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  • Kristen VanNess

Walking 101: Walking Basics

This is the first lesson in the Loose Leash Walking series.

This foundation activity is a great starting point for all dogs. Your dog will learn about following you, moving with you as a team, where to expect rewards, and when to not help himself to rewards in the environment. Our goal at this stage is for your dog to learn to walk with you for about 25.’ While that’s not a far walk - it’s a great starting point, and we can build distance from there.

Sometimes we need to adjust activities, reward placement, or other elements for success. If you aren’t progressing, reach out, and we can have a trainer work with you and your dog to get started.

Prepare for Your Training

A flat collar or front attach harness are great options for most dogs. Use a non-retractable leash that is comfortable to hold. If you are starting in the house or a fenced yard, you can even begin this training without a leash and add in the leash once your dog is following well.

Prepare pea-sized treats and have a convenient shirt pocket or treat pouch to store your treats. Test to be sure your dog likes the options you have. You may have to try several types to see what gets your dog excited.

Choose a neutral environment. For some dogs, this might be a hallway in your house. For other dogs, it may be a backyard, a driveway, or a quiet parking lot. About 15-25’ is an excellent starting space, though you can work in smaller areas if needed.

We want to use a small space to start intentionally. A walk around the block has constant new smells, sights, and sounds for your dog to notice. If we are going back and forth in the yard or driveway, your dog will not be as interested in everything else. This will make it easier for him to be attentive to you. You will then be able to reward him more. And those rewards will lead to more success in the future.

How To Get Started with Loose Leash Walking

Begin by moving backward. Reward your dog for following you. Use your voice and body language to encourage him to follow. Try to give the treat at head height or lower to discourage jumping. Initially, feed every one to two steps but then begin to space out the treats more as he gets practice.

If your dog tries to go around you, pause or turn and go the other way. If your dog is not engaging with the treats, try switching to something he likes even more.

Once he follows well, you can rotate so he is at your side. Reward him for staying with you. Initially feed frequently, possibly every other step, and then add pauses between each treat.

Use your right hand for treats if he’s on the right side. If he’s on the left, use your left hand. This will prevent him from crossing in front of you as he walks. While there is a correct side for competition heeling, there is no right side for a neighborhood walk. Many urban dogs benefit from learning both sides. Choose one side per session, don’t let your dog randomly switch sides.

If he gets distracted, you can return to the backward walking and continue again with the process.

Ready for the next step? Check out Walking 201: Tackling New Environments or get personalized help today.


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