Teaching loose lead walking is one of the most important skills you can teach your Golden Retriever. Not only does it make walking your dog a more enjoyable experience, but it also improves your communication and strengthens your bond. Walking your dog is something you're going to do every single day for their entire lives, it is absolutely worth the short term investment of your time and education to nail this one. Do it quickly or do it properly!
As a Golden Retriever specialist I have worked with hundreds of Golden Guardians to help them unlock stress free walks. I've seen firsthand the benefits of teaching loose lead walking from the ground up - not relying on magic wands or unpleasant equipment designed to instantly "stop pulling" (spoiler alert - they don't work long term and come with masses of fall-out). In this blog post, I'll share with you my top tips for teaching this essential skill to your golden goofball, so you can start having those peaceful walks you know are possible!
What is Loose Lead Walking?
Before we dive into the tips, it's important to understand what we mean by "loose lead walking." Loose lead walking refers to the practice of walking your dog on a leash with the leash hanging in a loose, relaxed manner between both of you. This means that your dog is walking alongside you without pulling or tugging on the leash. The leash should fall gently into the shape of a smile - much like you when you head off on your relaxed walks with your newly trained golden.
The Benefits of Loose Lead Walking
Teaching your Golden Retriever to walk on a loose lead has numerous benefits. Here are just a few:
- It's more enjoyable for both you and your dog. When your dog is pulling on the leash, it can be frustrating and even painful for you. On the other hand, when your dog is walking on a loose lead, it's a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
- It improves your communication with your dog. When your dog is walking on a loose lead, it's easier to communicate with them and give them cues. This can improve your overall relationship with your Golden Retriever.
- It strengthens your bond with your dog. Teaching your Golden to walk on a loose lead requires patience and consistency. When you take the time to teach your dog this skill, it can strengthen the bond between you.
Can't I Just Use a Halti, Slip Lead or a Choke Collar?
Please see our totally free, detailed e-book on why we don't recommend any equipment designed to instantly stop your dog pulling. Any equipment that you put on a dog that instantly lessens pulling does so by making the dog uncomfortable or painful. They then seek to escape or avoid this sensation. The equipment doesn't teach your dog what you do want, so when you remove it, the pulling will return. The likelihood is the dog will eventually just get used to the discomfort and start to pull through it regardless, leaving you in a worse position long term. Do it quickly, or do it properly!
Tips for Teaching Loose Lead Walking
Now that we've covered the benefits of loose lead walking, let's dive into the tips for teaching this skill to your Golden Retriever.
Start with Short Sessions
Teaching loose lead walking is a process that takes time and patience. It's important to start with short sessions and these can be in your own garden with no lead to start with, just teaching your dog to follow your body in loose lead position. By starting in your own garden, you reduce the amount of environmental distractions for your dog, which increases their ability to focus. Don't fall at the first hurdle and try to teach loose lead in the park!
Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to teach your dog to walk on a loose lead. Find a treat your dog likes - little tip - it's generally better to stay away from anything you find on the shelf in the supermarket with a best before date 12 months from now. Fresher, tastier foods that are often found in the fridge section are often much more motivational. Do a little taster plate and see what your dog prefers.
Use a Properly Fitted Y-Shaped Harness
Using a properly fitted harness can make a big difference when teaching your dog to walk on a loose lead. The harness helps to protect your dog while they're still learning - as pulling can impact their joints and you're not going to crack loose lead walking overnight. Training is a process, not an event. Secondly, it can give you a training mode and non training mode. When you're teaching loose lead walking, clip your dog on the front clip for clarity. When you're off on your non-training walk, when your dog is likely to pull, clip on the back clip. Dogs learn by association, and it won't take your golden long to learn front clip = loose lead and back clip = pulling. You will phase out the pulling as training progresses and your dog builds their understanding and skills.
When choosing a harness or collar for your Golden Retriever, make sure it fits snugly but not too tight. You should be able to fit two fingers between the harness or collar and your dog's skin.
Use a Longer Leash
Using a longer leash can also be helpful when teaching your dog to walk on a loose lead. A longer leash gives your dog more room to move without the leash going tight, which will speed up your training. 2m (6ft6in) is my preferred minimum, my own leash is 3m (9ft 8in). It is made of a grippy material that can be easily manually shortened when required.
The core skills of calmness and focus are essential for success with loose leash walking. Do a temperature check with your dog before you start training to test their ability to focus in that environment. With your dog in front and facing you, drop a treat to the ground, wait for your dog to eat the treat and look back up at you, then drop another treat to the ground in front of your feet. Repeat this for around 15-30 seconds to test if your dog is ready for training. If you're struggling to keep your dog's focus at this level - the environment is likely too challenging for them, and you may need to train in a lower distraction environment a while longer.
Be Patient and Consistent
Teaching your Golden Retriever to walk on a loose lead requires patience and consistency. It may take some time for your dog to fully understand what you're asking of them, so it's important to be patient and not give up. 6-8 weeks of 3 short training sessions a week is absolutely worth it for a lifetime of stress free walks. Consistency and clarity are really important to prevent frustration.
Avoid Punishing Your Dog
Punishing your dog for pulling on the leash is not an effective way to teach loose lead walking. In fact, it can actually make the problem worse. Dogs who are punished want to be as far away from us as possible. Instead of punishing your dog, focus on using positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior. When your dog is walking on a loose lead, praise them and give them a treat. This will help reinforce the behavior and make it more likely that they'll continue to walk on a loose lead in the future. If your dog never walks on a loose lead, try walking backwards first with your dog in front of you, both facing each other. Reward them for following, then gradually turn your body until you and your dog are facing in the same direction walking forwards. Reward generously and rapidly during the early stages of learning to reduce frustration. Do not be stingy with your rewards, use your dog's meal ration if you're concerned about calories.
Practice in Different Environments
It's important to practice loose lead walking in different environments. This will help your dog understand that the behavior is expected of them no matter where you are. Dogs are very contextual learners (we all are!) so if you achieve a beautiful loose leash in your garden, it won't necessarily transfer to the park instantly. You need to increase the levels of environmental distraction gradually. Start by practicing in a quiet, low-distraction environment and gradually increase the difficulty as your dog becomes more comfortable walking on a loose lead. Eventually, you should be able to walk your dog on a loose lead in busy, high-distraction environments without any issues.
Teaching your Golden Retriever to walk on a loose lead is an essential skill that can improve your overall relationship with your furry friend. By using positive reinforcement, being patient and consistent, and practicing in different environments, you can teach your dog to walk on a loose lead in no time. It will be the single best gift you've ever given to yourself and your dog - stress free, frustration free walks for life.
If you'd like a detailed 6 week training plan walking you through every step to unlock those stress free walks with your golden, sign up for notifications for when we next open to doors to The Golden Academy. We have 42 deep dive lessons covering absolutely everything you need to learn to crack loose leash with your golden once and for all - and that's only a tiny part of The Academy! A lifetime of relaxing walks is possible with the right plan and the right support.
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