibble in it.
  • Use the head collar to help you teach loose leash walking! For stronger, or easily distracted pups the head collar can be a great tool to prevent the pulling.
    • Continue to use a high rate of reinforcement when they are not adding tension to the leash.
  • We can't say this enough, take your time! Loose leash walking a tough practice. Go slow, use a high rate of reinforcement, and use the head collar when you can't focus on loose leash walking in public.

What to do if tension is added:
Loose leash walking is a tough practice in self-control. Dogs like to sniff and explore their environment, but we must teach them that is an unacceptable behavior for guide dogs. With loose leash walking, you will teach the dog to respond appropriately if tension is added to the leash if they pull or do any behavior that adds tension to the leash.
If you are consistently struggling with loose leash walking in the head collar or flat collar, please contact your advisor or area coordinator. Some pups need some additional support to achieve this goal and we're here to help you!
  • If the pup does add tension by pulling or another behavior, stop walking and move your hand to your thigh with the leash in your hand.
    • Moving your hand to your thigh makes it more stable so you can respond to the pup's behavior.
  • The pup should choose to relieve the tension, do not redirect their attention, pull them back, give them a leash correction, or lure them back.
    • If the pup is adding tension for more than five seconds and doesn't relieve the pressure, you are in an environment with too many distractions and the pup doesn't have the self-control to be working there in a flat collar. Review the self-control article for more information.
  • When the pup relieves the tension by stepping back, turning their head, readjusting their body praise them and continue walking.
    • The reinforcement for relieving tension is continuing to move forward.
  • 2-3 steps after the pup added tension, mark them for loose leash walking with "NICE" and food reinforcement.